Thinking back to the early days of her 25-year marriage, Linda now believes the age of 19 was far too young to walk into that commitment. But at the time it felt right. The relationship was working. Everything was good. Until the day it wasn’t.
He came from a home of abuse; the only child of an alcoholic parent. As the years passed by, shades of his father began to appear. He became controlling, intimidating, insulting. Linda was treated with indifference; his attitude and angry rants became darker and increasingly more frightening. He was highly opinionated and disliked strong women. Linda recalls the rules, “He had very firm lines on how things were to be done and ensured both his wife and two sons always stayed well within those lines. The intimidation and underlying threat was strong. He alone made the decisions and solved the problems.”
As the relationship continued to decline and the threat of violence grew stronger, Linda made it clear that if he were to hit her, it would be over. Then he did. She states, “He showed me he decided to cross that line and I showed him I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I thought, what now?”
Linda knew she wasn’t going to leave until her children were old enough to make their own decisions thereby avoiding the possible court judgement of being placed in an unsafe home with an unsafe parent. She needed to be there to protect them. She continued to work part-time to allow for more home-time, her voice became quiet to reduce the risk of backlash and she remained until the time to leave was right.
Linda talks about the moment she shared her story with a friend, “It was 20 years into the marriage. We were out walking one evening and I just started crying. He was away and I wanted so desperately for him to never come home.”
She is also grateful for a very supportive OPP friend who began to recognize the signs, offered support and suggested she reach out to Women’s Rural Resources Centre (WRRC). Linda made that connection and it was during her conversations with a counsellor at WRRC that she realized it was time to deal with what was happening at home.
As the summer started to fade, Linda’s husband experienced a self-caused auto accident, was hospitalized for 8 weeks, then off work for a period of time. It was during this time that he began to sense Linda was pulling away. She returned from an overnight business trip to an evening that started off calm enough but swiftly changed to anger – directed first at her youngest son, then quickly moving on to her. Drunk and enraged he struck her across the face and repeatedly threatened to end her life, compounding that threat with the knowledge that the end might come when she was least expecting it. He demanded she sleep on the couch then stormed off to bed.
Quietly checking on her two sons, who had been ordered to stay in their rooms, she told them each to pack a back and sit tight. She took her still-packed travel bag and work case and opened the front door. Linda recalls, “The click that lock made was like a cannon shot at midnight. I was terrified he would hear it.” But he didn’t. She listened to the silence for a moment, signaled to her boys, and the three of them left together.
Unsure of where to go, she drove to the home of her OPP friend and his wife, who in turn took her to the station. She didn’t want to press charges, she was afraid, but knew it was the right decision to make. Linda and her sons continued on to the WRRC emergency shelter to ensure they were safe. He was then arrested, charged, and directed to live with his mother in a neighbouring community. A day later he was out on bail. He was convicted of uttering death threats and told to maintain a distance. Linda ensured a restraining order was in place. She then moved in with a friend, keeping her vehicle hidden to avoid discovery. A few weeks later the separation was in place and Linda and her sons moved back into their home. Linda worked three jobs to pay the mortgage and provide a solid, safe and loving environment for her young family.
Linda wants women to know that first year on your own is the hardest. “When I left, I wrote a 10-page list of everything he did. When I thought it might be easier to return to the relationship I read that list. It kept me strong; it kept me moving forward. And when I reached the 1-year mark I made a list of all the good that had occurred and all of the challenges I still had to face. That list of good grew every day.”
Fear was ultimately her biggest barrier to making a change – fear of the unknown, the shame she felt, fear of death – so many emotions were at play. “It was equivalent to a massive boulder sitting in the middle of the road. I couldn’t go under, over or through it. It stopped me cold”.
– Do plan for safety when you are in a difficult situation. Safety comes first.
– You are much stronger than you think. Don’t give up – take one day at a time. Linda is living proof that it can be done. She states, “Life is too short to live in fear. People like this are owners, not partners.”
– It is okay to reach out and ask for help. Her greatest supports were the police, fire department, community members and Women’s Rural Resource Centre.
– Friends and family are important…however, it’s a good idea to lose those friends that aren’t supportive, those that are negative and judgmental.
– Keep busy, find positive things to do. It’s hard, but essential to your overall health.
– Exercise, walk, run, try yoga. Remain active.
– Join a support group – Linda remains friends today with many women she met along the way.
– Start a gratitude journal. The gratitude grows every day. And the joy will come back.
Linda has been married now for 14 years to a wonderful man and they share a relationship based on mutual respect, trust and lessons learned. Between them they have 7 children and 11 grandchildren. Linda is proud to share that her two sons are now exceptional fathers.
She still sees her ex at occasional family events and finds herself somewhat fearful at times, avoiding words that might aggravate. She knows it’s part of the process. She is sensitive to derogatory comments about women and behaviors. She knows there will always be those that judge, hurt or intimidate the vulnerable, but she can now stand up for herself, for others and for what she believes – she has found her voice and doesn’t hesitate to use it. She works to right wrongs. And she will always be eternally grateful to everyone that has helped her and her family along this very challenging and often fearful journey.