Mike Pereira

Manager of the David Johnston Research + Technology Park at the University of Waterloo, and former Director of Marketing and Community Development at the Accelerator Centre, Mike Pereira has focused his work on building bridges, particularly between Waterloo’s growing tech sector and the broader community.

His drive to strengthen community also extends to his roles as Vice President of the Board for the Association of University Research Parks and Chair of the Board for the Canadian Centre for Cyber Risk Management, as well as through his involvement with Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region.

Mike was first introduced to Women’s Crisis Services about 10 years ago when his wife Kim, a Nurse Practitioner at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre, began doing community outreach at Anselma House. Over the years, Mike has continued to support the Women’s Crisis Services in various ways of his own, from organizing charity golf tournaments to pitching on behalf of the organization at Communitech’s charity pitch competition, “Pitch In!

Through his involvement with Women’s Crisis Services, Mike has learned how domestic violence is impacting Waterloo Region.

Starting the Conversation

“It’s one of those problems that I think doesn’t get talked about enough. It tends to fly under the radar, especially in terms of things like volunteerism, giving, and people’s general attention to the topic,” said Mike.

Mike believes one reason domestic violence does not get the attention it warrants is because people don’t understand how prevalent it is.

“I think it’s way too easy for it to be overlooked because people really are not aware that it’s regularly happening in their own community,” he said. “But not knowing about it does not mean it’s not happening.”

For those who do recognize the prevalence of domestic violence it can feel overwhelming, says Mike.

“I think it’s way too easy for it to be overlooked because people really are not aware that it’s regularly happening in their own community,”

Mike said.

“I think a lot of people really have no sense of how to deal with it and how to combat it. They feel like, if you can’t see a problem then how do you deal with the problem? And even if you can see it, do you know what to do about it?” he said. “For example, I have some really wonderful friends that I’ve known for 20 to 30 years and I really don’t know how I would respond if one of their wives, who I am now also close with, told me they were being abused,” he said.

“It would be so challenging to really wrap your head around. How would you respond to that situation? I think that makes people feel really powerless and it makes it really hard for them because they just don’t want to think about it,” he said.

Mike believes we need to start by accepting that there is no simple solution.

“I think one of the big things is that people need to get more comfortable with the fact that it’s okay not to figure out everything right away. If this were an easy problem to solve, we would have solved it by now but it’s a very complicated problem. It’s okay that you don’t know how to fix it, but it’s not okay to ignore it,” he said.

He encourages people to break the issue down to a personal level.

Small Steps to Solve a Big Problem

“Try to figure out what little things you can do to fix the problem in your own world, without having to take on the institutional level or societal level problem. To say ‘I’m going to be responsible for the things that are within my grasp’,” he said.

As a leader within Waterloo Region’s tech sector, Mike shared several examples of small ways he has taken action to speak out and raise awareness about domestic violence. He focused a week of the Research Park’s newsletter on events surrounding International Women’s Day.

“…let’s be honest, a lot of it is perpetrated by men. And to me that means there’s a role for men to play in putting a stop to it.”

Mike said.

“Our newsletter is not huge but we’ve got almost four hundred subscribers and they’re all people in tech who maybe don’t even know how big the problem really is, so for all I know that was their first exposure to it,” he said.

The newsletter included an article indicating local women’s organizations that employees could consider learning more about and even donating to. He says making a donation is one simple way you can make a difference.

Another step is to start raising awareness within your ‘world’, Mike says.

“There is also abuse in the workplace. Something I can do from a tech standpoint, and one of the things I want to do in my role as managing a business community, is bringing that community side to it,” he said. “To have talks about good management and good leadership, and making people feel safe coming to work.”

Your ‘world’ can also extend to the online word. Mike suggests people can use their social media platforms to speak out, share relevant news articles, and show their support.

This is something Mike does regularly. For example, when CBC KW published a story about Waterloo Region being the least safe place for women, Mike shared the article on Twitter and stated that we have a lot of work to do in our community. He then proceeded to offer some ideas, particularly to other men, about where this work might start.

“At the end of the day, women are already doing this work, they don’t need me to say anything about what the work looks like,” he said. “So I’m going to make it focused on what I think most of the men in the community can be doing.”

A Role for Men to Play

“A lot of sexual violence and domestic violence is perpetrated by men. That’s not to say it’s universally that way, but let’s be honest, a lot of it is perpetrated by men. And to me that means there’s a role for men to play in putting a stop to it.”

Men can start by becoming more mindful, he explained.

“I need to acknowledge that my experience is not universal. I feel safe right now but maybe the person in front of me doesn’t,” said Mike.

“I need to acknowledge that my experience is not universal. I feel safe right now but maybe the person in front of me doesn’t,”

said Mike.

He shared a story of how he learned this lesson, from a seemingly small moment that had a significant impact on him. One evening he was walking home from a conference and really scared a woman who had been walking six feet in front of him when he cleared his throat. Although completely unintentional, her strong, defensive reaction made him realize he probably should not have been following behind as close that late in the evening.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like, how easy is it to just be more mindful of what’s going on around you and to understand that maybe not everybody feels your sense of security and safety in the community?” he said. “So how can you help by creating space and being mindful of how other people might be experiencing the environment that you are in?”

Mike suggests people can use their power, privilege, and position in society to find feasible ways to help create change.

“What are those things that you can do that are not seemingly overwhelming steps to make your contribution to change the status quo? So that it becomes less big, hard, and overwhelming of a societal problem we will never get to,’ said Mike. “All of those things change as you start to change your own outlook and attitudes. If enough people take those little steps they become much bigger steps at a much different level.”

Mike sees that offering his voice presents some challenges.

“It’s an interesting thing that I think a lot about: between being a voice and amplifying other voices. There is part of it where you are like, “Why my voice? Shouldn’t it be someone else?” But then you sit back and go, well then I’m not talking about it and that’s just as bad. Sometimes you also have to lend your voice to that chorus,” he said.

Being a Good Neighbour

He believes that as community members, we all have a role to play in being “good neighbours.”

“All of us have this sense that we know our neighbours, we are close with them and we connect. Yet statistically it is reasonable to assume that someone in your neighbourhood, someone that you know, is being abused and you just don’t know about it,” said Mike.

Mike points out that we often rely on our neighbours for things like shoveling each other’s driveways, or getting together for potluck dinners, but asks us to consider whether our neighbours would feel like they could come to us for help if they were in an abusive relationship?

“It’s much better if we have open conversations so people have that sense that they can confide in you about what’s happening,”

he said.

“If it were happening, are you a person that would help others feel comfortable? Would you listen to them, believe them, help them, and keep them safe? If you are not seeing yourself as that person, how do you feel about that and what can you do to change that?” he challenged.

