Personal Stories

A Survivor’s Story

I was raised in an abusive, alcoholic home and learned feelings of anxiety and fear early in my life.  Love and affection were given only for agreeable and proper behaviour.  I married at 17 in order to escape my home.  My husband reinforced my insecurity and poor self-esteem on a daily basis.  He left numerous times for other women, and told me I needed to try harder to please him and keep him happy.  My first bout of extreme depression began; I was put on antidepressants without any actual treatment and felt nothing for several years, including the birth of my daughter.  I divorced and married a man 20 years older than me who had a drinking problem.  I married my third husband knowing he was abusive and drank too much, but he was put on medication and that seemed to help him.  As time went on his drinking increased to half to a full bottle of whiskey every night.  His abuse increased with his alcohol consumption.  This included verbal and physical assaults.  Any social life we had came to a halt and my energy slowly dissipated until I was just sleeping and then getting up to go to work at my afternoon shift job as a care aide.  I started finding work almost impossible and had a few breakdowns at work as well as missing work so I could sleep all day.  I could not have told you that I was depressed, as I did not have a name for how I felt.  I also could not tell anyone what was going on at home as then they would know I was a complete failure.  My family doctor recognized my anxiety and prescribed Paxil and Celexa, but I could not share the abuse I was experiencing with her.

I decided to end my life, as I could not bear the pain anymore.  I went to a clinic to renew my prescription for Celexa with the intention of overdosing.  My main concern was my daughter so I decided to crash my car so she would think it was an accident instead of on purpose.  The doctor at the clinic was very observant and asked me outright if I was contemplating suicide, and I was so taken aback I said yes.  She put me in touch with mental health immediately and within a few days I was seeing a psychiatrist.  She was kind and observant and seemed to understand what I was experiencing and for the first time I started to feel safe enough to share my feelings and tell the truth about how I was feeling.  It took time before I could tell her about the abuse, as I was so ashamed.  With new medication and her giving what I was feeling a name (post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, anxiety and a total lack of self-esteem) I somehow started to feel that there was some hope.  As our visits progressed, she felt that the day program would be of help and she arranged for me to start.  The first month was so hard, as my energy was nonexisent and getting out of bed a major feat.  I missed a lot of information at first, as my focus and memory were impaired.  I often felt annoyed at the counsellors as they kept saying I had to get there daily and on time.  I did not feel that they understood how difficult that was for me.  I suffered horrible anxiety at the thought of being in a group and being expected to talk about my life.  As time went on, I started to see the benefit of the group and struggled to grasp the ideas they were teaching.  I did not tell the group of the abuse at home as the shame and humiliation were mine only.  I started to gain some confidence and after an abusive episode, I told my husband that if he ever touched me again, I would leave him.

My huband once again verbally and physically assaulted me and forced me out of our home, locking me out.  I had only a nightgown on, and he refused to let me have any clothes or shoes.  I phoned the police, and they assisted me in getting my personal items and arranged for me to stay in a safe house.  My frustration increased when my husband told the police that I had a drinking problem and mental illness, was on medication and had gone ballistic because he forgot to take out the garbage.  The worst thing for me was that I could tell by the difference in the way the police spoke to me that they believed him.  My humiliation was complete and my shame and embarrassment were devastating.  I remained at the safe house for a while, then went to stay in the basement of my daughter’s house and tried to figure out what to do.

It was at this point that I shared about the abuse in my marriage with the day program group.  The counsellors, while skilled, could not really help me with the issues regarding abuse nor did they refer me anywhere to deal with them.  They said I did the right thing leaving but were no help in identifying the pain, loss, shame and hurt I was feeling.  One night I phoned a counselling program for abused women after seeing an ad in the paper and, crying, told them the trouble I was experiencing.

From the first meeting with them, I felt a hope that I had not felt before.  In the one-on-one sessions I found people who could understand what I was feeling.  In the group meetings I met other women, young and old, attractive, intelligent and caring who expressed the same things that I was feeling.  I cried, suffered, talked and listened as others did the same and finally started to understand that just as we women shared a lot of the same experiences, the men also shared all the same traits of anger and oppression.  I started to understand the cycles of abuse and my part in tolerating it.  I learned that women in abusive relationships often suffer from depression and seek ways to medicate the pain, with alcohol and drugs prescribed or otherwise.  I, for the first time was not alone.  It was through the STV Counselling program that I gained the strength to stay away from my husband and proceed with the divorce.  Mental Health helped me with many issues related to my illness, but they lacked the knowledge or understanding to really identify and help with the abuse issues.

I am still on the road of recovery, but I find the mental health support groups and STV Counselling program are both needed to address not only some of the same issues, but different ones also.  The most helpful thing at the STV Counselling program was the kindness and non-judmental way they handled my problems and the knowledge they possessed about issues of abuse.  Just knowing I could call them if I felt unsafe and they they would help me was so essential to my recovery.  The most important thing that mental health offered was the knowledge of my illness and the medications that I was taking.  I have discovered strengths and abilities that I did not know I possessed; this is a gift from the kind, caring, understanding and skilled people at the STV Counselling program and the people at Mental Health.  Between the two I feel like I am becoming a whole person for the first time in my life.