We thank our newest blogger, who wants to remain anonymous at this time, for sharing this beautiful blog post with our readers! Your strength and courage is an inspiration to all of us.
It’s January 2019. Two years ago, January 2017, I was pregnant with my daughter, awaiting her arrival with my then partner. Within these 2 years I have gone through some very rapid transformations. From woman to mother to single mother. From postpartum depression to domestic violence to “just enjoying life” so to speak. My daughter has undergone many transformations too. From babyhood to toddlerhood. Every day I watch her and it gives me new joy and hope.
I feel strange that I now stand here with a new paint brush and a blank canvas.
It dawned on me the other day that now I am in my own territory. Completely on my own. Through the violence from her father, police interruptions and a family court case… my daughter and I made it out! And it made me a better person in the end. I write this now, as a reflection. Sitting with the unknown future. Sitting with past attitudes and outlooks. I feel strange that I now stand here with a new paint brush and a blank canvas. It’s foreign to not have specific stress which looms in the background. I am more than pleased to have this peaceful beginning.
There is light at the end of that dark and scary tunnel.
After much therapy and self love, I was able to heal. Connecting with my community, friends and family. It’s really important to reconnect with oneself after ending an abusive relationship. Making my art, having art shows, jogging, meditation and yoga helped me ground myself through all the stressy mess.
For anyone going through a tough time, I get it. There is
light at the end of that dark and scary tunnel. Believe in your strength.
To anyone who has been abused, in any way, always remember that it’s not you. It’s a reflection of how low this person feels to make sure they put you down. It’s a reflection of their own hurt. Hurt people, hurt people. Don’t let them dim your light🌟
If this event was called Men 101 it might be a training event for women to better understand why some men exhibit harmful behaviour towards women. We learned during the training that women have always taken a leadership role in ending gender violence so that’s an event that’s probably already occurred many times over. Women’s leadership on this issue was easy to see at the event itself. Behind almost all the display tables of community organizations that work to end gender violence, stood a woman. As we also found out during the training, if this event was called Men 101 it could realistically be a training program that explains why not enough is being done by men to end gender violence even after men participate in this training.
I believe the group of men I was with at 101 Men Event in St Catharines, Ontario will show courage and do something, not nothing.
I’ll start with this article.
Let’s be clear the main problem when it comes to gender violence is men abusing women. This abuse can take a number of forms including verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. To end gender violence we learned this has to be a “men’s issue” and men in positions of power and influence, like the men with me at the 101 Men Event, need to step up. And punch up, not down, if required.
We learned that the best place to influence or intervene is by attacking language, attitudes, beliefs, and aspects of our culture that support abusive behaviour towards women or make it seem acceptable. By the time the gender violence occurs it’s too late and we’ve missed a ton of opportunities to address the root causes of gender violence that are so pervasive around us. It can be as simple as using active instead of passive language. Passive language says “how many women were raped?” while active language says “how many men raped women?”. You can easily see that using passive language takes men out of the equation when the opposite should occur and the men involved should be held accountable.
“Passive language takes men out of the equation.”
General Marsden of the Australian military said it best when he made a statement of action while dealing with inappropriate men’s behaviour in his own organization. He said “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
On Friday November 18th, 2016 I spent 8 hours with 101 Men, community leaders from across Niagara and the surrounding regions who were there because they want to take action. I saw an outstanding group of men who were there to make a change, to not walk past, to take ownership of a men’s issue and to create higher standards in their sphere of influence in order counter gender violence.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about a shady movie due to come out on Valentine’s Day weekend, and I’m quite frankly fed up with it! Any movie that glamorizes or romanticizes violence against women is dangerous, both for men and for women. So, rather than spend a few hours watching trash, why not spend 20 minutes watching this amazing TED talk by Jackson Katz, Ph. D.
It starts off like this:
“I’m going to share with you a paradigm-shifting perspective on the issues of gender violence –sexual assault, domestic violence, relationship abuse, sexual harassment, sexual abuse of children. That whole range of issues that I’ll refer to in shorthand as “gender violence issues,”they’ve been seen as women’s issues that some good men help out with, but I have a problem with that frame and I don’t accept it. I don’t see these as women’s issues that some good men help out with. In fact, I’m going to argue that these are men’s issues, first and foremost.”
How much time do you think it would take to get your life in order when it’s brought you to a place you never imagined you’d be?
This varies from person to person depending on their commitment to change and Margaret exhibited unmatched drive from the very beginning.
As a women’s Advocate within the YWCA Emergency Homeless Shelter, I also enjoy the privilege of being a Case Manager to women within our On-site Transitional Housing Program. The On-site program enables women to stay within a wing of the Shelter for up to a year, affording them the gift of time to figure out what they want from life and how to get there. Not every On-site client stays a full year, but thankfully Margaret has, and her presence has awarded me the opportunity to witness her transformation.
When asked to showcase a success story for the YWCA blog, Margaret came to mind immediately and she happily agreed to share her story in hopes that others may understand that hitting your rock bottom doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Every person has a history that shapes their present, but Margaret never anticipated the spiraling events that brought her to the YWCA.