Would you be understanding and withhold judgement? Would you consider the complexity of their situation?

“There are a lot of barriers to leaving. I think we often undermine how significant that is,” Mike said. “They are not just walking away from this singular toxic influence, its potentially walking away from their whole family who may not understand, their community, their kids, giving up a home you built.”

For Mike, being more open and understanding is key. He suggests that we need to create a more open dialogue and let those around us know that the subject is not off-limits.

“It’s much better if we have open conversations so people have that sense that they can confide in you about what’s happening,” he said. “Having more conversations helps people to see you as a person in the community that they can count on.”

Melissa Durrell

Coming from a career as an award-winning broadcast journalist, Melissa Durrell continues to use her passion for communication and her unique storytelling skills to help strengthen her community.

President of Durrell Communications, Vice Chair of the Uptown Business Improvement Area (BIA), Director of Media and Public Relations for Women’s March Global, board member of REEP Green Solutions, and member of the Waterloo Park Committee, Melissa is particularly focused on helping elevate women within their respective fields, celebrating the success of fellow leaders, and helping others find their voice.

She helps facilitate this in several ways. One way is hosting Women’s March Canada’s weekly podcast which offers Canadian women a platform to share how they are making a difference in their community.

Helping Elevate Women

“Amazing women who are doing incredible things in our country deserve to be heard. They have great stories to tell,” said Melissa.

With this in mind, Melissa helped launch the Zonta Film Festival eight years ago, showcasing inspiring, powerful, and thought-provoking films by women filmmakers. With diverse subject matters ranging from sexual assault and domestic violence to athletes to Indigenous rights, the common thread between the films is that they are all stories told through a female lens.

Proceeds from the festival go to local charities and non-profit organizations such as Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region.

“It’s important that the money we raise stays locally. We are bringing in films talking about the issues affecting women worldwide, but it’s really important for people to know what they can do locally,” Melissa said

If you have one minute you can donate to a local women’s organization, if you have 10 minutes you can write a letter to an MP, she suggested.

“I know way too many women – way too many women – who have endured financial, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. It’s part of what drives me everyday and is why I want to be involved,” she said.

“It was a neighbour growing up in Saskatoon or it was stories of people that I was covering when I was a journalist,” Melissa explained. “Throughout my life I have seen the effects that it has not only on the women, but on their family members, on their work-life, and on their community life.”

“I think the most important thing we can do is listen and support the women in our lives that are going through this,”

said Melissa.

Recognizing Financial Abuse

Melissa has known family members, close friends, and even colleagues who have struggled. One of her closest friends married a very wealthy man who was emotionally and financially abusive.

“He never hit her but she couldn’t spend a penny without him,” she said. “If we’d go for coffee she would have to bring receipts home and sign it with my name on it, he wasn’t just tracking money; he was tracking her.”

The situation worsened when her friend moved away with her husband, isolating her from her friends and family. “Her health broke down, of course, which is the next sign. She had so much emotional abuse that her body was reacting,” Melissa said. “She ended up having a full breakdown.”

“They were millionaires. She never had a black eye. He never touched her once, but there is no doubt in my mind that she was one hundred percent abused her entire relationship,” she said.

Melissa emphasized how essential it is for people to understand the many aspects of domestic violence and the different ways it can occur.

“Once you know them, you either know that you are experiencing it, or that someone close to you is, then you have the tools to make better informed decisions,” she said. “Physical abuse is the one that we see but all the other aspects are also breaking women down. To me, that’s the tragedy of it all because not everyone is going to be walking around with the physical signs that you can spot.”

“I think the most important thing we can do is listen and support the women in our lives that are going through this,” said Melissa.

Addressing Violence in Our Community

Thinking of her own community, she expressed how unhappy she felt about the statistics published within the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, which ranked Waterloo Region as the least safe place for women to live out of Canada’s largest 26 metropolitan areas.

“I think that’s one of the big problems we have right now, that we are not actually admitting what a massive problem we have,” she said. “People just need to open their eyes and acknowledge that it’s happening and then we can start to move forward.”

“We need to use our voices to speak out for people who may be afraid to speak out, or who can’t speak out.”

“We see people wearing their specific hats. In my case, I was a reporter on CTV, I was the politician in Uptown Waterloo, Mom or wife, or I am the president of a company. You know, we play these public roles and that’s what we’re expected to be. But we all have our own personal stories to tell,” Melissa said. “Community isn’t about being put in one role, we all have so many different sides.”

These sides extend beyond our work lives into our personal and family lives.

“I have a daughter, she is 12 years old. Everything I do, when I put my mother hat on, is trying to give her the right tools so she can be a strong confident woman, but sadly, no matter what I do, the statistics are not in her favour,” said Melissa.

This is why it’s critical that we do something to make a change. Melissa believes that community leaders have a unique role to play.

“We need to use our voices to speak out for people who may be afraid to speak out, or who can’t speak out. That’s part of the job of being a leader,” she said. “It’s about community. We need to bring it back to that space. It’s about protecting our friends, our family, and our coworkers. It’s about being good listeners. It’s about admiring the survivors who have the courage to come out and talk about it.”

“If we are actually going to make an impact and change what is happening, we need to think of everyone as our neighbour, someone that you can actually help.”

Being a Good Neighbour

It’s also about recognizing and respecting a woman’s journey, she says.

“It’s not a quick fix. It is years of therapy. It’s breaking up families in some situations. There is so much more involved. I think that if you truly want to be respectful to your neighbour and people going through this, listen to their story. Their story is not problem-solution; it doesn’t fall into those easy elements. It’s a long road that often involves culture, tradition, families, neighbourhoods, friends, schooling, all sorts of different dimensions,” she said.

When it comes down to it, we all have a part to play in improving our society.

“Whether it is your neighbour, if it’s a co-worker, if it’s the person that you workout with, whomever it is, take that first step to start to talk about it,” Melissa said.

If someone does open up to you, she says the role of the neighbour is not to judge. “Just listen and be open to it. That will get them on the path, hopefully, to survival,” she said.

Melissa understands that this is a hard issue to talk about, but she sees the strength that comes with taking a moment to show your support.

“I see the power of us all banding together. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you make, what your education is, but that we are all neighbours. If we are actually going to make an impact and change what is happening, we need to think of everyone as our neighbour, someone that you can actually help,” she said.

Bryan Larkin

With 29 years of policing experience, Bryan Larkin, Chief of Police for the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS), has been a pillar in our community for nearly three decades.

Committed to strengthening community, he has a longstanding relationship with Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, dating back to the 1990s when he was a frontline officer fielding family and domestic violence calls.

