A Story of Mental Health
and Coercive Control

A Story of Mental Health and Coercive Control with Cheryl Haskett

Jenna Mayne: Welcome to she is your neighbor, a show where we discuss the realities and complexities of domestic violence. This podcast is brought to you by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, a charitable organization in Ontario, Canada. I’m your host, Jenna May. Join me as we talk to different people each week to learn how domestic violence impacts people from all walks of life. She is your neighbor, and we all have a role to play in ending domestic violence.

This week’s episode is called a story of mental health and coercive control with Cheryl Haskett. Cheryl is an entrepreneur who runs her goat milk ice cream company, utterly ridiculous, from her family’s farm in bright, Ontario. Cheryl was first connected with us at Ah Women’s Crisis Services in 2019 when she donated ice cream to our clients and shelter for Thanksgiving. From there, Cheryl told us of her experience with domestic violence and how this inspired her to give back to women in similar situations. This episode is part of our six episode Survivor series, which focuses on the experiences of survivors of domestic violence. In this episode, Cheryl talks about her previous abusive marriage and how this led her to stay in a women’s shelter in Barry, Ontario with her two young children. We talk about the services that she was able to access while in shelter and how she now uses her business, utterly ridiculous, to give back to organizations that support women. I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak with Cheryl about her experience, and I really appreciated the discussion we had about mental health and how it’s never an excuse for abuse or violence. Now, before we get started, I’d like to note that the following episode includes a discussion of domestic violence and abuse, which may be distressing or traumatic for some listeners. Please take care of yourself and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. I’d also like to thank Rogers for proudly sponsoring this survivor series.


Jenna Mayne: Hi, Cheryl, thanks so much for being here today.

Cheryl Haskett: Hi, Jenna. I am so excited to be with you.

Jenna Mayne: Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. It’s just really great to connect with you again, and I’m really looking forward to, hearing a bit about your story today. So can you actually start by just sharing a little bit about yourself?

Cheryl Haskett: Yeah, I’m a, 40 something woman, married at the moment, actually, with two boys and two stepsons. So four boys all over the age of 17. So you can imagine the amount of testosterone that’s running around. My place started, out my kind of life, bit of a challenging way. My backstory. I had an abusive family situation that I left when I was 16 and then started to find my way through life, and then got into a relationship, and then got out of that relationship, which we’ll talk about, I guess, a little bit got into a completely new career started over, and now I actually own my own business called utterly ridiculous, and just this past year opened utterly ridiculous farm life. So we make goat milk ice cream, and we do on farm tourism. So we work with alpacas and baby goats and lots of fun things. So, yeah, that’s a little bit about me.

Jenna Mayne: Well, that’s so cool. Thanks for, sharing that. So we’re going to start by talking a little bit about your personal story, and I’m not sure where you’d like to begin. If you want to talk, I know you just mentioned you had a bit of a family experience when you were, in your teenage years, and then you also were in a relationship when you’re a bit older, too. So I’m wondering if you could share a bit about that and you can kind of choose where you’d like to start off.

