I have to take a literal gigantic breath as I begin to write this very personal post. It’s not for fear of the consequences of divulging such personal accounts, but the huge knots it creates in my chest; a psychosomatic response to re-living traumatic experiences. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I began to write this then had to stop. I’d get doubtful and insecure as I’d stew over the vulnerability one faces when we talk about our truths that may touch on less than favorable aspects of our past. I have never shied away from talking about personal questionable life choices as a means to relate with others easily to remove some of those communication barriers. I have typically communicated them in the most digestible of ways; leaving out the darker aspects that perhaps are too heavy to unload on anyone that isn’t being paid to endure it.
But you see since the pandemic closures and increased isolation, according to John Hopkins Medicine the rate of murder-suicide, in which a male partner kills a female and then himself, has risen since the same time last year. In my personal network, I’ve been inundated with reports of domestic violence and abuse that has sent me on countless occasions into a tailspin of worry and concern for those involved. I’ve lost a close family member to a murder suicide, leaving two small children behind to face a life without either parent. And then there is my story which lead me to the decision to share in hopes others can relate and identify the warning signs or a way out.
It would be about 20 years ago that I finally left a very horrific and abusive relationship. I was an extremely naïve and sheltered teen, having grown up fairly normal, in fact very privileged. I had attended a prestigious boarding school where the evils of the world I’m sure existed, however in my little world did not. I had heard rumblings of inappropriate teacher student sexual relationships, and the odd senior who was rumored to have used cocaine. I had high school boyfriends who were all respectful, polite, in which nothing occurred outside of the typical adolescent dramatic heartbreaks.
Once I had graduated I had taken off immediately to University in Ottawa, following my high school boyfriend so we could be together forever. By year two I had fallen out of love and into the lap of this beautiful Haitian Spoken Word Poet who played the guitar, spoke French and burned incense while we canoodled on a mattress on a floor. That ended when my time at University in Ottawa ended, as did my tolerance for the smell of burning incense. My repertoire of lovers had been always a beautiful sequence of experiences and lessons in which shaped my view on love and loyalty. I felt empowered, desired, and fearless in my trust of others with my body, mind and soul.
I didn’t know otherwise. The universe had not shown me everything yet.
I look back often and ask myself when did things go so wrong for me. I have enough self awareness now to acknowledge that I have always had a curious flare for mischief and risk. The excitement attached to choices I’ve made repeatedly have always been self indulgent in nature, and in my immaturity lacked foresight. I’ve often ignored consequences; drunk off the adrenaline rush and for the most part got away with a majority of the poor choices I made. Right up until I met B.R.
You see B.R. was a bouncer at a popular nightclub I used to work at in Vancouver. He was gigantic. This was new to me, and I was attracted to the dangerous disposition he possessed. There were no boys or men like this at my boarding school or University. He was the unicorn I wanted to ride. My 19 year old self was fascinated by the celebrity status he appeared to have with crowds of people who’d line up outside and ask for him by name. He was the gatekeeper of all things cool to my little 19 year old brain. What I knew was that I wanted to be associated with that illusion of power and importance. And as things progressed it was just that…all an illusion.
I would learn as we began dating all about his criminal involvement, drug dealing, and of course the women he was still dealing with. You would think that all those red flags would be enough to high tail it in the other direction. Not this girl. I wanted more. I wanted to be a bad girl. The boarding school student, University student life was too vanilla for me. It bored me and I thought I could handle it, I mean I had a promising future what could shake that up?
I was getting a lot of attention at 19 as I had learned to embrace my shape and sporting a blonde T-Boz haircut. I was working the VIP section, serving athletes like Gary Payton when the Celtics were in town playing the Vancouver Grizzlies. It was the height of the R&B era in the clubs and it was a spectacular time to be in mix, where I was situated front and center. I was hooked and I couldn’t be swayed in any other direction.
As the courtship begun with B.R. I recall one night I would be followed from my work to my condo where a car pulled up in front of my gate in which a screaming tall blonde came plummeting out of her car to confront me. Allegedly I had stole her man. I hadn’t cared – I was seemingly winning the battle. She would continue to stalk my work place, bringing her friends to watch and attempt to intimidate me. I’d be told over and over I was the only one and made to feel that way as other girls would look on with what I had assumed was jealousy. I wish I had enough smarts then to have walked away…that would have been the first chance that I had to do so.
