Saturday, 10 February 2018

How It Feels To Live With Domestic Abuse

When people speak about domestic violence, the image that comes to most peoples minds is usually that of a downtrodden middle aged woman. A housewife most likely. Someone who's been married to her bully of a husband for many years. Too used to the way her life is to change things, too in his grasp to escape.

We've all seen the soap opera portrayals of domestic abuse - EastEnders, Coronation Street, and so on...the husband and wife. The drama. Usually ending in the demise of one or the other.

But in real life, domestic violence isn't quite so cut and dried. And often it's not even so dramatic. Infact to the victims it can almost become a normal part of strange as I know that sounds.

And the victims are not always middle aged housewives. They're not always female, they're not always young, they're not even always married.

Domestic violence can occur any relationship. Between any two people. No matter their gender, career, education, class, race, age, marital status.

It became a part of my life when I was 24.

When the boyfriend I'd been with for a mere few months threw a glass of wine into my face - glass included - and then physically pushed me out of his house. Screaming in my face and spitting at me.

He'd only been in my life for a few months.

I was only a young girl.

I should have been able to walk away. I should have known better. I wasn't tied to him. I wasn't trapped in a marriage, I didn't have his how did I let it be what it became?

Well....It was the middle of the night. Around 2 am. It was October. It was cold and it was raining. I had no shoes on. I had no coat. I was wearing pyjamas. I didn't have my bag, my money, my phone. I didn't know what to do.

I didn't know what to do.

I was in shock.

I knew he had a bad temper, but I'd never seen him so angry before.

I can't remember now what we'd argued about...or if we'd even argued at all...but I remember thinking it hadn't seemed such a huge deal until that point. I remember feeling that his reaction had come from nowhere and taken me completely by surprise.

I stood on the corner outside his house crying, panicking...not knowing what to do next.

 I couldn't phone anyone. I was too far from home to walk. I had no way to pay for a taxi if I could even find one to flag down. I was in the middle of a housing estate nowhere near a main road. I didn't know anybody else around.

After about 10 minutes, he came out of the house....still angry...and scowled at me that the door was open. Then he stormed back inside. Leaving me to decide whether or not to go back in.

And instead of feeling angry ...infact even more so than feeling scared...I remember that I just felt so embarrassed.

I didn't want anyone to look out of their window and see me. I didn't want his housemates to know what had happened. I knew I could run inside and grab my phone to call my dad and ask him to come and get me, but I didn't want him or anyone else to know about it.

I knew I could turn and run. I don't know where or whether I'd have got far...but I could have tried.

But I didn't.

I still don't know why.

I wish I had tried.

But I didn't.

Instead, I went back inside.

I forget what happened next that night. Infact to be totally honest, I forget a LOT of what happened over the next 6 years.

Something I hadn't even realised until a few months ago when after 2 years of weekly counselling, my therapist explained that she felt the root cause of a lot of my problems was my experiences in this relationship...and that she felt I was repressing a lot of memories that needed to be dealt with.

It took me the full 2 years of weekly appointments to admit the extent of the domestic abuse to her. And now I'm about to start a new kind of therapy...something called EMDR, something that is designed to help me recover those lost memories and store them correctly in my that they don't keep giving me nightmares or making me irritable and anxious.

And although I'm pleased to be working through my mental state and toward a better future, I'm nervous to remember it all.

For the last 5 years since I finally walked away from that relationship 2 weeks before our planned wedding date I've carried on doing exactly what I did that night - I've tried to act as though nothing happened. I've tried to convince even myself that it was all no big deal.

But it was.

When I started writing this my intention was to share my story, to talk about the timeline of my experience with domestic abuse and what its really like to live with...but I can't.

Because there is no clear timeline in my head.

When I think back to those 6 years I spent living with him, all I can really remember are a handful of events...and even then only snippets of them.