Over the years, he has elicited the expertise of Women’s Crisis Services staff for guidance and advice, in addition to directly supporting various campaigns. He has also been heavily involved in partnering with the organization to build memorandums of understanding so that both agencies can work more collaboratively and seamlessly.

Domestic Violence in Waterloo Region

“I think back to the original Anselma House and how things have changed for the better,” he said. “But the one piece that’s concerning is that the need has grown.”

The WRPS has a Domestic Violence Unit dedicated to working on cases of domestic violence. Comprised of 25 specially trained officers and case managers, the unit can attest to the high prevalence of domestic abuse in our region.
“On average, we have about 6,000 calls a year – that’s 16 calls a day,” he said. “So when you think about the impact on society, some people may think ‘Is this really happening in Waterloo Region?’ Yes, this is the reality.”

Chief Larkin emphasized that these are solely the reported calls for service of a highly underreported crime.

“On average, we have about 6,000 calls a year – that’s 16 calls a day,”
So when you think about the impact on society, some people may think, ‘Is this really happening in Waterloo Region?
Yes, this is the reality.”

“The Domestic Violence Unit is going on twelve years old. We have had varied approaches to family and domestic violence,” he said. “Twelve years ago we launched a significantly different approach.”

At this time, the WRPS joined forces with the Family Violence Project, which was launched as a new, one-stop hub model that has been held as an exemplar not only in Ontario, but also nationally. By joining with several organizations in connection with the Family Violence Project, he explained they can provide better service, better victim advocacy, and better victim support to individuals who require significant change.

Chief Larkin said he is proud of the work that has been accomplished so far, but more work is still required.

“We can also start to move the pendulum towards upstream prevention, greater awareness, and really a long-term domestic and family violence prevention plan which reduces victimization,” he said.

“It’s not about raising fear. It’s not about creating chaos in the community.
It’s about bringing attention to a significant issue that has ripple impacts,” Bryan said.

Changing the Narrative

Chief Larkin thinks building awareness through projects like #SheIsYourNeighbour is an important piece when it comes to prevention.

“It has been some time regionally since we have had a significant awareness campaign and prevention campaign to bring attention to family violence and domestic violence,” he said. “If you think about it, it is something that is challenging to talk about. Not a lot of families, not a lot of people, not a lot of coworkers want to talk about it.”

But as a community leader and as the Chief of Police, he emphasized that this is a problem that needs more attention. With 6,000 domestic violence calls each year, he said domestic and family violence is one of the police service’s highest priorities and one of its highest demands on services.

“We have 1,200 members and domestic violence impacts the people we work with every single day,” he said. “So I think it’s important to educate and raise awareness that this is an issue and a challenge in Waterloo Region.”

Chief Larkin explained that awareness is important because people see issues and challenges differently when they have increased knowledge. When given the necessary information, it allows them to make more educated and balanced decisions.

“It’s not about raising fear. It’s not about creating chaos in the community. It’s about bringing attention to a significant issue that has ripple impacts,” he said.

A Moment of Pause

Chief Larkin encourages community members to pause for a moment and recognize that domestic violence touches all of us.

“Regardless of your socioeconomic status, I think we all know somebody that is in a relationship that might be abusive in many different ways. It does not necessarily have to be physical. It could emotional, sexual, financial control, social control. Those are all realities and it doesn’t matter your level of affluence in the community,” said Chief Larkin.

“Through my career and in my personal life, I have known people who have family that have had challenges and domestic issues,” he said. “I think it is important for us to act. It is important to do the right thing.”

There is probably someone in your life that has been a victim, he said. Chief Larkin challenges us to ask ourselves – How did we help? Did we take action? Were we supportive? 

“Hopefully, the #SheIsYourNeighbour project creates an opportunity for everybody to just press pause and reflect and think about their own personal networks. Then actually hit play again and locate what I am going to do and how I’m going to do it,” he said.

He stressed the importance of making people more comfortable with the conversation.

“It’s not an easy conversation, but it’s one that educators and families should be having with young people around healthy relationships, consent-based relationships, appropriate relationships,” he said.

The Role of Police

Chief Larkin knows there is stigma, misunderstanding, and other obstacles that keeps domestic violence an underreported crime and police call. He points to commonly held beliefs of, “I don’t want to call the police because they are really busy and I’m not sure whether this is worth their time,” and, “Well, if I phone the police, they are going to get in trouble”.

“Often we will go to investigate and if nothing criminal has happened it does also allow us to make referrals to many different social agencies,” he explained. “Often, we have some different opportunities to make change.”

According to Chief Larkin, the role of police continues to evolve and it has changed locally in the last 30 years.

“Through my career and in my personal life, I have known people who have family that have had challenges and domestic issues,” he said.
“I think it is important for us to act. It is important to do the right thing.”

“Policing is really about providing a social service, we just have different tools and different options. One of them is the judicial system and our province does have different, stringent adequacy standards around family violence and domestic based investigations, and it ought to,” he said. “There should be little wiggle room in those things.”

When you look at the homicide rate locally, provincially, and nationally, a large portion and a disproportionate portion, continues to be domestic and family-based violence.

“I think it is important for us to recognize these are potentially preventable homicides, preventable deaths,” he said.

Being a Good Neighbour

To Chief Larkin, a strong community has engaged citizens. Citizens who ask questions, who advocate for social agencies that provide support, who hold their systems leaders accountable, and who rise up as caring and empathetic leaders. If we can get all the systems leaders coming together, he says we can look at enhanced prevention programs and working to effectively save lives.

“Those are the key pieces of why #SheIsYourNeighbour is extremely important. It’s about raising awareness, but it’s also a call to action,” he said. “It’s to get all of us actually taking a little piece of responsibility and doing things differently.”

Chief Larkin has witnessed how our communities are changing, intensifying and growing. With that, our concept of a traditional neighbourhood must also adapt.

“It goes beyond the neighbour. It goes beyond the geographical factors. Take it into your workplace. Take it into your social circles. It may be at a social class, art class, gymnastics, or the hockey rink where you learn of these types of things. The concept of being a good neighbour, in my view, extends beyond street address and apartment numbers and really goes into everybody’s life,” he said.

“But also internally – with our coworkers and friends – recognizing signs and symptoms, and recognizing behaviours, and asking the right questions. These are challenging first conversations that all of us need to have,” he said. “Otherwise, the 6,000 service calls a year will continue, and likely continue to grow. We shouldn’t accept that as the norm in society. We should actively be acting to counter-balance that and to ensure gender violence isn’t part of society.”

Brenda Halloran

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Brenda Halloran, probably best known for her eight-year reign as the mayor of Waterloo.

A leader in the community, Brenda is currently active on many boards including Supportive Housing of Waterloo, the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, oneROOF Youth Services, Focus for Ethnic Women, Startup Canada, and GroYourBiz. Not to mention, she runs a personal consulting business, coaches, emcees events, is regularly recruited as a keynote speaker, and is the proud grandmother of two.