Cheryl Haskett: Yeah, okay I think it really does start when I was young. So I grew up in a family that had a lot of challenges. So there was a lot of physical abuse, emotional abuse, alcohol and drug abuse. Often, watched my stepmom being abused. And so I grew up in that environment and looked to kind of leave that environment. But when I was young, even though I had the opportunity to probably be taken away into a group or foster home, I was more terrified of being in the unknown than being in the known and so it wasn’t until I was 15 when I first left home and then went back and then 16, I left home for good and started on a journey towards trying to heal and trying to move forward very early into that, things kind of fell apart at school. I finished high school and was starting to think about a career. But I also started dating this boy, and it started fairly early where there was some, I guess what I would call now, red flags that I wasn’t really paying attention to. And the interesting thing was I had a very specific image of what abuse looked like, and I carried that image of abuse forward, and I vowed never to have a relationship like that, to never have a family situation like that. And I put a whole lot of things around myself to have that happen. But I was completely naive, ah, at that young age, about all of the different kinds of relationships and all of the different kinds of abuse and what those things entailed. And so I was kind of living this life. Got married really early. I couldn’t even have a glass of wine at my own wedding so I was married before I was 19 and found this kind of picture perfect postcard family, my husband’s family at the time, and fell in love with that idea of family and didn’t realize that there was a lot of underlying issues and challenges that really were a problem so there was a lot of mental health issues as well inside of that. And my husband, when he was my boyfriend, was very controlling, very, afraid of me talking to anyone else and it started out with these areas of control and kind of grew into that and, jealousy, a lot of jealousy and so it seemed when we got married, I was kind of given an ultimatum. I was going to go to college, I was going to move into social work for teenagers, and really excited about that. And then I was given an ultimatum. It was college or him and his family. And I obviously made the choice I thought was the right one at the time but in looking back, it was the first in a step, towards going into a pretty strong abusive relationship. And so as, as kind of the marriage went on, you know, those control issues were still there, the jealousy was still there, but in different ways. I was kind of denied being intelligent, having any kind of intelligent conversation was really kind of working for his family business, had to kind of follow in those footsteps and do what he needed me to do. And, you know, the kids were being kind of used against my ability to grow myself. And then, of course, we had some other situations where sexual abuse came into that, and it just became too unbearable at some point for me. And I was in a community of faith at the time. I do have a strong faith, but when you’re in a christian community, sometimes you can get backlash, from those kind of expected things, right? You stay in a marriage and you work it out and and it’s all fine and I had the privilege of connecting with a pastor who did say, you can go, this isn’t something that you need to stay in. This is not healthy. And I was really grateful for that. I lost a lot of friends through that time period and left and had a real struggle on how to move forward. I didn’t have a job because I worked for his company. I wasn’t paid, so didn’t have an income, couldn’t get unemployment insurance, so many things that so many women have gone through. And now I had to think about starting all over again and then fighting a court battle at the same time. And I was living at a friend’s cottage, and then they sort of turned a little bit on me. Kind of were expecting I would just go back. And so I ended up in the women’s shelter in Barrie, Ontario. And it was the first time somebody really helped me understand that there’s more than one kind of abuse. And that because just because I wasn’t bruised doesn’t mean I wasn’t in an abusive relationship and that was a really big turning point for me because up until that point, there was kind of this underlying you’re not abused, like, you’re fine like, I don’t see any bruises. And my own history, was even kind of shouting at me in that state where it was kind of like no, there’s so many women in worse situations than you are. Just suck it up. Just move forward. Like, this is what you have to do and I realized at that point, I didn’t have to do that. What I was feeling, that internal struggle, was real. I just started watching this Netflix show called maid, and that’s just bringing back so many feelings and memories and this sense of, you know, I wonder how many women are in that position where because they don’t, you know, and not to at all diminish the physical abuse, because that’s real and it’s terrifying. But there are other forms as well that are just as damaging. that don’t really get talked about. Going to find housing or getting your doctor to take you seriously when you don’t have a bruise on your face. It’s hard to get anybody to really listen and to really support you in that situation. I’ll pause there. That’s a lot of background maybe there’s some other questions that you’ve. You’ve got or you want to dig into.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that, Cheryl. I know it can be difficult to talk about these things, but I think the more we do, the more we raise awareness about the issue and kind of take away some of the shame and stigma that historically used to be there and really does not need to be. and I think it’s really brave of you to share your story, too. So thank you again for doing that. There’s lots of things you said. There’s. That was interesting to me. Even in the beginning, when you’re talking about your childhood, and not wanting to leave because it was more of. The fear of the unknown was, scarier than the known. And I think that’s something a lot of women run into when they’re in these relationships. As well, because even though your situation may not be great, you don’t know what it’s going to be like to leave. And there’s just so many barriers to leaving. Right. It’s not that simple. Simple. So it was great to hear about your pastor too, who encouraged you. I think having someone in your corner, in your community, who understands you can make a really big impact. and something else you touched on was all the different types of abuse, which I think we need to talk about much more. I think so many people do think of it as physical abuse, but hopefully there does seem to be a bit of. More of a growing awareness recently anyways, of the different types. I, find that encouraging because I think until we recognize how dangerous some of the power and control is, even without the physical abuse, we’re not going to have a true understanding of domestic violence. So I really appreciate you elaborating on all those pieces and I’m wondering if you could tell us a bit more about your journey at the women’s shelter and what happened when you got there.