Like the time he tried to strangle me in the bathroom after a night out - I can only remember a few seconds of it. I remember grabbing at his hands and trying to loosen his grip on my neck, and I remember that the only thought In my head at the time was that my best friend and her boyfriend were asleep in the next room and I didn't want them to wake up and hear any commotion... they'd stayed over after a night on the town...I think it might have been my birthday celebrations.

Then there was the time he threw me onto the living room floor and stood on my neck to stop me from breathing.

My mind was racing, wondering whether to shout for help or whether to try and trick him into thinking I'd passed out. I chose the latter and it worked...he walked away, and left me there. I remember wondering how to long to stay there for, pretending to be unconscious.

I remember the time he spat in my face after his own birthday celebrations because he said I'd spent too much time talking to my sister and not enough talking to his family.

But other than those things, I don't remember much else at all....good or bad. And I guess 6 years is quite a long time to have such little memory of.

I do remember that it wasn't only him who seemed to get a kick out of hurting me but his family too. I spent years thinking (because he told me so) that they didn't like me because I was too quiet and they had taken my quietness as snobbishness...but its only now looking back that I realise that they didn't treat me normally either.

His father never spoke to me at all...not a single word, despite the fact that I sometimes stayed in their home for a week at a time when we first started dating long distance. I remember being astounded when, after 6 months, he held out a packet of biscuits to offer me one...still not a verbal communication but the fact he'd acknowledged I was there felt massive! Its only now I realise how weird that is, how de-humanising it is to deliberately ignore someone completely. The biscuit offering was a one off by the way, he never spoke another word to me in the whole 6 years.

As for his mother, she was very chatty...infact she loved nothing more than to point out every fault of mine she could find. She picked up early on that my weight was a cause of embarrassment for me and from then on she remarked on it public as often as she could too. She'd always laugh it off as if she couldn't help "putting her foot in it" the time she pointed out a homeless heroin addict on the street and said "Oh Hayley that girl looks so much like you, the same dark shadows under the eyes" may sound like a joke but it wasn't, comments like that were constant.

 I realise now that his parents  were almost as much a part of the abuse as he was...they may not ever have physically harmed me but they certainly kept me down at rock bottom, and made sure that my self worth and self esteem were non existent.

I didn't see it at the time though and one time, after finding out his Dad had kicked their kitchen door in and realising that he probably treated her in a similar way to how their son was treating me, I tried to reach out to his mother for help.

I brought up the subject of her sons temper and how he struggled to control it but she shut me down straight away. She knew....I could tell she knew. But she had no interest at all in hearing about it or helping.

I never tried to bring it up again. And apart from one occasion early on where I mentioned his violence to a friend of mine who simply rolled her eyes and said something along the lines of "Men are dicks"...I never discussed it with anyone else.

I didn't see the point. If anything my friends reaction had confirmed that this was just one of those things and that I shouldn't make a big deal of it.

Instead I preferred to convince myself that it wasn't real life.

I liked to make out that I had a lovely life, and even got engaged to him - I showed off engagement photos on Facebook, chose a wedding dress, picked out a venue...and anybody would have thought I was just like anybody else.

Because somehow having that pretend "for show" life that I let people believe I was living made it all more bearable.

It was easier to do that, and to brush off those middle of the night strangulations and punches, hoping that it'd be a while before the next occurrence.

I liked being able to pretend that I was happy, even if I wasn't really. It was better, in my mind, to be miserable but have the world think everything was rosey than to let people know the truth.

Because still, the over riding feeling throughout it all wasn't fear or was shame.

I was embarrassed that this was happening to me.

I was ashamed.

And those feelings remain.

And I don't know why, really.

Even when I speak about it, and people use words like "brave" and talk about how I'm happy now, I still feel it...the embarrassment, the shame, the feeling that it actually WAS my fault and I'm going to get found out. Which sounds ridiculous, I know, but that's how it feels.

You know when you're a child and you tell tales on somebody who did something naughty? And even though they were the ones in the wrong, you feel the shame too for tattling

Well I guess it feels a little like that.

So if you're wondering what it feels like to live with domestic abuse...that's exactly it feels like shame.

It did then and it does now.

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