Q&A With A Survivor

Q&A With A Survivor

Apr 23, 2021Cheyanne Lobo
Hi friends,
It's one thing to read about terminology or statistics, but to understand how abuse can impact victims, you need to hear from someone who has experienced it. This week we sat down with an anonymous abuse survivor. This interview is emotionally charged and may be triggering. 
TW: descriptions of abuse, self-harm, and violence
Can you describe what abuse looked like in your situation?

When I was younger, in elementary school, abuse was in the form of harsh physical discipline. I know it was abusive because of the severity and the motivations behind the discipline. When I was finally able to start having these conversations with my mother, I came to realize she had used abuse to release frustration, on occasion.
Seeing explosive violence wasn't new for my mother, my sister, or myself. For us, it was just a way of life. My father has always been a ticking time bomb and the separation between two church's I attended as a child, is what set him off against the family. 
From then on, violence in the house exploded. To this day, I don't know what made that particular church so captivating it drove my father to call my mother, 'the devil' or a 'demon'. Fights around church were like a never-ending match between two giants for the title of who would be "right".

The events that followed arguments between my family were always horrific and violent. My father never hesitated to grab my mother by the hair, face, or throat. 

Near the end of university, the form of abuse had evolved. It became apparent my father was extremely secretive about money. His behaviour with his phone was also suspicious. We discovered later that he had been in multiple affairs. The abuse seemed to have progressed from physical to financial and emotional. 

Today I am an adult with a successful career living with my partner, who has shown me safety, kindness and a tenderness I didn't know existed. I live apart from my mother, for my own safety and wellbeing. I visit her once in a while and I still feel somatic and psychological affects whenever I see the house I grew up in. Because of this, interacting with my mother requires constant work when it comes to establishing boundaries. It has gotten easier with time and practice. I make myself available to listen if she needs to vent and I treat every interaction as an opportunity to help raise her confidence. She has chosen to stay in the marriage and she feels it is her responsibility to do everything in her power to keep the remaining finances intact. I couldn't understand this for a long time, but I understand now that we are from two different generations and cultures. I am still learning to trust her judgement. My hope for her is that she will one day be reminded of who she is and that she can always forgive herself. 

How did the abuse affect your childhood?

I had struggled academically throughout most of my education. I lived in fear of being punished, so I had a difficult time applying myself because of the mounting pressure. Recess was the only time I got to be myself but it wasn't easy making friends, so I often played sports, mostly with boys. I had a knack for athletic activities so sports were a great relief. But whenever I brought home awards such as the 'athlete of the year' award, I was punished and put down.

By grade six, I was limited to playing one sport to focus on improving my academics. My motivation took a nosedive, as did my grades. I felt like I would get beaten over every little thing almost every evening. It was anxiety inducing. Criticisms were a constant and involved comparing me to other children. Nothing ever seemed to be good, or enough. 

I remember having a set of clothes rolled up and packed on the side, just so that if I ever wanted to leave, my things were there. I could just grab and go.

The abuse impacted my social life as well. I was always told, not to share what goes on at home with anyone else. This obviously made it difficult to create any deep and meaningful connections with friends.

Do you have any thoughts about intergenerational violence and abuse? 

Children are sponges who soak up information from watching interactions. They apply what they see, hear and observe everyday. This is how they begin to develop their sense of self.
It is insidious how violence and abuse gets passed down through generations. I think it is a cycle that can be broken if we can be open to the possibility we might need help. Whether it is stress that causes you to rail on your family, or having a history of impatience that escalates to rage, our behavior response and the destructive things we do to cope are all seeds of information for the future generation to pick up from.

If you could speak to someone in an abusive relationship, what would you say to them?
I think it's important for victims to learn to validate themselves. Learning the word 'validation' helped me break out of my outdated cyclical thoughts and patterns. To put it into practice, I learned to notice and accept my feelings (the good and the bad). I learned to change my own narrative with myself, into a positive one. I learned to understand that I also have needs and that my needs are a priority. I know how difficult it is to open up to friends, but if you have the luxury of having friends please let them help you. Once I was able to get myself to place of safety and stability (just a few years ago), I was able to open up and let some people in. I've received so much unexpected encouragement and support. One of my friends even introduced me to talk therapy, and it continues to be a healing experience every session.

What do you have to say to people who are trying to be allies?

If someone approaches you about a subject matter you are not familiar with, it's okay to not have the words and it's also okay to not see a solution. It takes a lot of courage for someone in need to open up, so please provide the space to listen. In most cases, victims of domestic violence/abuse are emotionally isolated and mentally imprisoned. Their world begins and ends around the block where their home is.
If you know someone in any abusive situation, it helps to occasionally check in on them when it feels safe to do so. Checking in reminds victims there are people who may be sharing the same world but are living different lives. When they can connect with another person, it's an opportunity for them to see that life isn't always bad and that their lives are also significant.

A simple conversation can shift the perspective of anyone's horizon. It can help them hope for better.
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Additional message: **During COVID-19, there has been a significant rise in domestic violence and abuse. Where isolation is an effective strategy for everyone's safety, it is not the case for several victims. Please call 9-1-1 if you are feeling unsafe and please find a local shelter by any means necessary.


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