Cheryl Haskett: It really was a turning point in a lot of ways and I’m, you know, eternally grateful for the opportunity. I spent five weeks there, which at the time was a bit unprecedented. I was able to see women come and go and was shocked at how many women have come and gone multiple times. And that’s not something everybody understands. And even for me, understanding, like, do you not just leave? But there’s so much underlying, there’s so much challenge and fear and shame and like we were talking about just a moment ago, this whole idea of, the unknown, you know, when, when you don’t have all these other support structures in place and funding and housing. And housing is such a big issue right now it’s terrifying. So it’s like, can I get out. There and do it on my own? Do I have the capacity? And when you’re already in a position where your self esteem and your confidence and your sense of who you are is diminished, and crushed, it’s really difficult to try and pick up all those balls and move forward. And so the time that I spent there, being able to get the 24 hours day, if I woke up at four in the morning and needed to talk to someone, someone was there. And to be able to see the spectrum of women and their kids coming through and connect with them, it created a couple of things. It created this sense of empathy and understanding and the broad spectrum of abuse and the impact of that on my life and on others. Lives, but also how deep rooted it can be and how challenging it is to move forward and it kind of opened my eyes to, my gosh, like, how am I going to make it? And so getting some of the support systems in place and help with navigating housing. I mean, at the time, I had no way to get any money. I had to go on welfare. I had to get, subsidized daycare and subsidized housing and. And managing those things, that alone was very shame inducing for me, and it shouldn’t be. but it felt like my life was going to be over because I was going on welfare, and being able to kind of navigate that a little bit, and being able to get the support in the home was amazing. I remember having the opportunity, to cook for all the women, and, you know, that’s not something everybody gets to do in those situations, but it just happened at that particular time that they allowed me to do that and to be able to feel like I could still contribute. Like, I can still give back, I can still do something here and I don’t have to crumble. I had. I remember one moment where everything was coming down where, you know, my family doctor, who was part of my family’s, like, history, like, you know, they were very entrenched.

And so things that I told my Doctor, you know, and asked for a recommendation for housing, he just refused to write. Like, didn’t matter how many times I went to him, it didn’t matter that he sent us to counseling, he just refused and I just felt so defeated that the system was just so broken. and being in courts and trying to navigate that and becoming my own lawyer and figuring out case law, it was just overwhelming. And I was able to sit with these loving women who had been there with so many other people holding their hand and go, Cheryl, you can do this. Like, you can do this, and we’re going to do our best to help you along the way. I was able to, at the time I was there, release a butterfly. It came out of the chrysalis before I left, and they gave me the opportunity. I actually have a butterfly tattoo on my back because that part of my life is behind me. And, it was just this, a lot of metaphorical sense, but it was a rebirth for me about what could be possible. And it wasn’t easy when I left, believe me like, it was tough. It was really, really tough, and I had to go through a lot. and at the time, one of the things that was so challenging was, you had all of this support system emotionally and physically around you in the shelter, and then all of a sudden, you’re out in the wild, and it feels like the Band aid’s been ripped off and you’re all on your own. And I know there’s a lot more support systems in place now than when I had gone through. But, it was certainly this start for me of a new life and a new way of looking at life and a new way to try to move forward and figure out, who am I? Who am I as a mom? Who am I as a human being, and how do I want to move forward, and how am I going to do that without the support structures and this family I created for myself that was just broken?

