Trigger Warning: This blog post contains information about domestic violence and abuse. Look after yourself and remember, we’re here 24-hours, 365 days a year. Call us on 0808 800 0340 or visit our website for information on the available support. https://junowomensaid.org.uk/
Aung San Suu Kyi: “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”
Freedom is something I believed I would never have again. I had resigned myself to a life of control and manipulation. I thought this was it for me now. I’d had a child with him, what choice did I have?
Meeting my Support Worker at Juno changed that thinking process. It helped me to see that I did have a choice, a voice. My eyes and my mind were opened to what was happening. I was heard, I was believed! My life didn’t have to be like this and what he was doing was wrong.
For seven years I had endured physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse. I hadn’t thought for myself in so long and everything I did was engineered by him or had repercussions from him. Both my children and I suffered due to him. Worry, doubt and fear were instilled in all of us.
The anger started to build within me from that first meeting with my Support Worker. Finally I was heard and all the doubts I’d had about his behaviour were right. It was wrong and “it” had a name. Slowly and steadily with the anger came strength and determination, determination to protect my children and live a happy, safe life with strength to speak the truth, strength to admit I’M A SURVIVOR NOT A VICTIM.
This is my journey…
It’s hard having a clear picture of the beginning of the relationship. Not because it’s triggering or evokes feelings, but because it was so overwhelming, it was chaotic. Bombardment of affection, constant attention and compliments. It was so suffocating there was no time to breathe, stop, think or question. “Love Bombing.” How they get you under their “spell,” lower your guard so you forgive and sometimes forget their “blips” of nastiness and violence.
The first physical assault came around six months into the relationship. A chokehold followed by taking my phone apart so “no one could trace me” and him threatening that he and his friend would “put me in the boot of a car and dump me in the local river.” Every car I heard for the rest of the night came with a surge of sickness and fear. The fear was instilled from that night.
The physical assaults didn’t happen every day, every week, or even every month, but I was treading on eggshells daily, constantly trying to appease him. The fear of being hurt was my reason to keep him happy.
Why I didn’t leave, the first time
The first time I found he had cheated was just over a year into the relationship. He denied it for four days even though I had messages from the woman. He lied and made me feel like I was going crazy, calling me names, acting like I had done wrong. I was at breaking point and wasn’t eating or sleeping. And although I threatened to leave if he didn’t admit that he cheated, I had no intention of leaving. I had nowhere to go. His admittance was of value, like a token of love, I was grateful for it. So when I was at my lowest point and he eventually admitted it… Did I leave? No… I forgave.
He had made me so emotionally dependent on him. He made me believe that I had no option but to stay and live a life with him. My self-confidence was so low, I genuinely believed he was the best thing to ever happen to me. My mind wasn’t my own anymore and in a sheer act of desperation, a big gesture that I thought would keep him with me, I asked him to marry me.
Shortly afterwards I was prescribed anti-depressants by the doctor, but he didn’t allow me to take them. “Only crazy people take those,” he told me. So I didn’t.
Violence at home
A few months later after a night out, we got home, sat on the bed and he apologised, “sorry, I’ve got to do this.” He went downstairs and I could hear him rattling about in the kitchen, thinking he was making a drink, I started to get ready for bed.
I first saw the knife as he rounded the door. He had it hid behind his back. I screamed, but had nowhere to go, he pinned me down and held the point of the blade in my throat, “I’m going to kill you now.” I pleaded and begged, told him I loved him as he continued with the threats. Then as quickly as it started, he got off me and lay down not speaking. It was because I had “disrespected” him. It was never mentioned again and he denied it ever happening.
There was no remorse, but now I had seen yet another side of him. The belief he would kill me grew from then on. It’s hard putting into words what it feels like to be made to genuinely believe you’re going to die. You have to experience it; I truly hope none of you do. That feeling has never left me and is a main source of PTSD. I can’t have sharp knives in my house even now.
Escalation and exhaustion
Along with other incidents, I didn’t report this. It didn’t feel like it was an option. He was my boyfriend, we lived together, his word against mine. I was so very wrong and I regret not reaching out at that point because it only got worse. The emotional, psychological and financial abuse escalated, he had me exactly where he wanted me.
