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My story: the beginning of the end
The year was 2019. The place was at the doctors.
Here was where everything would culminate. The proverbial ‘fork-in-the-road’. The path seemed to lead me to my only choice - to end my life...
The walls were closing in - and the voices in my head were louder…
“I have always hated the day you were born…” - those words from my father pierced through me once again, as I sat here feeling alone in my darkest hour.
I was about to lose my son… my beautiful son, whose unconditional love and resilience provided me serenity in the most unnerving situations.
HE WAS ALL THAT I HAD!!!
No place to live.
I was isolated. My new home was a world of misery, and the people whom I depended on were the very same people who had kept me prisoned in this mental anguish that never seemed to go away.
I had to break free, find my own life so here I was… at the doctor’s office… looking for a way out.
I bit my lip… trying to keep my composure…
But the tears couldn’t stop flowing. Once again I had reached this all too familiar place. A place of despair. A place so bleak that it overwhelmed all of my senses. All I could do was weep.
But how did I get here? Why was this happening to me of all people?
My doctor was kind. He listened and comforted me.
After listening to my story, the doctor offered me a small brochure. On it was a number I could call to get free counseling services. It was from the Surrey Women’s Centre.
I took it… because right then and there I needed something... anything really… anything that kept the senseless thoughts of despair at a distance so I could have an alternative route.
And I am so glad I did. It literally saved my life.
I am a second generation Canadian. My mother is of Indian descent and my father came from Fiji to start a new life in Canada. My childhood felt oppressive. From the age of about 4 or 5, as early as I can remember, I remember I felt like a loser.
My dad often referred to me as a ‘loser’ and my brother would mimic him. Our family was deeply steeped in patriarchal values in which the women lived by the rules and men enforced them with their fists.
Even as I got older, I never really felt free. My curfew at 18 was 9 p.m. When friends would call - my dad would tell them I wasn’t home and he would hang up.
My mom was the saviour. She would nurse me and shield me from the blows often. She put herself in harm's path to make it easier for me and my sister. On several occasions, I witnessed my father constantly abuse my mother.
My poor mother was powerless. She accepted everything that happened without much of a voice.
Freedom & Fibromyalgia
A tumultuous relationship with my dad, and a rigid upbringing resulted in me leaving home in pursuit of my own independence.
In my new found freedom, I could do what I wanted. About 16 years ago, I gave birth to my only child. The relationship with his father lasted for a while but at some point we decided to part ways amicably. While we shared custody, my son became my main focus.
Sometime during those years, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by “widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory failure and mood swings”.
The illness put limits on my employability. I had been working as a hairstylist with over 20 years of experience, but it was increasingly harder for me to work. Eventually, I was put on disability.
Freedom & Fibromyalgia
Over the years, my mom’s health had deteriorated considerably. In 2013, she died. The pain of losing my mother was intolerable.
I felt a sense of deep guilt that she had sheltered me from my father, and yet she died, never able to live a life free from his stifling ways.
But despite everything, I found ways to forgive my father. I tried to rationalize his abusive ways by trying to understand where he came from and his limitations.
And when, he needed help, I was there - doing my best despite my illness and my own financial challenges, I helped him out as much as I could.
Falling In Love
At the end of 2018, I ran into an old friend. Someone, whom I had a ‘crush’ on when I was younger.
I will call him ‘Steve’ although that is not his real name.
Steve was married early and had a family at a young age. Back in the day, Steve had pursued me relentlessly. But he was married, so I refused all his advances and we grew apart.
But it was 2018, some twenty years after we had met. Steve was divorced, single and still interested in me.
It didn’t take long for us to ‘fall in love’. Steve was really into me. He made me feel like I was the only person and I fully trusted him because I felt like I knew him.
Within three weeks, things were moving fast.
My son and I moved in - and Steve and I started talking about marriage.
Falling In Love
Like I said, the first few weeks were blissful.
There were a few signs that I realized after were red-flags that I should have seen coming, but I really wanted the relationship to work.
Our relationship went into full patriarchal mode right from the get-go. We had a joint bank account and he managed our expenses.
I allowed him to do that because on the one hand I trusted him but secondly I didn’t mind that he was in charge. In turn he gave me the credit card and I did all of our shopping.
All of this seemed harmless… but slowly I was losing my independence without fully realizing what I had signed up for.
