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Real Stories

The journey from fear to freedom unfolds one step at a time, one choice at a time, starting with that first brave "ask" for help.

Imagine living an abuse-free life. Does it seem like an impossible dream from where you stand today?

These stories are meant to encourage you and plant - or replant - a seed of hope within your heart. Like you, these women were once imprisoned by abuse. Now, with help from Gillian's Place, they are living independent, abuse-free lives in the community.

"I would like to tell all other women who are in a similar situation where I was, that they are NOT alone. At first, I thought and felt that I was in the wrong within my relationship. I was nervous, scared and I did feel alone. Until I decided to contact Gillian's Place, that is. I remember there were many times that they stayed on the line with me when I was living with my abusive husband. They opened their arms to me and my children completely. The counsellors at Gillian's Place also helped me emotionally...I don't know how I would have made it through without them. It didn't matter the time of day or night, they were always there for me.

To this day, Tasha still contacts me, just to see how I am doing or if there is anything she can help me with etc. or just to talk. I am so very thankful for everyone at Gillian's Place, they are sincerely caring women. To me and my children, they were our 'guardian angels'. They will never be forgotten and always in our hearts. Thank you, Gillian's Place staff!

So if you need someone to talk to, someone who cares and can help you, or just someone to listen to you....give Gillian's Place a call, you won't regret it. They can help you and protect you if need be.

I know you are going through tough times, I was too. But believe me, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things will get better....you have to believe, and have faith."

"My name is Heather, I am an ex-resident of Gillian's place formally known as Women's Place. I arrived at Gillian's place during the summer of 1998 with my 3 children ages 11, 9, and 4. I was feeling so afraid and confused when I arrived there. They welcomed me with compassion, support and understanding just what I needed at that time. I felt so damaged by the daily abuse I had received from my husband at that time I could not think, I just needed a safe quiet place for me and my children to stay so I could have some time to think and heal. Gillian's Place offered me kind, compassionate counsellors to talk to and answer any questions I had, and advised me when I requested advice. They provided me with legal advice in regards to custody issues. They also had child youth counsellors for my children to talk to during this confusing time. When I left Gillian's Place with my children and moved into my new apartment the staff at Gillian's Place helped me to adjust to living on my own with my children. They provided me and my children with transitional support. I was able to go back to school and find a job to take care of my children. I felt I truly lost my self when I was with my abusive husband and with the help of Gillian's Place I was able to find the real me again not the person my ex-husband thought I should be, and build my self-esteem up again. My children and I felt safe which was the first step in our recovery from years of abuse. I am able to live without fear for my safety and the safety of my children because I choose not to accept the abuse anymore."

"I just wanted to start out by saying I never knew places like Gillian's Place existed. I came from a very religious and sheltered lifestyle; I came out into the world and picked the wrong man to share my life with. He was both abusive to me physically but even more so verbally, and to my young son. I was told about woman's place and came to them when I decided enough was enough, my child doesn't deserve this life, and neither did I. I was pregnant by the man I was leaving with a young child only two years whose life was changing. It was such a frightening experience for me at the start. I had no idea what had made my life turn this way, and where I was going but the people at woman's place changed all this for me. They brought me in with minimal questions, helping me with counselling and somewhere to sleep. They showed my son love and gave me help with him and the pregnancy as well. They gave me hope and helped me realize that I was better than what my life had become. While I was there they helped me apply for work, provided transportation to an important meeting, and made sure all me and my son's needs were met. Once I received my new townhouse, they even helped by making sure I had everything I needed for my new house, and my soon to be born son and the son I already had. After leaving woman's place, I've had good and hard times, and in every circumstance till this very day woman's place, and its team still help me. I've received gifts for my son's birthday, and Christmas when finances weren't good. I received counselling after I left to help me move on when out on my own, and to strengthen my self-esteem, because that was taken from me. They've even called me to see how I'm doing. I've really grown from this experience. I am raising my two young children, going to university full time, and seeing a bright hope for the future ahead."

28 years ago, after a five-year long distance relationship, I married my husband at twenty years old, and moved with him to the West Coast, away from my family and friends to start a new life together. There was no other option for me. Coming from a European background, it is our tradition to marry your first boyfriend. I never dated or got to know anyone else. Even though my boyfriend was on the other side of the country, my family constantly reminded me, at fifteen years old, that I was to marry him.

