From domestic abuse to a home of security, strength and a new beginning
Visions Journal, 2019, 14 (4), pp. 19-22
"If you limit your choice only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise" – Robert Fritz
When a marriage breaks down, the emotional upheaval is compounded by practical everyday concerns that suddenly require wholescale rethinking. One of those practical concerns is housing: Where do I go? How do I put a roof over my children's heads? How can I make sure we sleep warm and safe at night?
I knew from the very beginning that our marriage would crumble in time, yet I chose to look past his brokenness and love him unconditionally, even through the abuse. Over time that wasn't good enough. Our relationship was built on a sand foundation, not a rock-solid one.
This story is not about the abused victim I once was, but about the courageous soul that chose to jump into the unknown and create a new life for herself and her children. Thankfully, the stars aligned. Sometimes it's about being in the right place at the right time, and that is what happened for me.
It took some time to work up the courage to leave. In fact, I had begun researching my options long before I actually had enough strength to make the decision. I was even offered a co-op housing placement a year before my son (our second child) was born, but I turned down the opportunity because I was too scared to make the commitment.
But over time, the marriage worsened, and the emotional and mental abuse I received from my narcissistic husband ate away at me. I knew I had to end our relationship in order to rebuild my self-confidence and start living a life of self-love and self-worth. Most importantly, I needed to show my children (at the time aged 4 years and 10 months) that their mother is a strong human being, and that any form of abuse is not okay, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. I wasn’t going to let them continue to witness the nightmare that was my marriage as they grew up.
He wasn't physically abusive, but sometimes I wonder if that would have been more straightforward. Our society has a roadmap for dealing with physical hurts—we have medications for pain and our bodies heal over time. But the path for healing from emotional and mental abuse by a loved one isn't as clear. I was constantly put down, criticized, gaslit, body-shamed, manipulated and told I was stupid. Even today, four years down the road, those wounds continue to heal. I have difficulty just writing this article, but I know it’s for the greater good.
I discreetly started doing more research—not just about housing options but also about everything that needs to be in place when you are considering leaving a partner. Then I applied for co-ops and BC Housing all over my community, praying that something would come up fast.
I'd always felt comfortable with the idea of supportive and cooperative housing alternatives because that's how I grew up. As a single parent, my mother had to rely on BC Housing (low-income housing) to raise me. Low-income housing was what I knew.
Of course, I would have liked my kids to grow up in the home they were born in. As a young mother, I had the luxury of living in a beautiful house that my husband had purchased before he met me. Did I question whether I would be able to give my children all they needed as a single mother? Yes, on a daily basis, and I still do to this day. Like all children, my children deserve to grow and develop in a home that is nurturing, loving and safe. Given the circumstances, I knew it was far healthier for us to live in a home free from abuse—one that I could afford on my own—a place where my kids and I could feel safe and secure and grow as a family.
My greatest concern about being a single mother was being able to survive financially. I had a good position in my company, and the company supported me 100%, but I still had that fear. After all, I wasn't just taking care of myself; I was taking care of my children, and they are my number-one priority. I worried about being able to provide them with food, shelter, clothes, daycare, education—the list goes on, and the very little child support I received didn't go very far. I live in Richmond, in the Greater Vancouver area, one of the most expensive places to live in the country; I knew my living costs would only go up when I moved out on my own.
Particularly because I knew our family would be a single-parent family, I put great pressure on myself to be the best mom I could, all the time. I truly had to let some of that go because I can’t be their everything. It's not a realistic goal, and it wasn't good for my mental health to put that pressure on myself, to always strive for that kind of perfection. No one is perfect; if we are constantly striving for perfection, then all that means is that nothing we do is ever good enough. Striving for perfection kills our soul.
One of the greatest lessons I learned in the process of finding a safe home as a single parent was how to receive help, which is never easy. I've always seen myself as a "warrior mama": a mother who can do anything on her own, no matter how challenging it might seem. I am still a warrior at heart, it's in my blood. But it also makes it difficult to accept help, even when I really need it.
You know that saying, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Well, I found out quickly—being out on my own and raising my kids pretty much full-time—that it does take a village to raise these little humans. If I could give any words of advice to other single parents searching for a home to raise their kids—besides being kind and gentle to yourself—it's this: let go of your ego and be open to asking for—and receiving—help. Your support system is your lifeline, whether it is your family, your friends, your doctor, a therapist, a mentor, a coach, whoever. Allow them to work with you because you are worth it.
Getting into cooperative housing has been such a blessing. I've always told others that a vacancy came at exactly the right time. When my youngest child was about 10 months old, I was offered a unit in a co-op housing community. I knew I had to accept the offer this time. If I didn't, I would be trapped in my abusive marriage, in a constant state of feeling unworthy and worthless. I feared that vicious cycle would continue on through my kids' lives and into the generations to come.
That was the deciding factor: Despite all the fears in my head, my heart was telling me, No more! Trusting your heart is a huge part of the process—that, and trusting that things will work out, despite all the unknowns.
So, I handed over the deposit and my first rent cheque for our three-bedroom townhome and made the move.
Thankfully, the housing cooperative we found is in Richmond, so we got to stay in a familiar environment. A huge part of jumping into a new and scary situation is having community and resources to support you—especially when you are dealing with mental health issues or domestic abuse. My mom, my sister and all my beautiful friends are in Richmond, and my job is here.
I really wanted the transition for my kids to be as smooth as it could be. With any decision I made, I had to make sure it wasn't going to be too much for them—especially for my daughter, the eldest. Leaving our home community wasn't an option for us. We could have created a new life in another city, but my kids needed access to their dad, who is also in Richmond. We are also very much rooted in the wonderful community at my children's school. It comforts me to know that I can reach my kids easily at school if there is ever an emergency and that they have the support of their friends and the school administration.
Coming to terms with my abusive marriage and finding the self-compassion and strength to leave— and then rebuilding my life—has taken a tremendous toll on my mental health. But facing my health challenges, and learning how to best address them, has been empowering. When I accepted that I struggle with depression, I didn't simply label my mental illness. I actually gave myself a new superpower to help support others and myself on our journey to well-being. It's been healing, to say the least.
Leaving an abuser is a life-changing event. You need to have a safe home and a safe and supportive community around you to do it successfully. And above all, you need to not be afraid to ask for help. Looking back, I'm grateful that I honoured the process by making sure to get the right support—from my community, my family, my friends and my medical practitioners. That support is what truly has saved my life.
My hope is that reading my story will help others in the same position to find the courage to make a change. In the deepest and darkest times in your life, surround yourself with people who will love and support you. Be brave. Be courageous. Be hopeful. You are absolutely worth it.
If you are in any doubt about how rethinking your housing situation might be a path forward to a new life, think of my story. BC Housing has given my family and me the chance to begin a journey of freedom, healing and self-love. That’s all I could ever ask for.
On the desk in his office, my psychologist has a coffee mug that says on its side, "Face s**t." It always makes me laugh. I have realized that that it is the best approach in life, including healing the trauma of our past in order to live life freely.
Rethink your housing. Face your s**t. Embrace life.
About the author
Holly is a beautiful mama of two children. She is passionate about conscious parenting and holistic medicine, an advocate for mental health and a lover of connection. Holly is a nature lover who enjoys spending time practising yoga and has a deep love for boxing and kickboxing