Editor’s note: This letter refers to the Nova Scotia shootings, which began after a gunman attacked his girlfriend. The assailant killed 22 people, but his girlfriend survived.
I do not know her name, nor favourite book, nor what makes her laugh; yet, she has been on my mind over the past two weeks.
I think not only of her recent experience but also of my own.
It is, in fact, because of my experience that thoughts of her catapult to the forefront of my mind.
Even though we do not know each other, and live on opposite sides of the country, she and I share an all-too-common experience: We each have been subjected to the will of another person who meant to cause us harm.
When news first broke of the harrowing events in Nova Scotia, before any mention of a ‘girlfriend’, my thoughts immediately focused on the likelihood of a domestic situation gone bad. For me, that storyline made complete sense. As it turned out, my initial thoughts, unfortunately, proved accurate.
As a survivor myself, perhaps I felt more attuned to the circumstances, more at one with ‘her.’
Perhaps, I was more able to make a snap assessment of what might possibly have happened; more able to trust my gut instinct on such an occurrence. In my view, there was only one explanation.
With this woman, I feel a bond; a connection of sorts. She hasn’t a clue who I am, and has no idea that a woman in Squamish, across the country, even spends time thinking about her.
Unfortunately, we have this great thing in common not only with each other, but with too many other women out there in societies spanning the globe. We are survivors of harrowing traumas deliberately inflicted by someone else’s hands.
I wish my connection with her was different; that it was more joyful and fulfilling. Perhaps it will be, in the future. For now, it is based in trauma.
What she and I also did was endure.
While the storm raged around each of us, we took what was unfairly delivered and found the strength within ourselves to hold on and not let go. We refused to fall into the abyss. We did not succumb. That storm tried, again and again, to sink us. It did not, alas, succeed. In that, we have the last laugh.
We have the complete and utter satisfaction that we rose above someone else’s malicious intent. Through no fault of our own, we faced a seemingly unbearable challenge and triumphed over it.
Such a victory relies on two elements: the sheer ability to overcome; and, a reason, or reasons, to overcome. Fortitude and character give us each the inner strength to withstand those inflicted storms.
Pinpoint focus on what matters most to us feeds that strength. What kept me focused during those challenging times was an indefatigable belief in myself. I was not the person he accused me to be.
Hindsight provided me with the invaluable knowledge that strength was also derived from being a mother. For the love of my children, there was no better reason to hold on and not let go.
Undoubtedly, the Nova Scotia woman also had a reason, or reasons, to survive. I’m so very glad she did. She is a reminder to us all that there are so many incredible reasons to not only survive but to thrive.
When I first sought help with my situation, more than five years ago, I turned to a dearly regarded physician who listened intently to the description of my domestic life. From her words, I drew immense comfort: “The first thing you need to know is that this is not your fault.”
I only hope the Nova Scotia woman has someone near and dear who will say those exact words to her, and reassure her that it was not her fault; that she did nothing to bring forth this tragedy. I hope she finds immense comfort in that knowledge and, ultimately, believes it. From there, her healing will begin.