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ADVAS / Phoenix Campaign  / PHOENIX: Gabby



This week, as part of the Phoenix Campaign by ADVAS, we met Gabby.

Gabby was a young woman who was married to the love of her life. Like so many people, she entered her marriage with so much love and hope for her future with her husband. Gabby and her husband both worked, and they enjoyed their time together. As Gabby explained it, her life was storybook perfect.

But there were signs that, perhaps, not everything was perfect in Gabby’s world. Sometimes, when things didn’t go well for her husband, he would take his stress out on her.  He would call her names, blame her, and make her feel like she was less deserving of basic necessities than other people.

Everyone will face stress and have bad days, that’s completely normal – even for you and me. It is not normal and could be a sign of problems with executive functioning, mental health, or other issues when a lack of good coping skills interferes with our lives and relationships. If you or someone you know is struggling with their coping skills, there are resources available.

Over time, Gabby started to notice things going missing and appointments were being canceled. She asked her husband about what was going on, but he denied knowing anything and told her that she was not very smart for losing things. This caused Gabby to feel like she was, as she put it “losing my mind.”

Manipulating situations to make someone feel incompetent or incapable is psychological abuse.

Gabby was losing relationships that were important to her, and she felt alone. Her husband was coaching her to leave events quickly, or not go at all. He did things to make her look bad while she with friends and family, and said that people didn’t want her around.

Gabby was suffering both mentally and physically. Her health was deteriorating, and she was starting have suicidal thoughts. Her life was at risk.

If you are having suicidal thoughts – there is help available every hour of every day. There are people who want to hear your story, because your story is important. Please call 1-833-456-4566.

After losing her job because of her deteriorating condition, Gabby’s husband continued to abuse her and tell her that she was incapable of managing her life. This sent Gabby into a deep depression, and she was becoming very concerned about her ability to survive what she thought was an illness.

Facing relentless daily abuse, and concerned that she was going to end her life, Gabby went to her doctor thinking she needed help for a mental condition. While there, Gabby’s doctor asked if she was being abused. Gabby answered quickly that she wasn’t abused, thinking that abuse meant physical violence, pain, and bruises. But Gabby’s doctor sensed something was going on and reframed their question. They asked Gabby who was in control of her decisions.

Gabby froze and stared at the doctor. “Wait. You mean….” Her voice trailed off as tears filled her eyes. She had never thought of her husband as abusive. She was trying so hard to keep her hopes for a storybook future alive that she wasn’t yet aware of everything that was happening to her. Through tears, Gabby spoke with her doctor about what was going on at home. Her doctor advised her that she needed help, and Gabby hurried home and cried. That morning, she had contemplated ending her life and now she was feeling more broken and hurt than she had ever felt in her life. She realized that she wasn’t all of the things that her husband said she was, but she felt stupid for being someone who was abused.

Abuse is never the fault of the person being abused. Ever. If you are being abused or have been abused, we hope that you know that it is not your fault. Help is available.

Gabby had a sleepless night writing down everything that she had gone through, “I was so mad, and all of these memories were flooding in. I didn’t want to lose anything. Maybe some of it wasn’t part of his abuse, maybe it was – but I wrote it all down that night.”

She had planned to confront her husband after he got home from work the next night but wanted a word to describe what she was experiencing, “I felt like I needed a word that meant something more than how he made me feel – so I went online and searched.” Gabby found that she was experiencing psychological abuse, and as she read more she learned that hers was a textbook case of severe abuse. It started to become clear just how fortunate she was that her doctor had asked their question in the way they did, “That saved my life that day.”

Not all abuse involves physical violence. Psychological abuse is serious and can be fatal. Help is available.

In a fit of rage, Gabby reached for her phone and called the first number that she found for victims of abuse in Airdrie, “Well, I called three other people first. My hands were shaking so badly and I was feeling really worried. By the time I reached the third wrong number, I just yelled the f-word and hung up. My apologies to the person who answered. I’m sorry that I swore at you.”

On the phone with ADVAS, Gabby asked for help, “It was early in the day, and they asked if I could come in and talk to them at the RCMP detachment. I think they could tell that I needed a hug and a human face from the sound of my voice.” Sitting in the safety of the soft room in the RCMP detachment, Gabby pulled out her notebook that she filled in the night before.

Gabby never returned to the home she had with her husband, “It became this place that represented so much pain for me. I couldn’t bring myself to go back there.” After leaving ADVAS that day, Gabby went to her parents’ home.

With help from her ADVAS advocate, Gabby arranged an emergency appointment with a mental health clinician. She also booked an appointment with her family doctor to start on the path to recovering her physical health. In the days that followed, Gabby was able to get legal support and successfully filed for a protection order against her husband.

Gabby’s parents lived in a small condo in the city, and she couldn’t stay there for long. Through her ADVAS advocate, Gabby accessed financial and housing supports so that she could have somewhere safe to stay while she healed. “I wanted to get back to work and back to supporting myself, but I needed somewhere that I could be safe while I focussed on getting well again.”

If you are being hurt at home, there are safe places you can stay.

Gabby filed for divorce, and her husband did not contest the facts that she presented. “He never apologized, but he was being really calm and nice. He talked about how it felt in the beginning, and said he doesn’t know when or how things got off track. I was starting to feel drawn back toward him, but I had already learned that this was normal in this type of abuse. I wasn’t deterred – I was divorced.”

It is normal for victims of abuse to feel a range of emotions. Some of the emotions can be confusing or upsetting. All of them are normal. Help is available to make sense of what you may be experiencing.

Divorced from her ex-husband, Gabby sought to build meaning into her life. “I had been so low and so lost, and for more than a year I felt like nothing had meaning. Everything was just empty, and it really hurt me that I lost that time. So my number one goal in my recovery plan after the divorce was to bring meaning and joy to every day of my life.”

Gabby reconnected with friends and family and started living a life that had meaning for her, “As a little girl, I always thought I wanted to see the world – like a trip around the globe. Now, I just want to see the people around me doing well and feeling fulfilled.” Gabby took her passion for meaning and returned to school, studying social work and counselling. “Now I get to spend my days helping women in the same ways that ADVAS and their partners helped me.”

Gabby had a long connection with ADVAS, and received support from her ADVAS Advocate and a number of our local partners. “If it wasn’t for my advocate, I may not have been able to stay safe. My ex-husband was dangerous, and so was I. My friends and parents work in normal offices – none of them would have had any clue how to help with something this deep.”

When an ADVAS advocate is helping, family and friends get to help by intently listening and loving. The burden of finding resources is gone, and you can focus on finding new meaningful memories.

What Gabby experienced is, sadly, not a unique experience. We are grateful to Gabby and to all women who seek help to escape and recover from abuse.

Not all abuse has visible scars or marks. The injuries from emotional and psychological abuse may be easier to hide, but they are just as real and hurt just as much as injuries caused by physical abuse.

If you or someone you know is at risk of imminent harm, call 911.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, help is available. We want to help you.