Ch 22: Taking the Leap · Ch 23: On Handouts and Welfare · Ch 25: Helping Locally and Globally · fleeing abuse

The Gift of Safety

I was three years out of my teens. Just weeks before, I had married. Today I was fresh out of my first-ever psychiatric hospitalization.

“Adjustment disorder” they called it. Surely, I had been fine before this—though perhaps slightly vulnerable to stress—and would be fine again shortly. I was simply taxed, of course, by the move to a new location, marriage, and suddenly sharing a home with my partner.

That was the physician’s theory. To this day, I suspect it was more about the beatings shortly to arrive, the early warning signs of these.

As soon as we’d wed, my husband began to follow me from room to room—24/7, even if I woke in the night and including while I used the toilet. A private person, even this first indication was stressful for me. When I told him I needed more space than this, he insisted I no longer had a right to privacy, that we were “one” now, that I was “his,” a mere extension of his own self.

Weeks into his constant presence, and the various strange and escalating behaviours always imbedded in it, I cracked. After having not slept for many nights, I was admitted to the hospital with the severe symptoms that accompany acute, persistent insomnia.

Now stabilized, I was discharged—with no game plan. After all, the only issue was my “low tolerance for new situations.” (That I had navigated countless major adventures before this one, without incident, was considered neither here nor there.) It was expected, then, that I would simply return home, to the “care” of my spouse.

Instead, I told my husband a discharge time two hours later than scheduled and stood, anxious and alert, at the regional transit stop. When the bus finally arrived, I scooted on board, digging deep into my large cloth bag for the fare. The driver urged me to sit—to add the change later—as she needed to set off on the route. Blocks in, I was mortified to realize I had no money on me whatsoever (I hadn’t seen the bag for well over a week). What to do?? I sank low in my seat and hoped to not be caught out “stealing” a bus ride, the first kilometer unintentionally and the remainder knowingly. But what choice did I have?

At the transfer point, I scurried off the bus and away, but heard a voice gaining, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” I gave up, turned toward her. “Ma’am, you forgot your transfer!” Frightened, I shyly told her the truth, “I’m not eligible for a transfer. I didn’t pay. I got on your bus thinking I had the money, then found I didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“Where are you trying to go?”

I paused, then said the words out loud for the first time, “The domestic abuse shelter.”

She looked at me, warmth in her eyes. “You listen to me, honey. I’ve been there. I went through this. You’re going to make it. Do you hear me? You’re going to make it. You hang in there. I’ll be rooting for you.” She slipped the transfer into my front shirt pocket, smiled, turned, and walked away.

Dear Transit Driver: I don’t know who you are. It was over twenty years ago. You were right, I did make it. (((Thank you.)))

Dear Other Me’s out there: The transit driver and I want you to know, so you listen to us, honey. We’ve been there. We went through this. You’re going to make it. Do you hear us? You’re going to make it. You hang in there. We’ll be rooting for you.

There are many ways to help a family prevent abuse, or to help heal survivors and perpetrators of abuse. Although it’s never as simple as one factor, economic strain tends to increase risk of abuse in people inclined to exhibit this behaviour. Countless other variables do too.

If you know a couple or family under stress, considering providing the version of support you can, while keeping yourself safe. If you are close with the couple, you might offer to connect them with a financial aid advocacy agency or affordable therapist, help them budget or find affordable housing, or help them get some space from each other during their most trying time. Tips regarding all of the above are presented in my book.

If abuse is at high risk of occurring, or has already occurred, contact your local victim services organization or domestic abuse shelter hotline to learn what steps are best next taken in your region.

What each of us does counts. What each of us does can make all the difference.

 

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