By Renette Booyens, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
There is an African proverb that says: “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” There was not much that I understood in the first few months of separation from my abuser, but this I understood very quickly. During a very bewildering coffee date with a mutual family friend, I was harshly reprimanded for all I have done to cause the breakdown of my marriage and the trauma it was causing my children. Circumstances and events were thrown around as truth and this story had one villain: Me! It was like a punch to the stomach, realising that he was writing my story. In the early days, I had still hoped that he would take responsibility for his actions, but it became clear, very much so at this encounter with a friend, that not only had he no intention to do so and reconcile this family, but that he will continue to control my life in such insidious ways unless I learn how to take it back for myself.
It is not an easy thing to talk about. We all know the clichés and the stigmas surrounding domestic violence and abuse. Do I really want to be “that woman”? Yet, the one thing that gave me the courage to wake up every morning and continue picking up the pieces to rebuild a new life for me and my children, was reading the stories of the all the amazingly brave women who have done exactly that. Some stories were overwhelming, the pain and destruction leaving you gasping for air. Others were witty and filled with humor. I belonged somewhere. Somewhere in the middle of the tears, the desperation, the irony and yes, even the learning to laugh at yourself moments. A momentarily smile until the moment when that smile speaks of true happiness.
Today I tell my story without shame or hesitation because it is the token that my life belongs to me. That my truth is mine to hold and to cherish. I do not hide the truth because frankly, I do not have the energy to come up with creative alternatives for where I come from and where I am today. After all, would I have been who I am today if it was not for what I survived?
I remember a pastor telling me not to tell anyone what has happened to me as the “marriage pillow is sacred” and one should be careful to violate it. I thought to myself: The only thing sacred birthed from my marriage was my children, but my survival, now that is sacred. It took me almost two years of after care counseling to fully come to terms with the nature of my 14-year marriage and the impact it had on me and my children. It’s been five years and only now do I see even a glimpse of the woman I used to be before I got married. That journey is sacred.
Today I am raising four children by myself all while living in a foreign country with a foreign language, separated by miles from my own family and my closest friends. I am working through a Bachelors Degree in Community Development with a specialisation in Gender Violence. I am working part time and recently became a member of the board of directors of an organisation that provides long term support for survivors of relationship violence and offers educational programs in high schools and colleges regarding relationship violence. I also volunteer as a country representative for one of the political parties of my country of origin, as I hope to one day complete my victory by returning home.
This is not where I was five years ago. I know I am not the only one. The women who went before me laid the stepping stones for me to walk on. Their journeys of recovery inspired me and encouraged me. The steps I take, I take in their honor. So, to the ones who come behind me, I say: “Be patient as you lay down your own path. Even on those days when the best you can do is at least get out of bed and brush your teeth. It is only really as you look back that you are often able to acknowledge how far you have come, but celebrate it. Every small thing! And tell your story. It belongs to you. You are not alone. Our solidarity is our strength!”
About Renette Booyens: I am a native South African and over the last 18 years have lived in France, the US and now Canada. I am a single mother of four great kids. I am trained as an Early Childhood Educator, but currently work part time in tourism just north of Montréal. I speak three languages. In between trying to keep my kids and cats alive, I am also working towards a bachelor's degree in Community Development through the University of South Africa. I am on the board of directors of a non-profit organisation in Montréal called Women Aware. The organisation provides long term support for survivors of relationship violence and abuse and offers educational programs in high schools and colleges on relationship violence and abuse with a preventive approach. I am the co-chairperson for the Americas regional forum of the Democratic Alliance Abroad, a political party in South Africa and the Country Representative in Canada for the same party. When time allows, I often volunteer for the breakfast program at school, something else I am very passionate about. For fun and self-care I like to write poems and essays but mostly prefer spending time with my kids, be it a picnic in the park, dining out or just binge watching Netflix.