love actually is in the air

Love…I feel it for so many things, for so many people. I feel it for places and thoughts and ideas. I feel it for my girl friends, for myself, for coffee, for sunsets, for afternoon walks through Amsterdam, for poetry, for my mum dad & brother, for brunch, for novels, for the smell of fresh sunflowers.

I feel love for the places I’ve traveled to and the cities that I am able to call home. For the bed sheets that keep me warm at night while I’m thousands of miles away from Toronto. For the smiles from strangers on the bus and the motivational quotes placed on my wall.

I feel love for my grandparents, the ones that are still here and the ones that are not. I even feel love for the friendships and relationships that have faded away from my life because they shaped me into who I am.

I feel love for the way my hair air-dries in the sun, for freshly applied red lipsticks, for the way the sky looks when it’s filled with stars. For the dirt marks on my sneakers as they carry reminders of my adventures. For pitchers of sangria, for empty movie theatres, for libraries filled with books.

I feel love for the homeless man across my building that never fails to laugh when people stare at him funny. For the tears I’ve cried and the challenges I’ve overcome. For my polaroid camera and my pink fuzzy socks.

If I continue, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop.

The point is, love is great. Especially when you start to realize that you don’t need to associate the word ‘love’ with one specific person or one specific memory, rather, you can feel it for whatever and whomever you want. Multiple places, multiple people, multiple things – You can love as much or as little as you choose to. Love knows no limitations. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Spread the love…

– S

it’s been a while…

there is something about traveling that continuously fills one’s mind with realizations. having time away often gives you the space and fresh air that you need in order to reflect. and that’s exactly what i did while i was gone.

when i created unbalancedexistence i made a promise to myself to keep writing. through the good, the bad, the messy and everything in between.

after i did the global interview, i put the pen down for what has seemed like forever. and man, have i missed this. i just wanted to give you time to digest.

actually, if i’m being completely honest, i think more than anything i wanted to give myself time to digest. it’s crazy how much has happened lately. my life over the last year has become extremely public, and for all the right reasons. while i’m happy with my decisions, i was worried that it would take away from what i am and what i know.

i will always believe in myself and be proud of what i turned my situation into. i created conversation. but, here’s the thing. i don’t only want to be seen as ‘that girl that wrote that abuse story.’

i am so much more than that. i have a lot to offer that is completely unrelated to my past relationship. that being said, the circumstances have influenced the things i write about and the things i talk about. at first, i wasn’t sure if i was completely okay with that.

i think part of why i put a pause on the writing was because i didn’t want people to roll their eyes every time i wrote. i had this fear that people would think to themselves ‘is this about her ex again?’

see, the reason it is so easy to talk about it over and over is because i have insight and knowledge on a topic that not everyone understands. i feel a certain responsibility to share what i’ve learned and how i’ve coped in order to shut down the ignorance and help those that are going through something similar.

i was worried. but i shouldn’t have been because you can’t please everyone. if i’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that at the end the day, you will have to live with yourself. and if you aren’t happy with your decisions and who you are as a person, no one else will be either.

what happened to me is something i hope to move on from. but i want to make one thing very clear. do not confuse moving on with forgiveness. i need to progress my life in order to rebuild what was shattered. but that does not make the abuse okay. it does not lessen what was done to me and i very much still stand by every word i have ever said about breaking the stigmas and working towards ending violence. i don’t want the conversation to end…i just want to bring more to the table.

i will permanently be seen in a different light and i have accepted that now. however, i still think there is room for you to continue to see me. serena. although this entire ordeal is part of who i am now, i am not just ‘that girl‘ you heard about. i am a person. one with goals, ambitions and dreams. behind all the advocation against domestic violence i am still serena. the serena that is bubbly and cheerful and completely spontaneous. the serena that wants to write about love and passion and every day occurrences. past everything, i am still her.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that, if you’ll let me, i would like to turn the page.

rather, i would like to shut the book i’ve been writing for the last 20 years, put it back on the shelf and open another (at least for right now)…to a crisp, unmarked, fresh sheet. and i hope you’re okay with that because quite honestly, i don’t plan on turning back.

– s

a love letter to myself

you.

you, my friend, are incredibly talented.

but.

sometimes you undermine what you are capable of and quite honestly, i don’t blame you.

society has a way of crushing inspiration, goals and self-esteem.

and yet,

you still keep going.

you somehow brush off the uncertainties and the irrelevancies and you always manage to focus on yourself.

in the worst of times you learned how to fall back in love.

but not with another person.

you learned how to fall back in love with you.

you let go of the anchor that was holding you down and you healed yourself with such grace.

you are extraordinary.

there are days where your alarm goes off and you peek out the window and it’s pouring rain.

you’re tired, you’re cranky and you’re lacking energy.

it’s gloomy and ugly and you have a 6 hour shift and then 4 hours of class right after.

you so badly want to curl back under the covers and disregard every responsibility but you don’t.

you get up and you do what you need to do to get one step closer to your dreams.

i admire you.

i admire your strength.

i admire your beauty.

i admire your ability to be kind to the people that have hurt you and your ability to forgive those that are not sorry.

i admire the way you pull your hair back into a ponytail and walk with confidence down the street,

even when you know someone is whispering bad things about your life choices.

day. after. day. you continue to amaze me.

your spontaneity and outgoing personality is what keeps those around you alive.

it’s a rough world out there.

people are selfish, mean and ruthless.

but you.

you shine. you shine so bright.

never apologize for that.

keep travelling. keep writing. keep laughing.

keep doing you.

keep being you.

man.

i am just so damn proud to be you.

 

– S

Thoughts From This Morning

I rolled out of bed, threw on a sweater and walked to the bathroom to get ready for class. I looked up in the mirror as I squeezed toothpaste onto my brush.

Brave. Strong. Fearless.

These are the words I think of when I see myself. Just a mere 5 months ago I avoided seeing my reflection. I had a difficult time even forcing myself to drag my body out of bed. I couldn’t find the energy or strength to leave the house, let alone the emotional stability to come to terms with what had happened to me.

