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12/06/2018 08:25 EST | Updated 12/06/2018 08:51 EST

A Women's Shelter Gave Me Community After Surviving Domestic Violence

I am a survivor of gender-based, domestic and sexualized violence.

By Nikki Jamieson, Women's Representative, Canadian Federation of Students

On my journey of healing from domestic violence, I found help in the last place I wanted to be in.

Gender-based violence is deeply rooted into our institutions, systemically and socially through inequality and power, and deepened through other forms of oppression such as racism, colonialism, ableism, etc. Navigating through systems that were never meant to support you are inherently difficult, even prior to looking into the intersections of our identities and who these spaces were made for. We live in a society that persistently preserves the patriarchy through the perpetuation of gender norms; honours capitalism over compassion, and actively upholds the systems that continuously oppress us.

Speaking from my own experience, I faced more violence than help when trying to navigate the very systems that were made to support me. This isn't unique to one system or organization but is rather a cultural narrative that we have yet to dismantle. It was a socialization that I was not only facing externally, but personally. My biggest barrier to healing was, in fact, myself.

The fact that my experience was so similar to other women, trans, and non-binary folks navigating the same systems was disheartening but also empowering.

The first time I stayed in a women's shelter, it came through a court mandate. I wasn't ready to come to terms with, or even acknowledge why I was there. I was more upset with the fact that outside organizations and the justice system were involved than able to accept how I ended up there. I was not ready to listen or admit that I needed help. I didn't see the warning signs and yearned for them to leave me alone and not tread on my autonomy. I now see, this wasn't a flaw. This is how we are socialized to operate. This was my subconscious way of surviving.

I ignored every resource, every community interaction, every person who was trying to help me. I went home when my time was up and, unsurprisingly, years later, found myself in the same situation.

The second time was different. The second time, I found the strength within myself to acknowledge the violence I was facing. To acknowledge that the systems I had been ignoring were in fact built for me and that, most importantly, I wasn't alone.

The fact that my experience was so similar to other women, trans, and non-binary folks navigating the same systems was disheartening but also empowering. As was the fact that the resources I needed, the ones I previously refused to acknowledge, were there and waiting for me.

This time, I used the strength in myself that I used to avoid and transferred it to standing up for myself. I was there for an entire year, until I was mandated to leave. I raised my then-newborn child for a year in the shelter. And this time, I utilized every resource they had to offer. With that, I found support groups. I found food drives. I found resources for both my son and myself, but most importantly, I found community.

Nikki Jamieson
The author and her son.

Six months into my time in the shelter, I started to doubt my community. I thought that while my experience was important and positive, no one outside the shelter would understand — or, more importantly, care. The very next day, I got notice through the shelter that White Ribbon was holding a Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event for awareness. I desperately wanted to avoid this as it would mean exposing myself and telling the public about my experiences with domestic violence.

Again, I couldn't have been more wrong. Showing up to this event reinvigorated me. Seeing the immense amount of support from people outside of our community and from people that wanted to stand with us showed me that I had an internal community and an external community.

I allowed myself to open up and share myself and, with that, others began to open up as well. Reaching out to any external organization and resources, I found peer support. Seeking out others who understood, who got me, and who could relate. These friendships I formed have proven to be lifelong bonds that continue to this day.

Upon my departure from the shelter, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the change. Knowing the power of community, I know this is what we need to build. I want folks to know: you are not alone, no matter what part of the journey you are in.

Like many other survivors, I am a mother, a daughter, a sister and friend. I am a student.

I face severe PTSD that is triggered upon command from what seems like the smallest of interactions to other folks. I face triggers everywhere that remind me of who I once was. I face violence in other spaces that tell me that the things I faced are still real and valid — but beyond everything, I get to meet the community that I helped create, that I am a part of.

I am a survivor of gender-based, domestic and sexualized violence. I have been homeless. I lived in a shelter at two different periods in my life. I raised my son for the first year of his life in two different shelters.

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This does not define me nor do these experiences define all the other women I met while living in these shelters.

Like many other survivors, I am a mother, a daughter, a sister and friend. I am a student. I am a leader. Though at one point I may not have been, I am strong, resilient, loved, and proud of who I am.

To all those fleeing domestic violence and feeling alone, the resources are there. The community is there. They will love, support and hold you. All of us survivors are here. And no one can take that from us.

This blog was written to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

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