It is a detailed recording of layers of abuse — psychological, sexual, physical, financial; her life at home becoming increasingly volatile and suffocating.
Though she tries to shield their young children from the violence, she soon learns there is no safe place to hide in a house filled with hate.
I read her journal, shocked by the daily acts of manipulation and the sudden outbursts of violence she describes. How does someone find the strength to try to escape the horror, I wonder.
The short answer is, you don’t. You can leave the situation, but you take your baggage with you.
As someone who knows that the pain of abuse is felt for a lifetime, Gwen was pleased to hear the recent news that the federal and provincial governments will provide funding for legal advice for victims of sexual assault.
But she’d be even more pleased to hear about strategies to prevent it and increased education about the many forms abuse can take.
Gwen became pregnant in an era when her strict parents insisted their daughter marry the father of her child — no ifs, ands or buts.
The household ran on her husband’s rules, which he constantly changed, keeping everyone on eggshells.
These are excerpts from her journal:
“I gradually started to believe the craziness of his thinking… I began to think I was a poor wife and mother. I felt so inadequate. He controlled me by blaming me for his shortcomings; his common phrase being, ‘Look what you made me do!’ …”
“From that moment I learned how to detect what kind of mood he was in, how to manage it; how to console and support to keep the peace… I was gradually being entrapped in a very sick web, too preoccupied with surviving his mind games to realize how it was affecting (our daughters) and me.”
“I was sitting at the end of the kitchen table, sewing. He sat at the opposite end. With lightning, premeditated contempt, he jabbed the table directly into my ribs! I gasped for air! … The table rebounded from my chest. I fell to the floor.”
The trauma that Gwen and her children endured crippled them and their relationships with each other. There were times she thought the only way the nightmare would end would be if her husband killed her. But the marriage ended with divorce, not death. The children are grown and long gone.
“I’m out of the marriage now longer than I was in it,” Gwen says. “But it never leaves you.”
She’s in her 60s now. And still, there are nights when she is so tortured by memories that she cannot sleep, fearful of the flashbacks lurking in the shadows. She turns the TV to Disney and tries to calm herself with sounds of cheery innocence.
She worries that some people might be in equally horrible situations and not realize that it’s never normal or acceptable to be a victim in your own home. There were times she did not know that herself, subsumed as she was in the warped world of manipulation and abuse.
Finally, after years of exhaustion from trying to maintain a facade of normalcy in front of the children, Gwen carefully plotted to leave the marriage behind — if not the binding emotional ties.
“Your escape plan has to be so secretive, so accurate,” she said. “The courts don’t give you any backup. You’re outside on your own without any protection provided.”
Afterwards, a friend said to her, “You know it’s not your fault, right?”
“I said, ‘No, I don’t know. I was never told by anyone that I could do anything right.’
“Some victims have gone so far into hell they can’t get back,” Gwen says. “How many women are dead from staying in that environment? Some may not have insight into the risk and danger…”
Gwen discovered an inner core of resilience she drew upon to extricate herself and her children. She has become an advocate, educating others about violent relationships.
If you need help in Newfoundland and Labrador, please visit The Violence Prevention Initiative website.
In Nova Scotia, there's the Nova Scotia Domestic Violence Resource Centre.
P.E.I. has Family Violence Prevetion Services.
In New Brunswick, visit the Violence Prevention and Community Partnerships site.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email email@example.com. Twitter: pam_frampton