This First Person piece was written by Jenelle McArthur, a Saulteux, Cree and Assiniboine woman from the Ocean Man First Nation.
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Trigger warning: This story contains discussion of domestic abuse.
“Jenelle, I hope you know that if we aren’t together in this lifetime, we will be together in another life.”
Hearing this whisper, like a promise, sent chills through my body.
“I know, we’ll try again, in another lifetime,” I said.
I missed him already, even thought he was right in front of me, just on the other side of the plate glass in the prison visitation area. I could smell him through the holes in the glass. His scent filled me with grief.
I did not like to visit him in prison. It hurt too much because I knew the reason he was there. He had caused harm. Still, I missed him with a vengeance.
I hated love. Love hurt a lot. I questioned why this person I loved would cause me harm and leave me.
He was abusive in so many ways. I was abusive to him too.
We did not want to believe the abuse. We were self-destructive, doing anything to fill the spiritual void.
We just did not know how to heal spirit, together.
We lived in a vicious cycle. Our children were deeply affected. Our home was unstable and chaotic, most of the time.
The day he was released was a miracle. Our family was together again but he was different. His nervous system shook with post traumatic stress.
I was different. My stomach ached from the same post traumatic stress.
We remembered our love. That love was now buried deeper, below more trauma.
We wanted better for ourselves and for our children. Our family went back to the only way we knew, a vicious cycle of abuse.
We wanted the love we felt for one another, but he could not love me the way he wanted to. I could not love him the way I wanted to. We did not know how to love one another.
The trauma was the almighty in our relationship.
I was no match against the trauma. I had to leave. I needed to save myself. I needed to safe my children. I needed to recover.
While he was asleep, I packed two garbage bags full of clothes and put my four children in the car. We drove to a temporary safe house. With support services, we created a life in recovery.
The decision saved our lives.
Still, deep below the trauma is the love, wanting to come out.– Jenelle McArthur
I needed to secure employment. I was hired in my chosen career as an Indigenous Social Worker. A few days into my new job, I was tasked with creating an alternative measures program for domestic violence, a restorative justice program for perpetrators of domestic violence.
How do I create such a program with the history of violence that I have?
I turned to spirit, starting with saying a prayer. As I smudged, I prayed for him and his healing.
Everyday I would pray for the love of my life that had caused me harm.
I needed to reframe the way I saw abusive people. I turned to an Elder, who shifted my thoughts from, “who did the abuser harm?” to “who harmed the abuser?” I became curious about who had harmed him.
I investigated trauma-informed practice. I believe that front-line workers need a deeper level of understanding of how trauma affects a person. The trauma-informed approach seeks the root cause of not being able to move forward. I believe that without a trauma-informed approach, all you are focusing on is symptom management.
Courage guided me to learn about attachment theory and how past trauma can make us unable to purely love. I was enlightened on why hurt people, hurt people.
I knew when I left the relationship that the abusive behaviour was not him, it was his trauma. The way I abused him was not the authentic me, it was my trauma. I was wounded. He was wounded.
Still, deep below the trauma is the love, wanting to come out. There is shame in asking for help.
I know that for me to get the love, I must mend the wound.
If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area, visit sheltersafe.ca or http://endingviolencecanada.org/getting-help/
To find assistance on interpersonal violence and abuse programs in Saskatchewan, visit the province’s website (https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/justice-crime-and-the-law/victims-of-crime-and-abuse/interpersonal-violence-and-abuse-programs) for a list of support services.
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