Brenda is also a survivor of domestic violence.

“It happens at all levels of society. I’m telling you, I know women who were very well off and it happened to them. We have to get rid of that stereotype,” she said.

She added that domestic violence isn’t always visible.

It happens at all levels of society. I’m telling you, I know women who were very well off and it happened to them. We have to get rid of that stereotype.

Brenda said.

“My neighbours had no idea because I didn’t have any physical sign of it. My family had no idea. I was that woman. I was her. I was ‘she’ that nobody knew this was happening to. No one would dream it because I presented so fine to the world,” Brenda said.

An Abusive Marriage

For Brenda, what started out as a fun and exciting relationship, gradually became something else.

“I had to get out but I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

There were consistent and growing concerns around finances – paychecks would be “lost”, people would call their house demanding the money he supposedly owed them, he started stealing from her purse, and he once even drained her bank account.

At this point, they were married with a young daughter. Feeling stuck, she didn’t know how to handle the situation.

“There was always something wriggling in the back of my brain that this isn’t right, this isn’t normal. But I was always too proud to tell anybody,” Brenda explained. “It was a gradual escalation of his unstableness, his anger, his toxicity, and verbal abuse…. At the time I didn’t realize what was going on but it was really psychological. I wasn’t prepared for it, I had no experience in this type of relationship.”

Not able to hold a steady job, her husband started coming home intoxicated late at night, or not coming home at all.

“This was constant financial and psychological abuse because I never knew if we had enough money to pay the mortgage. I didn’t know if we had enough money to buy food… I had no idea what to do and I was ashamed to have to tell my family and friends, so I hid it from everybody until he started not coming home on weekends,” she said. “When I would confront him, he was verbally abusive and starting ransacking the house.”

Deciding to Leave

One morning her husband began yelling and swearing at her after she denied his request for more money. She had no more money to give. Their two-and-a-half year old daughter was present at the time. Frightened, her daughter asked why Daddy was yelling.

“That is when I looked at her and thought, what am I doing? I have to deal with this,” Brenda explained.

When she confronted him about his behaviour, things escalated and he demanded that she get out or he would come after her.

She called her parents and explained everything to them, to which she received a chilling, “Thank God, honey, we have so much to tell you,” from her mother. This was a sentiment many of her friends and loved ones shared once she began to open up to them about the situation. Her loved ones revealed that her ex-husband had been asking them for money behind her back for years.

“In a way I knew it wasn’t right but I was too afraid to leave and I felt ashamed. I think it was the shame of having to admit I’m scared,” said Brenda. “On the outside people thought everything was okay but my family knew something wasn’t right.”

The next weekend when he returned from another weekend disappearance, her family was there to support her. After kicking him out, she changed the locks and left all his belongings on the front porch. Especially heartbreaking was realizing that it wasn’t her or their daughter that he seemed most troubled about losing, but instead, a set of golf clubs.

I was taking my control back.

said Brenda.
Taking control of my life with the help available and the services in this community.

Process of Rebuilding and Giving Back

Ending the relationship did not immediately fix all Brenda’s problems. Weighed down by a mortgage that she could not manage on her own, and receiving no child support, she made the difficult decision to sell her home at a loss and move in with her parents.

Despite these hardships, she was overwhelmed with the support she was receiving.

“I was taking my control back,” said Brenda. “Taking control of my life with the help available and the services in this community. Getting back on track was another impactful event that was very very difficult but it sets you on the path of what you decide to do with your life and where you are going to take it.”

“Once you have gone through something as traumatic as marital abuse or domestic violence – there are all different levels – you have become a person of strength and determination. You didn’t settle to stay there, you made the change. If you made that change and got your life back and your joy back, you can do anything,” she said.

Brenda decided to become a volunteer with the Child and Youth Program at Anselma House. She had experience working with children through her role as a registered nurse and training in family and child therapy.

Coming home from the first volunteer training session was especially emotional for her.

“I think I cried for about four hours because I realized I was in an abusive marriage – I had just never named it. I didn’t know it was abusive. That was something I can still really remember. I thought, well, I’m strong this shouldn’t have happened to me, and it did,” she said.

Being a Good Neighbour

In the years following, Brenda continued to give back to the community in various ways.

“Everything kind of happened at once to help me in my most desperate time. So I feel that it is my obligation to help back and to give back continually, to forever give back to anybody, especially women in tough positions.”

In 2006, Brenda went on to become the mayor of Waterloo, a position she held for eight years. She hopes that speaking about her journey will inspire other women who are experiencing domestic violence.

“You can be in a bad situation where you feel hopeless and still attain the dream you had set forward for yourself. When I was in that situation, I had no idea I was one day going to be in politics and become the mayor. I had no idea,” she said.

For Brenda, the #SheIsYourNeighbour project is about sparking conversation and action.

“It’s almost like unlocking a door for the community to have difficult discussions or just pay more attention to each other,” she said. “We have to be caretakers of each other.”

She explained that a good caretaker is an open listener who suspends judgement and instead aims to understand. She said being honest and asking open-ended questions like “Can you tell me more?” and “What can I do?” is key.

“In my world I do have people coming to me with some significant issues because they don’t know where to go or what to do. I try to direct them the best I can,” she said. “To me, that is one of the most incredible honours – that somebody in a really tough time trusts me to help them.”


Who I Am

I am a self-motivated, confident woman, who stands up for what is right. I never thought that I would end up in an abusive relationship.

I am also a person who gives and gives and forgives. Although these qualities are good, these are also the qualities that lead to me staying in an emotionally abusive and financially controlling relationship for 18 years.

But women are strong. I am strong. So no matter how many times I was pushed to my breaking point, I stood back up and kept going.

Sometimes I think abusive relationships should really come with a warning sign. You know, like the ones you read waiting in line for an amusement park ride. If my past relationship came with a warning sign, I imagine it would have went something like this:

Warning: I will drain you of your energy and of your strength. I will make you feel like you are nothing. I will make you feel crazy; like you are losing your mind most days. I will keep hold of our money and I will keep it from you. In my eyes I own you. My needs are the only needs that matter. I will use everyone you care about against you and make you feel hopeless. 

Although there was no large, flashing sign to warn me about what I was getting into, now that I look back, I do see that there were some other signs that I did not notice at the time. Signs that indicated he did not respect me or my feelings. But I was young, naive and in love. And the abuse started out slowly – so slow that I didn’t even notice it beginning.

A Journey with Domestic Violence

I was only 16 when I met my ex-husband. Our relationship was always rocky and we broke up many times before getting engaged. But I was always drawn back by his charm and humour. My forgiving nature meant that I would let the past go, always hoping for a better tomorrow.

