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I’ve read a few blogs over the years, but I never thought I’d be writing one. A few weeks ago, over a glass of wine and a long night of storytelling – telling my story to my friend Krista – I decided I needed to share an important message with the world. Krista suggested writing down my feelings might help me, and I decided if it would also help someone else it was worth putting myself out there. Short and sweet, my message is this: domestic violence can happen to anyone. When I think back, I’m not sure I knew that I was experiencing domestic violence, but in reality there were a lot of warning signs leading up to it.
I married my high school sweetheart, Ben, at 18 and we both went on to post-secondary – me, a dental hygienist, him, an Optometrist (a gruelling seven year program).
We had a lot of pressures, and the way Ben reacted to problems was a big part of the problem. When I think back, the first sign of it was a week before our wedding. Ben just kind of lost it on me. He got really, really mad, yelling and saying I was a spoiled brat. He said my Dad was using our wedding to show off and that I was too stupid to see it. I was young and unsure of myself. Part of me wondered if he might be right.
Six months after the wedding we moved away to another city where we both went to school. Things were pretty good – we had a social life and a good sex life. Ben’s schooling was stressful though and every once in a while the stress would get to him and he would explode and lose it on me. It was always me; when he was stressed I couldn’t say or do anything right. He always told me I was the problem. But then he would apologize. He would cry. He would vow never to treat me that way again. We’d be fine again, for a while.
The next big blow up came during one of our first summers together. We wanted to go on holidays but neither of us could afford the time away. He came home late; I had worked a double and was too tired to make supper. He lost it, asking how I could be so ungrateful when he worked so hard. This time he grabbed my arm, pushed me towards the stove and threw things at me. He stormed out of the house and I didn’t see him for three days. I was afraid and ashamed, and started to wonder if he was right about me being selfish. What if he never came back? Of course he did, and we both held each other and cried. He promised it wouldn’t happen again; I promised I would try harder to be more considerate. He told me he was under a lot of stress and that things had to be easy at home for him right now.
Nine months later our baby girl was born. Even though it was a joyful time, it was also really hard. Ben was still in school at the time, and we struggled as new parents. When my mom came to help out, Ben spent a lot of time away from the house. Things still weren’t okay between Ben and my family from the wedding, and I tried to keep contact with them to a minimum in order to keep the peace. Our baby boy Robert was born the next year. I worked while Ben finished school. The student loans were starting to pile up – along with stress about finances. But we both knew with the kind of salary Ben would make after graduation, we’d be okay – eventually.
Things got a bit better for a while. When Ben finally graduated, he was offered a job in Calgary. Ben worked long hours and I didn’t have any friends at the time. I was lonely. It wasn’t until Krista moved here from Saskatoon that I had anyone I could talk to. Krista and I had been best friends since high school. Having her close by helped me feel better about myself.
Not long after we moved, I noticed Ben starting pulling away from me – staying out longer and longer; playing hockey into the night. Finances were still tight as he was starting a new career. We still had student loan debt and our house expenses were high. We were both working and the kids were in a day home. We needed a holiday. Summer was coming and, once again, it didn’t look like we would get much of a break. Finally on one of the few really hot nights, I blew up at Ben. He was always away, leaving me to look after the kids alone. Everyone else was going on holidays – even camping would be better than nothing. We needed a smaller house to cut down on expenses. Pretty soon the argument moved on to my family and the name calling started; how spoiled I was…how stupid I was….how ungrateful and unloving. This time I yelled at him, and he shoved me so hard I fell on the ground. He was still yelling at me, when Chelsea woke up and started screaming. Ben left, slamming the front door behind him. My heart was broken.
The next few weeks were so hard. I blamed myself for everything. With the help of Krista, I decided it was time to get help; I couldn’t do it alone anymore, and I didn’t want to pretend anymore that things were fine. Most of all, I didn’t want my kids growing up like this.
I phoned a service and they walked me through some options. We all went to counselling together, even the kids. Thankfully, I have discovered that there is life after domestic violence. It’s not perfect, but we are still together – I love my husband. When we fight now, we fight fair. Ben is even working on letting go with my family. He still sees a counsellor to help him deal with anger issues.
The one thing I wish is that I hadn’t waited so long .There are things you can do and people who can help you early on before it gets so bad it starts to ruin your marriage or affect your kids… don’t wait as long as I did to seek it out.