I learned very quickly after arriving in our new home, that I didn't know my husband at all. The abuse started right away. Like many women in abusive situations, I always thought that it would get better. In the culture I grew up in, it was common for women to be abused by her partner, and to just "deal with it", my parents were married for fifty years. I believed that divorce was not an option, and so life went on.

5 years after we were married, and after five miscarriages, our first son was born. After several years on the West Coast, we moved back to Hamilton. I was so relieved to be back and closer to my family. Although my family did not come to visit often because I was afraid of how my husband would behave, it was comforting to be home.

I got a job at the Royal Bank, and my husband was self-employed. We built a good life together, had a 4,000 square foot home in Smithville, complete with a pool in the backyard, and two handsome boys. On the surface, our life was "picture-perfect". But inside the walls of my home, it was a nightmare.

When my son was just a baby, I was driving on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. My son was in the backseat and my husband was in the passenger seat screaming at me. At one point, he grabbed the steering wheel and flipped the vehicle. As soon as I came to on the side of the highway, my husband was right there, telling me I had better take the blame, or he would kill me right there and then. Both my son and I were injured, but my husband was drunk when the happened and came out of the accident unharmed. I took complete blame for the accident and was charged with careless driving. The entire time I was in the hospital my husband never left my side, so that he could make sure that I was not going to tell anyone what had happened.

When many people think of abuse, they understand the physical aspect of it - the hitting, punching, pushing - but there is so much more. It is all about control for the abuser. My husband was physically abusive, but it was other things that he did that gave him complete control of my life.

When I spoke with Nicole at Gillian's Place the other day, she asked what kinds of things my husband would do to gain control over me. Although this is very hard to tell you, I think it is important for you to know that these are the kinds of degrading things that some men do to gain control and abuse their partners. Once per month my husband would give me $2,000 to pay our mortgage and bills. Everything in our home was in my name, so paying the bills in full and on time, was a priority for me. He knew this and used it to his advantage. Before he would give me any money, he would make me perform sexual acts while calling me terrible names. I always knew that this day was coming, every month, like clockwork and would dread the end of every month. He used this kind of financial control over my children as well. I recall one morning asking him for $5 so that my son could buy lunch at school, and he verbally abused my son so badly that morning, that I will never forget the look on my sons face, the fear and the shame that his father made him feel.

Over the years the abuse continued and worsened. My husband abuse drugs and alcohol. There was no control. He often worked for cash and had a constant flow of money to support his habit. He was arrested and charged with assault a total of five times before the last time, including one day when he assaulted my son so badly, that he required 64 stitches in his mouth. This was one of only two times that I called the police myself. The other times, it was neighbours who called. Every time he was arrested, I would go, bail him out and take him back. Even after he hurt my son so badly, and my son went to live with his grandparents, I took him back - it still pains me that I accepted him back into our home over my son, but I know now that this is the cycle of abuse. I felt so alone and like I had no one to turn to. I would often seek the advice of the pastor in our church who would tell me to "forgive and forget" and work harder to make my marriage work. There was no help from family either. If I wasn't there to bail him out, his parents would, and they placed all of the blame on me, that his abuse came from the frustration of trying to keep up with my wants and needs, that no matter what he did, it wasn't good enough for me.

I have diagnosed with Lupus 5 years ago, and this put further strain on our relationship. Instead of supporting me, like most husbands would do in a healthy marriage, he would blame my Lupus symptoms on alcohol, saying that I was just drunk all of the time. I was in and out of the hospital many times since the symptoms of Lupus were magnified because of the stress I was feeling in my life. I had a lot of trouble coping with work over the years, and finally, once diagnosed with Lupus had to stop working and go on disability. My manager always knew what was happening in my life, knew about the abuse, and would try to persuade me to leave, but the fear of what would happen if I left was too great.

About three months before the final time I called the police on my husband, my youngest son had enough of living in that type of environment and moved out. It was just my youngest son, and myself, left in the home with our abuser, and the abuse on my younger son was escalating. That day, I was out shopping, and my son called and asked me to come home. My husband had been drinking and he was afraid. I went home right away and took my son out of the home and to his friend's house. Later that day, I had just finished painting a dresser in my son's bedroom and was taking a bath. My husband came home, drunk, and angry about the smell from the paint. He pulled me out of the bathtub, and beat me, pulling my hair, and repeatedly punching me. I thought that he was going to kill me. I ran, half naked to my neighbor's home, and called the police. That was the last day we lived together in that home and the beginning of my new life.

