Five years ago, I made the most vital and life-saving decision I’d ever made. I chose to break up a 14-year relationship with the father of my four children. The break up was a no-brainer, really. It should have happened years before it finally did; women in abusive relationships face many barriers to leaving.

I went from a strong, independent, self-reliant woman to being completely controlled by and dependent on someone else. It didn’t help that he was verbally abusive, both to me and my kids. When we actually did speak, his words were filled with sexual innuendos and/or insults, usually in front of the children.

I knew long before I finally built up the courage to end things that it needed to be done. But I wanted to make sure my kids would be taken care of properly, and that I had the resources to do it. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to get out of a relationship that hurts you on many levels. Some women aren’t lucky enough to get out.

I’d like to share some suggestions, based on what I’ve learned and gone through, that I wished I had been given years ago when I was at my lowest:

~ Make a plan: Think of where you want to be, what you want for your children, then decide on the little steps you need to safely get there. The plan needs to include where to go, some sort of income when you get there, and protection if you need it. If you can, set a date for each step to keep you focused and on track toward your main goal. Also, if you are leaving an abusive situation in an emergency with little time to plan, try to ensure you have all important documentation relating to your children like health cards and birth certificates, as well as something they use for emotional support, like a favourite book or teddy bear.

~ Do your research: If you don’t have access to the Internet at home or if it’s not safe to access it from home, go to your local library or even university if you are able. You’ll need information on basic things you’ll need for survival and how to apply for them. Top needs would be government assistance for your family, housing, job placement, insurance and many other necessities you may not have thought of. I didn’t lose my place but, being a single mom, I got help with partial rent, access to the food bank, Santas Anonymous, and child and family benefits available through the government.

~ Set up child support: This is a hard one, especially for those who need to make a quick, clean break. My ex initially paid child support, and I didn’t even ask for what I am legally entitled to. But he cut it in half after a few months because it interfered with his partying. I was also removed from his insurance plan, so I had no home insurance, no benefits, and no coverage for my daughter’s medication. Child support can also be handled through government and legal intervention.

~ Think of what your children need: Kids aren’t oblivious to what’s going on. They see and hear things, even when you don’t realize they are there. Even at the lowest of times, the poorest of times, I found in my situation it was best not to sugar-coat anything, but rather to make the kids aware of what Mama was capable of doing and to be grateful for what we had, instead of being upset with what we didn’t. It can be hard, especially since kids see all that their friends have and don’t understand why they can’t have more. It’s all about coping and learning.

~ Find your source of inspiration: Everyone needs that one person or place to turn to when feeling too overwhelmed to go on. Mine is my children. One morning after weeks of dead-end interviews and staying up all night trying to get my business up and running and trying to complete my degree, I woke up with all four kids in my bed, cuddling my body in different positions. If that isn’t inspiration to keep doing what I do no matter what, I don’t know what is.

Today, I am married to the love of my life, my children are all healthy and happy, and we now rent a clean, beautiful five-bedroom house with a huge backyard and garden that’s in a safe, quiet, crime-free neighborhood – all the things I could have ever wanted for my children.

My kids will never know where I had to get food sometimes or that Santa needed help some years or that their Dad wasn’t contributing, but it’s okay. We all need to have an inner strength to draw from, even when the future/outlook seems dim.

We all have it.

It took me five years, but I’m back on my feet. And you can be too.

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