“The constant availability, warmth, support, compassion and understanding, empathy and practical help have brought me to tears nearly daily. It has been like a hospital for emotional health.”
“I feel safer. I co-parent with the ex but my counselor also helped me to set boundaries going forward. They had those conversations with me how, even though we set a goal and that was for my intake, I reached that goal and I was done but she ensured I was set up to succeed and had the resources I needed”.
“I carried this alpha male persona for so long because of football and this societal male that it forced me to buck it up and then when I crashed and my anger showed it was my whole world falling apart.”
“My therapist being approachable I felt like my therapist honored and understood how scared I was. It was helpful to have a safe space to share the truth that I feel scared. Being supported in my goals of getting my children support”
“The questions answered how to talk to Courts/Judge and how to explain what I need from Courts. Really helped reduce my anxiety for going into court room. The counsellor provided emotional support, comfort and ways to prepare myself to talking in public at Court. I felt confident going to Courts after our talks and was able to get Child Support completed.”
“It was the first time I truly felt heard and I was able to open up about things I have been scared to say to anyone else”
Here are some stories about our clients’ experiences with domestic violence and abuse and how they found support at FearIsNotLove.
*Please note names have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.
Shannon shares why it’s not as easy to leave as you think, and how she found her voice again.
It didn’t happen overnight.
Shannon found herself in uncharted waters. The fact that her marriage had become abusive was something she couldn’t yet bring herself to admit. She and Pete had been together for almost 15 years.
“I’m the fixer. I was used to solving problems. My relationship just became one of those problems that I was always cleaning up after.
It started with a temper tantrum.
It’s those little aggression moments, whether it’s the slamming of a cupboard or banging on the wall.
I didn’t get how much that was intimidating me. And then it became a thousand little choices where I didn’t use my voice.
You believe it’s not that bad because he doesn’t hit you.
Pete had his own business. He was dealing with a lot personally and within his organization at the time, so you make excuses for them along the way.
I hadn’t drawn a line in the sand. When things got worse, I told him flat out, I won’t tolerate this. I set my boundaries.
But then something would happen again and I’d let it slide, for lots of reasons. I had become scared of the situation, and him, slowly over time.
I just wanted to hide the things that might make him or me look bad. And I didn’t want him to blow up at a client.
Sometimes you can’t tell your best friend this stuff that was actually going on. Plus, when I was growing up, I was taught to keep your problems hidden, not to share your dirty laundry.
And people don’t share this side of their lives, much. It’s what you see on Instagram and all the good stuff. We don’t advertise our problems.”
Whoever pays the bills is ‘the boss’
“In addition to Pete’s harsh words and emotional abuse, the financial abuse was real.
I actually didn’t have my own money at the time because I worked for his company and I supported the growth of his business. He controlled whether I got paid or not. It was so intimidating.
When I didn’t have a paycheck, how was I supposed to leave him?
He would threaten that he could hire a good lawyer and take our kids away from me. I was completely terrified of losing my kids.
You feel like with the difference in your pay grades, you can’t put up a good fight.”
The alter ego
Most people only knew Pete’s happy, carefree side. They didn’t see what Shannon and her kids saw regularly.
“Pete is the fun guy in his circles. He hosted these beautiful parties, and everyone would get together and watch sports. On the outside, he would do anything for anybody.
His friends have never seen the side of him that we did, those dark faces that he made when he was angry. So they’re probably not going to believe me if I tell them.
We tried couples counselling but they don’t really show their abusive behaviours in counselling.”
Together, Shannon and Pete have two sons and a daughter.
“Pete was great at giving gifts. He went and got my daughter the sweetest charm bracelet to cheer her up one time. But another time, he was yelling at my daughter for how she put away her shoes. It was just over the top. It was so ironic that he would give such a precious gift one minute, but the next minute he could really hurt you.
He would withhold dinner from the kids. Just horrible things like that.
The first time I reached out for help, honestly, I had locked myself in the bedroom. He was banging on the door to come in and speak to me and I realized I didn’t feel safe.
I found help in the community, but Pete would go in and debate with my counsellor. He was so good at what he did, he would question them and try to convince them that his behaviour wasn’t that bad. He had a rationale for everything.
Eventually they put us together in joint counselling again. One day, Pete actually lost control in the session. He went off in a rage, and our counsellor had never seen that. She gave me a horrified look said, ‘you and I need to have a separate talk.’