After losing his high-ranking position, Margaret’s partner’s alcoholism turned volatile. The relationship became toxic and she found herself the victim of frequent abuse, trapped within a dangerous cycle that she felt had no escape. The abuse escalated to the point where Margaret became the victim of attempted marital rape. This was Margaret’s defining moment. She had had enough, fought back with everything she had, and refused to stop there. Margaret found her courage and took her fight to the courts. A guilty verdict punctuated her fight with vindication, but her struggle had only begun as the memory of damage done could not be erased with the fall of a gavel.
In her attempts to find reprieve from her pain, Margaret found herself drinking to excess to cope with her life, a decision that quickly evolved into losing everything she held dear- of greatest importance, the trust of her family.
Her spiral continued as documented by a photo of a car crash she has saved on her phone that serves as a reminder of how bad things got before experiencing her breaking point. Checking herself into the Women’s Detox Center in St. Catharines, she found personal security that had been stripped away by her ex. Her insecurities had left her fearful of her surroundings, fearful to venture outdoors on her own, and fearful of being in the presence of men. Detox granted her a sanctuary and sobriety, giving her time to center herself and re-evaluate her life- where she was, how she got there, and most importantly how could she move on from there.
Leaving behind her old life meant starting fresh. Without the trust of her family, Margaret bravely set out to navigate her own journey on the road toward independence. Coming to the YWCA Women’s Shelter was no easy task, but moving on meant leaving a home that held too many memories of a lifestyle best left behind. Margaret faced her fear of strangers as she joined the other guests at the Shelter, unsure if she could even trust the Women’s Advocates.
In a perpetual forward motion, Margaret followed through with referrals to resources that set her on a different path. Connecting with CASON (Community Addiction Support Services of Niagara) Margaret was given a treatment date for the Newport Treatment Centre (which also assists men) in Port Colborne and for 18 days focused on nothing but herself and her addiction. Again, this was another change that triggered great anxiety, but not enough to stop Margaret from doing what needed to get done.
However, another issue contributing to her anxiety, was not having a home to return to once treatment was complete. After witnessing her strides in making it to the Shelter and actively participating in her recovery, I spoke with Margaret about the YWCA’s On-site Transitional Housing Program. I explained the process and expressed how Margaret would be a perfect fit. Elated to have “home” covered, Margaret proceeded to Newport and returned after completing the program with new knowledge in her tool belt.
Over the past year I have watched Margaret, in awe of her fortitude to prevail in times when others may have thrown their hands up and quit. At no point did I ever hear Margaret express words of quitting. Was she terrified? Absolutely. But not once would she accept anything less than looking forward, setting goals that she pursued with genuine fervor. Every new challenge that nudged her outside her comfort zone was met with a level chin, though sometimes it trembled from anxious anticipation of the scary unknown.
“Forgive yourself, be patient in your healing, appreciate the help that is offered to you, know that you’re worth a new beginning, and share what you can.” – Words of advice from Margaret to those in need.
Margaret consistently attended the YW meetings, the Celebrate Recovery women’s group once a week, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when she felt she needed the extra support. Eventually she was accepted into Design For a New Tomorrow to face the abuse issues that caused such pain in the first place. Margaret proved to be the definition of not only a success story, but a woman of inspiration. She is who I think of when I consider how I would react if ever faced with hardships that challenged my every concept of existence.
Finding her way back to herself meant dealing with the shame and guilt of the damage she created against herself, as well as within her family, which included a brood of young grandchildren. Fortunately, her family came full circle, supporting her throughout her journey and proud to see how far she has come. Having celebrated a year of sobriety on July 29, 2014, Margaret is transitioning out of the On-site program to move in with her loving family up north where she looks forward to enjoying being a grandma.
As bittersweet as it is to no longer be Margaret’s Case Worker, her success comes with its own fears. Leaving behind this stage of her life also means leaving the 24-hour On-site support received at the YWCA. It also involves leaving behind peers that she bonded with while in the program, further illuminating fears of starting over in a new city with new resources, as well as, fears of being found by her ex. However, her excitement refuses to be diminished.
One analogy Margaret told me she lives by is the transformation of the butterfly. As a caterpillar you are born in dirt, live in dirt, and have no concept of the beautiful and freeing future awaiting you. This analogy fits Margaret perfectly. If you ventured into her room, you’d see all sorts of pictures and décor of colourful butterflies, interspersed among pictures of her family, and copies of every Tree Card, Animal card, Spirit of the Wheel card, and Angel card she has pulled from the deck at any given meeting, each a reminder to take pause and evaluate her current path.
At the age of 53, Margaret took a chance and entrusted a year of her life to us to assist her with transforming her life. My only hope is for Margaret to be happy and continue on with her journey as she has from the beginning- impassioned to live physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy, engulfed within the love of her supportive family. Margaret, I will truly miss you and the talks we’ve had over the past year, but have faith you will thrive.
“There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and the people who create it. You surround yourself with the people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones you don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is part of life, getting back up is living.” – José N. Harris (Another of Margaret’s favorites)
Images courtesy of Google Images and YWCA Niagara Region.