And now? Now I’m calm. I can breathe without pressure, something that a lot of people take for granted. I have found peace within myself and have learned to accept the unforgiveable.

I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot change people nor can I change events that have occurred. But you know what? I don’t want to change people and I most certainly do not want to change events. What I am currently going through is molding me to be a wise and courageous soul. This situation has taught me life lessons that will guide me through any other hardships I face. I’ve honestly learned so much during these last few months – but that’s another story for another time. It has brought out the true colours in all the people around me. My friend circle has gotten much, much smaller and for that I am beyond grateful. I am now surrounded only by supportive, loving and caring individuals – Ones that I know would do anything to make sure I am happy and safe. I am surrounded by family that I am blessed to have; family that would put me before they put themselves.

“Where did you learn to be so strong?” This is what the people in my life continuously asked me as they watched over me this summer. It wasn’t something I learned, it is a quality that I have always had. It’s extremely true when they say this – “You never realize how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” Strength isn’t measured by your actions or words, it is measured by personal achievement and growth.

I am not strong because I put on a brave face and openly speak about my story to the world – I am strong because I know I have made progress in terms of healing. I am strong because I know that despite the scar on my forehead and the damage in my heart, today I can go to school and go to work and be myself… something I could not do 5 months ago.

Every stranger you see on the street, every student you sit beside in class, every co-worker you shake hands with, every single person you interact with on a day to day basis is going through something. Don’t ever push yourself to believe that you’re not strong just because someone else is handling their situation differently than you are handling yours. It is unrealistic to compare ‘strength’ in a variety of individuals.

So, be kind. Help build the people around you up rather than tearing them down. Encourage, motivate and support the friends and family you have so that they too can get to the stage where they look in the mirror and feel empowered. Whether you realize it or not, we are all just trying to be our own versions of strong to get by in the world.

– S

the truth behind my domestic abuse story

I’m exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally.

In every way possible I am exhausted. I’m exhausted of the lies and the misunderstandings. I’m exhausted of people taking my 2 year long abuse story and turning it into a 60 second ‘drunk accident‘ story. My heart hurts, my mind hurts and these have been the worst few months of my life despite the front I try to put up on social media.

You have to realize that people don’t usually publicize their hurt. You can’t judge how you think I feel based on how ‘happy’ I look in my Instagram photos and Snapchats. You can’t assume you know my opinion based on quirky captions I make regarding being single. I’ve been trying to make my break up look as normal as possible to the rest of the world so that I don’t have to answer questions. It’s easy to manipulate your life through social media and make it look like something it’s not, which I’m sure everyone is well aware of.

I was going to wait until the end of court sessions, until the finalization of these cases that are currently up in the air but I can’t. I can’t stay silent any longer.

So here it is. The coming clean that I’ve been debating about publishing. The truth behind the rumors that have been floating around since April and hopefully the wake up call that some of you need.

I have to start by saying that I loved him with all of my heart. Even through the abuse, I still wanted us to work on things… which sounds pathetic to say out loud. I wanted to make him a better person. I wanted to turn him back into the innocent 14 year old I once knew. I was foolish and blindly in love with an abusive and unstable man.

What goes on in an intimate relationship between 2 people is virtually something that no one else could ever possibly understand. You will hear things and you may think you know the whole story but in reality, the only 2 people that were actively aware of what went on during the 6 year span of our relationship are me and him.

That being said, the only people that knew he was abusing me during the last 2 years of our relationship were me, him, my room mates and one or two friends. The only people that were present during the assault on April 16th in Kingston are me, him and a few complete strangers that only saw half of it. Oh, and he was drunk (Not that it matters because he assaulted me countless times sober anyway.) So really, I am the only person on earth that knows every single detail of what he did to me that night. And that’s truly terrifying. Even though he was given a breathalyzer and labeled as intoxicated, it’s still his word vs. mine in criminal court.

After spending roughly 2,000 days being his girlfriend, I’m confident in saying that nobody on this planet knows him better than I do, not even his parents. He hid his aggressiveness and abusive behavior almost as well as I hid my bruises and sore muscles. I knew what what was coming my way the entire time – I just didn’t want to believe it.

I kept waiting for signs from God to tell me that I should walk away from the relationship. The truth is God gave me hundreds of warnings but I still continued to contemplate my options until I was hurt so badly that I had no choice but to get outside help.

I knew he would try to make it all seem like an accident. I knew he wouldn’t admit to the ongoing abuse he put me through and if he did, he would make it seem like it was no where near as bad as it was. I knew he would tell people I was blowing this out of proportion and that it was a ‘one time drunk mistake.’ I knew he would make things a million times harder on me if I outed his secret. But none of that mattered anymore, my safety became the number one priority.

******************************

April 16th, 2016
I sat there, a table full of his friends. His birthday. A few drinks in things started to feel off.
“Babe you’re not really speaking to me. I feel kinda excluded.”
“All my friends are here, I can’t only talk to you.”
“Yeah I understand, but you’re not talking to me at all..”

I placed my hand on top of his.
“Just try and include me too, okay? I came all the way to Kingston.”

He slid his hand out from underneath mine and turned his back towards me to continue talking to his friends. 20 minutes. 25 minutes. 30 minutes… No words spoken to me.

“I really do feel invisible right now… This isn’t cool. What’s going on?”
“Can you just fucking stop? I already told you I’m too busy for your shit right now.”

Tears filled my eyes. I held it back as much as I could and got off my chair. I avoided eye contact with the 10 other people sitting at the table and headed to the bathroom.

I called my best friend.

“I don’t know what to do. I keep trying to make this relationship work but he makes it harder every day.”
“He doesn’t treat you right. He hasn’t for a long time. If you don’t feel comfortable there just leave. Talk to him about it later.”

Even aside from the abuse, I was constantly told by my closest friends that I’m not getting what I deserve.

I waited to see if he would come to find me. I sat in the restaurant bathroom, door locked for 28 minutes. There were 4 knocks during my time in there and none of them were him. Not even a text from him asking where I went. I knew it didn’t matter if I was there or not. I was just the invisible, irrelevant girlfriend.