Jenna Mayne: Well, I’m so glad you were able to use the resources that are out there. I know not everyone is aware of them or able to access them, so it is amazing to hear that you were able to use them, and they did make such a difference for you. I’m also curious how you were able to actually leave the relationship, if you don’t mind me asking, because something we always tell women and we try and, educate the public on is just how dangerous leaving the relationship can be, because violence can be likely to escalate. And we do recommend working with an outreach worker to make a safety plan. And, I’m curious how you were able to get about accessing the shelter.

Cheryl Haskett: Yeah, it was a process like I think so many women go through, where you try to fix things and I remember I left sort of for a little bit, and then we tried to work it out and went back. You know, it was kind of this back and forth thing. but I got to a couple of points in the relationship that, for me, and I don’t know if it’s like this, for every woman that’s been through this, but I think from what I understand, there’s a lot of women that have these defining moments, and sometimes you have multiple ones, and you end up having to do it more than once. But I had a couple defining moments, and one of those moments was, we were in counseling and sitting there, and the counselor was really kind of going hard at my now deceased, ex husband, and saying, like, he needed to make some of these changes and he basically said, your wife is going to leave you. And he looked at that counselor while I was sitting beside him, and he, you know, was holding my hand, and he said, she will never leave me. And just matter of factly and was done with the counseling, like, we’re done. And, it just was this penny that dropped. Like, I just felt so sick in that moment. Like, this is what my life has become, that. That you think I don’t have the strength, that I. I can’t do this. And, it set a fire in me to go, you’re wrong. Like, I do not have to raise my children to have this kind of relationship. And I really focused on, is this the kind of marriage I want my children to see? And it wasn’t and that really set a lot of balls in motion. And then there was a second defining moment where I went back to the house to see him, and he was in bed his family has a history of bipolar and he was in bed and wasn’t trying. And at that point, I was like okay, I’m going to try to give you an opportunity, to show me that there’s something different and he looked at me and rolled over, didn’t even get out of bed, and said, I’ve been waiting for you to come back and get me out of bed and help me. And I’m like, nope, can’t go down this. I cannot. I cannot keep going down this road. mental illness is not an excuse for abuse. And I felt like that was continually also being put on me at that point like, bipolar is this thing, and it’s a horrible thing. It’s a horrible thing, but it’s not an excuse to abuse someone else. And I had to really accept that and swallow that and believe that for myself because other people were trying to put that on me. And so I ended up, of course, at a cottage, ah, of a friend of mine for a little bit. And then somebody mentioned, because I had to leave and I didn’t know where to go at that point. And someone mentioned the women’s shelter, and I was like, I’m not abused. Like, I don’t have any bruises on me and I fought with that, and they said, just call and so I called and I had a conversation and then went in, and that was it. From there on, it was like, there is this sense of validation that what you’re feeling is real, and it’s okay, and you belong here, and we’re going to help you in the best way that we can to move on and. to move out if that’s what you choose to do.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you for sharing that. And I think, since you’ve been there, I know you’ve accomplished so much in your life. You have your own business now. Utterly ridiculous. And you’ve been able to really kind of jumpstart this new life, it seems like. So I’m wondering if you could tell us a bit more about your business and how this came to be.