He was right there and he was raging so badly, he never even heard what she said to me.”
Shannon’s self-worth and confidence had whittled down to almost nothing.
“I think it’s more about conditioning. It happens so subtly over time. You don’t even realize it.
It’s all those times that something super small gets blown out of proportion. So your self-confidence goes by the wayside. They’re telling you that you’re doing this wrong, you’re saying that wrong, you’re wearing this wrong.
And in my mind, this is the person that was supposed to love me the most. So if he feels this way, what does everybody else think?
One time, I shared something traumatic that happened to me as a kid.
After that, he started weaponizing it. He would bring it up to justify his actions or win an argument. So it wasn’t coming from a point of care or concern.
In his view, I was the problem. I had issues. I was flawed and broken.
Telling him that story was a ‘gotcha’ moment. Everything was confirmed to be my fault after that.
The hardest thing for me to say was that I was being abused. You never want to admit you got into this situation. Admitting it would be showing weakness, I thought.
It would be my fault if the relationship failed. Of course that wasn’t true, but it felt that way at the time. I was justifying to myself why I was choosing to stay. I always felt that other people had it worse than we did, because the physical threshold hadn’t been crossed yet.
Eventually, you learn that abuse has very little to do with you. They use your vulnerabilities against you and weaponize them.”
I stood up for myself on multiple occasions
“I learned that I was actually doing a lot to try and stand up for myself throughout those years of terrifying abuse.
The counsellors at FearIsNotLove highlighted that, while it may not have been obvious to me in those moments, or to the people around me, I had been finding ways to resist Pete’s abuse over the years.
The ways I was resisting were subtle but very important. It was my way of keeping little parts of me intact, for my own dignity and protection.
I was so much stronger than I was giving myself credit for.
He liked to drink sometimes. Maybe I found a bottle of alcohol and I dumped it out. I remember one time he was calling me to come pick him up from a party where he’d been drinking and, oh, look, the phone disconnected. I don’t know how that worked 😉. There were definitely some of those moments in there.”
Who will believe you?
“When everyone else has only seen the happy-go-lucky Pete, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll believe you when you talk about his abusive behaviour.
I hadn’t shared it with friends or neighbours because I’d been trying to keep my ship afloat. I knew my ship had multiple holes in it and I felt so guilty for where we were at. I had been conditioned to blame myself, just like Pete did.
We had also seen the response by telling just a few close friends when things started to get really awful. One person told my son his Dad was not that bad. Well, his Dad’s behaviour certainly wasn’t OK. This was right after one of the most terrible experiences of my son’s life and what he witnessed from his Dad.
Sometimes people just don’t understand. They don’t believe you. And if they have their own narrative of what that person is like, their narrative gets painted over your narrative.”
The breaking point
“I was tired of his control and manipulation around the finances.
I had decided to quit working for Pete and get my own money.
One of those first few days at my new job, I came home and he was unravelling. I had actually talked to him on my way home and everything sounded okay in the house at the time.
When I arrived, he was being so abusive to the kids, he had chased my son up the stairs. And my other two kids were hiding in the garage. My daughter was so scared, she Googled what she could do to save her life.
Before that day, thank goodness our counsellors had us pack a bag and keep a cell phone charged just in case. The kids’ bags were tucked away in closets. If we had to leave, we could do it in a moment’s notice.
And that was the indication for me. I knew that day we were leaving because my kids’ bags were pulled out on the bed. It was a strong way for us to communicate at that time.
We never actually stayed at the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter because honestly, I didn’t know we were eligible. Pete wasn’t physically hitting us. I thought we’d be taking up a bed from someone who needed it more.”
“I honestly didn’t know how I was gonna make it. Taking that first step is scary.
But by taking that first step, and I just had to almost close my eyes and jump. I took a huge leap of faith.
Then, my parachute started to open. And all the safety nets fell into place. But it was because I reached out for help.
My counsellor called me because the police had contacted her. I got connected to lots of other support and help, too.
I can’t explain how many times I thought, ‘we’re not going to make it this week, this month’… but it all tends to work its way out. That parachute opens up to take you to safety.
FearIsNotLove helped me when I was in my darkest days.
Helped me process what happened.
Helped me support my kids through it.
Gave us a safe space to land.
A safe space to say what happened and how it happened.
You aren’t judged.
You feel loved and comforted.
It felt like a warm blanket when I needed it most.
When I look at myself in the mirror today, I’m in a much different spot now.”