I sent him a message. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m leaving. I’m sorry.”

I left the bathroom and went outside to get air. The more I thought about our relationship as a whole, the more I realized that I couldn’t be part of it any longer. I sat on a concrete step outside the restaurant and one of his friends saw me crying as she was leaving. She insisted on not leaving me alone but I really just needed time to myself. I didn’t want to cause a scene but there was no chance of me returning to the table. I reassured her that I was fine and was dealing with some family issues and was going to go for a walk to clear my mind.

Once we parted ways I tried to find a place near by that I could sit down and figure out what I wanted to do. I found a bench outside the parking lot of a Metro and got back in contact with my best friend. We discussed options of how I could get out of Kingston and back to Toronto without pissing him off. My phone was running on 26%, I had no wallet with me, no ID, nothing. She offered to buy me a bus ticket and send me in an Uber to the station – an offer I should have taken right away.

I wanted to get my duffle bag and all my things from his house but had no idea which way to go and didn’t have a key. I also wanted to make sure he knew I was leaving. I knew if I made him angry he would come after me and it would not end well.

I had no idea where I was and his friend from the dinner messaged me to say they would come get me. I sent her my location and waited. I was going to tell him I couldn’t be in this relationship anymore and go back home, that was the plan.

20 minutes later I saw him and his friends walking towards me. “Ok,” I thought to myself, “You can do this. You can get out of this hurtful and abusive relationship once and for all and just go home.”

They asked if I was okay as it was evident that I had spent the last hour crying. I nodded my head. “Do you want us to stay with you or are you okay with him” The voice in my head was screaming stay with me, I wasn’t sure if I could through breaking up with him in the middle of a public place in Kingston. But instead I just blankly looked at them and they decided I wanted them to leave. I watched them walk away while saying bye. He focused his eyes on them until he couldn’t see them anymore.

“You stupid fucking bitch. How dare you embarrass ME on MY birthday?”

Strangers started to turn heads and look at us. I was confused, scared and worried. I thought he was going to apologize. I thought he was going to try and convince me not to leave him.

I remained silent.

“Well? Are you going to fucking say anything?” He swung his hand with full force right across my left cheek. I could smell the alcohol on his breath.

“STUPID BITCH,” he yelled as he yanked my cellphone out my hand and threw it onto the road. I knew it was only going to get much, much worse. After pushing me around a few times he grabbed my phone from the road and started scrolling through my call log and noticed I had just been talking to my best friend. He grabbed my arm and pushed me towards the road.

“You fucking told her? You’re so fucked up. All you do is bitch and complain to other people. Fuck you.”

He squeezed my arm so tight that it started to feel numb. He demanded me to stand in place until he called an Uber.

As the car arrived, he yelled in my ear, “You’re going to get in the fucking car and shut the fuck up. Say one word and watch what happens.” He grabbed me by the side of my neck and pushed me into the back seat of the car.

I’m not one to test people. I knew he was capable of doing serious damage to me so I remained silent and tried to hold back my tears.

“Hi sir, how are you,” he said to the driver. Just like that. Complete personality change, as if nothing had even happened. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was in the car with a complete psychopath and this could very well be the day he finally goes one step further and kills me.

I spent the 6 minute ride attempting to come up with strategies to get the hell away from him. I wanted to get to the bus station and buy a ticket back to Toronto but I had no idea how I could manage to do so with no money and no way out of his sight.

I felt safe in the car knowing there was a driver with us but I knew the moment we were alone again, I wouldn’t be able to stop him.

“Thank you, enjoy the rest of your night guys.” Before the driver even finished his sentence, I bolted out of the back door and ran inside towards the washroom. The house door was unlocked and his house mates were in the living room. I managed to get inside the bathroom before he did and tried to lock the door to buy myself some time but he ran after me and grabbed the handle before I could shut it.

He locked the door behind him and yelled louder than I’ve ever heard before. His house mates turned the music up so that they couldn’t hear us. Stupid.

He slapped me a few more times and pushed me onto the toilet seat.
“Please, please stop,” I cried, “You’re hurting me.”

He twisted my arm backwards and covered my mouth as I screamed.

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do,” he yelled. He called me every name in the book. Slut. Whore. Bitch. Shitty girlfriend. He wrapped his hands around my neck and squeezed. I coughed and gasped for air while attempting to push his hands away.

He squeezed and squeezed and shook my entire body back and fourth. “I will probably die today,” I thought to myself.

“You’re just a cheating whore,” he let go of my neck and pushed me to the floor. He took my phone out of his pocket and went through my messages then proceeded to go through my Snapchat. “Who the fuck is Andrew? Why is he snapchatting you? I knew you were cheating on me.” Andrew, not that it even matters, is one of my co-workers. Also, he’s gay. These accusations had been made against me hundreds of times. Every guy I spoke to I was apparently cheating on him with. When in reality, I was nothing but loyal and yet for some reason he always found something to get jealous about. His jealousy turned into manipulation which turned into uncontrollable anger which turned into abuse. It was a cycle.

I tried to make up excuses to get my phone back so I could dial for help. “My mom hasn’t heard from me all day, she will get worried. I need to speak with her,” I insisted.

“You want to call her? You can do it right in front of my face. I’m not fucking stupid.”

He spat in my face. 4 times. He continued to go through my phone and dialed my best friend. He stepped outside of the bathroom and as he did, I shut the door and locked it behind him. I knew I didn’t have much time.

I climbed onto the toilet seat and tried to open the window above. I didn’t care if I had to leave with none of my stuff. At that point, I just needed to run. The window screen wouldn’t open. I tried to yell for help through the screen. I banged on the window hoping someone walking by would hear, but no one did. I couldn’t stop the tears. I’m not that much of a religious person, nor do I pray regularly but in that moment it was the only thing I could think of. I sat on the floor, closed my eyes, used my arms to cover my body and face and prayed. I prayed to God for help and for forgiveness for not listening to Him when he gave me clear signs to leave the relationship many many times.

