When it began
I was a professional young woman, age 24.
I’d been in my previous relationship for 7 years with a lovely lad. We were seventeen when we met and we stayed together while I was at university. We had a good life, great friends and pretty much ended up as friends ourselves which is why it ended. We had a few normal arguments here and there but were happy. I couldn’t have wished for a better first relationship, and we both gained some lifelong friends.
When I met my next boyfriend, I thought he was just wonderful. Popular, good looking, everyone liked him and I was over the moon when he liked me back. I was in a great position where, after being single for a few years, I had a great job, was happy with myself and now I’d met someone to enhance my life. I wasn’t desperate, I wasn’t vulnerable. I wasn’t a ‘victim’ then and I’m not one now.
I was never violent. My sister is younger than me and she could always stick up for herself! She laughs at me now how soft I am. I developed fake confidence during school and that’s how it stayed.
I was teaching in a prison at the time and I was 24, so we’re going back 15 years now (yes, I’m nearly 40!) I talk about my work in the prison after teaching here. Our relationship, like many, was centered around alcohol and socialising. One particular night, as we were about to move in together, he punched me outside a taxi rank while we were on the way home to my parents’ house where I was living temporarily. He was argumentative, but this was the first time he had hit me. As I fell to the floor, the staff from the taxi rank came out to assist me. I played it down and we got a cab home. The arguing continued, it was all my fault. His words were incessant. I couldn’t get him to stop.
The next day, I was exhausted. The apology came as his alcohol wore off and I was left feeling partly responsible. From this time, I always knew that at around 3pm the next day, the messages, emails and apologies would come flooding in.
We then moved in together. I went from being a confident, vibrant and happy person to being an edgy and overweight wreck. I knew when he drank, that it was more than likely that the abuse would start. I hated it, but I thought I loved him.
What it felt like
I felt embarrassed because things like that didn’t happen to me. I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I felt worried because I didn’t want work finding out what was happening. I felt nervous and anxious but I also felt loved. Loved?!! What was I thinking?
My neighbours rang the police on several occasions. I have always been a homebody but the feeling of shame and guilt was the worst I have ever had. To walk out of my own home feeling like a victim was just, well, not me. I had to hide from my neighbours because I just couldn’t face them after they’d heard my screams from being punched and hi, yet again, by someone who was supposed to love me. I never pressed charges. I don’t know whether it was for his benefit or mine.
It wasn’t just physical abuse, it was emotional abuse. Once, he had gone away for the night with his friends so my friends said, “right, let’s go out”. I didn’t really want to as I knew it wasn’t worth it. He kept ringing my phone, constantly texting because he couldn’t handle the fact that I had been out. My friend actually took my phone off me and hid it because she knew that responding to him would be never ending!
In the end, it was my social life that suffered because it just wasn’t worth me going out, seeing people or even drinking because I felt I was somehow responsible and if I stopped these things, he would stop.
The night that sticks in my mind firmly was the one time I retaliated during an attack and scratched him on his face. This particular night, he called the police as if I was the person that was violent! The police turned up and guess what? It was his friend! If they had checked previous records, they should have removed him from the premises and not me. Luckily, I rang my friend and she said I could stay there. So off I went, having been escorted by police out of my own home. I’m so glad the laws have changed now!
A strange thing happened though. I started to become as insecure as him! I never hit him. It’s not in my nature, but I almost took on elements of his personality. I was so insecure myself, if he didn’t come home, I would go and look for him- almost like a tit for tat scenario. I’m not sure whether there’s some psychological reason for it but I’ll admit, I was totally weird!
One day, we went to his parents’ house for lunch. We came back and I didn’t want to go out so I went home to bed and he went out with his friends. When he came back, I was asleep and he punched me square in the nose. I had two black eyes the next day. I actually think now he broke my nose looking at the wonkiness of it! I realised that this wasn’t my fault, it was his problem! Then, we both woke up with food poisoning so I didn’t have the energy to leave. I had to have two weeks off work because there was no way I was going to teach a load of juvenile male prisoners social and life skills with two black eyes! My excuses wouldn’t cut it with them!
I tried everything to stop him. I told his parents, nothing happened. We booked doctor’s appointment for him about his ‘anger’ (now I know this is not the problem!) and when we got there, guess what happened? He got angry and walked out. I managed to get counselling through my GP and one session gave me a wakeup call. The counsellor listened to me and asked me “what is love?” I was confused. I wasn’t sure anymore! He said, “love should be something that makes your life better, that is happy and peaceful most of the time!” I thought, “my word, you are actually right!” What I’ve got isn’t. It’s a roller coaster of stress and anxiety and then overwhelming attention and ‘affection’.
The last straw came when again, I was at home. I had finally decided to end the relationship and he arrived home knocking on the door at 5am with his friend. I had bolted the door because I asked him to stay out. He was knocking so loud that I had to let him in as obviously, my main concern was my neighbours, not myself! I asked his friend to go which he did, to the car to sleep! He came in. I ended up in hospital with my friend at 6am with a bump that had ballooned on my head and nail varnish in my face and eyes. He had thrown things at my head and held me by my throat against the wall. I was so worried about having time off work again. The doctor’s response? Well, your hair covers the bump and it will go down.
