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Shelter Awareness

Rethinking the stereotypes

I don’t fit the stereotype of an abused woman. At least not the one I always carried around in my head.

I’m university educated. A respected professional and busy mom. From the outside looking in, it probably seemed I had it all: A successful husband, a beautiful home, great kids, my own career and interests, and a large network of close friends and family.

But from the inside looking out, my reality was different.

At 22, just out of university, I married the man I loved. Smart and charming, he had a wry wit, sharp conversational abilities and a boyish, fun-loving nature that appealed to my own sense of joie de vivre. He was also a bully; selfish and narcissistic, emotionally immature, quick to anger and even quicker to yank his love and support out from under me if I didn’t perform exactly as he wanted.

As a lifetime over-achiever who still struggles with self-esteem, I felt lucky he had chosen me. I convinced myself when he diminished me, called me names, defined me by my mistakes and listed my many flaws he was trying to help me be a better person. I believed him when he said it was all my fault. That if I would only do or say things differently he wouldn’t be forced to act the way he did.

So I tried harder. I read books. I went to counseling. I planned outings and trips, and tried to focus on meeting his needs and being the wife and mother he needed me to be. “Marriage isn’t easy. You have to work at it,” I told myself after one more night of crying myself to sleep and wondering how the man who supposedly loved me could treat me like so much garbage on the street.

Twenty-one years after I married him, in the midst of yet another uncontrolled rage incident directed at our eldest son, the word “abuse” popped into my head. It was my proverbial light bulb moment. I began researching emotional and verbal abuse, amazed to find my story recounted in article after article, book after book. I was not alone. I was not crazy. And, I decided, I was not going to take it anymore – not for me and not for my children.

The Kelowna Women’s Shelter and its incredible support groups were lifesavers. They provided invaluable advice and a safe place to share my story and fears. When I apologetically volunteered during a group session, “Well, he never actually hit me…” the response was a gentle and understanding, “That can make it even harder, can’t it?”

The Shelter’s team of dedicated staff and volunteers supported me in making the most difficult and life-changing decision of my life, and I am forever grateful. Three years later, I am healthier and happier than I have ever been. I sleep nights and I no longer walk on eggshells in my home. I am a better mom, a better friend and a better person. I am living the life I deserve and discovering each day what true love and joy really are.

 

Submitted by a former KWS client and current volunteer





Immigrant women

For a woman who is impacted by family violence and abuse, recognizing that they are experiencing abuse and taking the step of reaching out for help can be a frightening and challenging process. For an immigrant woman, the process is even more daunting. The following story is one woman’s account of her journey from abuse to accessing help and creating a new and better life for herself and her children.

I came to Canada a number of years ago as an immigrant woman with four young children. I was fleeing an abusive relationship in my country and leaving all my family and friends and everything I had known behind. It was the only way I felt that I could be safe and escape the abuse.

When I came to Canada I began to realize the cultural differences between my own country and Canada and how women were treated differently here. In my country women have very few rights compared to men. A woman’s job is to sacrifice, compromise and let go of her own identity - to have no needs or wants of her own. Her only desire is to be keeping the family together, but at what cost? It felt strange to realize that in this country, what I contributed to my family, my community, and in my work was valued and it did really matter.

I had always thought that the abuse I had suffered throughout my life was normal but I began to realize that it was not. As I struggled desperately to work through the effects the abuse had had on my life, someone told me about the Kelowna Women’s Shelter and their services. They said that I could receive counselling at any time, 24 hours a day, over the phone, have one to one counselling appointments, and attend the support group, all at no cost.

At first I was very afraid to go to talk to someone about my past, especially about the abuse I had suffered. I felt ashamed to speak of these things and afraid of the pain it brought up for me. Even so, I made myself go to the first appointment. The counsellor listened to my story and told me I was not alone. She gave me information on abuse and encouraged me to attend the support group. I knew I had to do this, as I had felt immobilized with pain for too long and could not move on with my life.

I had felt alone in the abuse I had experienced but once I attended the support group and came for counselling, I realized that I was truly not alone anymore. I kept coming to the Shelter so I would have the strength to heal myself from all that I had been through. I began to believe that I was worth it and that I deserved a better life.

I had no idea that there were so many wonderful resources available in the community for women like me, for all women regardless of their race, religion, beliefs, and culture. It only took one call to the Women’s Shelter to begin the journey to being who I am today! I feel like a whole person who has self- respect and dignity. I don’t cry all the time anymore. I am living a full, happy life, one that I thought I could never have. I have accessed Shelter services for myself, and my children have attended the children who witness abuse program and this as well, has helped them in their own healing journey.

 

If you have experienced, or are living with, violence and abuse within a relationship, call for help. Abuse is never okay…asking for help is! Call the Kelowna Women’s Shelter @ 250 763-1040.



