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A safe space to heal

Vilma

Back home in El Salvador, I worked at a radio station as a journalist. I hosted a talk show and interviewed people. I came to Canada in 2001. That’s when I met the father of my son. I didn’t speak the language and had no family here so it was difficult. At the time, I didn’t realize that he was controlling. I couldn’t have friends of my own. He wanted to know the password to my Facebook and email. He was very jealous.  I wanted to leave him but then I got pregnant. I felt like I needed to stay. 

Things got worse. At 3½, my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He needed special care. I thought, “how am I going to pay for that?”

The night I left my husband, he threatened to smash a mirror on my head. I tried to call 911, but then he took my phone and threw it away. When he put his head down and started crying, telling me it was my fault, I took my son and my purse and ran. I didn’t even put my shoes on. There was no time to waste on putting on shoes. I ran to the car and drove to the parking lot of the church. I called the pastor’s wife, who had told me to call her anytime I needed help. It was two in the morning. I stayed with them for three days until we called a United Way-funded agency that helps women fleeing violence. They said they had a space for me, and we went to a shelter right away.

The first couple of days, I cried a lot. I was feeling shame and fear at the same time. Now that I look back, the agency provided me with the space I needed to start my healing process. It offered me one-on-one counselling sessions. It connected me with legal services and housing. I was especially relieved for my son. The agency connected me to programs for children, and my son was finally able to play with other kids. Before that, he didn’t have friends to play with. He was so happy. 

 

For me, the biggest challenge was to understand that I didn’t do anything to deserve emotional abuse from my husband. It wasn’t my fault. I went back to school and became a counsellor. Today, I work at the same United Way agency that gave me a safe space when I was vulnerable. I’m very grateful. Every day when I open the door, I feel like saying ‘thank you’ for allowing me to do this every day. Leaving an abusive relationship is a difficult decision, but when you look back, you will feel good. You will feel like it was the right decision.

-Vilma