That day, I went into work and told them everything. My manager was brilliant. She told me to get his stuff out of the house and take as long as I needed. My friends helped me bag it up. I rang his family and told them what had happened but they said they were ‘busy’ so we drove down, knocked on the door and left his stuff there.
Other people’s reactions
My next step was to tell my family. I don’t think we ever spoke about it again.
Some strange things happened next, like some of my friends just ignored it, like they didn’t know what to say. I even stayed in touch with him myself! It was ridiculous! He came to my house to a party me and my best friend had. It was almost like I accepted him because everyone else did. Some friends that had helped me through it were now socialising with him.
The reaction of other people hurt me more than the actual abuse itself.
I was labelled by one of his friends as a “psycho” because apparently, it was me that was causing the issues, not his friend. The thing is, his ex had warned me about him when we met, but of course, according to him, it wasn’t true, it was all her. I realised she was genuine when he also abused his next two partners. I realise now that the reaction of people he had manipulated was pretty reasonable as they obviously believed I was the problem!
A few years later, just at the right time, I moved to Manchester with one of my best friends. Even then, he was brought into my life a few times when other friends came over and even once came to my apartment after a gig (I went along with it!) It was bizarre.
I moved to Manchester for my career in supporting families affected by substance misuse and I put my heart and soul into it. I have worked with so many women who have been abused (sorry men and trans people, I know it happens to you too- I just haven’t worked with you yet!) and, although I have never shared my experience with clients, it put me in an amazingly privileged position to help them to see that these relationships weren’t love. The women I worked with had often started their relationship with substances as a symptom of traumatic experiences and domestic abuse was up there as the main cause!
I met my husband and he is so kind, thoughtful and loving that I couldn’t really get my head around it at first, but, we got married and we have two brilliant children! My life is happy and peaceful. As much as it can be with a young family!
I kept his handwritten letters of apology for years and I showed them to my husband before we threw them away. It was almost like I needed them as evidence because sometimes, it felt like it had never happened. It was quite unbelievable.
How do I feel?
I thank him. Thanks very much for making me see what a relationship is not and thank you to my husband for teaching me what a relationship can be. My experience has given me the strength I have today to deal with anything that comes my way. Thank you to the people who’s reactions were very strange, but I understand that you just didn’t know what to say or do.
The effects have been that I am, what I call ‘a recovering perfectionist’. He had a lasting effect on me and I became a constant worrier about myself, always trying to get things right and under control. I suppose this might be a common feature with survivors.
If there are children involved, report it, without a doubt, because domestic violence and abuse affects children in the long term. I don’t believe that anyone in this situation can safeguard their children from witnessing domestic abuse, no matter how hard they try. We cannot control what another person does and for that reason, get help as soon as possible.
Do I forgive him? I don’t know. I don’t feel any anger.
I feel sorry him and other abusers because somewhere in their life, things have happened to them to make them behave like that. Is it learned behaviour? Is it genetic? I don’t know. I had an interest in supporting perpetrators for a while but quickly changed my mind when I received some training from an amazing domestic abuse charity HARV. I asked them if, in their experience of working with families, do perpetrators ever change? Their answer was- not in their experience.
What needs to happen?
My ask is that if you know this is going on, if a friend, family member or co-worker has bruises, speak to them about it! If you know someone has been abused, ask them how they are, keep the dialogue going. Don’t side with the perpetrator as they are never going to change. Perpetrators have an amazing skill of blaming the victim.
If a perpetrator is your friend, look at the evidence! Do they argue with every partner? Is it always their partner’s fault? Is it them that’s the ‘psycho’? Maybe you need to step up and protect their partner and not him.
Services, thank goodness, work better together now. There were so many people that could have stepped in sooner. My experience lasted two and half years. Other people aren’t so lucky and spend a lifetime in abusive relationships because they wear you down and you just don’t have the energy to get out. I should have pressed charges there and then so it didn’t happen to anyone else.
The more we speak out about domestic violence and realise it affects many people, from every background, the more we can understand it and learn how to deal with it. So many people knew about my situation but only a few people ever spoke to me about it. They are still in my life now.
I wasn’t sure whether to post this because my own children might see it one day and it’s uncomfortable to read for friends and family. It’s been uncomfortable to write. I know now that we have to speak out because otherwise, nothing will change! Everyone has a responsibility to look after each other.
I want my children to know what happened when they’re older, so that they will know never to hurt anyone and that nobody should hurt them.
I’m now in a brilliant position of having my own service to help people affected by a loved one’s substance misuse. I don’t think alcohol was his problem really but it exacerbated it. I’ve worked with children, young people and families for 15 years and I absolutely love it.
I’d love to hear from other men, women or trans people who have had a similar experience. For a safe space to share your situation, go to my closed group, Vesta Confidential, where family members living with a substance user support each other and get lots of information and advice from me.
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area. You can also get help via Skype and an online group therapeutic programme.
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See you next week,