Eventually B.R. and I would move in together. To be honest there is a lot that I don’t remember but I know that it was filled with every kind of abuse under the sun. I was being groomed during this time to eventually be trafficked the way he saw fit or when I would be sold. Car notes, cell phones and insurance would be put in my name, where I had no idea. Bill collectors would call the home of my parents looking for me where I’d adamantly deny that the man I was with could not have done this to me. If I confronted him, I’d be met with painful and degrading verbal abuse that only sunk me further into the belief I was nothing without him. He would not return home for days, leaving me wondering where he was and who he was with. I’d sob on the floor of my shower waiting for is return which with every passing hour it would cut deeper and deeper into my self esteem and whatever pride I had left. He had been using drugs heavily during these times and would return home strung out and agitated, and I was oblivious to it. I hadn’t seen hard drugs and I didn’t know what hard drug use looked like. He’d come home one morning in a psychosis where I was woken up by him on top of me with a gun to my head, and in the next moment, it would go off accidentally; hitting the pillow and passing through the wall out the siding of the building. Another time him and his friend would rob our apartment, taking anything of value. He’d later try to say it was probably “one of my little boyfriends” which only was a way to deflect the heat away from him.
Another time I’d had enough after a terrible beating where I was able to get away and call police from a payphone on Davie Street. I’d make the mistake of telling police that he had a gun and where I believe he had gotten it from. I would learn that there was already an ongoing investigation involving the parties mentioned. That action in itself would make me fearful to live or return to Vancouver for almost a decade. Its the fear of those consequences that made me decide to join the same man that I had called police on in San Diego where he had managed to get past the border and elude police. You see I was 3 months pregnant by this time and a very damaged shell of a human being. B.R. had been successful in isolating me from my family and everyone or thing that loved me- having me to believe that my only option was him. I left with no warning and no belongings other than some clothes and whatever mementos I could pack in a couple of suitcases.
I’d spend the next 5 months living in San Diego. In the beginning my parents had worked with Vancouver City Police to locate me and they were successful however I was not able to provide a statement to police that I had been coerced to leave or had been kidnapped. The term “grooming” hadn’t really been a term used a lot in addition the way they had executed the search for me was terrifying. We had been surrounded by SWAT and when we were asked to exit guns were drawn and pointing at myself and him. I was under the impression I was in trouble and was going to do anything to get out of it. As I sat in the back of a cruiser and asked b a male tactical officer if “I was okay?” I remained silent. They would release me back to him where he’d unleash the worst beating I’d ever had experience from him resulting in chunks of my hair ripped from my head and a swollen jaw. I’d spend the remaining months stuck in a small apartment with no furniture, often hungry with no means of communication with the outside world. Sometimes I’d be able to walk a ways to find a payphone and call home where I’d tell my parents everything was good. I couldn’t risk another mess up like before.
They knew otherwise that I wasn’t at all good and as painful as it was they would await the moment I’d call and signal for help. As my baby grew bigger in my belly so did the desire to have enough strength to call and make arrangements for my escape. I’d walk in the hot San Diego sun down El Cajon Boulevard to that payphone and make a collect call to my mom and dad in British Columbia. My dad would leave their house immediately and make the 16 hour drive to com get me, only stopping for gas. When B.R. left that morning, I’d gather my belongings as quickly as possible and begin the drive home to Canada, back to safety as it seemed. I’d go onto to experience almost a year of peace from that day on starting my new life as a mom to my beautiful baby girl.
But a year is not long enough to undo the damage that had been done and in my loneliness I’d romanticize the idea that perhaps our daughter would soften his heart and encourage a new start. The communication started slow and I’d be suckered into believing that he was sorry. Somehow he’d miraculously been able to make it back over the boarder again to B.C. where he indicated he wanted to meet his daughter. Being a mother at 22, I faced some unique challenges with the familiar feeling of isolation happening to me again. My friends at this time were still in University and none of them to my knowledge could relate or empathize with the situation I had found myself in. I felt like I had no one to talk to and had not yet faced the ability to share with my parents what had happened to me. I had not yet even processed what had happened to me yet, I was just trying to survive and take care of my baby. I had not had a baby shower and the arrival of my daughter was not the celebratory affair that many of us experience in better circumstances. I had been so tired of everyone feeling sorry for me at this time and wanted to appear strong again. I was primed again to fall right back into the hands of the devil nd so I did.
