Monica* never saw it coming.

After studying in university, she got a job working in her field. She was happy. Then she met the man who would become her husband. “It was love at first sight,” she says. “We got married very fast.” He was Canadian, and they decided that Canada would be a pretty good place to settle and raise a family. “Everything looked beautiful and perfect,” she recalls.

When her charming fiance snapped at her a few times, she shrugged it off. “I thought it was just cold feet,” she says. She had been in healthy relationships before. She wasn’t looking for red flags, but they started arriving. “After the wedding, it started changing little by little. It was so subtle.”

The little barbs became more frequent. He would get angry with her for misunderstanding him (English is not her first language). Or she would do something “wrong.” She would hastily apologize and try to correct whatever he was mad about. Trying to preempt his outbursts sucked up all of her time and energy. After a while, he didn’t even need a reason to attack her – being tired from work was reason enough to set him off.

Then it escalated physically.

It took her two years to convince him to let her see her family back home. They noticed an enormous difference between the way he used to be and the man he had become. They told her, “This is not normal,” and “You’re not supposed to live like this.” When her eldest child started calling her names, mimicking the way her husband treated her, it was the last straw.

She asked her mom what she should do. “She said, ‘You have to get out somehow. Find out all the information here, so when you go back, you’ll know what to do.’ So I checked the phone number of a women’s crisis line. I put it on a paper and put it in my calendar.”

She recalls, “My life was very much centered around my husband. I didn’t have friends. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t know about shelters. I knew they existed, but I didn’t know a person like me could even go there.” When she called the crisis line, they told her to get out of the house, go to the mall, and find a public phone to call another number.

Monica’s husband rarely let her out alone with the children. But as soon as she got an opportunity to get out, she did. Gathering her three small children, she got out of the house and called the number.

Interval House answered the phone call. I didn’t know where they were. They gave me an address. I took my children and had to go there with one little bag – that’s all.

Interval House provided her with a secure base while she went about the business of rebuilding her life. “I was scared. I’m still a little cautious. But I try not to think about him too much, or what’s happened. I’m trying to build myself up again and build up trust in people. I have very low self esteem. I have some friends now but I have a hard time letting them get close to me.”

Now, she wants everyone to know what domestic violence is. While battery is one aspect, it’s not the only definer of a violent situation. “Many people live in violence, but they don’t really recognize that’s what it is. But that’s what controlling relationships are.” She thinks that from a young age, people should be taught what is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship, and what we should accept from another person. “I would like people to start realizing what is power and what is control. There are a lot of relationships where people are scared to do things because of the other person’s reaction. Now I can recognize how people behave when they are scared of something.”

She is unequivocal in her advice to others experiencing domestic violence: “Have the courage to leave. Leave, and don’t go back. There is always help. You deserve a happy life, a beautiful life.”

The whole ordeal drained her, but slowly, she is putting the pieces of her life back together. “I’m stronger now,” she says. “If I see or hear something that is wrong, I’m not silent anymore. I’m not afraid to take a stand and express my opinion, and be an advocate for my children, an advocate for people who need help. It has given me a voice.”

*name and defining details changed to protect identity. 

Are you in an abusive relationship? Here are some warning signs:

  • You feel afraid of your partner – and you’re constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up
  • Your partner sees you as property/sex object rather than a person
  • Your partner humiliates you/treats you so badly that you don’t want friends & family to see
  • Your partner tries to isolate you from friends and family
  • Your partner forces you to have sex
  • Your partner has hurt you/threatens to hurt you
  • Your partner threatens to commit suicide if you leave
  • Your partner limits your access to money/your phone/the car or is constantly checking up on you
  • Your partner belittles you, tries to control you, or ignores/puts down your opinions and accomplishments

There is help. Call Interval House‘s 24-hour crisis line: (416) 924-1491. If it is an emergency, call the police at 911.