As we dated, I started to spend the majority of time with him and only him. My friends fell away and so during the times we broke up, I had no one.

Like I said before, there were signs that he did not respect me or my feelings. For example, he always ignored my plea to slow down while driving. He had terrible road rage and would weave in and out of cars, tail gating and yelling at people. I remember feeling terrified and asking him to stop, but instead he would speed up. Once I even opened the passenger door and threatened to jump out – I was so afraid that this actually seemed like a better option for a brief moment.

In addition to his actions, he would use his words to hurt me. He told me I didn’t know how to manage money and he would remind me that nothing I did ever worked out.

Once we were married and had children, he saw that I loved our kids more than anything. So then he began using them to hurt me. Calling me at work, telling me I was a bad mother and that I should be home with my kids. He told me that I was making him hate our children because he had to deal with their tears and bad moments.

The list goes on. There are countless ways he made me feel small. He would push me to my breaking point during arguments – I would explode and feel really bad about it later. When I was cleaning, he would point out all the spots I missed and he always reminded me that he contributed more financially towards our lifestyle than I did.

18 years I was with him.

And as you can probably imagine, after 18 years of feeling small, I was starting to lose myself.

I Remember

I remember the day I said to myself, “either you lose yourself completely here or you leave and save the small piece of you that is left.”

But it took a long time to get to this point. It started with recognizing that I was in an abusive relationship.

It was 16 years before I connected the dots.

I clearly remember the moment when it clicked for me. I was at the mall with him and our children, where we spent the morning shopping for them. The kids were starting to get tired and I decided to get my own shopping done while they sat and ate some lunch.
I told my ex-husband I would meet him at a certain store. When I went to that store I quickly realized there was nothing there I liked, so I went across the hall to another store. While I was in line waiting to pay, I turned on my phone to find multiple messages. He was demanding to know where I was, saying that I better come out of the store I said I was going to.

For a second, I honestly was trying to figure out how I could sneak over to the other store without him seeing me so that I could make everything okay.

But I couldn’t. So I walked out and there he was with the look I had come to know far too well. The look that told me no matter what happened next, I could not do or say anything to avoid a fight or being labelled “the bad guy”.

He started going through my shopping bags, looked over my receipts and said I had to return everything I had purchased because it was not on sale. In that moment I felt like the world was moving in slow motion. The other shoppers walked past me and I stood there while my husband looked down at me, scanning my receipts with our children by his side. In that moment, everything finally came together.

I realized I was in an abusive relationship and I knew I needed to get out.

Moving Beyond Violence

After this realization, it took two more years for me to leave the relationship. During this time, the cycle of good-to-rocky-to-bad continued over and over again. Finally, I took to the door with what little I had and the hope that I would be free once I left.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly the case. It was impossible to completely break the tie with him because we had children together.

So for a while the abuse continued. My ex would send me messages and emails. He texted and called my family and friends, using them as weapons against me. He also used our children as negotiation tools to get what he wanted.

During this time I used the outreach services provided by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. I went for counselling and took courses in communication, all while navigating through the court system.

Through this process I learned that in the past, I hadn’t been doing what I truly needed to help myself. I spun in the cycle of abuse for so many years that it became ingrained deep within my muscle memory. But after falling and getting back up so many times I had to realize what I needed to do for myself. I had to let go.

I had to stop engaging. I had to walk away and let him spin in his own cycle. He would never change, no matter how much time passed. So I had to change. I had to continue to work on me and move forward.

My Life as a Survivor

I have been out of that relationship now for almost 6 years and officially divorced for 5 years. To this day, there are still many challenges. But I have walked away and no longer engage – so in his cycle there is no one left to blame.

I opened my own business which is doing very well. I also own my own home. I have even written my first book coming out February 2020 called Behind the Mask, A glimpse of emotional abuse and dealing with a narcissist. I am a motivational speaker and hope to use my book to help others going through emotional abuse and financial control.

I choose to have my children in their father’s life because they love him and their relationship with him is not mine. I make boundaries for myself each day when dealing with my ex. My journey with him is ongoing until our children are adults, but my involvement with him is absent and I am in a much better place.

I Am Your Neighbour

I hope by sharing my story I can shine a light on domestic violence and open the door to conversation.

Emotional abuse is not something you can always see. Those who appear to be strong can be hurting so badly inside, holding onto a secret so deep that the thought of letting it out eats away at them. The thought of escaping seems impossible.

Not everything is simple.

It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship. And when you do leave, things don’t get better overnight. I know this because I went through it. I have been broken and put back together more times than I can count. But knowing that I am strong, resilient and by making the choice every day to not engage, I am free.

Doing the work to break free of the cycle of abuse has saved who I am. I feel whole again. I feel strong and I am proud that I am where I am today.


*Trigger warning: This story contains information about domestic violence that may be triggering to some survivors.

Who I Am

I am 49 years old and I have been married to my wonderful husband for 21 years. We have two amazing children.

But for more than 20 years, I called myself “the girl in between”.
This is why.

A Journey with Domestic Violence

In college, I met someone who I dated for approximately six months. I didn’t realize that when we first started dating he was still “seeing” his ex-girlfriend. We overlapped for about a month.

When I finished school, I moved back home, which was 30 minutes away from where he lived. He didn’t have a vehicle and I did, so I often drove to see him. After the move home, our relationship started to slow down. We went from boyfriend and girlfriend to “seeing each other”. While in this stage of the relationship, he opened up to me about something.
He told me he had kidnapped his ex-girlfriend for a weekend.

He assured me that he wouldn’t do that to me. He said he felt so bad and awful about it that he had asked her to take him to the police station. She drove him there, he was charged and he had to appear in court.

After he told me this, I knew I couldn’t panic. I knew that moving quickly with this information could have some scary consequences, as I had left a violent relationship the year before. So we finished our date and I drove him home.

Our relationship ended about a month later. I didn’t know it at the time, but I later found out that he had another girlfriend while we were together, who was living in the same city as him.

Eight months later, he murdered her.

She had decided to go to school in another city and ended the relationship.

He had never been violent to me. I was the “girl in between” the violence.

I Remember

I remember the morning I received the phone call. I thought he had died in an accident.

I remember feeling disbelief that he could actually take someone’s life.

I will be forever grateful that someone I knew reached out to me. It was very early in the morning when I found out and I was thankful to know before I heard it on the news.

My friend’s aunt worked at the college where I had recently graduated. I remember she suggested that I take advantage of the counselling services being offered at the college, which I could access for free because I was an alumni. I declined because I felt that I wasn’t physically or emotionally traumatized like the women before and after me. I was the “girl in between”. I felt I had to be strong and brave. I could not show any weakness.

