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Sometimes those who seem the most charming are the abuser

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With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Star and Times felt it was important to bring attention to this cause, for it happens a lot more than we’d like to admit. In hopes of sharing with our readers just what domestic violence looks like and can do to a person, a Valley woman has come forward to share her story anonymously. To protect the identity of this survivor and her underage children, we will refer to her as Susan.
Susan, much like many other women who’ve experienced domestic violence, saw little warning signs along the way, but her abuser had a way of manipulating the spotlight when out in public by being funny and charming.
“I didn’t realize all at once that the relationship that I was in wasn’t good,” said Susan. “It was small things here and there, such as comments from my family and looks from people outside the relationship. I would burst into tears more times than I ever care to admit over the smallest things that he took major issues with.
“There were never any huge big red flags that jumped out at me and yelled ‘RED FLAG! RED FLAG!’ It was a number of small, inconsequential things here and there at the beginning. He would create issues in things such as putting the toilet paper on the roll the right way. He always had to drive and had to be first wherever we went. He always made it seem like he was being a perfect gentleman by doing so, but it was just a form of control.”
When looking back, Susan realized that things early on in the relationship that she thought were gestures of caring and romance, were actually tactics to control her throughout the relationship.
“In retrospect, we were together about a week before these things would pop up,” said Susan. “Looking back now there were so many things that I thought were cute, or sweet, that were actually just ways of asserting dominance, and control. For example, he would go get coffee in the morning and not take keys with him so that I would have to get up and go down three flights of stairs to let him back into the complex I lived in. I thought this was sweet and he was thinking of me by getting coffee, but in reality, he was getting me out of bed well before I wanted to or needed to, and being hostile that way. My door keys would be by the door, he just chose not to take them and would rather make me get up and let him in.”
The rude awakening came for Susan after she got married. There was no more masking the abuse with sweet little gestures and the nightmare of domestic abuse began.
“The day we got married he absolutely flipped a switch,” said Susan. “There was a side to this man that I hadn’t fully seen before this day. Instead of enjoying the day that was supposed to be about the two of us, he invited people back to the hotel to party. I had been up since 5 a.m. with our three-month-old baby. I was exhausted, having done 90 percent of the setup and decorations alone. So when everyone finally left, I was rightly ready for bed and barely keeping my eyes open at this point.
“He proceeded to think that I owed him sex to consummate our marriage. Keep in mind our three-month-old was sleeping in the room during all of this. He berated me and threatened to have our marriage annulled because we hadn’t consummated it. This fight went on until about 5 a.m. the next morning. I wasn’t allowed to sleep because he didn’t want to stop arguing.”
The incidents only continued and grew more severe and frequent as time passed on. Then it became physical.
“He tried to isolate me, first by making me choose between his friends or my friends and him,” said Susan. “He didn’t understand that a person could be upset with someone or mad at them and not hate them. With him, it was all hate all the time. Little by little I was whittled down to only one friend who would even tolerate him enough to come and see me when he was around. The rest would avoid him and I didn’t see this even then.
“The relationship with my brother and my sister-in-law was hit the hardest. He would message them saying that I said things, even when I didn’t say them or meant them differently. He would turn it around by telling me things that they necessarily didn’t say or mean, just to drive a wedge between us. He twisted so many things to his advantage and in every way possible.
“There were a few instances where things got violent,” said Susan. "Once he threw me into a closet and another time he grabbed my arm hard enough to leave bruises. There were times he forcefully grabbed me by both arms to make me sit down on the bed or a chair.”
Susan became increasingly concerned and fearful for her children who would see the abuse she was taking and sometimes would be in the direct path of fire themselves.
“He told me I should get an abortion almost every day through my pregnancies,” said Susan. "He would make comments that I was an unfit mother and would lose them to Child and Family Services (CFS).
“When it came to the children, there was one instance was when I was trying to discipline one of our children for doing something they shouldn’t have. His response and exact words were ‘if you spank my favourite and I’ll spank yours’. The child he was threatening to harm was four months old at the time and was fast asleep.
“I remember one time when I had all the kids loaded in the van because I was trying to leave,” continued Susan. “He somehow got to the vehicle before I did and took out the master fuse so I couldn't leave. I didn't know at this time, but that that was unlawful confinement. I was scared to phone the cops. My ex had some pretty scary connections and the things he insinuated would happen if I phoned the cops, were worse than putting up with what he was doing. He was smart and would only actually threatened to kill me when he knew it would come down to my word against his.
“He was also mentally and physically abusive to my oldest child who wasn’t biologically his. As a result, my one child went to therapy for years, and it has taken a long time to overcome the trauma and abuse suffered at the hands of my ex.”
Susan’s ex-husband would try to find ways to smooth things over with her after one of his episodes. Most of the time, he would shift the blame onto her for what happened or use gaslighting her as a method to control her.
“He would say he was sorry and that he loved me, and told me if I was nicer to him or listened better that these things wouldn’t happen,” said Susan. “Seemingly random gifts and presents would show up and I didn’t even know what all he had done wrong at this point. He was feeling guilty, so that’s where some of them had come from.
“As a result, I felt crazy all of the time. He had me convinced that 80 percent of the things I know had happened didn’t happen. I was unaware of what the term gaslighting meant until after I had finally convinced him to leave. He made me feel like I was the one with mental issues.”
Some of Susan’s family and friends tried to express concern about the situation she was in and that it wasn’t good. Susan was trying to make sense of what she was going through and was unable at the time to communicate it to others around her.
