The Long Way To Happiness
Thanks to your gifts, Paula discovered the courage to leave a nightmare of domestic abuse that lasted over 15 years. Now, she’s living a safe, happy life and helping her kids dream big for their futures.
When Paula moved to Canada, she thought it was to live happily ever after with her husband. They met through her family and married when she was still at the innocent age of 17. “I thought I was in love,” Paula says with a wry smile, remembering her youthful self who usually leapt before looking. But it didn’t take long for her husband to show his true colours. That’s when the nightmare began that Paula is only now waking up from, almost twenty years later.
Paula grew up in Portugal in a close-knit, hardworking family who owned a small piece of
land. Despite having to leave her mother and father, Paula was excited to come to Canada. She was eager to start her new life in her own house with her husband. But when she arrived, he told her that they were actually going to live with his parents. “Looking back that was the first of many lies,” Paula explains. The domestic setting she entered was far from the happy and loving home that Paula envisioned. Her father-in-law believed women should be quiet at all times, and she eventually learned that he abused his wife. But Paula’s mother-in-law never complained or tried to talk about it. Instead, she took out her frustration on Paula by slapping and kicking her for no reason. “That’s the environment my ex-husband grew up in,” Paula says. “Abuse was normal.”
Many women who have experienced domestic abuse will find Paula’s story familiar. Their ex-husbands and boyfriends often witnessed abuse during childhood or adolescence. But sadly, rather than refusing to end violence in the home, they perpetuate the cycle. Over time, Paula’s husband grew more aggressive. If Paula ever argued with him, he would pull out a knife and threaten to stab her. Sometimes, he even threatened to have her killed, bragging that he knew people who would do it for him.
Eventually, a friend pleaded with Paula to go to the police. Paula was so bruised from assaults that the police arrested her husband the very same day. They advised Paula to find somewhere else to live. But she didn’t have anywhere to go and her husband had promised that he would take their daughter away if she ever left him. So she went back and tried to forgive him, but in a few weeks the hitting returned.
At this point Paula’s family intervened. They paid for a flight home since her husband had control of all the money, despite the fact that Paula worked part time. When her doctor in Portugal saw her bruise marks, he asked her to not go back. She agreed and had her baby in Portugal.
A few years passed. Paula’s husband visited her occasionally staying for a few months at
a time. But he showed little besides jealousy and aggression when he was with her. What made Paula eventually go back were her children. She believed her daughters would have a better future if they went to school in Canada. At that point, Paula convinced herself that the abuse might not continue. Again, she was wrong.
This time the violence escalated much faster. Paula’s husband started hitting her for very minor things, like getting a haircut. He even hit her in front of their daughters. They learned to hide their mother in the bathroom when their father became violent.
During one attack her oldest daughter, Isabel, nine at the time, saw her father threaten her mother with a knife. She took a phone and locked herself in a bedroom and called the police. When they arrived they arrested and charged Paula’s husband.
That’s when Paula and her children came to Inasmuch House, Mission Services’ shelter for women fleeing abuse. Here Paula found peace and healing through compassionate staff and volunteers who helped her work through her pain. “I cried a lot behind my children’s back and thought that God—and my mother—were my best friends,” Paula says. “But now everything is good.” A legal advocate worked with Paula during her long divorce proceeding. She also helped Paula find housing to get back on her feet. “My advocate and all of the women at Inasmuch helped me to recognize the abuse in retrospect,” Paula explains. “I’m not dating now, but if I ever do in the future I have learned to judge men not by looks but by how they act.”
“When I talk about Inasmuch House with some of my friends who have also been abused,” Paula says, “I tell them that the slavery is over. Because in that kind of situation, you feel like a slave.”
Today, Paula still lives in Canada with her children. Her oldest wants to be a French teacher, her youngest dreams of being a singer, and her son a police officer. “If it wasn’t for the help at Inasmuch House, I wouldn’t be where I am now with my kids. We are happy,” Paula says, “thanks to this place and to the people who make it possible. Thank you.”