"West Niagara Second Stage Housing and Counselling – Now Gilian’s Place West Niagara saved my life. To understand how you need to know my story.
I met my first husband when I was 16 years old. Like a lot of girls that age, it was a time in my life when I was trying to figure out who I was and where I fit. My home life wasn’t great, and as a result, either was my self-esteem. Right away this boy made me feel like I was something. He loved me so much. I wasn’t used to having someone in my life that cared about me the way he did. He put me on a pedestal. He was charming, caring and fun. Even back then he was the partying type. The drinking and partying seemed like fun when we were teenagers, but what I know now is it was a red flag for what was to come. There were signs that my relationship would become abusive right from the start – but I didn’t know how to recognize them.
The relationship got volatile and disrespectful very quickly. He would put me down and make me feel like all of our fighting was my fault. If I buttered the wrong side of the bread, it would start a fight.
We dated on and off for 6 years before getting married when I was 22. By the time we were married, he was drinking heavily every day, and there was fighting EVERY day. We both grew up in a hostile environment with alcoholic parents, so neither of us knew any other way. The day before I married him, my mother told me that I was marrying my father. I wondered at the time why she was saying it, but now wonder if it was her way of warning me.
Many people ask me now how I survived my abusive relationship for so long, and I think in the first few years it was because I was always focused on something. I was able to push away the pain of the abuse and keep myself occupied by events and projects.
First, I was focused on our wedding and getting married. Then, we built a house, so I was busy making decisions about the build. Shortly after that, we decided to have a family, and I went through three years of infertility and was absorbed with trying to have a baby. It wasn’t until my first child was born that I really realized how much the stress of my relationship was affecting me. Suddenly, there was someone else to take care of. Now, I was not able to put the strain of my marriage aside because it was affecting my child. This put me into such a deep depression that I wasn’t able to connect with my baby the way I always thought that I would.
We went on to have another child, and the abuse carried on for several years. I became more and more isolated. Our family didn’t like coming over to our house because the environment was so volatile. Our friends thought I hated them because I stopped spending time with them, but it was because I was embarrassed, and when we spent time with friends, he would drink more which would cause more problems after they left, or when we got home. No one ever suspected that there were serious issues in my marriage. My husband was a well-respected and talented bricklayer with a great work ethic. People really liked him, but the two of us did not do things socially together so no one got to see the dynamic of our relationship.
In the first few years, the days he was working were the better days of the week. I would always fear Sundays because that was his day off. I never knew what I was in for on a Sunday. Eventually, though, he was drinking all the time. Getting drunk on his lunch break, going out after work and drinking for hours. I would often pretend I was asleep when he came home, and hope that he would fall asleep without waking me up because I was afraid of what would happen if he did.
One night, the police brought my husband home drunk. I told them I didn’t want him there, as I was fearful for my safety. He was much more volatile and violent when he was drinking, but that didn’t change the fact that the officer was going to leave him there. The saving grace that night was when the officer went to retrieve my husband from the cruiser and bring him inside, there was an altercation, between the officer and my husband, so they brought him into the police station. My children still remember this night. I always tried to protect them from fighting and abuse, but it isn’t possible. They saw and heard much more than I probably even realize.
As time went on, I began spending more time with people in “normal” or healthy relationships. I was very envious of these people and started realizing that marriages could be very different than the one I was in. I started spending time with a friend who had been in an abusive relationship herself, and it was her that first said to me that maybe I shouldn’t be in my marriage, and let me know that it was abusive. This is when I really started thinking about leaving, but still had no idea how to do it.
Christmas Eve when my children were 5 and 8 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a typical Christmas Eve. I was busy getting last-minute gifts wrapped, getting ready for dinner the next day, and getting excited children into bed. All the while he was passed out drunk on the couch. It was after midnight when I finally got to bed, completely exhausted. Shortly after, he woke up and wanted to “celebrate”. I said no, that I just wanted to sleep which made him very angry. A lengthy argument ensued before we both eventually fell back to sleep. In the morning he was still very angry with me. My children were so excited to give their Dad the gifts that they had picked out for him, and as they handed them to him, he tossed them aside. He was ruining my children’s Christmas to spite me.