The police who responded to the call that day referred me to Gillian's Place. Since my husband was in jail, I was able to stay in my home and did not need to reside at the shelter. Even though I was not a resident, I was still able to utilize all of Gillian's Place's services on an outreach basis.

First, I met with Marion, their on-staff Family Law Lawyer. Marion worked with me to help me navigate our very complex legal system and to get me started in drafting a separation agreement, obtaining custody of my son, and arranging to sell my home. I did not qualify for legal aid, but that did not mean that I could necessarily afford a lawyer. Marion continued to work with me through my court case to offer me free legal advice, whenever I needed it.

Both my son and I received counselling, which helped us to move on emotionally, and realize that none of this was our fault. In fact, my son was very instrumental in giving me the power to stay away. He learned through counselling that no one deserved or had to live like that. That there was always hope.

Then, I worked with Tasha, the Transitional Housing and Support Worker at Gillian's Place. She did so much for me, making sure that I had everything I needed to move from a life of violence and control to a safe and independent one. She did everything from making sure I had groceries, to changing my locks to referring me to services to help me pay my hydro bill when I couldn't, services I would have never known existed had it not been for Gillian's Place. They helped me find and move into my new 2 bedroom apartment with my son. It is not the 4,000 square foot home I came from, but it is home and it is a safe place for me and my son. Then, last year, thanks to Gillian's Place and Glen Merritt Collision, I was given a car. My old car had been in my husband's name, and he took it from me. My son and I were for the most part stranded in Smithville with no way to get around. Thanks to this generous donation, I was given a sense of freedom again. And, Glen Merritt Collision, continues to support me on an ongoing basis, by helping me with car repairs when I need it. We also received a year's worth of haircuts for myself and my son from Allesandro's. It is small things like this that some might think trivial, that meant the world to us.

Now, here we are, 2 years later, happy, and most importantly, safe. Gillian's Place has given us hope for a better tomorrow. Had it not been for the police who referred me to Gillian's Place, I would have never known they existed, and had I not listened and reached out to Gillian's Place, I would likely still be living a nightmare. My sons are grown now and are good men. I will always fear though that they may become abusers themselves because of the years of abuse they both witnessed and endured. But this is only a small fear, hidden in the back of my mind. Had we not got out when we did, it would have been a certainty.

I thank God every day for Gillian's Place for giving us hope and a new life, free from violence. I want to also thank the donors and volunteers at Gillian's Place because, without you, they would not be able to continue to change the lives of the abused women and children in our community. Every little bit helps, and small kindnesses do not go unnoticed, they mean so much.

My family came to Canada August 16, 2003. I came with my husband and four children to start a new life, I was excited and at the same time, I was scared. While in Mexico I had problems with my husband, when I came to Canada I was hoping to leave behind all of the problems. Things were difficult in the beginning because of the language and being in a new country, it was hard to talk to people and meet new people. One incident I found myself crying on a city bus because I couldn't understand the bus driver. Things in my life started to become worse but it was not because of the language it was because of my husband. At this time we had been married 10 years, my husband and I had different ideas of what we wanted in life. I couldn't be myself and I was starting to forget who I was.

When I was with my husband I felt like I was deep in a hole, it was like I was screaming but no one could hear me. I wanted to get out but I couldn't. Every day I asked myself "when is this going to end". I didn't get an answer for this question because I didn't ask for help.

When I would talk he would always talk louder. There was no way to win. After time you lose yourself, you become a different person. My husband was physical with me and my children. My husband was also very verbally aggressive with me and the children. When I heard how he screamed at them and how he treated them, I was scared and felt I couldn't do anything.

Every day was the same, he would scream. One night when he came home from work he was screaming about the remote control for the TV, he woke the children up by yelling and screaming at them. This was the end, it was enough.

Sometimes things can happen to make you stronger, my children made me stronger. This was the end, it was enough. That night when I heard how he was with my children it was very difficult I wanted to protect them.

I called 911, I told the person "I don't need a police a police officer but I need somewhere to be safe," I explained the reason and they gave me the number for Gillian's Place.

I called Gillian's Place from work the next day October 28, 2004. They sent me a cab for me and my children and we admitted to the shelter. I was very scared.

I felt safe at the shelter; it was the only place I could sleep. I didn't want to leave the shelter. My children were safe.

I always thought about how thankful I was. Gillian's Place gave me the opportunity to be safe; they showed me life can be different. I say thank-you to all those people who gave me their hands. I know now I can do many things and life can be different for me and my children.

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