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Fraser Valley woman finds healing after fleeing domestic abuse

Mission City Record - 11/10/2023

Asking for help didn't come easily for Mary White.

However, while living through domestic abuse from her son, stepson and ex-daughter-in-law in 2016, she reached the limit where she needed help.

"Having to stand up to my son…was big," White said.

At the time, she was afraid and decided to call SARA For Women. Beds in the Abbotsford and Mission transition houses were full and she called three to four times before there was space to take her in.

"I could tell they were getting as concerned as I was as the abuse was getting heavier," White said.

SARA For Women housing coordinator Sarah Hope says there are quite often delays to get into transition houses because domestic violence is so prominent and beds are always full.

"In Mary's case, she had to keep phoning and keep phoning. And that's what we encourage people to do. That spot will open up and we'll get you in. It did take a bit to get her in there but once the spot opened up, we got her in right away." Hope

White moved to a transition house in Abbotsford for more than a month. She was going to move to the Mission transition house, but they found space for her at Christine Lamb Residence in Abbotsford.

"They put me here, which was really delightful. It was a gift for me," White said.

If White hadn't made the call, she expects the outcome would have been tragic.

"I wouldn't be alive. I'd be dead. I'd be prostituting, I'd be dead. Surprised I'm not there," she said.

White was born in Gitxaala in northern B.C. before she was taken into foster care in Alberta at two years old. She came back to B.C. in 2016, where she found herself in an abusive situation.

She says SARA helped to protect her from herself.

Christine Lamb Residence provides an 18-month program for women, with most women coming from transition houses or abusive situations.

"Normally there's a waitlist to get in here. So that's why Mary spent a fair bit of time in the transition house because we really wanted to get her to this program," Hope said.

White excelled in the program. When her stay was coming to an end after two years, SARA For Women offered her a caretaker position within the building so she wouldn't have to leave.

"It helped me to look at the surroundings where I was at and to find out where my centre was with what was going on," White said.

White says spiritual healing helped her to survive what she went through – her history of abuse included.

"It was slow going. It wasn't as topsy turvy mentally and emotionally, but it was more — sometimes [the effects] would peak and go down," she said.

Sharing her experience is easier now that White is not reenacting past learned behaviour.

"I'm talking and I'm giving you gauges – I couldn't do that before. I can do that now and I can speak without crying or breaking down. So yeah, I am a better person for this. Because I want to be, not because I have to," she said.

White says her son has profusely apologized and he's doing the best he can with what he's working with. However, she says her family – especially her daughters – have been supportive.

"I just came back from a visit from [my daughters] because I needed them and they needed me. Teaching them is part of my job, right? I don't want that cycle to go on," she said.

The impact of abuse is still felt by White spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. She says her counsellor has gone through her file again and again.

However, White believes she's ready to be on her own now.

"I'm able to sit and be composed," White said. "I siphon through how to work with my body — because it's not gonna go away, because of the extent — but I do my best."

In February, White is excited to return to Gitxaala to stay with her daughter for a year. She hopes women in the Fraser Valley experiencing abuse take the step to improve their situations.

"Trust yourself, your gut, your inner voice saying this isn't right," White said. "Whatever is going on isn't right. It's learned behaviour. It's about changing those behaviours, taking that step, listening to someone and trusting it."