© Photo illustration by Austin M. Davis
The Moose Jaw Transition House offers a 24-hour emergency number for women who feel they are not safe from abuse.
Carley still gets the urge to talk to the man who punched her, kicked her and strangled her with a cellphone charger until she passed out.
“I’m 37 and I don’t know who I am because I’ve spent most of my life invested in someone else,” Carley told the Times-Herald.
Sitting in a coffee shop, she revisited her battle with addictions: to cocaine, and to the man who hit her on more than one occasion.
“The men that I have picked, I put all of myself in to,” Carley said. “This time around, I absolutely relate it to addiction.”
She mentioned that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. She admitted to having developed a pattern of unhealthy relationships, including a verbally and mentally abusive marriage that lasted for 13 years.
“I always justified it by saying he never hit me,” Carley said. “It’s just the same, if not worse, actually.”
After the marriage ended and a subsequent cocaine relapse, she sought treatment for her drug addiction.
“I’ve been an addict probably more of my life than not,” she said.
She met a man named Zach during treatment. He, too, suffered from cocaine addiction.
They didn’t hit it off right away, but he started calling Carley and messaging her on Facebook. They started going out for coffee and their relationship escalated.
With Zach, Carley would start using cocaine again. Her relationship with that man would be the reason Carley’s kids were taken away.
Less than six months since Zach beat her up for the last time, Carley still gets moments of weakness, even as she maintains her sobriety and strives to get three of her kids back.
“I have days where I’m glad I don’t have his phone number because I’d call him. I know I would,” Carley said. “Those are the days when I can phone the transition house.”
The Moose Jaw Transition House has existed for 35 years, offering women over the age of 18 and their children safe, short-term housing, crisis counselling and advocacy. The shelter’s operated by the Moose Jaw Women’s Transition House Association, a non-profit organization governed by a volunteer board.
The shelter is a free place of refuge for rural and urban women and their kids who are victims of partnership violence.
The transition house receives funding from the Ministry of Justice, through the Interpersonal Balance and Abuse Unit for the shelter and outreach programs. The children’s program receives funding through victim services.
Karen Closs, transition house executive director, said funding only covers 75 to 80 per cent of operational costs.
Shelter, meals, emergency clothing and toiletries are provided to clients for free.
The shelter itself is located in a residential area and doesn’t stand out from the other houses. It has six bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, family room, an indoor playroom and a backyard play structure.
As of the end of November, the shelter was totally filled with four families; a total of 12 children.
If the shelter is full when someone needs immediate services, Closs said there are options, depending on what the family wants to do.
Since the shelter serves such a large area (south to the U.S. border, north to Craik and west to Chaplin), the Moose Jaw Transition House might recommend another shelter, suggest an interim safety plan like staying with family, or provide a referral to Social Services.
According to the transition house’s website, maximum stays are four weeks for individual women and six weeks for those with kids.
“For the last year our average length of stay has been about three weeks but there’s some that stay overnight and some that stay three months because it’s been difficult for our clients to move on to find something that’s safe and appropriate for the size of their family and it’s within their budget,” Closs said.
Closs said that while the number of clients has decreased over the years, the average length of stay has increased.
To provide a thorough understanding of the need for services the Moose Jaw Transition House offers, we had two women reveal the details of their abusive relationships. They agreed to candidly share their experiences in exchange for anonymity. To that end, all names have been changed to protect the identities of the abuse survivors.
Carley was one of those women.
Betty was another, and she credited the transition house for helping her leave a cycle of stress, fear and grief.
“I had never felt safer in my life than I did at the Transition-House,” Betty said over the phone.
She said she fell in love with Harry when she was 13, started dating him at 19 and married him at 22.
“What I really was attracted to about him was he was very firm in his conviction about things and he liked things done a certain way,” Betty said.
She added Harry seemed financially responsible and seemed like he would be a good provider.
“Just general things that you look for in a person,” Betty said.
She said all those positive qualities disappeared when they returned from their honemoon.
“My first year of marriage was a huge disappointment and, on an emotional level, a living hell for me,” Betty said.
In private, Harry was always angry, in a way Betty still struggles to explain or define. In public, he was a leader in the church and respected member of the community.
“He was absolutely charming, loveable and the most diplomatic person with people in the public,” Betty said. “That was not who I got to live with.”
Because of her upbringing, divorce wasn’t an option. Betty felt trapped, and it didn’t get better.
In 15 years of marriage she left once and returned home within a day.
It took Betty 10 more years until she left Harry for good.
“When I did leave, I didn’t know what I was living with was abuse, but I just knew something was seriously wrong,” Betty said.
Harry’s emotional abuse towards Betty included the stifling of her opinions, keeping her out of their finances and isolating her from other people. She wasn’t allowed to have her own friends.
She said he was physically abusive “a couple of times.”
“Once he threatened to kill me after he wrapped his hands around my neck,” Betty said. “I think he had scared himself so badly that he would never physically touch me that way again, but it wasn’t past him to push me, when we would talk, to push me in to a corner.”
She was living with a feeling of worthlessness that was verging on suicide.
Betty went through the mental health system when a counsellor told her about the transition house.
She went to a friend’s house, made the decision to leave Harry and their three kids, told her parents and made a plan.
“That was the absolute best thing I could have done in my situation,” Betty said.
Her decision to leave was made just shy of her 25th wedding anniversary.
She stayed with Harry that long for several reasons, but she left for just one: “I just got to the point where the fear of staying was worse than the fear of leaving.”
Carley remembers the first time Zach hit her because her son watched. She remembers the last time because the next day she watched Zach get on a bus. She hasn’t seen or spoken to him since.
“I was talking to my grandma on the phone,” Carley said. “I was crying and she was telling me ‘Why don’t you come back here? There’s a place called the transition house that you could go stay at and get yourself back together.’”
She took the advice, even if she didn’t stick to it. She stayed at the transition house for nearly three months before reaching out to Zach again.
When asked why she went back to him, Carley said, “If you would’ve asked me that at the time, I would’ve said because I love him, and he loves me. When I think back on it now, I see it now as more of an obsession than a love. An unhealthy obsession.”
The night he strangled her with a phone charger, Carley received a text message from an Alcoholics Anonymous friend who needed help.
Zach thought it was a sign Carley was cheating on him.
Nearly six months later, she’s still trying to summon her strength to remain sober and be the great mother of five she knows she’s capable of.
The transition house has provided her support every time she needed it. It’s an ongoing weekly activity as she works to get three of her children out of foster care. She already has two eldest kids back in her care.
Because of her relationship history, Carley is still going through the very emotional and liberating process of self-discovery.
“She helps me to figure out who I am and how I can be strong and be a strong mother and not have to have a man to identify me,” Carley said of her transition house counsellor.
“I can have my own identity.”
Austin M. Davis can be reached at 306-691-1258 or follow him on Twitter @theAustinX