I could hear him yelling and swearing at my best friend on the phone, for what reason I’m not sure. He wanted her to side with him. He wanted reassurance that I was wrong – but she told him the opposite. She didn’t know what he was doing to me physically and I had no way of being able to tell her. He started making up stories about what was happening that night and I tried to scream to tell her that he was lying. He banged on the door and told me I would regret my decision if I didn’t unlock it. I continued to pray and with each loud bang I knew I wouldn’t be safe for long.

He kicked open the door and the lock broke off.

“That’s it. You’ve made me really fucking angry.”

He threw me against the tile wall of the shower, face foward and I fell right into the tub. I could feel myself loosing consciousness. I took deep breathes and told myself to stay awake. I touched my forehead and blood covered my hands. Terrified does not even begin to describe what I felt. He saw the blood and started to cry. “Why did you do this Serena? Why do you make me this way? Why the fuck did you have to do this?” It made no sense. His words cut right into me and sent shivers down my spine. I was uncontrollably bleeding and he was trying to shift the blame onto me.

I was losing feeling in my legs and arms as I rolled out of the tub and grabbed onto the sink counter to pull myself onto my feet. I looked in the mirror and watched the blood drip onto the surface of my eyelashes and down my cheekbones.

I could see it in his eyes, he was scared. He knew there was no going back.

“Serena, please, please wash your face,” he begged.

“Get me a towel and hand me my phone and I won’t tell anyone.” I needed to say whatever I could to get him away from me long enough for me to get help.

“No. I’m not leaving this washroom until you wash the blood.”

“Then I will sit here all night.”
He hesitantly handed my phone and walked out of the bathroom.

“Serena. Please. I love you. Promise me you won’t tell anyone,” he had tears rolling down his face. I nodded my head and watched him walk towards the stairs.

The lock was broken so I had no way of securing the door. I waited until I could hear his steps going up the staircase. I didn’t know if I had enough time to call. I took a picture of myself in the mirror and texted it to my best friend. “Call 911. I’m hurt bad. 548 Johnson Street. DO NOT REPLY TO THIS.” Blood from my hands smeared onto my phone screen, I could hardly see the letters on the keyboard. I immediately cleared the conversation as soon as it said delivered. I waited. and waited.

No response.

He came back with towels. “You forgot clean clothes. There’s blood all over me. I need clean clothes,” I was stuttering and could hardly get the words out.

He walked away again and I pulled my phone back out. My fingers were uncontrollably shaking as I dialed 911 but I had never been more sure of any decision ever.

“What’s your emergency”

“He pushed me and hit me and I’m hurt really bad. There’s blood everywhere I need help,” I said, half crying half whispering.

“Who? Who did this? Was it a boyfriend?”

I heard foot steps and stayed silent.

“M’aam. Was it a boyfriend? Where are you?”

“Yes, a boyfriend. 548 Johnson. Please just send someone right away, I have to go.”

It turns out they had already received the call from my best friend because just a few minutes later there was a bold knock at the door.

I listened to the police call his name and ask for ID. He had no idea what was about to happen. I heard them handcuff the man that was supposed to be my best friend. The man that was supposed to love and protect me from danger and pain, yet he was the main source of all my agony. There was hesitation, there was yelling. “Ask her again, go ask her again. SERENA, PLEASE, NO.”

I couldn’t let him change my mind, not again.

I covered my ears and tried to block out the noise. His voice was so loud I heard it even over my attempt to cancel out the sound. “Sir, check my ID. Know what day it is?” He was slurring his words and couldn’t even make out cohesive sentences. He was drunk, confused and angry. He was trying to reference the fact that it was his birthday. As if it were an excuse to try and get out of being arrested for assault.

One officer recited his rights and another officer came into the bathroom and looked me up and down. “Are you okay? What happened?”

I told him I was pushed against the shower wall and my forehead had hit the tiles before I fell inside the tub. I didn’t get much into the details of what had happened previous to that.

“Are you sure that’s what happened?” He questioned me. I wanted to yell. Why would anybody lie about something like this.

“Yes I’m sure. Look inside the tub.” I swung open the curtain to reveal blood stains along the white walls. I told him my best friend had been on the phone for most of the night and had heard the aggressiveness in his voice. He nodded his head and apologized.

“Do you need an ambulance or medical attention?”

“No,” I said. But I knew I did, there was blood dripping down my face for crying out loud.

“Where’s your family, can we go pick them up before we head to the station?” I remember looking at the officer as if he weren’t even speaking English. I was 3 hours away from home with no friends or family close by. He looked back at me, almost debating if he should ask again.
“They’re in Toronto,” I said, almost whispering.

Pure pity in his eyes. He softened his words and asked me if I had any things laying around the house. I didn’t respond, just headed up the stairs to grab my bags.

I looked around his bedroom. My make up was scattered along the desk, my clothes were laying around the floor. It felt like my room just as much as it was his. I packed up my things. There was a photo of us sitting on his desk and a few pinned up to his board. I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t process.

I made my way downstairs and the officer asked me if I had everything. I wasn’t even sure but I didn’t really care. My material items were the least of my worries. I was escorted to the police car and noticed his house mates standing on the lawn. I over heard them talking to the officer. “Sir, I don’t know what happened but he’s a good guy. He wouldn’t do anything bad.”

Anger fled through my body.

Queen’s Commerce student. KPMG employee. 4 point something GPA. Regularly goes to mosque. Loves sports. Good with kids. Kind to people. Tons of friends, loving family. Does this seem like the life of an abusive person? Does this sound like someone that is capable of domestic violence? No, of course not. People don’t walk around with signs or obvious actions that make their flaws noticeable and that’s why I fell in love with him in the first place. All his good traits – I convinced myself that they outnumbered his major flaw. And the rest of the world didn’t even know his flaw existed. So yeah, “he’s a good guy,” is what everyone is led to believe. It was a strong mask to hide behind and it still is. The frustrating part is people don’t seem to give a shit what he’s done because it didn’t happen to them. People still want to believe the good in him because all they’ve ever known are his outstanding qualities, not the fucked up ones.

I tried to focus on breathing and scrapping off the dry blood from my hands as the officer started entering data into his car screen.