Hindsight is 20:20
“As I look back, there are so many lessons I’ve learned from living through an abusive relationship. I hope this is helpful for other people who are going through this.
Be safe, first. It’s important to find your voice and speak your truth, but to be safe first and foremost. The night we left, I could have said things to him, but that wouldn’t have been a safe thing to do. You just have to get out if that situation happens to you. Be safe, first.
You are not the problem.
The first and most important thing I needed to know, what that I wasn’t the cause. I was the victim. For years, you’re told you are the reason your family is failing, and that repeated message works its way into your mind over time.
Do not hold onto this as your shame. It wasn’t my shame. If I could go back to the person that I was back then, I would say ‘you own none of this. None.’
Even though Pete is no longer in my life, the words stay. Those punishing, painful words lived on in my self talk for years. But today, I no longer have that voice in my head telling me all the things he used to tell me.
This can happen to anyone.
Despite what you may have been told, you are not a weak person if you have experienced abuse. I know a lot of strong women who found themselves in relationships such as mine. How did this happen? It’s not one thing, it’s a whole bunch of things. And it’s not your fault.
Abuse doesn’t have to be physical
Emotional, mental and financial abuse are real. Try reading some of the texts he sent to my kids. You don’t believe evil exists in the world until you’ve read a text like that. Check out more types of abuse here.
You make excuses for them
They don’t know they’re doing it.
They were abused when they were young.
They’re not as bad as their parents were.
They didn’t grow up in a nice environment.
It was just the booze talking that night.
I shouldn’t have done what I did, I made them really mad.
They deserve more, and better.
Don’t take ownership or make excuses for their actions.
I didn’t want to admit I was being abused
When the counsellors put the word “abused” forward to me, I was shocked. You don’t put that label on yourself willingly. It was only through counselling that you start to remember everything that’s happened, and deal with each piece as you pick it up and look at it. You see that there were so many times where you were being hurt.
Bang on as many doors as possible
Call. Google. Text. Looking back, I think I would have banged on as many people’s doors as it took to find the right person who would believe me and help me. FearIsNotLove is a strong place to start. It’s a good place to call and start asking your questions. You can also email them.”
Healing and moving forward
“Now that we’ve unpacked everything that happened, my kids and I are continuing to heal and move forward. And in that, we are still learning about how much the abuse has impacted our lives.
It’s just amazing how we all made it our fault, in different ways.
I’ve learned from my kids the incredibly powerful impact this had on them. Just like me, they found ways to blame themselves and to determine that it was all their fault. My son was only seven at the time, and to hear what he was telling himself back then was just unbelievable.
I’m advocating for myself, at home, at work, and with my kids.
You can’t unlearn what you’ve learned. And you learn so much going through this. The counsellors, all your supporters, teach you along the way.
You can find your voice and speak your truth again. The biggest difference between me back then, and me now, is confidence. Without a doubt. My voice became very shallow and silenced over time, because I was conditioned to believing that I was wrong. Please know that it’s possible to speak your truth and find your voice again.
There was a time when I was terribly ashamed of my life. When my daughter was five, she lived in a very unhappy and scary home. Her dad always called me horrible names in front of her. I tried to shield her from the unrelenting violence in our home, a place where we should feel safe and secure.
Until one day she saw him shove me up against a wall. I’ll never forget her sad eyes peering up at us as she cried out. “Daddy, don’t hurt mommy!”
I was terrified to leave the only life I knew, but I was worried about my daughter. I couldn’t ignore the troubled look in her eyes that day, and that’s when I decided to leave.
We were welcomed and supported by FearIsNotLove. When we arrived at the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter facility, I broke down and wept after years of fighting back tears. But I was relieved. My daughter was finally safe.
She and I both took a long time to heal after I finally left him. I learned that children experience similar psychological effects whether they are abused directly or just witness it. Our counsellors helped us every step of the way, and did an amazing job working with my daughter. Thanks to their support, we’re making it on our own. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but we are now both happy and building a healthy future.
I was running from a man I knew would never let me go. My adult children, beloved pets, home we built, network of lifelong friends and fulfilling and engaging professional career all left behind. I travelled in the middle of the night with few belongings. I had trouble seeing the road through my tears as I drove away. I was scared and alone but I knew what I had to do and that if I didn’t do it, I most likely wouldn’t survive.