Once I became pregnant things got worse again. We moved to another area away from my family, but closer to his. The little support network I had was completely cut off apart from work colleagues whom I didn’t dare say anything to. I was worried I’d lose my job… What would my boss think of me?
I was strangled with a seatbelt after an argument in the car, standing at the top of the stairs I was grabbed by the ankles luckily landing on my backside and not my precious bump at eight months pregnant. Once my son was born we slept on the sofa for a year of his life as I was backhanded when our son woke him for a feed – It was the safest option at the time.
I had long lost regular contact with my friends. He had gradually built a wedge between us making me think their intentions towards me weren’t genuine. It started with little comments at first that I escalated in my own mind through things he would say. I didn’t see my parents regularly either as it was always an “issue” for me to go. It became tiresome to even suggest seeing them; he would ensure there wasn’t petrol money for me to go. The only other people I saw were his family.
He didn’t change nappies, do night feeds. When I was back at work he lay in bed whilst I took my daughter to a childminder and our son to his parents. We were leaving the house at 7.15. He would casually get up and get ready then collect our son in time for me finishing work. I was exhausted on all levels.
It was unbearable. I was at breaking point.
The incidents that made me realise that I needed to leave were directed at my children, he was using them to hurt me.
My daughter was thrown out of the house at 7 am because he was woken whilst we were getting ready to leave. He locked the door and wouldn’t let me let her back in. I will never forget the image of her standing under a lamppost outside our house, alone, with her schoolbag. A week later he put the patio window through because he thought I had taken my daughter for a McDonald’s breakfast. He then went on to throw her toys away, pour energy drink all over her bed, and break things her dad had bought her or things he knew she valued.
Whilst I was clearing the glass up and thinking of how to explain the broken patio windows to my daughter, the final incident and catalyst to me reaching out for help was when he kept taking her duvet off her and jamming it down the bottom of her bed. It was a cold night and every time I put it back on her I could hear him getting back out of bed to take it back off her. Whenever I went to put it back on her, he threatened to “knock me out.” He then came downstairs and played a musical toy over our son’s head to wake him and blew a squeaky toy in his face. My son woke. I had work the next morning he went back to bed and slept. My daughter used her pillowcase to keep her warm and eventually got her duvet back on. I had no sleep that night.
I knew we had to leave, we had to get out. Things were not getting better; they were progressively getting worse he was using new tactics daily and I was sinking drastically. It was one thing to harm me, but to harm my children I would not allow it. I had to get out for them.
I couldn’t sleep, so I started Googling “why is my boyfriend horrible to my children.” I came across an article where another woman was asking a similar question. Within the article was a link to signs of emotional abuse, he met all the criteria — this is what it was! I finally had something to compare to, to give the situation I was in a name, it was real!
The next day, I went into school, spoke to a teacher, and tried my best to explain what had been happening. As I was talking, the realisation of how bad things had got really hit. I broke down and it was like a release. The school arranged for a social worker to call me the next day after school under a false appointment. I spoke to them and we arranged a plan for us to leave.
We left within a couple of days. Hiding my plan to leave was terrifying. I was convinced that every time he looked at me, he knew what I was going to do… But we did it, we got out.
However, it didn’t end there. It was far from over.
This blog post is Part One of a three-part series documenting the journeys of two survivors of domestic abuse. Part One, The Look of Love and Fairytale Foe, explores the first incidents and realization of abuse and routes to support. Part Two describes support for survivors, the process of leaving and continued abuse. Part Three describes the after-effects of abuse and the support received by survivors and their families.
The survivor in this story wanted to share her experience of abuse to help other women realise abusive behaviours and explore routes to support. “I really want the blog to resonate with women because I genuinely thought I would never get out and I want women to emotionally invest in my journeys so they are able to see the possibilities I didn’t at one time.”
Juno Women’s Aid runs the 24-hour domestic and sexual violence Helpline in Nottingham. We provide specialist domestic abuse services and programmes for women, children and teenagers living in Nottingham City and south of the county. For more information and support, call our freephone Helpline 0808 800 0340 or visit our website https://junowomensaid.org.uk/