“My mom and dad, more than anyone, knew something was wrong but didn’t know exactly what was going on,” said Susan.
“One time I remember my mom saying she didn’t understand how he could make me cry when I was six hours away from him. I couldn’t explain it to her, so I didn’t even try to.”
For every domestic violence survivor, there comes a breaking point where the abuse becomes so bad that they risk everything, including their own life, to break free and get away from it.
“I knew I couldn’t continue on like this after I found out I was pregnant again,” said Susan. “I wasn’t allowed to go on birth control and when I did get it he would throw it out or take it from me, so I couldn’t take it. I can recall sitting there looking at the pregnancy test that said pregnant on it and I just couldn’t put another child through what he had done to the rest of us.
“I couldn’t survive another pregnancy being told I was a fat cow and good for nothing or being told to get an abortion almost every day. I had actually already asked him to move out at this point, but he was dragging his feet trying to get me to change my mind.”
Susan had been working on a safe exit strategy for her and the kids, but her ex-husband tried every trick in the book to prevent her from leaving.
“He had called CFS on me at least once at this point,” said Susan. “That was also a deciding factor for me that there was no saving or staying in this. He tried to abuse the CFS system as a means to control me and prevent me from leaving.
“I had been hiding money for a while at this point, knowing I would need it when the time came. Unbeknownst to me, he had found the money I had tried hiding the year before and spent it all. This wasn’t going to change my mind. I did a quick check and made sure I had enough to feed my kids and laid down the ultimatum.”
Susan finally managed to get her abuser out of the home and away from her and the children. He didn’t leave quietly and still tried to come back after everything he had put her through. Susan was a mix of emotions as she tried to put her life back together and process what she and the children had been through.
“I was so sad for the loss of our family after he finally left,” said Susan. “I grieved what should have been, not what was. When he left, all I felt was relief. I sat down and just cried my eyes out. The relief I felt was incomparable.
“We moved out of the house that we had shared together. He found out where we were living after that, threatened to show up there and we moved again then as well. We cut all ties with his family. I was trying to keep the communication open with his mom so she could see the kids, but she video called once with him and I ended up blocking and deleting her as well. I haven’t added any of them back into our lives and don't have any plans to. They chose not to be involved as well.
“He tried daily to get me to come back to him,” said Susan. He would threaten to have my kids taken away. When that didn’t work he threatened to burn the house down with all of us in it. I ended up blocking him on all forms of social media and had to change my phone number. We were down to communicating by email only. He had two of my email addresses and would use both of them in the same conversation just to control what he could.”
Susan took the necessary precautions to ensure her safety as well as the childrens’. She found the RCMP to be extremely helpful in her situation and had other supports in places she never expected.
“The RCMP were amazing in helping me through this,” said Susan. “I ended up getting a restraining order against him after the birth of our child. I had tried so hard to protect the children in all of this.
“He showed his true colours in front of the nurses in the maternity ward when I was in labour. They stood up for me and actually barred him from the maternity ward. I can’t thank them enough from the bottom of my heart. They helped to keep us safe and I will be forever grateful to them.”
Susan faced the hardships many people fleeing a domestic violence situation do when it comes to getting a protection order. One must prove that their life is in imminent danger and if children are involved, a separate application must be filed and proven as well. Getting a protection order is one of the hardest things to get.
“I have a restraining order still in place to this day and it was written into our divorce,” said Susan. “The Judicial Justice of the Peace I had on the phone that day was less than empathetic to my situation. She refused to give me a restraining order for my children because, according to her, I still stayed after all of the instances of abuse I told her.
“Despite that initial setback, the lawyer and judge that I had were absolutely amazing with the divorce. They made it move along as fast as possible.”
There were still many obstacles ahead for Susan as she went through the process of finalizing her divorce and moving on. The lack of resources in rural areas for people going through domestic violence situations is severely lacking.
“One of the biggest things I had to deal with was in my own mind staying strong and sticking to the boundaries I had laid out for myself was the hardest part,” said Susan. “Dealing with CFS was also extremely challenging. I had to allow him visitation and access to his children but there is nothing set up for victims of domestic abuse north of Brandon. So I was forced into having to see him and deal with his abusive narcissistic ways, meanwhile, I was just trying to keep from being charged with parental estrangement.”
It’s been three years since Susan has been out of the clutches of her former domestic violence abuser. The road hasn’t been easy and every day is still a constant fight to keep going.
“It was hell for a while, but things are definitely way better now than they have been,” said Susan. “My ex hasn’t seen the kids in 25 months. I was making appointments for him with access in Winnipeg and he kept cancelling all of them, so I stopped making them. He hasn’t bothered to reopen the file and hasn’t asked about them in 15 months.”
Looking back at her situation, Susan has some words of wisdom to share with those who are in a domestic violence relationship and with those who don’t understand what it’s like to go through it.
“You will only leave when you are ready and no one can tell you what to do, but please, tell someone,” said Susan. “Call the RCMP. Don’t be afraid like I was. Material things can be replaced but you or your children's lives can’t be.
“You have no idea what it is like unless you have lived it. It isn’t as simple as just leaving. Financial abuse can make it impossible and not having a vehicle, access to a working phone or computer to ask for help are major barriers. Instead of judging a situation like mine, just be kind. Everyone lives a life that you have no idea about behind closed doors. The people who seem like the nicest and funniest guys can be the abusive ones when no one else is around.”