Finding Strength in the Face of A Life Threatening Experience

In 2016, I was robbed of both my safety and peace of mind. A friend, co-worker, and brief lover of 6 years was threatening to murder me. His threats were, in fact, so serious that the RCMP requested to meet with me to explain that at that time only a border could keep me safe and it would be in my best interest to leave the country.

Words cannot describe how much that moment shattered me. I was finally in a place of success. I had an incredible boyfriend of only a few months whom I was deeply in love with. I was very successful at my new career in culinary arts, working in a very popular casual fine dining location. Most of all, I had a darling cat that was born a stray and I was lucky enough to raise from the time he was only a few months old. I was told to leave all of that behind. It was not like moving: I could not be materialistic and at least take all my things.

I had to pack all 22 years of my life into a suitcase. I booked a one-way ticket to a country halfway across the world to live with a man I met once as a small child.

My soul felt broken for a long time.

I do not recall much of my first month living in Spain with my now adoptive ‘uncle’. I kept a diary and when I reread it, I am greatly saddened by the pain that young woman suffered. Every entry contains paragraphs of missing home. Missing her friends, lover, cat, even the beautiful trees. The Mediterranean coastline felt barren in comparison to the West Coast. I went days without sleep, the longest being 5. I remember that I kept denying myself sleep because the state of exhaustion somehow felt blissful. I was numb; nothing was familiar to me. Not the person I lived with or the home, not the language, the roads, the rules, absolutely everything felt alien.

After the first month, my cat arrived in Spain. He had stopped eating shortly after I left and despite his once playful personality, all he would do was lay on my bed. Seeing him again at the airport was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. We were both so shocked to see the other, it didn’t feel real. He refused to leave my arms for the first twenty-four hours. Sure enough, his appetite returned as did his playful spirit and, with his company, so did mine. Despite how uprooting this experience was, I did get to bond with my father’s best friend and learn so much about him that really helped give me closure on his death. The wonderful man I was dating before everything fell apart was still with me. He even managed to send me flowers on my birthday despite me living between my uncle’s home and his charter ship. However, these comforts would once again be shaken with my return home.

After nearly six months of living abroad, I returned home. I was unable to return to where I once lived as my ‘crazy ex’ (as I now call him) lived only a few blocks away. Despite all of the evidence the police had, my ex had been compliant and did not receive any jail time. He only had his multiple firearms taken away and given to a family member; he also had his gun licence revoked for 6 years.

I wanted to scream about how unfair that was. How he received counselling and I received none despite contacting my detective and clearly stating I was suicidal and wanted to do a Skype call with a therapist. Instead I received a motivational video and a few supportive words.

How had he got off easy and I nearly destroyed my life because of his threats?

Instead of letting this consume me entirely, and please believe me when I say it almost did, I pushed onwards. I suffered from crippling depression and inflicted self-harm all over my thighs as a very way of coping with my crushing emotions. It put so much strain on my relationship with my boyfriend and friends because I only let them see how vulnerable I was and no one else.

But I continued to push forward. Every time I wanted to die or self-harm, I thought about my cat. The one I raised as a baby, who was sick when I first got him and I nursed back to health, who moved continents with me, who showed he needed me as much as I did him. It may not seem like much to most people, but he is what got me through my darkest days. He is what forced me to get out of bed and chase my dreams because I refused to ever let him and I be separated again. Not because I am poor, not a crazy ex, nothing.

When I returned home, I went back to my old job and was rehired as a dishwasher. After about a month it was announced that the night sous chef position was available. I submitted my resume believing I was crazy. My competition were two incredibly talented young men who had both been in the industry for twice as long as I had. They were charismatic and far more talented with a knife than myself.

I played to my strengths. I am able to empathize with others and am willing to show vulnerability and honesty. I know how to be energetic and recognize people for their hard work and who they are as a person. I know how to lead a team. I am also horribly stubborn and do everything I can to be better. Every single time someone told me I didn’t have a chance, it lit a fire in my belly to prove to myself – not to them – that I could.

It was difficult process. I had applied to an almost unrealistic position while I was dealing with the fear of someone in my community who wanted to kill me. On top of that, I was facing rent twice what I paid previously and crippling debt from living in a country where I had been unable to get a job due to my poor Spanish.

But – I got the job! I was now the night sous, leading a team of up to thirty people. I was the underdog who came out on top. Shocked does not fully describe how it felt when my chef at the time offered me the position. I accepted and dove head first into a very difficult job. I went from dishwasher to sous chef in a month. Half the team did not even know me and the other half disrespected me because they thought I did not deserve the job.

Still I pushed forward, letting the momentum carry me. It was so hard to stay positive in such a stressful environment. I wouldn’t pretend I did not have my bad days because I sure as hell did. Every day I pushed myself to be positive at work, to encourage others to open up and bond with the team. To recognize people for how hard they worked because I knew that was all I wanted: to be recognized.

I eventually sought out much-needed therapy. These past three years have been incredibly difficult with intense highs and lows. I remained in culinary up until the start of this year when I decided it was time for change. Despite my success at several different locations, I found myself craving something else as a career.

Through all of the pain and torment I suffered from failing mental health, I now find myself in a very positive place.

I live on my own somewhere safe and far from the danger that now only haunts me instead of torments. My darling cat has a sweet little girlfriend to keep him company. The boyfriend from the beginning is still the boyfriend and as wonderful as ever. I have been debt free for two years. I am able to roam our beautiful forests once more. I now work as a horticulturist and run my own business as a freelance artist. Most of all, I have an incredible uncle in my life who I speak to regularly despite the distance.

To both the women and men who read this: remember to stay strong. Even if only one small thing keeps you going in your darkest moments, hold onto it. Put all of your energy into that one thing and let it grow like sparks on tinder. Forgive yourself when you lose momentum, but do not let it stop you. Know that NO ONE can accomplish anything alone. Whether it’s family, friends, a lover, or a pet, absolutely no one has gotten anywhere without some kind of support. Know that no one can stop you except for you. You get to either set or shatter your own limitations.

We need each other. Remember to be kind to everyone, even if they don’t offer the same. I found that allowing myself to be open and raw with my emotions and downfalls helped me the most. It is hard to admit our flaws, to face them head on, and to conquer them. Learn to forgive – yourself and others – and allow yourself to find peace in that. Despite everything, I forgive my ‘crazy ex’ and hope he found the help he obviously needed.

We all enter and leave this life the same way. I plan to leave this life knowing I was compassionate and supportive to others: not just my loved ones but strangers too. That I excelled over every hurdle in my life and refused to let myself fail. How do you plan to live your life?