We called my dad together and explained in 57 seconds where I was and what had happened. “I’m on my way. I’ll bring mom,” my dad didn’t even sound surprised.

Non-stop calls from his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. “Where is he? Where are you? Are you okay? What happened? What’s going on? Is he in jail? When will they let him out?”

I. don’t. know.

I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know where he was or what was going on or what would happen or how it would happen or if I was even physically okay.

The officer brought out a DSLR and said he needed to take photos of me for evidence. “I know this is hard, but we need to do this so that your case is stronger.”

He took 9 photos of the dry blood that was sealed on my face and arms.

“You have a change of clothes? We’ll need what you’re wearing also. I’m really sorry.”

I zipped open my duffle and grabbed out a pair of sweat pants, a baggy tshirt and a zip up sweater. I headed to the washroom and changed. I looked at my favourite pair of jeans. There were blood stained finger swipes all over from when I tried to stand up from the tub. My new white and blue stripped shirt had blotches of dark red all along the collar and near the front buttons. I had never felt as empty as I did when I washed my face, arms and changed out of that outfit. It was like washing away the very last pieces of our relationship.

I handed over the clothes to the officer and asked if there was an ice pack. He brought one out to me and put me in a comfortable room. “I need to ask you a few questions and take a personal statement from you,” he said.

“So, can you please explain, in detail, what happened tonight?” he asked.

I re-explained the story and he proceed to ask me questions about our relationship and him and the abuse.

“Has he ever threatened your family?” “No.”

“Has he been physically abusive towards you before?” “Yes.”

“Has he ever threatened to kill you?” I couldn’t ruin his life. Things were bad enough. “No.”

“Is the relationship over?” I paused. Usually when people asked me this question, all the good memories would flash in front of my eyes. All the laughs, the late night cuddles, the dates, the flowers. But this time, it was the abuse. The abuse flashed before my eyes. The times he swerved his car off the highway to hit me, the times he locked me in my own bathroom and hit me until I couldn’t move. The times he threatened to ruin my life and take his own life if I left the relationship. “Yes, yes it’s over.”

“Ok. Thank you, I know that was difficult. There’s a tv in here and a few magazines. I know you’ll be here a while. There’s outlets around the room and some water in the fridge. If you need anything, I’ll be right over there,” he said, pointing to a closed office.

The nausea wouldn’t leave the pit of my stomach. I vomited 3 times in the police station bathroom. Time felt like it had froze. Each minute felt longer than the one before. I just kept telling myself that nothing else mattered because I was safe but I couldn’t help thinking about him. I couldn’t help feeling bad that it had to be this way.

3 hours later my parents arrived.

We drove to the nearest hospital and my mom and I walked up to the emergency counter while my dad parked the car.

After waiting for hours, we were finally put into a room with a female doctor.

“Wow, you got hurt pretty badly,” she lifted her finger and brushed it against the bump on my forehead. “How did you manage to do this?” she asked.

My eyes filled with tears and I tried my best to contain my emotions.

“She was pushed,” my dad answered for me.

She then proceeded to ask me questions.

“Are you nauseous?” Yes.

“Is it shooting pain?” Yes.

“Do you have bruises anywhere?” Yes.

“Are you scared?” Yes.

“Do you want me to get a social worker in here?” No.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to be my bed, alone.

The doctor insisted on professionals coming in to chat with me and I really wasn’t in the mood but it didn’t seem like I had much of a choice.

“Hi, I work at the hospital and I talk to women about abusive relationships. Do you feel guilty at all about what happened?”

Before I could even answer she began talking again. “Because you shouldn’t. The first stage in healing in accepting that there’s no point in feeling guilty. There was nothing else you could have done and you’re lucky you got out when you did.”

After speaking with her for a few minutes I felt emotionally drained. She asked me questions about things I had never even thought about. The doctor came back in to give me a little motivation.

“I want you to know that you are strong and you are brave and you are beyond lucky that no permanent damage was done. Maybe just a few scars.”

Was I supposed to feel lucky that no permanent damage was done? How could I have let him walk all over me this way. There was just too much going on. It had been a long night and all I could think of was being wrapped up in my blankets.

By the time we left it was sunrise and when I woke up that afternoon, nothing was the same.

******************************

As a noted FYI, I thought things would be simple after that. He had conditions not to contact me or come near me, not to drink or buy alcohol, etc. His bail release conditions were stated in plain English. But guess what? He challenged the system and decided that it didn’t matter. Less than a week after being released he was out at parties, Raptors games, restaurants – as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t just lost the girl he kept saying he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. As if he hadn’t just put me through living hell. The amount of disrespect that was tossed at me was unbearable.

He showed up to events I was present at – Events that he was told by the police multiple times not to come to and was arrested again. I had thought I went through enough trauma, but apparently he still had more he wanted to throw my way. He was denied bail on first try and then released later on stricter conditions not to leave his house unless going to and from work or unless under parent supervision – conditions that are currently in place right now.

3 criminal charges in Kingston weren’t enough for him, he wanted more. So he got more, this time in Toronto. I am now a witness and victim in 2 cases, both of which he is avoiding pleading guilty to. Both of which him and his lawyer are prolonging and trying to bargain.

I was physically abused to the point that blood was gushing out of my forehead and dripping down my face onto my shirt. You could hardly see my skin underneath all the blood. I had cuts all over my body and a bump above my right eyebrow the size of a golf ball from my head being slammed against the tiles of the shower wall. I had nail imprints on my neck from him wrapping his hands around my throat. His grip was so tight that I was coughing for air. I couldn’t breathe, my sight was getting blurry and I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. Does this still sound like a ‘drunk accident?’

Here’s what everyone is trying to ignore: That wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t the second time either, nor the third. I was punched, choked, slapped, hit, threatened and pinned up against walls countless times for 2 years. Most of which happened when he was sober. If I had a dollar for every bruise he’s given me I’d be able to afford a therapist for life.

I was put in a situation where I needed to chose between saving a mentally unstable 20 year old who I thought was my soul mate or saving myself.

