British Columbia·First Person

How I, a strong, confident woman, became the victim of intimate partner violence

Even when she knew things would get worse, Jen Rollins writes that she held onto the hope that the caring and loving man of their early relationship would return.

Our relationship began as a fairy tale, but became a nightmare

Jen Rollins, pictured in 2013 on the left and in 2022 on the right, says her portraits reflect her state of mind when she was in an abusive marriage and the shift after years of therapy and healing. (Submitted by Jen Rollins)

This First Person column is written by Jen Rollins, an intimate partner violence survivor who lives in B.C. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ

WARNING: This article contains details of intimate partner violence.

Tonight I'm eating cheese and crackers on a charcuterie board my partner made from a piece of cedar salvaged from my home renovations. I can hear the sounds of pure joy as my daughters laugh and play in the kitchen.

It might not seem like much, but this simple meal symbolizes freedom and safety for me. It wasn't long ago that a man who constantly tore me down and terrorized me told me cheese and crackers weren't a meal, and that I was a child for thinking they were. I was too frightened to argue so I stopped eating it altogether. 

Growing up, I was a fierce, strong young woman who loved punk rock, iced coffee and live concerts. I had a fantastic group of friends and was about to finish university with honours with distinction. 

Then, months away from graduating, I met him. 

The beginning was like a fairy tale. He brought so much laughter and joy into my life. His friends adored him, and I trusted when they said he was a big teddy bear who would do anything for the people he loved. 

Within a few weeks, he had moved all of his stuff into my apartment. I was wary of moving so fast, but I was happy and he was the first man who ever made me feel cherished and appreciated. 

Over the next few months, he started getting short with me and criticizing how I did things. I chalked it up to lack of sleep from his alcohol-fuelled nights at work, and stress from his parents' divorce.

Soon he started calling me names but would say he was joking when it upset me. I told myself he didn't mean it and he was right: it was only bothering me because I was taking things too seriously. It was easier to justify his behavior than see how it was tearing me apart. 

On our fourth anniversary, he asked me to marry him. I'd already invested so much time and I was in my late 20s, so it made sense to say yes. It's what you were supposed to do, right? You meet someone, fall in love, move in together and get married. 

Deep in my heart, I knew things would only get worse, but I remembered the caring and loving man he was when we first met and was optimistic that version of him would come back.

We were married on a beautiful summer day. He was late and drunk but I let it pass because I didn't want to make a scene in front of our friends and family.

The following four years were a blur of being belittled. I was a thriving business owner in the media spotlight, but he constantly told me my accomplishments meant nothing. My spark and drive slowly faded as things escalated, and all I could focus on was getting through the next moments.

When her second daughter was born, the domestic violence escalated and Jen Rollins decided to become a single mom despite being terrified. (Submitted by Jen Rollins)

I was so happy when we got pregnant. I thought he would step up and be an amazing dad, and I'd finally have the husband I had always wanted. Instead, I took on all of the responsibilities of looking after our household, finances and raising our baby by myself — and he had more reasons to criticize me and tear me down. I dreamed about leaving, but he constantly told me no man would ever want a broken, lonely, fat single mom, and he would fight me in court so if I left, I'd never see my daughter again. And I believed him. 

That's the thing about intimate partner violence in my experience. It happens slowly, one cut at a time to your self-esteem until you start believing your abuser and the little voice that is your conscience dims. 

I felt hollow and didn't feel highs or lows anymore. At times I'd wish I could get into a minor car accident and end up in the hospital. I didn't want to die: I just wanted a rest from him.

He didn't change with our second baby either, but I did. After 14 years of abuse, I started writing down everything that was happening to remind my PTSD-riddled brain. Every morning I would read through the previous entries and ask myself if today was the day I had the strength to leave.

Until this point, he had only punched walls and destroyed household items when he was angry, but he became physically violent and I had to take immediate action. That was it; I was done. 

I sat in front of a lawyer, spoke my truth and made a safety plan. I then handed separation papers to my husband and asked him to leave. That same night, I went to group therapy for women who had experienced domestic violence from an intimate partner, and decided to move from being a victim to a survivor. 

Jen Rollins, pictured with her daughters, says they are her light. (Submitted by Jen Rollins)

Not only did I escape the abuse, but I proved all his assumptions wrong. Over time, I found my footing as a single mom and made smart decisions like fighting for sole custody and selling our marital home. Eventually, my daughters and I moved to a new community and we're thriving in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

My daughters have kept me going through everything and I'm proud to have ended the web of violence so they can grow up knowing what healthy relationships, self-love and confident women look like. 

And sometimes, when the memories come flooding back, I have cheese and crackers to remind me of how far I've come and to keep me in the present.

Support is available for anyone affected by intimate partner violence. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.

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Jen Rollins is a mama to two mermaids and co-owner of a digital marketing agency on Vancouver Island. She’s an advocate, activist, and community volunteer that spends too much time on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok as @TheJenRollins.