I knew I needed help and was familiar with the FearIsNotLove and the work that they do. Hoping I never would have to be on the receiving end of that support because of the stigma and fear that comes with it, but was always comforted on some level that it is there for women and children when they need it. I had no idea what was ahead of me when I placed that initial call to the helpline.
My words will not adequately describe the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I have for my experience with FearIsNotLove. I am not exaggerating when I say that they saved my life.
Arriving in Calgary, I was struggling with isolation, more than I can recall ever before. I fled a dangerous relationship in my home town, and left everything I knew. The psychological effects were devastating and the man I left continued to manipulate and control from a distance which increased my anxiety and fear. I felt completely alone and contemplated taking my life.
The support and counselling I received changed my life. I barely recognize the woman I am now. The perspective and support I was given, set up a foundation where I could begin to heal and trust. I was able to take control of my life without living in constant fear and paralysis. I was committed to becoming well, and embraced the support from my counsellor. I discovered things about myself and life that made me stronger and more confident. Everything looks so different now.
I feel warmth and love and deep gratitude. I am excited for the possibilities and am hopeful. The agency not only saved my life, it healed my mind, body and spirit. The ripple effect of people helping people in ways such as this, is what makes humanity so beautiful and inspirational.
I am eternally grateful to FearIsNotLove for the hand that raised me up.
It’s been a year since we talked and since you rescued my daughter. I’m certain that so many people go through your doors and it’s probably rare that you get to follow up, but with your support, she is now safe and healing, and I wanted to let you know just how much you have helped her.
I was feeling helpless when I contacted you last year. I was terrified for Sophie’s wellbeing. Living far away, in a different city at the time, I wasn’t able to be there for her. I will never forget how your staff did all they could to help her, in any way they could. Your team went above and beyond, and for this, I will be forever grateful.
When she left the Emergency Shelter, she was able to find safe housing, and take time to work and support herself. She has been doing exceptionally well while going to school at the same time. With the continued support from her counsellor, Sophie has been able to accomplish some major achievements for herself!
I could not be more proud. Not just of her, but of your dedicated staff and the Calgary community that helped her get there. Community wrap-around is so critical in helping those who are facing adversity to become successful. It really does take a community. And I could not be more thankful for your part in supporting Sophie. Thank you so much for everything you do.
I met my partner when I was nineteen years old and it was love at first sight. We embarked on a relationship full of adventure and wonder as we travelled abroad and spent months and sometimes even years in different countries. On paper everything was great; we were the ideal couple. For a while, I truly believed it.
Three years into the relationship I became the sole supporter and that’s when the verbal abuse started. I was told “you’re stupid” or “you’re ugly.” I would stand up for myself and resist, but I stayed with him because I didn’t think it was that bad. I didn’t want people to know and figured this was something we could deal with ourselves. He told me I was his world, his everything. We moved away from our families and all we had was each other – for better or for worse.
We moved to Calgary at the start of the recent economic downturn. I was able to maintain my business but my partner couldn’t find a stable job. He opened his own business but it wasn’t doing well – this is when the physical abuse started. He would put his hands on me, countless times. My arms were regularly bruised, he would hit me, slap me, pinch me, and force sexual intercourse when I wasn’t willing. But amongst the abuse, there were also highlights in our relationship. We still travelled together and it wasn’t always bad.
After fourteen years together, while I was sitting in a presentation by FearIsNotLove I realized that the victims we were learning about had a lot in common with me. I realized that I myself was a victim and broke down. This is when I reached out and called the helpline.
For the next year, I attended counselling and realized that the relationship was not safe. It was unhealthy and the situation was not beneficial for either of us. I finally had the courage to call it off.
The aftermath was a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. I buried myself in my work and would resort to alcohol to take away the pain.
He would call and beg for me to come back, and he would also threaten to take his own life. The guilt I felt was immeasurable. However, what I came to realize was that these were just words. Life would go on and we would both be better for it. I began to work on myself and regain confidence and prosperity within my own being, and he went to counselling to work on his abusive tendencies.
I finally started to accept everything and re-establish myself both personally and professionally. I realized that YOU are the only one who can truly take care of you. That you need to take care of yourself first and foremost. I am happier now, a lot calmer, and above all, am confident that everything is going to be okay.
If I could go back and talk to myself then or to any other woman who is being abused and feels trapped, I would say to be strong and to make the call to FearIsNotLove. You need to do it for yourself, and for your children if you have them. Above all, make sure you love yourself – no matter what.