Domestic abuse isn’t always physical, but living with a controlling partner can be as bad as physical abuse. Controlling behaviours that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship (coercive control) is very common. These behaviours give the perpetrator power over their partner, making it difficult for the victim to leave. *Ellie recounts how she fell into a coercive relationship – and got out. Ellie is not her real name, she wanted to protect her family, so we respected that, but her story is real. She wanted to share it with the hope that she will inspire women who find themselves in the same situation to get help.
This is her story…
When I was about seven years old, I moved from Seychelles to Quebec, Canada to escape a very abusive family situation. My mother had been in a bad relationship where my father was very abusive, especially when he was drunk. He had also cheated on my mother with numerous women. One night after he stumbled into the house really drunk, he picked a fight with her because there was no dinner. She had purposely washed all the pots and plates and had fed his dinner to the dog (that’s what she told me some years later). I was used to hearing my mother and father arguing, and my father occasionally threatening to kick her if she did not stay quiet. She would normally be cowed, fearful, and silent because she was so scared of him.
That night, however, my mother spoke back to my father and put up a fight regardless of his threats and abusive language. He became so enraged, slapped her across the face, pinned her down on the sofa, and started punching her. I was about 6 years old. I stood in the doorway, terrified, unable to move as I watched my mother being battered by my father. He eventually stopped; he was too drunk to continue. My mother got up, headed for the kitchen and she re-emerged with a kitchen knife. I looked at her in horror. Her face was already swollen, one eye closed from the swelling, and she looked like she was about to stab my father. At that moment, I screamed at her and begged her not to do it. To this day, I do not know why I stopped her that night since I hated my father.
After that horrific night, my mother left my father. We fled the house and took refuge at my grandmother’s house at Baie Lazare. The family house where we lived in the North of Mahe belonged to my father’s family. They were very well known on the island, and they were not proud of what my father had done to my mother that night. From what my mother told me when I was old enough to understand, his family told her that they would make sure my father stayed away from her for good if she agreed to not press charges.
A year after fleeing our home, my mother told me that we were going to visit her sister in Canada. I did not really know my aunty, she left Seychelles before I was born. Canada was different. It was cold when we got there, and for the first time I saw snow, and I was so excited. I had so much fun with my cousins who were a bit older than me.
I expected us to return home after a couple of weeks, but I never left Canada. I was enrolled in school, and weeks turned into months and months into years. I later became a Canadian citizen, I worked hard at school, and I loved my life and the friends I made. I got into Concordia University and graduated with a BA Major in Community and Public Affairs. Seychelles and my father became a distant memory for quite a while, although I’m now reconnected with my family there.
During my final year at university, I was doing an internship at a charity. There, I met *Thomas (not his real name) who was 9 years my senior. I was 19. All the women in the office had a soft spot for him because he was so charming and polite. When he asked me out, I was flattered. My mother, on the other hand, was not impressed when she found out he was much older than me. I was in love, so my mother’s disapproval was not going to sway my decision. On the few occasions that my mother met Thomas, it was clear that she did not like him. One night during a heated argument with her about him, she said that she didn’t like the way he talked to me, and the fact that I was not allowed to go anywhere without him. Angrily, I told my mother he cared for and loved me and that she was jealous that I found someone to love me. Since she left Seychelles and her abusive relationship, my mother had never trusted any men. I hurt her feelings that day.
After my graduation, I got a job at the charity. I knew that Thomas had probably put in a good word for me. A few months later, I moved in with him in his nice stylish flat in the city centre. Soon after, he left his job at the charity, and we were blissfully happy. I felt like an adult doing my own things. My relationship with my mother was shaky. I kept asking her to give Thomas a chance, but she said she could see right through him. At that time, I had no clue what my mother really meant.
I didn’t have many friends apart from my work colleagues— I neglected most of my friends when I moved in with Thomas because we did everything together; most things, because I never really went out with him and his friends. He called it ‘male bonding’ time and I accepted the fact he needed to be with his friends too. But I didn’t give my own friends much thought. When my friends asked me out, I turned them down because Thomas preferred that I stayed in. Eventually, they stopped asking and we drifted apart. I was happy with my life; at least I thought I was.
A few months after I moved in with Thomas, he took up a new position at a mortgage broker in the city. Thomas was really smart, a financial wizard who worked long hours, and he was always tired. At first, he was just snappy, then the shouting started and his language was sometimes verbally abusive. I put all this down to his new job. Then he started questioning my every move, who I spent time with during my lunch break, and if he got home before I did, he wanted an explanation as to why I was late. I felt like I was living in a tunnel that took me from home to work and back again. When he was in a good mood, he was really nice to me.
My relationship with my mother was much better, but I could not tell her that I was unhappy. I was too proud. Just after my 24th birthday, my mother got a call from Seychelles. My grandmother was not well, so my mother and aunty decided to go to Seychelles to help their brother and sister-in-law care for her. After 3 months, my aunty returned to Canada but my mother stayed behind to look after my grandmother. She cared for her for two years until she passed away.
Meanwhile, life with Thomas had turned into a nightmare. He was verbally abusive and controlling most days. I became a nervous wreck and my colleagues noticed the change, but my pride took over and I did not tell anyone how unhappy I was. When I called my mother, I pretended that I was happy. As for my aunty and my cousins, I stopped visiting them.
The abuse and belittling became more frequent, it was more verbal abuse. If Thomas got really angry, he would order me to get out of his sight and he would call me names. I was so scared of him. I did not like the situation I was in, I felt trapped and I did not want people to know my predicament.
I lost my sex drive, I hated it when Thomas was at home, and I began to prefer my own company. Often he will make me feel guilty for saying no to sexual interactions which resulted in me being pressured and giving in.