For 2 years I chose to save him. I chose to protect him and keep his abusive behavior a secret. I hid the messy parts of our relationship from the world and tried to publicize how “happy” we were. It was a tactic that I had gotten very good at. I posted what I thought made us look good – the dates, the gifts, the flowers, the smiles. The only people that ever suspected anything were the people I lived with. I couldn’t fool them. They heard it, they saw it, they knew. But I still denied it every single time.

That night in Kingston I made a decision that I needed to save myself. I made that decision knowing it would open doors to criminal charges and court trials but I had no choice.

Just weeks after it happened, I listened to strangers talk about my life as if it were an episode of a poorly directed TV show, they made it sound like something that wasn’t reality. For 3 months I heard people twist the story into something I couldn’t even recognize anymore – in fact that’s still happening now.

I walked into an event full of people I’ve known since I was a kid and they all looked at me as if I belonged in a mental institution. As if I were the one that needed to be behind bars. As if I were the bad guy. As if I did something to be ashamed of. People I grew up with were looking at this situation and deciding they don’t want to “get involved.” They wanted to continue being “friends with both” of us. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

To the people that still choose to believe this was all an accident/not a big deal- Ignorance is bliss. You didn’t live through the violence and pain but I did. You aren’t traumatized for life but I am. 2 years of abuse is not an accident and it sure as hell IS a big deal but I can’t force you to believe the truth and I can’t force you to stand up against what is morally wrong. However, I do hope you realize that by pushing this under the rug you are validating domestic violence. You are preventing him from accepting and admitting the very real problem he has and addressing the help he desperately needs.

To the people that tell me I’ve ruined his life and that he regrets it – No. NO. I will NOT allow you to push me into guilt and back into depression. I stood by him through abuse for years. I gave him opportunity to change, I provided him with services to get help. I promised to stand by him through it all. Little did I realize how much danger I was putting myself in. Change does not happen unless you are willing to accept that there is a problem. I was sacrificing my well being, my health, my sanity and my emotional stability all to try and make him a better man. He made this decision. He ruined his own life.

To the people that look at me like I’m crazy – You will never understand what I’ve been through unless you too have experienced it. Imagine receiving a call from a police station hours away from you in the middle of the night informing you that your child or your sibling or your friend has been assaulted by someone they were dating and needs to be taken to the hospital. Would you look at them the way you look at me?

To the few close friends that I have left – I wouldn’t be back in my day to day routine if it weren’t for you. I wouldn’t have the strength to get out my bed and go to work or go to restaurants and public places. Every day is a challenge but at least now I’m somewhat motivated to pull my life back together and do the things that make me feel normal.

To my family that stood by me and continue to do so – I have never been more thankful and appreciative to have you in my life. From watching the sunrise through the hospital windows while social workers interrogated me to the 4 hour car ride home that felt never ending to watching over me while I sat in bed with the blinds closed for 47 days.

Why didn’t I leave the relationship earlier? Well that’s the million dollar question to ask every victim, isn’t it. Our society is funny that way. We question why victims stay in abusive relationships rather than questioning why abusiveness exists. But here’s your answer: He made me believe that my life would not continue if he wasn’t a part of it. Even though he treated me as if I weren’t even a person, he still made me feel that no one else could ‘love me’ the way he did.

We, as a society, need to stop re-victimizing people that have been through dehumanizing situations. It’s disgusting. We need to start changing the questions. Why didn’t you leave earlier? Irrelevant. What can we do to prevent this from happening to someone else? RELEVANT.

The mind set that ‘it didn’t happen to me so I don’t care’ shocks me. What if it did happen to you? Or someone you love? Would you still not care? What if it were you fighting against the abuse and nobody believed you? What if you knew someone was dangerous, abusive and mentally unstable but everyone thought YOU were the problem.

I’m not sure what’s worse – people that think I’m the problem or people that know what he’s done but don’t give a shit. It baffles me how people can brush away situations like this as if it means nothing. Domestic abuse is an ever growing problem and happens to people of all races, all ages, all personalities, all countries. Ignoring it will only cause our society to further believe that it’s not that big of a deal, that it’s okay for people to treat each other this way. Don’t wait for it to happen to someone you care about to stand up against it.

I’m talking up for the people that can’t. I’m speaking out about this for the women and men that feel trapped, helpless and scared almost every day. I was you and I want you to know that you are not alone.

Lastly, to the man that did this to me – You have permanently worried the living hell out of my family. They look at me differently. They see me and they feel guilt. They feel pain because they hate to watch me go through this. Hurting me is one thing but hurting the people that brought me into this world is another…For that, I will NEVER forgive you. For 2 weeks I couldn’t look in the mirror. For 3 weeks I couldn’t swallow or chew my food properly. For 1 month I didn’t want to leave my bedroom in my parents house. For a month and a half I couldn’t pick up the strength to go back to work. For 2 months I couldn’t sleep through an entire night without crying. The list goes on and on. This is baggage that I will be forced to carry for the rest of my entire life. This has given me trust issues beyond belief and will affect every single relationship I ever have from this point forward. This is something I will have to share with my kids in order to teach them the difference between right and wrong and to help them see red flags so they aren’t manipulated into thinking they deserve to be abused. I am scarred. I am traumatized. But despite everything, I still don’t even hate you. My heart aches for your family. They love you unconditionally and work hard every day to give you an education and a home, but for what? Look at what you’ve put them through. My heart aches for your friends. They have no idea who you actually are, they have no idea that they are friends with a made up version of you. If they were really your friends they would be pushing you towards help, towards admitting to all that you have done. My heart aches for YOU. Even though you and I both know how you operate, you will never own up to it all nor will you ever accept the consequences to your actions. You will always try and twist the story to make me sound like the psycho ex girlfriend. You have convinced yourself that what you did isn’t as bad as I’m making it ‘seem’. I see right through you and your lies and your insanity. My heart aches for the future women that enter your life. I pray for them every day. I pray that they never have to go through what I did but I know they will so I pray that they get out early. Walking away from you was the best thing I have ever done for myself and I hope one day you realize the damage you have created for both our families and feel nothing but guilt and regret.