I wasn’t one to pray, but at that moment I closed my eyes and said “God, please do not let me spend another Christmas with this man.” – and I didn’t.
After that Christmas, I made my plan. I went to talk to my parents to let them know I wanted to leave. My Dad told me that there was no way I was moving into their house with my children. I was devastated and since I had nowhere else to go, I stayed.
One day that following July, my Mom called me and told me about a flyer she saw on the bulletin board at Church about a place called West Niagara Second Stage Housing – a place that offered support and housing for women experiencing abuse. Even though I worked right next door at West Lincoln Hospital, I had no idea this place existed.
The first time I was home alone, I called. That first phone call lasted over an hour and I made an appointment to go in the next day.
When I walked through the door for the first time, it was like walking into a big hug. That day felt like the first day of the rest of my life. They gave me the plan that I needed, and the inner drive to follow through.
Together, we formed a strategy for leaving and planned for my safety. My first appointment was in July, and I was given priority status and given an apartment that August for me and my girls. This meant everything to me. I would have had nowhere else to go.
After 13 years of marriage, I was free. We sold the home we had built all those years ago, and for the first time, I felt like I was ready to start my life.
Through WNSS, I learned how to move forward and received support every step of the way. I stayed in that apartment for one year while I got my life back together. I felt like I had a new best friend. We focused on rebuilding. I received help and support for my children, received legal help and was given referrals to other community supports. We received so many gifts that Christmas that I saved some for Easter. I had never seen that kind of generosity in my life.
After that year of living in transitional housing, I was able to buy a little cottage by the lake for me and my daughters.
Even though I didn’t live with my husband any longer, he was not out of my life. My children still spent time with him. And when they did, he would manipulate them into thinking that I was crazy and that all of our problems were my fault. As the kids got older though, they began to understand who he was and would be afraid to get into a car with him, so I would always drop them off. Eventually, they stopped spending the night. I started talking openly with them and I always told them if they didn’t feel safe to call me any time and I would come and get them.
When my oldest daughter was sixteen, she went to live with her father. Her relationship with him quickly became as abusive and hostile as my marriage. He threatened to kill her and bury her in the backyard. He died a few years later at the age of 46. He had gone home drunk one night and fell trying to get into the house and hit his head. He was found a few days later.
Though that part of our life is over, the pain is still very real, and we are still dealing with the aftermath.
My oldest daughter is just getting out of an unhealthy relationship. I knew for a long time that the relationship was not good for her, but my mother told me not to get involved. Just like she didn’t get involved in mine. I wish she would have. It is important to talk to our children when something isn’t right and to let them know we are there for them.
I, myself am in a new, happy and healthy marriage. This time, thanks to my counselling, I knew the red flags to look for so that I didn’t end up in another abusive relationship. And, thankfully this is the relationship that my youngest daughter has been able to spend most of her life witnessing so that she will understand what a relationship should be.
I am looking forward to one day having grandchildren so that I can experience family the way I always wanted to. I can’t wait to make memories for my children and grandchildren that they will cherish and look back on fondly. I am only able to see this kind of bright future for my family because of what I received from Gillian’s Place.
I still go back from time to time. This was a relationship that was hard for me to let go of. It was a wonderful, supportive relationship that I will hold dear in my heart forever, and I am so grateful to know that I am not the only woman who has had her life changed because of the work being done by Gillian’s Place across Niagara – and that there are women that continue to receive the same loving support that I did every single day.
So now, I hope you understand how my life was saved. If I hadn’t made that call all those years ago, I really don’t know where I would be. This organization means everything to me and my family. Thank you for giving me my life back."