But two years later, I found myself struggling. I couldn’t be in crowds by myself or drive on the highway. The cars on the highway were too close to me, just like the people in the crowds. If I did either of those things, I would have a full blown panic attack. I could not go grocery shopping by myself. I could only do things with my “safe person”. If I needed to pick up items for dinner, I gave myself 10 minutes. I had to strategically plan my route around the store – any longer and panic and terror would set in. I was scared of everyone and everything.

Then I was subpoenaed to court.

I knew I had to get help or I would fall apart on the witness stand. I knew then I had to take my life back. And so I found the courage to ask for help.

Moving Beyond Violence

I received the counselling that I should have went for right from the beginning. But as the “girl in between”, I never felt that I should ask for help. I saw myself as the lucky one. However, in my counselling sessions, I learned that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Survivor’s Guilt. Recognizing this helped me begin to move forward.

After being subpoenaed to court, I thought to myself, if I could get through court I could get through anything. It was one of the worst hours of my life. Even years later, when life gets tough, I reflect on where I was then and how far I have come. I got through that hour and I can make it through another.

It took me a long time to trust myself and my judgement. I started to listen to my gut and intuition and slowly built trust back in myself. I had to trust me before I could trust others. The night I met him, my gut said run. I thought I was being dramatic but now I know better.

Fortunately, at the time I was called to court, I was dating my now husband. His love, compassion, understanding, empathy and support helped me move beyond my pain and find love and laughter in my life.

My father is my rock. I was living with him when this all happened. He supported me through the whole process and still does to this day. He has given me great advice when anything comes up in the legal process. My family’s love and support helped me find the strength and courage to ask for help and move past the PTSD.

My Life As A Survivor

I am not afraid to live my life anymore. I laugh more and find joy in the little things. I live in the moment and appreciate special times with family and friends.

I am the best mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend and co-worker that I can be. I live with love in my heart and refuse to live in fear. I am not the “girl in between” anymore. I am the woman who listened to her gut and saved herself. I am the woman who found the courage to ask for help and the strength to receive it.

I live my life to the fullest in honour of the one who didn’t have that opportunity.

I Am Your Neighbour

Even in your darkest hour, the sun will shine again. You can move past darkness to find love and laughter. Being diagnosed with PTSD is not a life sentence, you can move past it. Some days will be more of a struggle than others, but that is okay.

I refused to let him win. Instead, I became the best version of me.

During the time when my PTSD was really bad, I had so many “friends” tell me to get over it and move on. Please listen and be compassionate to those who are struggling with PTSD, anxiety or any disorder due to violence. It doesn’t turn off because they are no longer in that situation and they are now safe. Respect the person and allow them to share if they want to or just hold them when they cry. Be patient and kind. Ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Don’t assume that you know.

Acknowledge how brave they are when they reach out for the help they need. It takes strength and courage to ask and receive help.


November is Women Abuse Prevention Month and I believe that we all have a role to play in ending domestic violence. While I realize I could never understand what a woman has gone through who has experienced domestic violence, I believe that men need to be part of the solution. That is why I want to speak up and encourage other men to do the same.

I am participating in the Wrapped in Courage Campaign that is happening this month throughout Ontario, including right here in Waterloo Region. The purple scarf represents the courage it takes a woman to leave an abusive relationship. However, the idea is that the courage of a woman alone is not enough; it will take the support of an entire community to end violence against women.

Participating in the Wrapped in Courage Campaign is one thing that I am doing to show my support. Something else that I can do is use my voice.

As a firefighter I’ve witnessed the immediate aftermath of domestic violence first hand, but the impact ripples on for years, even becoming cyclical. If we want to build safe and healthy communities, silence and apathy are not options. We cannot stop at identifying and labelling either – we must press on into deeper conversations and as men, I believe we need to look into our roles and seek opportunities for growth.


Creating Meaningful Connections

One way we can continue to grow is through building meaningful relationships. Recently, in a closed but very large group on social media, I shared some emotional feelings about a journey that my wife was going through. I was amazed at the feedback. So much support, so much love… A connection and acceptance that is rarely observed on social media. I could even venture to say a clear and obvious need was identified. People want and need to see real, raw emotion.

It seems in our busy lives we have more friends but less meaningful connections. What it means to be human is being shaped and redefined by every media story and Instagram post that we read. For many people, this increases their desire to identify with someone and to truly SEE them.

Some comments on my post also seemed to point to a belief that good, caring men are rare. And that a “Man Up” culture is disrupting and destroying the cultural balance and safe space that our communities are meant to provide. These two ideas tear at me at a visceral level and so I’m writing this in the hopes that we can work together to change the future.

Desmond Tutu has two quotes that profoundly impact me and shape my viewpoint:

  • “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor…”
  • “There comes a point when we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”

I’m an upstream thinker, so these thoughts are intended to help prevent abusive situations by opening the dialogue, challenging emotions, and building skills.

The Impact of Toxic Masculinity

There is also a lot of buzz right now around male toxicity and the patriarchal society we live in. This can be worded in many ways, but recently I heard Elizabeth Gilbert describe it as Divine Masculine vs Profane Masculine and Divine Feminine vs Profane Feminine. Whatever verbiage we use, I think it’s important to recognize that these possibilities exist in all of us. It is up to us to choose how we show up in the world.

Qualities like logical, focused, courageous, nurturing, creative, receptive, brave, patient, wise and responsible taken to extremes can present and show up as disruptive, controlling, petty, selfish, aggressive, jealous, boastful, intimidated, etc. We are constantly balancing between good and evil or light and dark – so how do we tip the scales in favour of good?

Whether it be Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, or Harvey Weinstein, the headlines are filled with glaring examples of dysfunctional reactions, patterns and choices of how to show up. These figureheads are modeling behaviours that are not aligned with caring and compassionate leaders and often receive more attention from media. But it isn’t only in the headlines – if we pause and reflect on the traits I’ve mentioned, I’m sure everyone can think of examples in their own lives where they’ve witnessed or displayed the profane masculine or profane feminine.

Earlier I mentioned the Wrapped in Courage Campaign and how the purple scarf represents the courage it takes for a woman to leave. I think we also need to discuss how men can be courageous – by speaking up when we witness inappropriate behaviour and by modeling the behaviours of good men.

Building Safe Communities

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, says “…leadership is a choice, not a rank.” I hope we will choose to be leaders of ourselves and lead a vision of safety for all our community.

Challenging stereotypes is one way that we can start being courageous. It’s important to recognize that there are several social stereotypes that many of us contribute to. In some ways, statements like “boys don’t cry”, “tough it out”, and “suck it up”, can have positive, survivor mindset benefits. However, they can also cause destructive patterning at a very young and impressionable age.

