Finally free: *Ella’s escape from domestic violence

*Ella’s life changed when she was 10 years old.

That was the year she lost a pivotal role model in her life: her mother. Her father and siblings remained a constant source of support growing up, but her mother’s death left an undeniable hole in her life.

Then she met him — her now ex-husband. Their relationship finally offered the warmth and love she once felt from her mother.

“He was the first man in my life,” she said.

Not so happily ever after

After a couple of years together, though, the abuse started —  first in the form of jealousy and controlling tendencies, and then eventually escalating into aggression, verbal assaults, and physical hitting.

“I was shocked,” said Ella. “I didn’t know if this was normal or not.”

They eventually married and had two sons. The abuse continued in that time, even after their family moved to Canada from their home in eastern Europe in the hopes of a better, healthier life together. It never came.

Ashamed, she kept the abuse hidden from her family and friends, and lived in fear that if she left, her husband would take her children away as he repeatedly threatened. Yet, he often apologized and returned to the “sweet” man she once knew.

“They suffered — they suffered a lot,” said Ella of her children, who were sometimes the target of the abuse. “They didn’t understand why their father did that.”

The breaking point

Eventually, Ella became numb from the years of abuse. She no longer had feelings for her husband, and — not for the first time — she wanted out.

One day, she approached her husband about ending their relationship, and the conversation exploded into an argument where he held a knife to his throat and threatened to commit suicide multiple times in front of her and her children. With the help of her brother-in-law, they were able to diffuse the situation, but Ella spent the next two months living in fear.

As before, another fight broke out one weekend that left Ella and her children sleep-deprived and physically ill with worry. Enough was enough.

At work that Monday, she reached out to her in-laws for help, but all of them turned her away. She called her husband next in response to his many angry texts. He swore at her, threatened her, and drained her of any remaining hope, as the tears began to flow.

Her manager intervened then, listening as she finally broke her silence and told her story. Empowered by her manager, Ella recalled her thoughts in that deciding moment: “I can go home and get killed, or I can go.”

So, with nothing but a folder of documents and a few clothes, Ella and her two sons left their home that day — and the years of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse suffered at the hands of her husband — behind.

They sought refuge at a shelter and for the first time in a long time, Ella thought to herself: “I feel safe. I can sleep.” There, they were able to find hope and healing in the months that followed and begin their new life together, free from abuse.

A new life, a new Ella

That was three years ago.

Today, Ella describes herself as a different woman — “stronger now.” She’s a committed employee in the same office with the same manager who once helped save her life. She has a circle of supportive friends and co-workers. She wears dresses — something her husband never allowed. She smiles.

Her two sons are now young men. They are “protective” of their mom and “respectful” towards all women. The cycle of violence ends with them.

“We’re free now,” she said.

Ella is committed to helping other women experiencing domestic violence, too. She has already supported two other women in her life, walking with them as they took the steps to leave their abusive partners behind.

“I want them to feel what I feel — free.”

Help more women like Ella take steps away from domestic violence. Support this year’s YWCA WALK A MILE IN HER SHOES® on September 12. When you walk or donate, you support YWCA Edmonton and our domestic violence prevention and recovery programs. Visit our event website to get involved.

*Ella’s real name has been withheld for her privacy and protection.

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