But then came the quizzical interrogations and outbursts. He thought I was spending too much money and he started insisting that I spend less or be more frugal when choosing brands.
Falling In Love
The possessiveness and control weren’t limited to shopping. Steve hated it when I went out with the girls or when the phone rang.
He always wanted to know who was calling.
He insisted that some of my friends weren’t ‘good for me’ and slowly I found myself becoming reclusive and finding reasons to limit socializing with others.
And then came the snide remarks about my son. Steve felt that I talked too much about my son. He didn’t like it and felt left out of our relationship.
At this point, I started to worry about the direction of the relationship.
My son was everything to me…
But I kept quiet and hoped that it was just a phase, but it was too late. Steve’ outbursts went from threats to physical confrontation.
My son who was witness to my abuse - wanted to intervene… and I became more worried. I didn’t want to ever put my son in a situation where he would be at risk…
Then one day it happened.
We started arguing about something. My son was in his room and I was in the next room with Steve.
The argument escalated and turned violent. Steve had his fingers tightly around my neck - strangling me.
I tried to keep my composure... my hands fidgeted about for my phone in my jacket... and I dialed 911.
Steve released his grip. The cops were on their way.
The police came and told me I could press charges but that they wouldn’t arrest him at the moment.
Everything was happening fast but I simply just wanted out - I wanted to be somewhere safe where me and my son could be happy.
Moving back home
That’s when I called my dad and asked if I could move back home for a bit.
I owned a percentage of the house, so I figured it would be okay, especially if it was just for a few weeks so I could get my finances in order.
But old habits die hard.
My father and I started fighting again. My dad was the same old ‘cave man’ but now I was no longer a child but a full grown woman with a child of her own.
His words stung.
I bit my lip, wanting to hurt him as much as his words hurt me...
But in his rage, he repeated what he had told me when I was still a child… “You are a loser… I wish you weren’t born - I have always hated you….”
It brought back everything.
The words echoed violently inside me - shaking me to my core.
Losing my everything
Then he turned me away - into the streets. Took away my keys with my belongings still in the house.
“Maybe he was right. Maybe I am a loser”
I wanted to end it all… and that’s when I went to the doctors…
This is where my story actually began.
Surrey Women’s Centre
I took up the doctor’s advice immediately and started to speak with their counsellors. They reassured me that I would be okay and offered to help me find a transition home until I was able to get back on my feet.
I called the police and asked them to let me get my stuff.
I arranged for my son to go to live with his father…
And me... I moved into a shelter.
That moment of letting my son go was the toughest… but everyone reassured me, they hugged me, and consoled me.
It was all I needed, the love and support to push through. To believe in myself, and not hold on to those horrible words and memories.
Slowly, through counselling I began to realize the trauma I had faced.
Years of abuse that I had experienced as a child - and normalized in my adult life.
The counsellors and the people at the transition home, made me feel loved. They treated me like I had value. They helped me get a job and within a month, I had my own apartment and my son back living with me.
They even helped me bring charges against my ex. He wasn’t incarcerated but he was also no longer a factor in my life.
My father is not in my life either.
I feel free. I know I got a long way to go, but I got my whole life to get there.
Love is power. Knowledge is power - and it is amazing what that type of power can do.
To any person who is out there, feeling desolate and full of despair… get help. Call Surrey Women’s Centre and get started on your journey. It will surprise you how fast everything can change.
To anyone reading this - please, please give and know that your support helps to change lives.
With warm regards,
Hello, my name is Maureen Gaffar, and when Surrey Women’s Centre approached me about telling my story - I didn’t hesitate for a minute.
I didn’t hesitate because since coming to this organization the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders.
Today, I have my own place, a job I love and most of all I am reunited with my son. In 2019, I was nominated for the Courage To Come Award from Coast Mental Health. I didn’t win but it sure felt good to be acknowledged.
I didn’t hesitate also, because maybe my story will help someone else ‘out-there’ who feels alone, isolated and helpless. Don’t give up. Find an organization like Surrey Women’s Centre - and start your journey to a life free from fear and violence.
And lastly I didn’t hesitate, because I wanted to show my gratitude to all of the people who give money to help this wonderful organization to provide it's critical services.
There are literally hundreds of women like me who benefit from your generosity - thank you for helping to save lives.
And once again, thank you for Standing With Her and for being my Angel.
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