It’s my opinion – albeit non-professional, but with almost 50 years of being male – that we emotionally stunt boys from early on. The ability to connect to emotions and more importantly process and express them is often not taught at all.

A rather humorous quote by Confuscious sums it up:

  • “It is only when a mosquito lands on your testicles that you learn to solve problems without violence.”

Truthfully, I can’t imagine this is an exact quote, but thanks to google our strategy appears to be to walk around naked and wait for a mosquito to enlighten us… Obviously we can’t wait for the mosquito plan or solve this in one blog post, but how can we start to change the patterning? How can we engage in discussion about emotional regulation for boys and men? Here are a few options I have explored that I think are valuable.

My Request to Men

  • Create a personal ethos. Write it down. It will become your moral compass.
  •  Self-awareness is crucial to making some groundbreaking changes. Take up some form of regular reflection; a journal, meditation, or join a group. Place a calendar reminder and make it a habit.
  • Build accountability into your life, with your moral compass ask buddies to join you and keep each other on the course you set.
  • Find a coach or a mentor, who: 1. Demonstrates the values and morals you believe in and 2. Requests a commitment from you for the time they spend with you. The first one is so you get someone who can show you the path; the second one is so you value the time and investment.
  •  Have courage to stand by your convictions, and to speak up when examples of profane masculine occur around you.
  •  Educate yourself on healthy relationships, forms of abuse, and what you can do to help.
  •  Read books on emotion and leadership and continue to improve yourself.The Body Keeps the Score, The Mask of Masculinity, The Alter Ego, Leaders Eat Last, The Infinite Game.
  •  Maya Angelou said: “When we know better, we do better.” Become a coach, mentor or guide to young boys and men. Let’s ensure that the definition of being a man does not become narrowed and limiting.
  • Have open and candid conversations about stereotypes.
  • Openly encourage the men in your life to express themselves, the younger the man, often the easier it will be. If you have great men in your life remind them to spend time being Clark Kent – even Superman takes off his cape.
  • If you’re a parent, you can encourage the exploration of all emotions. If your children are happy, sad, angry, excited, scared ask them to describe it and explain why. What makes them feel that way? Ask where they feel it? Emotions often manifest in physical ways. This will teach them to associate physical feelings and know how to manage them. Sit with them and help them manage and assess the experience. Dr. Shefali is an amazing teacher and professional. Read her work. You’ll set your children up for a massive head start on life.

Men, we need to be part of the solution when it comes to ending violence against women. I think that if we all work towards being better people, as well as engaging in healthier relationships, then we will be able to make a positive difference.


Who I Am

Elton John once said: “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”

I couldn’t agree more.

My name is Kathy and I am the Music Therapist at Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. In my role, I use music therapy to help women and children who have experienced trauma due to domestic violence.

Music Therapy is a discipline in which accredited professionals use music to support development, health and well-being of a client’s quality of life. Music therapists use music safely and ethically to address human needs within cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social and spiritual domains. They conduct client assessments, develop treatment plans, implement therapy practices and evaluate progress.

Although traditional talk therapy can be a powerful tool, it does not work for everyone. Music therapy is an accessible alternative to talk therapy because music is a universal, non-verbal language. It appeals to everyone who comes into our shelters – children, youth and women alike.

A Journey with Domestic Violence

Every week, I visit each of our shelters (Anselma House and Haven House) for 6 hours to provide music therapy services to women and children. The music therapy services I offer are designed to support each, individual person.

Family music therapy includes sessions with mothers and their young children and babies. The music therapy techniques that I use are based on attachment and bonding between mother and child. This is so important because through studies, we know that trauma can have a significant negative impact on the bond between a mother and child. A big part of my role is to strengthen that relationship.

It is a relief for many young mothers to engage in guided play and music-making with their young child. This may seem simple, but unfortunately for many of the women we support, their trauma has overwhelmed their ability to meet these seemingly basic needs of their children.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, children who have endured trauma early in life are more vulnerable to develop psychiatric afflictions like depression, anxiety, mood disorders, addictions and high-risk behaviors later in life. Highly-respected physician and researcher here in Canada, Gabor Mate, states a similar case in his book “Hungry Ghosts”.

Children who have experienced trauma and abuse can also have real difficulty expressing their feelings. Music therapy offers an outlet for self-expression that is often immediately accessible, in that it does not rely solely on talking. Children and youth are encouraged to let out their emotions, rather than bottling them up. Painful memories, abuse and trauma, and expression of feelings and thoughts that are typically socially unacceptable can all be released during music therapy. Guided drumming, piano improvisation, song writing, lyric analysis, and learning an instrument are each used to support children and youth in their emotional processing.

I Remember

I met Harry, the youngest of 10 children, when he was seven years old. He was struggling with a significant stuttering problem – an issue that can be associated with experiencing trauma at a young age. During Harry’s first music therapy session we began drumming together on a djembe. It quickly became apparent that when Harry chanted short phrases in combination with his rhythmic drumming, his stuttering dramatically reduced.

The look on his face as we both took notice of this was priceless. Harry had big tears in his eyes as he tried to express his frustration with his stuttering, especially at school, so you can imagine the power of this moment.

During the next two sessions, we worked on Harry’s speaking to a drumbeat while he tapped his hand on his leg. Again, his stuttering greatly diminished while he spoke to this steady beat. During our last session, Harry’s mother joined us. Tears quickly came to her eyes as she recognized how this simple, rhythmic technique could equip Harry with a way to overcome his stuttering. I showed her how she could play a role moving forward by reminding Harry to tap his leg while he spoke.

Harry now had a strategy to help him with his stuttering – and his mother had the opportunity to strengthen their bond by playing a role in his continued success.

Moving Beyond Violence

Through my work, I also have the opportunity to connect with women who moving beyond violence. These women who come into shelter can be struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction and mental health issues, as well as shame and grief. These issues have often developed as a direct result of the trauma they experienced due to domestic violence.

Music therapy offers a safe, non-threatening exploration of emotion; it can be an expressive and creative outlet, as well as a cathartic release of pent up emotions. It can also work as a tool for transforming things like anger and conflict into something powerful, energizing and strengthening. Guided Imagery to music can be a powerful tool to assist in relaxation. Songwriting, lyric discussion, improvisation, and singing can engage our women to access a deep part of themselves that they may have lost or repressed.

One woman who benefitted greatly from this is Rhonda. During her stay with us, Rhonda was struggling with intense grief. Her 17-year-old son had decided to leave shelter to live with his brother because he was frustrated with his mother’s addictions. The residential staff at the shelter asked me to assist them in their interactions with her. Rhonda had not left her room for an entire day and night and staff were concerned with her suicidal ideation.