I was 24, I had been with Thomas for 6 years. I had a light period and it was regular, so I did not think that I could be pregnant. Then I started experiencing nausea and sometimes cramps, so I suspected that maybe I could be pregnant. Then my period stopped. I was in denial, but I knew I was definitely pregnant. My internal voice got louder and louder in my head telling me to face reality. I had to do a test and it confirmed my worst nightmare—positive. I was going to be a mother. At that point, I had no idea how I felt and what I was going to do. All I knew was I was not in a healthy relationship and I could not bring a baby up in the same way that my mother had done with me. I remember the day I took the test. I cried for hours, I felt alone and blamed myself for the mess I was in. Thomas and I had never discussed starting a family.
Many nights when Thomas was out with his friends, I would cry myself to sleep thinking about the prospect of a hellish future. I could not tell him that I was pregnant, I was scared of his reaction. I told myself that he had the right to know. In my darkest moment, I contemplated having an abortion and sometimes even suicide. I felt like I was living in a fog and I had no fog lights to direct me.
Thomas became oblivious to the change in me. His abuse and controlling behaviour continued and the only time he was nice was when he wanted sex. At that point, I hated him touching me, but I thought I needed to keep him happy. To make it worst, my colleagues at work kept telling me how lucky I was to have him in my life, they had no clue of my daily living nightmare.
One night—one of those lonely nights when I was left with my own thoughts—I had a flashback of what my mother went through with my father the night he beat her up and left her with a permanently distorted nose. I had been so good at blocking this memory, but that night I couldn’t, and it was that same memory that gave me clarity of what to do. I realised that I wanted my baby, so I needed to protect myself and my unborn child. In order to do so, I had to be away from Thomas. I knew it was a selfish thought to deprive him the knowledge of his status as a father-to-be, but I just didn’t care about him anymore. I decided not to tell him that I was pregnant.
The next morning, I called work and told them I was not well and I told Thomas that I was staying home. As soon as he was out of the door, I packed my suitcase. Where was I going? I had no idea at that time. Although Thomas always demanded to see my bank account and scrutinised my spending habit, he never really took any money from my personal account. We had a joint account and we both put an equal amount in it to cover rent, bill and food. That day, I went to the bank and withdrew some money, got in my car and drove for almost 5 hours from Quebec City to Ottawa.
During my time at university, I had a friend who lived in Ottawa and she made me promise to come and visit her. But of course, I became too consumed by my relationship with Thomas that I never did. I had her address, but 6 years had gone by since I last saw her, and so I was not sure she would be still at the address—she wasn’t, but her mother was and she gave me her details.
A New Life
That day when I poured my heart out to my friend, she was understanding and did not judge me. I did not tell her that I was pregnant until a few weeks later. I stayed with her for a few days and then moved out. With her help, I found a small apartment and paid my rent for a year in advance, it meant using up almost all my savings. I called my boss after a few days and told her that I had left Quebec, and briefly explained why, again omitting the pregnancy part. She was very understanding and apologetic for not picking up on my unhappiness. She sent me a great reference and the charity paid me a remuneration for my service.
Seven months after leaving Quebec, I gave birth to my daughter Eliza. she was the most beautiful baby I had ever set eyes on. The first person I called was my mother. I had told her that I left Thomas a couple of months earlier, but had kept my pregnancy a secret. She was finally making up for lost years in Seychelles, and I did not want her to come to my rescue. She gave me a bit of a hard time for keeping it a secret, but she understood my reasons.
I found myself a new job when Eliza was 5 months old. Money was tight, but we managed and I was happy. My daughter became my focus. The guilt of not telling Thomas about his daughter never left my mind. I kept promising myself that I would tell him, but I was scared in case he took her away from me. When Eliza was about 12 years old, I told her the truth about why I left her father. I also told her my mother’s story (not in great details) and why we left Seychelles. Perhaps she was a bit too young to understand the enormity of it all, but Eliza was a smart girl. Although Thomas never hit me, at the time I feared that one day he would have hurt me or Eliza, and I think Eliza understood my fear. In the past, when she had asked me about her father, I told her that we broke up before she was born and that I did not know where he was.
When Eliza turned 15, she said she wanted to find her father, and I said I would help her and I did. I knew that someday I would have to face up to what I did. We did find Thomas. He never looked for me because he was having an affair. I had left him a note that day when I left him, telling him that I needed to get away from him, and he just assumed that I knew about his affair. He was not angry with me when he found out about Eliza, he never asked questions and he never said sorry for how he treated me either, but I did say sorry for not telling him I was pregnant.
I am now 55 years old, my mother has passed on, but we had spent 20 years making up to each other and making memories both in Seychelles and Canada before she died. And Eliza is 30 years old, happily married with two beautiful daughters. I am a proud grandma. Thomas is now a retired recovering alcoholic. He’s the father of my child but I never wanted anything to do with him. Over the years, he has been in and out of Eliza’s life. and I was always there to pick up the pieces when my daughter was let down by him.
Eliza is now an independent, intelligent, caring and headstrong woman, a fantastic mother to her girls, and her husband adores her. She is always thanking me for giving her a fantastic life and for being a great mum. I told her all my past mistakes and the choices I made. I told her about the mistakes her grandmother made, but I have never told her how to live her life. She has two brothers and one sister from Thomas’s side. Their mother left him because he was abusive to her too for so many years.
Looking back, that morning, when I got in my car and drove for 5 hours, was the best decision I ever made. That decision gave me and my daughter a fighting chance at living our best lives. It gave me my freedom and my voice again. I now work for a women’s shelter that provides a safe place for women and their children to escape domestic abuse.
Names marked with * along with any identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.