This article comes from an anonymous interview with a formerly abused woman. Names have been changed.
November is a time to remember those who’ve fought and are still fighting to survive; November is Family Violence Prevention Month.
Many woman and children suffer in silence but between April and October approximately 228 others are helped through resources of the Central Alberta Woman’s Emergency Shelter, which can be reached at 403-346-5643.
It all started when a young, rural schoolgirl dropped out at 15 years old. By 16 she’d moved in with her 20-year-old boyfriend.
That man was abusive and she stayed for only two years. “There was alcohol involved, but I did get out when I was 18,” said Darlene.
However the young woman took something from that relationship with her; at 19 she had a baby.
After the relationship ended Darlene went back to school and achieved her high school GED.
A few years after that initial relationship the young woman met another man, they married when she was 23. He came from a good family and seemed to be a nice guy. No one would have guessed what would conspire behind closed doors.
“His family was very prominent in the community. He was very involved in the community, everybody likes him, he presents well,” she said.
“There was a bit of abuse, jealousy, manipulation,” said Darlene. “He thought fighting was a means of arguing”
Her new husband tried to control as much of her life as he could. Items such as clothing and shoes where regulated for both her and her daughter from the previous relationship. When Darlene had another child, with this man, its clothing was also regulated.
Along with verbal, physical, and emotional abuse there was financial abuse. This man liked control so much that his wife didn’t have access to the main bank account. If she came home with a treat or something as small as a new pair of shoes for the children that he didn’t like, he would take the money out of her separate account.
Her husband also controlled where Darlene went. “I had to check in with him at all times.”
She recalls a time when she stayed out two hours later than she was supposed to, to have coffee with a friend who was going through a rough time. She was punished for breaking “curfew.” The tires where taken off her vehicle and it was put on blocks.
Darlene also talked about how strict and defined her life became in that relationship.
“I had my roles.” In her home a woman did stereotypical women’s work. Her husband never did any sort of housework. Only she could do that and it always had to be done perfectly and on time or consequences ensued.
There was a time the man had to go to a crop share but the jeans he wanted to wear weren’t dry yet. “He literally rapped my head against the washing machine and threw me against the wall. Beatings were never just physical. Demeaning and lewd insults where thrown too. However, any abuse typically took place below the neck to avoid suspicion. If bruises on her arms were visible she could easily blame it on working around the farm. Nobody ever questioned the bruises or her excuses because of the image both Darlene and her husband portrayed. On the outside she was a happy farmwife and working mother; he was a hard working farmer and pillar of the community.
“I lived two lives,” she said. “Although I still lived a life that appeared normal behind closed doors I lived a very abusive marriage.”
Over the years the abuse escalated; from physical and verbal to emotional, financial and to sexual abuse. Darlene explained even if she was tired her body was never her own. When it came to intimacy she didn’t have a choice as to whether she wanted it.
Her husband also accused her of infidelity several times. If she talked to a male friend of her husband for too long she was accused of cheating. Over the course of the marriage she gained 258 pounds to try and stop the accusations.
“I wasn’t allowed any male friends. I wasn’t allowed any strong female friends. Anyone who had any significance of possibly talking me out of the marriage was not allowed.”
However, the accusations were false. She never cheated, although the opportunities had come. She says he, however, did cheat.
When he wasn’t farming her husband worked for a fracking company and used to travel, where he would get prostitutes. When they were together she said he would taunt her, saying he could buy better than what she gave him.
In the public’s eye she acted like a perfect trophy wife because she knew what would happen if she didn’t.
But at the same time Darlene became withdrawn from friends and family, who still didn’t know what was happening. She says his family knew but they played dumb. “By then I was too embarrassed,” she said, referring to why she didn’t tell anyone.
“You always feel like it’s your fault. They make you feel like it’s your fault. I made excuses for him too, if he drank I blamed it on the alcohol.” However, she said her husband wasn’t actually a heavy drinker and would occasionally have a social drink.
There was a time when Darlene phoned a woman’s shelter. She’d had been beaten and strangled to unconsciousness. She awoke to her husband taunting her. “Although he knew he did it he was trying to convince me I was crazy.”
But when the phone at the shelter picked up she hung up. Because her husband’s name was so well known she was afraid she’d be recognized.
“When you’re a farm girl you have a lot of pride,” she said. “When she asked me my name I shut down and hung up the phone.
At 29 years old, six years into the marriage, Darlene swallowed a handful of pills. But when she looked up she saw her young daughter chasing a butterfly. “I made myself puke up the pills.”
The relationship lasted only one year after the suicide attempt. It was Darlene’s mother-in-law who helped her get out.
She believes her mother-in-law’s guilt spurred the help. Darlene was missing a large patch of hair and the mother-in-law saw that. “The words she said to me is, “You’re not living my life”.
Getting out of the marriage at 30 years old was also Darlene’s birthday present to herself.
She was married in an abusive relationship seven years. Three years later she found love again; they’ve been together for seven years. Darlene’s still trying to get a divorce. She has primary and 50 per cent custody of her children.
Throughout her abusive marriage there is one thing Darlene did; document what happened with pictures, journals and dates. “As a professional, somebody in the workforce, I know to log everything.”
She knew she needed to leave, but women in that situation rarely act on what they know.
Looking back she says there’s an abuse cycle other woman should look for. It has three stages: honeymoon, escalation and outburst. During the honeymoon stage she would get presents, trips and money. But he never apologized and he never stopped hurting her.
“It never gets better, it only escalates.”