“I honestly believe I was lucky to be in Edmonton at that time in my life. My City of Edmonton social worker listened and believed my story. Finally, I felt someone understood what I was going through and it allowed me to identify my husband’s behaviour as abuse,” says Johanna.
Johanna was a young mother of three, a registered nurse, intelligent and had many friends. She was also afraid of her husband and didn’t understand why.
“It started with verbal abuse: You’re a bad mother. You’re stupid. You’re an awful housekeeper. You’re not a good friend, you don’t care about anyone,” Johanna explained. “He would attack the things he knew I valued about myself. I would stand up for myself and he would stop but after a few weeks he would start again,”
Soon he began pushing and trying to restrain her by holding her down so she couldn’t leave. If he didn’t like the dinner Johanna prepared, the plate would get smashed against the wall. Threats and intimidation followed and the abuse gradually became more and more intense.
Johanna’s husband also began a form of mental abuse called gaslighting. This is when the abuser twists, spins or presents false information with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. “My family lived in Montreal, so I would often try to take the children to visit them. My husband would take my airline ticket, hide it from me and tell me I was dumb for losing it. Back then, you needed that ticket to fly. He enjoyed tormenting me, watching me tear the house apart looking for it. The ticket would show up the day before my flight and he would assign the blame to me.”
After every fight he would apologize profusely and there was always an excuse for his behaviour. Johanna would feel badly and feel responsible for his actions or words. Until during an argument he tried to strangle her.
Johanna knew she needed to get help. Her friend told her about the City of Edmonton’s resources and social workers. After Johanna’s first meeting, she felt her social worker believed her and was compassionate about her situation. “You don’t think of abuse as anything other than physical. I was introduced to the ideas of financial, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse. She never judged me, but she was concerned for my safety.”
The social worker introduced her to the City of Edmonton’s Making Connections, a three phased group for women in abusive relationships. “During the first couple of sessions in Phase I, I was in shock – I couldn’t share or speak but I listened and realized I was not alone. My story was just like the other women’s stories about family violence. I identified that I was in an unhealthy relationship.”
“I knew I had to do something or there would be tragedy. My social worker helped me put together a safety plan and she gave me the courage to get out”
Johanna implemented her safety plan while her husband was at a concert and moved her family into Safe House while transitioning into an apartment. Johanna felt empowered to start telling her neighbours, family, friends and coworkers about what was happening in her life. “I learned silence wouldn’t protect my family, I had to share my story.”
Johanna calls herself a thriver, not a survivor. She continues to help others through sharing her story as part of the Community Initiatives Against Family Violence Women’s Advocacy Group and as a public speaker. “When I see someone going through what I went through, I share a piece of my story and then theirs comes pouring out. I listen, I believe them and point them to the City of Edmonton’s many resources.”
“I don’t know why my husband chose to do those things he did to our family. My children and I believe if we were to hate him, it serves us no purpose. Instead, we focus on living openly and authentically. We talk about our pain and have a household of honesty. My kids are grown now and have become successful, loving and compassionate people. I feel fortunate to have received the help we did from the City when we needed it most.”
To speak privately with a professional social worker to be connected to the most appropriate resources, please call 780-496-4777. Visit edmonton.ca/familysupport for more information.