I went into her room to speak with her, gently encouraging her to come for music therapy. We were very relieved when she agreed. First, she had some juice and a little food, as she had not eaten in two days. Rhonda then began to unload, telling me about her experience, her sadness due to her son leaving, the deep shame she felt because she had not been able to give up her addictive behavior, as well as her depression. I simply held space for her and listened, validating her very real emotions.

Life As A Survivor

Rhonda agreed to take part in some deep breathing while listening to some simple improvised piano music that I played. She closed her eyes and visibly relaxed into the breathing and while concentrating on the live music washing over her. We then began to talk about music and I asked her if she’d heard of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. She said that she had. So I played it for her and we sang some of it together:

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me”

Through tears, Rhonda told me that she identified with the lines, “I’ve still got, a lot of fight left in me.”

After we sang the sing together, Rhonda started talking about making some positive life choices. We loaded the song into her phone so that she could listen to it whenever some of the negative self-talk emerged. Three weeks later, I ran into Rhonda as she was packing up her things. Her son was back with her and she told me they were moving into their own place. “Thank you for that time I came to visit you,” she told me. “It helped me a lot”.

She gave me a hug, and I knew that she still did, indeed, have a lot of fight left in her.

I Am Your Neighbour

These are the kind of moments that remind me we do this work and why it is so important.

For many women who experience domestic violence, their journey doesn’t end when they leave the relationship. There are lots of women like Rhonda who have a long road ahead of them as they re-build their lives. The abuse from their partner may be over but effects of the trauma they endured can linger for much longer.

My job is to provide these women and children with the tools that they need to move forward, especially once they leave shelter and they are no longer receiving our support. I feel confident that Harry and Rhonda now have the tools they need to live a more safe and happy life.

As a music therapist, it is an honour and privilege to help my clients. I’ve always thought that I have the greatest job in the world. I am grateful to be able to bring the healing elements of music to women and children who need it most.


Who I Am

Everyone has a story, some good some bad. I think the most important thing about your story is what you learn from it.

Here is my story.

I am 53 years old and originally from California. I have been married to my amazing husband for seventeen years and we have a wonderful son who just entered his teen years. He is the only blood relation I know in this world.

A Journey with Domestic Violence

I was born one of thirteen siblings all who were given up for adoption. My biological mother had me when she was forty-two and as far as I know, I was her last child. My mother’s lifestyle as a sex worker put me at risk for sexual abuse at a young age. If you think a child does not remember things from their childhood when they are adults, don’t kid yourself. I remember it like it was yesterday. I moved often between foster homes and orphanages, until my mother lost custody of me for good. At eight years old, I was placed in foster home where the sexual abuse continued.

I was finally free from abuse two years later when, at age ten, my adopted family was awarded custody. What I didn’t realize then is how my past abusive experiences would affect my future relationships. I thought my life was free from the pain of my childhood, but once you’re abused, or at least for me, it became the only type of attention I really grew to know.

I Remember

I met my first boyfriend at eighteen. I was naive and so desperately wanted someone to love me, all of me, no matter the consequences. The first time he hit me was after I spoke with a boy I went to college with while at the grocery store. When we got home I was thrown up against a wall, punched and called names. He said I was flirting with the guy, and had a “thing” for him. I remember he took a can of deodorant out of the grocery bag and started slamming his head yelling “look what you’re making me do”. I felt so bad and ashamed that I was causing him to self inflict pain. I am going to repeat that, I felt ashamed that I hurt him. I felt it was my fault that he was so angry and I remember hugging his ankles begging him to forgive me. He did and promised he would never strike or shove me again. I believed him. There were little arguments that we had where he upset me but not to the point that I would say it was abuse. Perhaps I neglected to recognize the signs.

The next big fight we had happened when we were headed to a birthday party. I had a white summer dress on and he thought it was too sexy. He shoved me to the floor and physically assaulted me by dropping a bowling ball on my back, breaking my back. All I can remember is the dreadful pain that I was in and that I could not move. He begged me not to tell anyone what really happened. He said that it was an accident, that he was so very sorry and that he promised he would never do it again. In the hospital, I remembered his words and again I felt so horrible that I chose a dress that made him so angry. What was I thinking! He said all sort of things that made me feel that I had provoked him and I felt his actions were all my fault.

Moving Beyond Violence

The final straw that finally motivated me to run was when he broke my nose. After it happened, he fled my apartment and I picked up the phone to call for help. This was the breaking point when I decided to leave the relationship. Throughout the five years we were together, I had pushed away anyone who wanted to help because he secluded me. He was so good at manipulating me that I didn’t know what love was truly supposed to feel like. I thought I was deserving of his abuse. I did not know any better. I did not know there was better.

One thing I have learned through all of this is, if you have a friend in a similar situation, in pain, and hurt, you may wonder why they don’t just leave. You need to realize that it’s not that easy. There are many reasons why women don’t leave. They may have had a childhood like mine and could be craving attention. Even bad attention, because it’s all they know. It’s all I knew! I was weak and my abuser had such a strong hold on me. I am here today to say, we can get strong. With the right support, with God and a strong supporter, like my mom, I got through it.

Like many abusive partners, my boyfriend tracked me down years later after I had moved to a different city. My mom had an encounter with him while she was staying at my apartment and he climbed in the kitchen window. I don’t know how that conversation went. But whatever she said, I never saw him again.

My Life as a Survivor

To be a woman who was in an abusive relationship for five years is not something I am proud of. What I am proud of is that I am a woman who survived, got out and never looked back. I made the choice to help myself and help others. I am free of the pain and control I was under for so many years. Today I am an example of someone who was severely abused but found the strength to love myself and create a life that I had always dreamed of. We are all survivors and it is possible.

I once heard someone use the phrase “Beauty from Ashes” I feel that I became a beauty from ashes. I AM A SURVIVOR. I am so proud of who I have become and though the journey was hard, I feel that I am a very strong woman because of it. I have an amazing man who loves me with his entire heart, I have an amazing son who is my entire world, I own my own company and I now make it my mission to help other women who are going through the things I have. I hope that by sharing my experience I am able to make a difference in many woman’s lives. I want to help others create beauty from ashes.

I am Your Neighbour

If someone comes to you and is need, if they are going through abuse, know they are coming to you because they need someone. They need someone who they can trust, they need someone to listen, they need someone who is not going to judge. Just be that person. In my personal journey, I was not ready to make any moves until I was really ready. It was so very, very hard to open up to anyone, but when i did, I was not looking for a scolding or a lecture, I was looking for a trusting person who would just listen, let me cry and ask for help when I was ready. Always recommend the places where they can seek help such as Women’s Crisis Services, be gentle with them, and let them know there are places of safe haven for them.

Together we can save one person at a time.

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