Violence Against Women Week

The third week of April has been designated as Prevention of Violence Against Women Week in British Columbia. It is a week set aside to focus attention on the issue of family violence and on the abuse experienced by women and their children in our community. It is a week to encourage a community response that will serve to prevent violence and abuse.

Most often we are only aware of family violence and intimate partner abuse if it touches our lives in some direct way or when headlines draw our attention to incidents at the extreme end of the continuum of violence; incidents in which a woman or children are horrifically injured or killed, when charges are laid, when trials and convictions and sentences make the news. Sadly enough, incidents that make the headlines are only the tip of the iceberg, with statistics indicating that countless women and children experience violence and abuse that goes unreported and undocumented. The unfortunate reality is that women and children in our province and in our community are being abused and are experiencing violence within their families and within their relationships.

Because family violence occurs in families of all socio-economic classes, educational levels, races, cultures, religions, and age groups, there is a strong likelihood that at some point each of us will come into contact with a woman or child impacted by abuse. Whether we recognize it or not, it is there and it is happening, perhaps to the woman sitting at the desk in the next office, or the woman at the counter in the bank or at the next table in a restaurant, perhaps to the woman down the street with the lovely home, or to someone in your circle of friends.

This week is set aside to make each of us aware of the issue of family violence and intimate partner abuse, to recognize that women and children in our community experience violence and abuse and that there is a need to create an effective response to this issue. This week is meant to encourage each of us to do what we can to prevent violence directed at women and children. During this week, perhaps we will think about this unfortunate reality and feel concern that will gradually fade in the weeks to come ….unless, of course, we commit to bringing about change by carrying forward what we know and what we can do beyond this week– each of us, individually, and all of us together.

What if in every week we focused on creating safety for all in our community? What if every day of every week throughout the year, we each chose to do what we could to respond to and prevent violence and abuse and to encourage respect and safety. What might that look like and what difference would it make?

The first and most obvious step would be that we each commit to behaving respectfully and creating safety in our own lives and relationships. The second step would be that we each refuse to ignore or, by our silence, condone violent, abusive or disrespectful behaviours. Thirdly, we must be willing to be courageous and choose to speak up, stand up, intervene or call for help when we are witness to violent, abusive or disrespectful behaviour. Fourth, we must support victims of violence and abuse in tangible and meaningful ways that help them to move forward to safer and better futures. And fifth, we must recognize the need to provide services to perpetrators of violence and abuse who must not only be held accountable for their actions and behaviours, but be provided the opportunity and the skills to change as well.

We must coordinate our efforts and join together to support each other as we strive to create safety for all in our community – women, children, youth, seniors, and men. Let’s make this Prevention of Violence week bring change in our lives and in our community.

Abuse is never okay….asking for help is. If you need help or know of someone who does, please call the Kelowna Women’s Shelter @ 250 763-1040.



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Home not always 'safe'

As Christmas approaches, the usual bustle at the Kelowna Women’s Shelter is multiplied by a flurry of holiday preparations. Like most households at this time of year, whatever else may be happening, a major focus is on planning and preparation: for holiday meals, parties, a tree, decorations, stockings and stuffers, perfect gifts to match the dreams of children, and the arrival of “guests”.

Family violence and intimate partner abuse impact families in our community every day of the year, and the holiday season is no exception. While valiant efforts may be made to “keep it together” over the holidays “so the children can have a happy Christmas” or “because the relatives are coming to visit”, in some families, things fall apart or blow up anyway.

It is unlikely that any woman’s dreams for the holidays include gathering up her children and spending Christmas in a Shelter or Transition house. However when it becomes clear that “home for the holidays” is not a safe place to be, leaving may be the only option. When a woman must make the difficult choice to leave, there is almost always sadness and apprehension, and this is especially true during the holiday season as the prospect of a “merry” Christmas seems to vanish. Upon arriving at the Shelter however, there is generally, profound relief and gratitude as well. Whatever the season, the Shelter is there to provide a safe, clean, supportive place to be, however at this time of year, the Shelter provides much more. Thanks to the generosity of our community and the efforts of staff, the house is decorated, food is plentiful, there are gifts for all, and, perhaps most importantly, there is relative peace… as much peace as one can find in a house full of excited children.

The Kelowna Women’s Shelter would like to thank our generous community for all the many ways that you provide support to the Shelter, its services and the women and children in our community who are impacted by family violence and abuse. It is this generosity and support that make it possible to ensure a safe place, food, transportation and childcare, as well as counselling and support services – and Christmas with all the trimmings!



Read more Shelter Awareness articles

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About the Author

April, 2011 marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Kelowna Women’s Shelter opened its’ doors to offer counselling, support and a safe residence for women and children whose lives have been impacted by family violence, abuse and significant crisis. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a place of refuge for women who are not safe in their own homes, women who have been beaten, traumatized, threatened, and have fled in terror from a partner. Our staff and volunteers provide services to women and children in the area boundaried by Oyama to the North and Peachland to the South. For more information visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040






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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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