This is part of our Family Violence Prevention Month series. During this month, our activities, events, and resources aim to raise awareness about the impacts of domestic violence and abuse in a collective effort to prevent family violence.

YW Calgary’s Women’s Economic Prosperity team had the opportunity to meet with Lyla, a resident in YW Calgary’s Transitional Housing Program who has experienced family violence. The Transitional Housing program is for single or lone women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness due to domestic violence, mental health and addiction, and poverty/life experiences. This trauma-informed and client-centered supportive housing program incorporates a harm reduction approach to support women as they heal and become equipped to live independently and safely in the community. Read on to see Lyla’s compelling story and the challenges she overcame to achieve a brighter future.

We are sharing this interview with her permission. For the purposes of anonymity, we have chosen a pseudonym to conceal her identity. No further information will be released about Lyla or her story, even upon request.

Hi Lyla, thank you for joining us and for your courage in sharing your journey with us. Family Violence can be an uncomfortable and difficult subject to talk about, and we appreciate your willingness to share your story to help raise awareness of this critical issue. As we acknowledge a month of awareness and prevention, what is one thing you wish more people knew about Family Violence in Calgary?

During one of my conversations with a trauma counsellor, a comment was spoken me. It’s so brilliant I had to write it down, “just because I couldn’t stop the abuse, doesn’t mean I allowed it”. Because I never did allow it. One thing that I’ve learned about people who abuse others is that they de-humanize their targets. They are able to inflict pain on others without a moral compass because their target is no longer “human” to them. From my experiences, I learned just how much of a mental prison my abuser is in because of the lies, deceit and deception he put on others instead of admitting his wrong doings. This mental prison is the chaos that they’ve put themselves in because it’s easier to shift blame than to take accountability for their own actions. The fear they put on others is a tool to control and ultimately dominate their target. But, I should not live in their fear, chaos and delusions. No human should live in an abuser’s fear, chaos and delusions.

We know that domestic violence does not discriminate and is a global issue. Based on Calgary Police reports, family violence occurs in every quadrant of Calgary. Although some may think that family violence doesn’t occur in their neighbourhood, it does. What is one misconception about family violence that you want to shine truth on?

Even very smart, and successful people may not know the red flags, and can experience family violence. In order for the target to take blame for the abuser’s actions, the abuser will manipulate, argue and fight around their accountability. Some abusers may go as far as to fool professionals, like psychologists. It will get to the point where the abuser’s target will start casting doubt on themselves- “I must have made them chase me out of the house”, “I must have made them call me those names”, “If I break up the family, I’m the one to blame, not them”. People who are abusive have a way around words, truths, and using the people around them as tools instead of seeing people around them as humans. Abusive people will blame shift and deny everything, because they do not want to be held accountable. Because it’s everyone else that made them do it, not themselves. They are not in control of themselves. They are in control of others around them.

Another misconception is that family violence is easy to recognize right away. It can be decades before these tendencies pop up. They hide it, that’s what “covert” means. They hide it, dormant, till they need to use it. I thought I knew my husband before marrying him. But, after the wedding happened, months later, all these stories started coming out about his destructive behaviours as a child, his abusive behavior, and the neglect he received from his parents… All these things come into play- his parents raised someone who knew how to use fear and control to get what they wanted. Generational and developmental impact is so important. So when people are not held accountable for their actions as children, the parents are facilitating and allowing the growth of an abusive person. I married one, and I didn’t know.

You have learned a lot through your experiences and we are grateful that you are raising your voice to help others better understand the impact of domestic violence. Community members may not know how they can contribute to raising awareness and preventing family violence. What are your thoughts on how Calgarians can get involved in preventing Family Violence?

If you’re a reader, start with “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. This book has helped guide me through my own feelings of understanding myself and my experiences. I come from a First Nations background. First Nations have been disconnected from their own people for many decades, since Residential Schools. When that separation happened, whether it was my mother who went through day school, or my father being hidden away to work. There was a separation and I didn’t understand who I was growing up. Bless Brene Brown for putting it on paper. To understand is half the battle. Within yourself, to be able to stand in our own integrity, is so empowering. Being able to see the truth for what the truth is, no matter how ugly it is, is true growth.

So, how can Calgarians get involved? When your neighbor tells you what is happening- open your door, listen with empathy, if necessary call the police. Look up any questions you have that come up. Whether it’s pertaining to physical violence, emotional abuse, or any other kind of abuse. Anything that doesn’t fit into “normal behavior”, look it up! We should always be open to learning, and not stagnate ourselves. Because that’s where true growth and self-love is raised. Be the vault for the person that’s coming to your door and telling you what’s going on. Don’t gossip about their pain. We are all human trying to just be on this earth.

Thank you again Lyla for sharing your story with us. We hope that the readers of this interview will know what they can do. Whether they find themselves in a violent situation, or they know someone who is.

For more information on how you can get involved, or support the YW’s Transitional Housing program, please visit Ways to Give. Together we can empower, intervene and lead when and where women need us most.