I’m fighting for justice against domestic abuse and that is the only relevant piece of information that anybody needs to continue talking about.

I’m ending the silence and so should you.

– S

If you’re reading this, it’s time to clear your schedule

Lately I’ve been thinking about how life does not and will not slow down for anybody. One day you’re sitting in a ninth grade assembly listening to your principal tell you how fast high school goes and how important it is to make good decisions. You ignore him and continue whispering with your friends about the hot guy sitting 3 rows in front of you. You blink a few times and suddenly you’re doing course intentions for your last year of college, wishing you knew where on earth all the years went. After that, you’re pushed right into the real world with a job and adulthood and responsibility and all the things that scare the living hell out of us university students. And there’s just no turning back.

So really, where did the time go?

Most of us are constantly focused on our day to days. It’s all a balancing act – between school, work, studying, meeting friends, volunteering or whatever else it is that we occupy our time with. Honestly, I consider myself pretty busy but there are tons of people that have double the amount of responsibilities and commitments to attend to and I have no idea how they do it. I find it difficult just keeping up with 5 courses and a part time job.

Over the last few months, my entire world was turned upside down and yet I was still determined to go back to my apartment and back to work and continue my daily routine. I had been through a traumatizing and heartbreaking situation but all I wanted to do was go back to normal life and forget that anything had even happened. There were article deadlines, exams to worry about, assignments to finish, work shifts to show up for – the list goes on and on and on.

What I realized though was how terrible of an idea that was. How was I so worried about every single thing going on in my life except for myself? My well being and my sanity are much more important than meeting a deadline. I realized that I needed down time. I realized I shouldn’t have to apologize for needing space from my responsibilities to take care of my mental health. I needed to clear my mind and be around my family. I needed to focus on healing by doing things that make my soul and mind genuinely happy rather than jumping back into stress.

Accepting that I needed to step back from life for a bit was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I think we’re part of a very hardworking generation – one that does not want to waste time grieving or doing “nothing.” I see so many of my classmates and friends with incredible drive and ambition, however, I see them mistreating their minds and bodies. I see them staying up all night to study without eating, I see them writing exams even though they are suffering from anxiety, I see them going into work after dealing with a family emergency. I see everyone close to me pushing themselves past their physical and emotional limits. I worry that we take it all too seriously. What we lack is the ability to be selfish every now and then and the ability to properly take care of ourselves.

I worry that we don’t care enough about our health and our happiness – we care more about grades, money and what is listed on our resumes. But I don’t blame us. I feel the pressure too, just like everyone else and I know how tough the job market is out there. I know how competitive schools and companies are but that will never change.

I had a reason to take time off from life and focus on doing little things each day but you don’t need to have a reason. You don’t need to go through something difficult to deserve time for yourself. The fact that you keep up with the pressures of everyday life is more than enough reason to call in sick to work tomorrow or take a weekend road trip. I know it may seem stupid or unnecessary or impossible but it’s not.

I have a list of things I know I want to get done but they are not necessarily part of my daily routine. These are things like starting the book that’s been sitting on my desk for 3 months, updating my blog content, filming the YouTube video I’ve been organizing, etc. I’m sure you have a list too – whether it’s hitting up a cool restaurant you’ve seen on Instagram or treating yourself to a spa day or spending the afternoon hiking. But as I mentioned earlier, we are all caught up in the pressures of things.

I guess I just want to put out there how important it is to take time for yourself because I think we all get lost in the motions. Believe me, I get it. But hey, you come first.

So…if you’ve had an intense week or month or year, give yourself a break. I mean really, give yourself a break. Don’t just nod your head while reading this. Clear a day and spend it however you want. Even if it’s just sitting in your backyard with a magazine or lounging in your bed watching Netflix. It sounds selfish and that’s because it is. But trust me, it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. Look at how much you’ve accomplished lately and just breathe. You’re doing great and you will continue to do great.

Note to any parents reading this: You are amazing. You really are. Putting your children first and doing everything that you do for them takes more time than you even have in a day. I see parents that put all of their energy into providing and caring for their kids, it truly amazes and inspires me. You, as a parent, especially deserve a break and it’s okay to admit that you need one. It doesn’t at all mean you can’t handle things….in fact, it means you handle things so well that now it’s time to treat yourself.

After some much needed time off, I decided that I’m going to clear one day a month for the rest of my life. 24 care-free hours of relaxation every 30 days that I will spend however I want to because I really do deserve it. You will be amazed by how much even a few hours of “you time” can lighten your mood and lower your stress level. Bottom line, you don’t need a bunch of reasons to justify spending time on yourself.

– S

Elevator

A few weeks ago the fire alarm went off in my building. I usually don’t pay much attention to the annoying beeping but it lasted longer than usual so I figured I should go downstairs just in case.

Everything got cleared fairly quickly. I live on the corner of Bay and Dundas in a 30 story condo building so as you can probably imagine, there are A LOT of tenants. The line-up for the elevator after the clearing was ridiculous but I waited in it anyway. (Yes I’m lazy, but also I live on the 29th floor).

Anyway, I waited for about 10 or 15 minutes before getting into an elevator. Of course when I finally got into one, it was jam packed. The beginning of the elevator ride went how they usually do… awkward, uncomfortable, people avoiding eye contact, etc.

We had a long way up and around 9 different floors to stop on. For some reason, I could feel tension just moments after stepping inside. Everyone either seemed busy or tired or annoyed or angry. Here we are, roughly 10 people that are incredibly blessed to be living in the core of an amazing city. All of us probably have at least one or two close friends or family to rely on. We all must have jobs or some sort of income to be able to afford living downtown, especially in this market. But everyone just seemed.. out of it I guess. Everyone seemed, unhappy. And maybe they weren’t actually. Maybe some just had a long day or a long week. I’m not really sure what it was but I have never felt so much negative energy in one place.

I thought about how many awkward elevator rides I’ve had in my life. There were the occasional conversation starters here and there but not many and it’s always a nice surprise when someone does decide to try and be friendly.

