Supporting strength in survivors

Women at the Kingston Interval House Shelter share their experiences overcoming domestic abuse

Many women at the Kingston Interval House Shelter are victims of domestic abuse.
Many women at the Kingston Interval House Shelter are victims of domestic abuse.
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While the physical wounds may have disappeared, healing is a life-long process for domestic abuse survivors.

Coming to terms with inner scarring proves to be an everyday battle, yet it’s one victims face in stride.

This week, I attended a weekly counselling group meeting hosted at Robin’s Hope Transitional Housing, a division of Interval House Shelter.

Robin’s Hope Transitional Housing provides safe housing for women in transition after leaving the Interval House Shelter — a refuge for women and children in crisis.

The meeting room was warmly decorated with a fresh pot of coffee brewing. The atmosphere was comforting, though I knew that none of the questions I planned to ask would be easy to answer.

All of my concerns disappeared as soon as I met the three women in attendance. They were very open to speaking about their lives and futures, and were incredibly brave to do so.

The first woman chose not to give her name, as she remained concerned about her safety, since her ex-husband works in Kingston.

“[I attend meetings] just to share experiences and get the support of others, and to not feel isolated,” she said. “Just to normalize things.”

An abusive marriage that ended 17 years ago remains a source of trauma, she said. Issues with self-esteem, anxiety and fear are a constant headache.

She said ending the relationship was far from easy.

“In the end I just said, ‘okay, your choices are I’m calling the police, or you can leave.’ And that was the last time, he moved out,” she said.

It had been years of trying to get him to leave until her final breaking point, she said.

“He slammed my fingers on the phone, and I realized that I was teaching my daughter that that kind of behaviour was acceptable from a man,” she said. “I was teaching my son that it’s okay to be abusive.”

Her candidness about the way her ex-husband has affected her two children better helped me understand the difficulties of leaving an abusive relationship.

“Unfortunately, my ex-husband continued to be in my children’s lives so he had a lot of influence, more so with my son,” she said. “I see behaviour within my children that I see in their father.”

Beyond that, she said she’s pleased to see growth within herself.

“Progress has been made, but I do have a long way to go,” she said. “It will affect me for the rest of my life.”

Gale Kish, who also participates in the weekly meetings, said physical abuse from someone she had lived with for 12 years sent her to Interval House. She now lives on her own.

“I was completely caught off guard when I was assaulted. I felt like I didn’t have any options,” she said.

After leaving the hospital, Kish found the counselling resources that were available to women in her situation while staying at the Interval House Shelter.

She was left unemployed and uncertain about her options.

As our conversation became more emotional as Kish described the aftermath of her violent assault, I was awed by her willingness to open up to a complete stranger.

“When I didn’t have a job to go to, my world crashed. I realized I wouldn’t know who I was until I dealt with this stuff,” she said.

Kish said that she has changed for the better since she began counselling.

“I’m learning to set boundaries so it’s not as easy for people to take advantage of me,” she said.

Kish said she believes education about abusive relationships should start before high school.

“You have to learn what the red flags are. It’s not something you should learn after [abuse] happens,” she said.

Getting to know other women in the group has been a positive experience, she added.

The third woman I spoke to, who also asked to remain anonymous because of her ex-husband’s behaviour, said she faced a physically abusive spouse who stalked her years after the divorce.

After visiting shelters throughout the 80s and 90s during her marriage, she filed for divorce in 1993, after 10 years with her ex-husband. She spent time at Interval House as well as Robin’s Hope before having her own place.

Members from the strict religion she was a part of told her not to leave her marriage and to forgive, she said.

“No matter how much you forgive, it does not change the behaviour of the abuser.

No amount of forgiveness would change the situation,” she said.

She said going against her ex-husband in custody battles was a constant strain.

“It didn’t end because he kept taking it to a higher and higher level, and kept trying to take custody of the children and take them away from me,” she said.

She said her ex-husband’s behaviour couldn’t be changed.

“He seemed to get pleasure from other people’s pain. Inflicting pain made him feel powerful,” she said.

Her main goal for herself is to be well and attempt to overcome the past, she said.

“This [meeting] has been a lifesaver, because psychological effects have just been hard,” she said. “To be with other women really helps.”

The meetings are hosted by Lisa Fox, Women’s Community Councillor at Interval House, which provides shelter for Kingston women and children, as well as working to end abuse.

She said women often internalize the verbal abuse they have received.

“[Abusers] can be successful in having power and control by isolating women and have them believe that it’s their fault,” she said. “That [stays] with women for a long time … they think there’s something wrong with them.”

Fox said that similar themes often come up with domestic abuse victims. This is the purpose of group meetings, she explained.

“Someone will be talking … another will say, ‘I’ve been there’,” she said.

“Those are comments which validate each other’s experience and break down the isolation.”

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