Cheryl Haskett: It is a bit ridiculous, honestly. when I left, I mentioned I was on welfare. I was, you know, one of the things, at the time, I don’t know if it’s changed, is you had to go and you had to talk to someone to start the job process when your kids were of a certain age. And I wanted to get off welfare, I had, you know, been having to go to the food bank and all of that kind of stuff. And when I went to the job interview, or the career, interview, this woman, she was very dismissive, just really hard woman. And she put these couple of things in front of me, and one of them was this call center and it was a call center in the town that I used to live in with my husband. It would have put us right back in that circumstance, in that situation close to where I just mentally and physically and emotionally couldn’t be. and she said to me, if you get the job and you don’t take it, you’re cut off of welfare like, you won’t get a check. And I knew that I would get the job like, I had enough confidence. It’s a call center. And another one was like a Tim Hortons person. And so I ended up, thankfully, finding another opportunity, like, the same day that I had to accept this job or be cut off welfare. And it was in the area of, emotional intelligence training. And so I went down this, like, entirely new path of opening up the brain science around fight or flight response systems and triggers and all kinds of things, which really, really helped me, in terms of my, of course, relationship, and my past and how to move forward that helped me get to the next stage and I then kind of went into this entire 13, gosh, the last 1318 years, in learning and development and teaching about emotional intelligence and conversation and engagement and all of that. And so I actually had a really great career that I was loving. my current husband is a farmer. We went through a number of things, but, at one point, we were having a conversation about creating a product from the farm and how that would happen. I have a love of food and so we went down this whole journey of what would that product look like? And we started talking about ice cream. I mean, ice cream goes with every possible moment you can imagine when you’re alone, crying, wondering how you’re going to make it through. Like, you just picture this tub of ice cream when you’re in your happy moments and celebrating it’s ice cream. And so we went down this path of ice cream for that one reason, really. how can we create something that allows for that, that puts joy on people’s faces? And then recently, with COVID and everything else, you know, hard to launch. We launched the ice cream in 2019 and then Covid hit. And as a new very niche product, it was hard. And people kept asking if they could come to the farm and do goat yoga and snuggle with baby goats. And. And so we added on a whole agri tourism element, and it’s bringing together my love of facilitation and food and animals and all of this kind, of together. And I was able to do that. I never went to college, which for a lot of people that would hold them back. I was able to get some additional learning in lots of different areas. And I took learning in and I took the life learning that I had, and I applied it with some of this other learning, and it allowed me to use all of what I’ve been through to support other people, to have the kind of conversations that you need to have to help people understand that there’s. There’s ways forward and you don’t have to be a hostage to your memories and to those triggering moments, of your life. And so this whole idea of starting a business, which seemed crazy a long time ago, it’s all new territory. And as women coming out of those situations, that’s some of the scariest thing we’re going into. Completely new territory. Can I do this? And you don’t always know how it’s going to end, but if we don’t try, we don’t live.

Jenna Mayne: And I know there’s a few different ways you give back through your business as well. I was wondering if you could share a bit about that.

Cheryl Haskett: Yeah. So we, you know, before we even started the ice cream, I still don’t actually get a paycheck from my businesses yet, but it was really important to us, and to me personally, that the value of giving back and contributing, and in particular to food, security, certainly to agriculture, because we have a link to that. But the whole idea of food security and, it’s so big. And, you know, being at the women’s shelter, being on welfare, being in a lineup to get Christmas presents and a hamper at, ah, Christmas time, or having to get food from the food bank. That’s one of those just baseline things that we need, and it’s a terrifying thing to think that we don’t have. And, I’ve donated a lot of ice cream along the way, including to the shelters. And sometimes people are ice cream, like they need peanut butter and they need beans. Yeah, but why shouldn’t someone who’s going through those situations have a treat, too? That’s not fair, you know, to just have the baseline. And I was really committed to making sure that there was something just a little extra, that maybe that person wouldn’t have been able to have or to get. We also donate, fam. donate, goats through world vision, to do food security and create businesses and opportunities in third world countries. But the work that we do here as well as is critically important. I’m really hoping that as we continue to go, especially here on the farm now, that we have facility to create an annual event where we can raise money for, specifically a scholarship program for women coming out of the shelter who maybe want to start a business, or they want to go back to school and they want to. To kickstart their life again. They want to figure out who they are and how they can contribute, you know? And they, they want to move forward with their life, and maybe they just don’t know how they don’t have a mentor who’s been there already. They don’t know the networks to access. They don’t understand who to talk to. And. And so that’s something that’s. I hope I can launch this year. We’re working on that right now. But, that’s something that is in the works and something very specific to this, which has been, really true to my heart. I don’t want it to be a one time thing. I want it to be an ongoing opportunity, so.