It would not be long before things fell right back into the same cycle of of abuse again. And it would not take long for it all to come to the moment where I’d live or die. And unlike the fog surrounding all of the other terrible accounts of abuse, this last time I would remember every minute. It would start on a Saturday morning when I’d be dropped off by a girlfriend who’s house I would have stayed at that night. My daughter was away visiting her grandmother for the weekend and I for the first time in over a year would go to a pub. I’d arrive at my little apartment I had gotten where I’d be met in the hallway by B.R. My house had been trashed and I could see my daughters toys, clothing and other belongings had been thrown out of the window as well in the dumpster below. I’d be accused of being with other men that night and called every disgusting name in the book over and over. When I had tried to leave I would be dragged to the bedroom where I was held for the next 24 hours. I would be punched so hard in the head I’d blackout and wake up hours later with him above me, spitting hateful things. I’d be allowed to take a shower to wash off the spit and urine that had been thrown on me, only to corner me more and have more urine and feces thrown at me. He’d rape me on the floor several times, choking me until I’d pass out. I’d pretend to be dead, in fact I thought I was, breathing shallow enough as to not give off movement in my chest. This would scare him enough to finally get up and leave the apartment. Hours later when I felt safe to move I’d find my way to the neighbors and call police for only the second time on him. My neighbor would then tell me that she heard me screaming but wasn’t sure what to do. He’d go to jail for a few months and then finally deported.
I’d never return again to a life with him, or maintain any contact, My daughter would never know her father and for all the right reasons. I would spare her and my family the gruesome details that I feared so much would shape their opinions of me. The same fear I face in sharing these details with you all. Other than the courts and the police who took my statements I would share only snippets of what I had endured. Last year I finally completed my trauma therapy, and would be delighted to find out that trauma therapy would not entail me to re-hash every painful detail I had carried on my shoulders for almost 2 decades. I’d learn so much about my resilience and finally begin to release the sense of shame I had carried with me for so long. You see shifting my perspective from being a victim of domestic violence, to being a survivor of domestic violence, has been monumental in my healing and ability to speak out proudly on the topic. The moment when I pretended to be dead was not an act of giving up, it was the will to live another day, and the moment that changed the outcome that allows me to be here today. It is what has allowed me to carry on working with families and children that encounter domestic violence, and what helps me engage with other girls facing sexual exploitation. It’s what lead me to a career in social work for the last 15 years. So many great things came from being a survivor and I feel just as passionate for others facing the same opportunity to change their outcomes.
As I conclude the hardest piece of writing I have ever done, I encourage you to connect with me if my story resonated with you. If I can be of any help, direct you to resources, safe houses, or be an ear to listen to please reach out! I urge others to talk about their experiences with trusted people who can offer a good ear or wisdom that may surprise you. Survivors are everywhere, even among those who seem like they have it all together. Below I have left a few tips to consider if you or a loved one is facing domestic violence.
What should I do to protect myself from domestic violence during the pandemic?
Links to services
Look Out for Warning Signs
Put a plan together if someone you are living with is:
- being verbally or emotionally hurtful.
- threatening you.
- having episodes of explosive anger.
- harming animals.
Steps You Can Take to Keep Yourself and Others Safe
- Find a place you can retreat to safely. Avoid the bathroom or kitchen.
- Enlist support from a trusted friend or family member you can call.
- If necessary, use a code word or phrase to indicate you need help.
- Memorize phone numbers of people and agencies you might need to call in an emergency.
- Make sure you can easily access:
- identification (Social Security card and driver’s license).
- birth and marriage certificates.
- credit cards, safe deposit box keys and bank information.
- health insurance information.
- any documentation, photos, medical or police reports relating to previous episodes of abuse.
Are there apps or interventions for domestic abuse?
If you are feeling unsafe but are unsure if someone you are living with is being abusive, apps may help provide some clarity on whether or not you are at risk.
MyPlan is an app for anyone having issues in a relationship, COVID-19 related or not. The app can help users determine if a partner’s behavior is showing signs of abuse. Also, users can get connected to resources personalized to their situation and their life priorities.
In-person interventions can work, too. Strength at Home is a program offered by the U.S. Veterans Administration to address the problem of veterans using violence against their domestic partners. It serves as a way to help address abusive behavior without demonizing the abuser. Random controlled trials have demonstrated that the program is effective.