“My lawyer could see the bruises”

Article by Bill Hornbostel

“To be honest, I didn’t really see the abuse when it first started, it just was normal for there to be nasty comments, control issues, that kind of thing.” So begins the account of Nicole, a survivor of domestic abuse. Nicole is opening up about her experience to help raise awareness of domestic abuse and raise funds for Cornerstone Family Abuse Prevention Centre in Cobourg.

“When the physical abuse started, I almost felt like I had a big part in it, and allowing it, and therefore sort of felt that I deserved it,” says Nicole.  “Years of listening to how I’m fat, and ugly, and stupid; over time, you start to believe it. When the physical abuse begins, you feel like you deserve it.”

“The physical abuse, that just started slowly as well,” says Nicole. “When it got out of hand in 2016, and I had to leave my home in the middle of the night. It was the worst physical assault that I had endured; I was scared for my life.” When she fled, Nicole also took her daughter with her; her son had already left home the month before to live with his girlfriend.

“The day after the assault, I went to my lawyer to try and speed up the process of getting my ex out of my home,” Nicole says. “My lawyer could see the bruises; I obviously tried to cover them, but she saw through that she made me an appointment with Cornerstone.”

“I resented having to go because I thought I could just deal with things on my own,” Nicole says with regret. “Sadly, I was mistaken. I did go to Cornerstone; they gave me some great advice. They offered me safety, place to go, food to bring my children (a place where) everybody would be safe, and I left thinking I could do it on my own.” Nicole rented an apartment for the next six months during her legal fight with her ex.

“I walked away and struggled for months, going through the court system on my own, dealing with my ex on my own,” says Nicole. “I did get through that, and eventually was trying to co-parent productively with my ex. And that worked for a short time, until it didn’t.”

“He had been taking our daughter to his home, but there were some domestic disturbances between him and his current girlfriend, but the police had advised to not take our daughter there, it wasn’t safe for her,” Nicole states. “So, I was allowing them to come to my home, to watch our daughter. He would come, I would leave for work, I would come home at the end of the day, and he would leave.”

“One particular day in 2018 he came to get our daughter, and I could tell he was in a mood,” Nicole remembers. “My lawyer from 2016 had suggested that if I ever felt unsafe to pull my phone out and video record, because, she said, ‘Nobody in their right mind is going to assault you when you’re videotaping.’ Sadly, that wasn’t the case. And I was assaulted in front of my daughter in my own home. The videotape didn’t keep me safe, but I could use it in court when I pressed charges.”

“I didn’t press charges at first because there were some threats, and I really was scared for my safety and the safety of my son and my daughter,” Nicole says.

It was the impact that the abuse was having on her daughter that most deeply affected Nicole. “Over time, I noticed little things with my daughter. She wasn’t sleeping well through the night. She didn’t want to go and visit her dad. We drove home one time and the garage door must have blown open. And as we pulled up, she was terrified that her dad was in the house.”

“One day, we were talking about the assault that she had witnessed,” says Nicole. “She felt he was going to kill me that day. And she thought, what’s going to happen to her? Is he going to kill her as well? I didn’t know that she had thought that until that moment.”

Nicole recalls, “We were driving, and she turned to me and said, ‘We can’t tell anyone, right mom?’ I realized I was teaching her to keep silent to keep secret and to put up with the abuse. That was the turning point for me when I realized I was role modelling for my daughter to be in the same situation one day that changed everything that conversation. I made an appointment for her to go back to Cornerstone counselling soon after that. And my daughter is still in counselling at Cornerstone to this day.”

“When I first went for counselling, I just kept going because I wanted to show my daughter that this was important for her to go to counselling,” Nicole says. “So, I went, and just really to show my daughter this is important for her.”

“After a few sessions of speaking with my counsellor, I realized they weren’t judging me,” Nicole recalls. They weren’t saying the typical replies: ‘Why didn’t you leave earlier? How did you put up with that for so long? What did you do to deserve that?’”

“I didn’t get any judgments from them at all,” says Nicole. “They wanted to know how I felt, and they wanted to hear what I had gone through, and they didn’t belittle me. And that was important. Because so often, women that are in domestic situations are judged for not leaving sooner.”

“Once I started to realize that the counsellor was there to help me, I opened up a lot more, and I began to be more honest with the counsellor and myself,” Nicole states. “The advice that she gave, me looking back, it seems so simple. And I think to myself, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ But at the time, you’re dealing with your entire life changing, your whole life gets pulled out from under you, and you just are supposed to go on.”

“I started to really look forward to my counselling sessions, and my daughter, that was the first time that she could open up, too. Over time, my daughter felt that she was a friend to confide in. It’s so important for a little girl to know that her voice matters. And that’s what Cornerstone did for her. They also did that for me.”

“I really appreciate the help that Cornerstone gave me,” Nicole says. “I do wish back in 2016 that I hadn’t left Cornerstone, I wish I had accepted the help. I really would urge other women in similar situations to accept help. It’s bigger than us. It goes deeper than what a woman or a mom can do for themselves.”

“I look at small things now,” says Nicole. “Little things that my daughter goes through on a daily basis at school with bullying from boys, and I know it happens with girls as well. But as a parent, I used to say, ‘Oh, that boy stole your books and ran around, wouldn’t give it back; he likes you.’ And I learned through counselling at Cornerstone that that’s abuse. We allow boys to be boys, as we say, but it’s actually teaching our little girls to put up with it. You need to like yourself. And that’s what Cornerstone did for me and my daughter.”

For more information on Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre, you may visit their Web site, cornerstonenorthumberland.ca. You may also follow them on Facebook at (@CornerstoneFamilyViolencePreventionCentre), Twitter (@CornerstoneFVPC) and Instagram (@cornerstonefvpc).

If you wish to donate, you may do so on their website at cornerstonenorthumberland.ca/donate, or call 905-372-1545.

Support through Cornerstone Connect is available by texting 289-210-4774, or through the web portal at cornerstonenorthumberland.ca/connect. Cornerstone also has a twenty-four-hour support line for those needing support, 905-372-0746 or 1-800-263-3757. For emergencies, call 911.

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