I attempted to lighten the mood. I found myself asking, “So.. nobody wanted to burn some calories on the stairs?”

Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure if there would even be a reaction. I wasn’t sure if anyone would look up from their phones or hear what I was saying.

A strange thing happened. The tension I felt 20 seconds before making that quirky remark had completely disappeared. Laughter filled the elevator. A man, about mid 20s, looked at me and said “In the 3 years that I’ve lived here, not a single person has ever spoke to me in the elevator.”

“I can second to that,” said a woman, probably in her 30s.

No way. I couldn’t believe it.

That’s just sad to be completely honest. 3 years in a building, over 1,000 days of going up and down the elevator at least once or twice a day and nobody has ever spoken during any of those rides? It seemed impossible to me.

It’s weird. We see hundreds of people day by day but most of us rarely choose to interact with them. Instead, we scroll through our phones.. or we pretend to since elevators don’t even have service. Some of us just look down or stare at the floor numbers changing, which nobody actually really cares about.

Two days later I was coming home from writing an exam and didn’t feel so good about it. I walked into the mail room to check for some bills. I was frustrated and short-tempered. A girl that was about my age came near me and started to open her mailbox. She looked over at me and started smiling.

“Hey! I think I saw you a few days ago. You cracked that joke after the fire alarm, right?”

I wasn’t in the greatest mood and didn’t feel up to having a conversation so I responded as best as I could, trying not to seem rude.

“Oh, yeah. I think I remember you,” was all I could get out.

“Well, I just wanted to say that I was having a pretty shitty day. But you actually made me laugh, which most people can’t do when I’m pissed off. So.. thanks.”

She closed her mailbox and started to walk away and said, “I’m glad there’s people like you. You know, people that are light hearted and kind. It makes me hopeful for our fucked up generation.”

I had helped her get through a lousy day just by saying a few words, and now, she had returned the favour.

That’s the thing about elevators and life – There are constant ups and down. Some people hop off, some are there for the full ride. There are awkward confrontations but sometimes there’s impactful ones. There only brief windows of opportunity to pursue kindness and I think we need to start taking full advantage of that.

I challenge you to try and start a conversation with a stranger the next time you hop in an elevator or are waiting for the bus or the subway or in any scenario possible. Who knows what will come of it.

– S

‘Never push away the things that define you’

I’ve been wanting to put this out there for quite some time but, just like studying for my finals, I procrastinated until the thought of it wouldn’t leave my mind.

Anyway.. here it is:

All through high school I publicized the personal details of my life in poetry and short stories that I consistently uploaded on a blog site. Hardly any of my friends or family even knew it existed for several months. It was a simple and suitable way to express myself (or so I thought).

Eventually a group of people found the URL because I forgot to log off a school computer (classic me). I was constantly asked what my purpose for creating it was. I was asked how I manage to write through shitty situations or how I found the time to document my day to day.

I’ll never forget the morning a complete stranger came up to me when I was in 11th grade and said, “Nice website dude. Did you get dumped or some shit?”

So what if I did? But also, no I didn’t. This guy had no idea what I was referring to in any of my posts. That’s the funny thing about people – they like to assume. Even when they’re wrong, they will still pretend to act like they’re right. Don’t let these people get under your skin – even though I did.

Another question that regularly got on my nerves, “Why do you post things like that?”

Like what?

Correct me if I’m wrong but at one point or another, won’t we all feel heartbroken? Yeah, we will. It might not be from a relationship but many obstacles can cause us to experience heartache. We will all feel sadness, shame and guilt. That being said, we will all also feel happiness and love. Yet somehow, even though these emotions are familiar to each and every one of us, I was seen as weird for publicly sharing the vivid details behind these feelings.

Writing has always been my outlet. I don’t write because it’s my talent. I don’t write because it’s my major in school. I write because writing is who I am. It’s been there for me when people haven’t – through my laughter, tears, heartbreak and joy. I have dozens of journals wrecked up with messy cursive dated back to 2003. Thousands of words explaining everything inside my soul, challenges I’ve overcome, interesting people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had.

As dramatic as it sounds, my emotions crawl out of me, begging to be put into words… so I listen. Every feeling in my body has been turned into what I believe is art. I’m able to take situations and sentiments that feel indescribable and put them together into something that can be relatable or something that sounds beautiful even though it’s based off grief.

High school shattered my self-esteem and made me second guess every action I made. I started feeling less confident in my work and less confident about myself. So I stopped. I stopped because the words of hate lingered more in my mind than the words of kindness. I stopped because of the anonymous comments that told me my feelings were “boring and cliché.” I stopped because of the inboxes I got saying I should kill myself because of how depressed I seemed. I stopped because of how many times I got told that I was writing just to seek attention.

I let hate opinions tear me to the core. I felt irrelevant and stupid for even bothering to share things that were extremely personal. So I deleted my site and all the content within it.

Honestly, I don’t believe in regret but I’ve missed out on publically expressing years of pain and love.

Why does all this matter now? I want to share again. I want to be able to connect to people on a level in a way that I know only words can.

The power of words is extremely underrated. You’re lying if you say that you haven’t read something in your life that sent shivers down your spine or brought even the slightest smile to your face.

There’s so many things I wish I could scream out loud, but it’s always seemed easier to toss my thoughts together into a word document or on a piece of paper.

Here’s my thought process: Writing connects us. It connects emotions and experiences that we are scared to talk about or scared to hear about or scared to know about. I do not write to satisfy the opinions of others. I do not write to create a certain image of myself. I write with honesty and with an open heart. I write because it is the only thing that keeps me sane.

You have an outlet – whatever it may be. If you haven’t found it yet, I guarantee you will find it at some point, somewhere along the way of your life journey. I cannot stress enough how important it is to never push away the things that define you as a person.

That being said, I share my outlet in hopes that you find familiarity in my words. Perhaps what I post will bring back memories or help you feel less alone through a difficult period. I hope you are able to relate to my understandings and frame of mind, even if it’s just for 60 seconds.

So. If you read all the way until here, thank you. Welcome back, permanently, to my unbalanced existence.

– S