Jenna Mayne: Oh, that’s amazing. I love that idea. I think that would be just a fantastic opportunity for women who are moving beyond violence and moving forward with their lives. And I remember when you donated ice cream to our shelters. It, was around Thanksgiving, and it was so nice. I know it was a really nice treat for everyone, like you said, not just your normal breakfast or lunch, it was actually a treat. And you also had sent along a video at the time, too, saying, happy Thanksgiving, to pass along to the residents, and you shared a bit of a message for them, and I’m wondering if there’s any sort of message you’d like to share right now to anybody who’s listening, who might be going through a situation like this.

Cheryl Haskett: I would say right now, you know, your past and my past is part of our story that it’s never going to go away. It’s never going to be completely erased, but it doesn’t define your future, and it doesn’t get to dictate your worth or your confidence or your contribution. The ability to start to dream again. I remember it was hard you have to set up all these systems and structures, and there’s just surviving. It’s just doing the next thing to survive and whatever that looks like. But there will be a time when you move from surviving and you start to create new strategies and you start to think about thriving, and that’s a place that’s possible. And in your darkest moments, when you’re bawling in a corner somewhere, hiding away from your kids so they don’t see it, you know, those moments are real and they’re going to happen, but they’re not going to be forever. And so don’t feel like you can’t dream again. Don’t feel like this is never going to end, because it is. And I’m proof of that you know, I’ve used some of those things to move forward and what I’ve taken from that, instead of all of the bad things, is how to create an opportunity for empathy. How to understand people a little bit. More, how to understand myself and recognize. That we all have these blind spots, and to move from shame to I am a human being, worth, value, and I have something else that I can give to other people, whether that’s my kids or my community. And success looks different for every person. So it’s not always about a business it’s not always about finances sometimes it’s about, I got through this week and I didn’t yell at my kids, or I didn’t have one of those moments where I just wanted to curl into a ball that’s success and sometimes you need to just be grateful or to look at what’s the one victory. And even now, sometimes when we’re having a week or a month or something where everything’s going wrong, it’s like, what was my one victory for today, or my one victory for this week? And holding on to that? And for those individuals for whom the physical abuse is not something that’s part of the relationship you’re in or the family dynamic that you’re in, just know that there are multiple forms of abuse and every single one of those can be damaging and whether it’s sexual or control or any number of those issues it’s not okay. It’s not okay. And what you’re feeling is real, and there are people that can help you to move through that. And mental illness is not an excuse for abuse. it’s not your responsibility to be abused because that person is ill. And so I just want to encourage those individuals that are going through that that it’s okay to protect yourself and your kids.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you for sharing that. I’m also wondering, before we go here, if you could share some advice on how you think we could all be better neighbors to those who are experiencing domestic violence.

Cheryl Haskett: I mean, I think there’s always these opportunities where there’s events happening and there’s donations. Financial contribution is a big thing. and it really helps. Like, the shelters are very underfunded, the systems around that are challenging, but that’s not always possible for people. I know we’re spread so thin. Some of it is simply understanding and educating yourself on abuse. being able to recognize those signs and be a friend to someone where you see it and be gentle. not to lump on more shame if somebody has had to go on welfare or needs extra support, being there to be that ear. And maybe you’re the type of person who has seen someone go through the shelter more than once. Just know that this is an incredibly challenging process, and it takes years for abuse to set in and so how can we think that a day or two is going to unravel all of that? And so it takes time, sometimes, and not to be discouraged because you think somebody should be over it by now that’s not always the case and so there’s just this sense of just kindness, which we should just be doing as human beings anyway.

Jenna Mayne: That’s great. Thank you so much for being here today, Cheryl. I really appreciate learning from you and hearing about your story, and I know it’s going to be really encouraging for everyone who’s listening.

Cheryl Haskett: That was my pleasure.

Jenna Mayne: That wraps up this week’s show, but the conversation is far from over. We want to hear what you think. Use the hashtag hash sheisyourneighbor on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or Twitter, and join in the conversation. We all have a role to play in ending domestic violence.

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