I want to talk about a much darker time period in my life. A time where I didn’t even recognise myself in the mirror. A time when a relationship – had gotten the better of me.
I first started dating this guy as I knew him through my general friend group. I’d come across a lot of fuckbois in my time but there’s something about a friend of a friend that gives some kind of weird seal of approval. He had a dry sense of humour, he liked the same music as me, and most importantly – he was hot as fuck! (at least initially).
But what we had turned out to be nothing more than a controlling relationship. It wasn’t immediate, it started slow and steady. He would get ‘road rage’ whilst he drove me to work. I thought, ok maybe he’s not a morning person. He put down my achievements. Well I guess everyone’s entitled to an opinion. He threw a tube of toothpaste at me when I asked him to pass it to me. Well it was only toothpaste . . .
People around me told me to get out, that they could see what this relationship was doing to me & those with direct experience of these kind of relationships said it would only get worse. I didn’t listen. I allowed myself to stay in this relationship, to learn how to stomach the put downs, to learn how to manage his anger – deep down I felt like I deserved this.
‘I allowed myself to stay in this relationship, to learn how to stomach the put downs, to learn how to manage his anger – deep down I felt like I deserved this’
So, this carried on for a number of years, each day my self-esteem getting lower. I tried to leave a few times but every time I was too weak to see it through.
The first time I had had a mouth operation & he was supposed to be taking care of me. I soon found out that his plan was to drop me home & leave (he thought I was going to be sedated & earlier that week had made jokes about fucking me whilst I was unconscious), needless to say I chose to stay awake for the operation. He then proceeded to scream at me until 4 in the morning because I was ruining his Friday night & it was so unfair that he had to stay in and look after me. When I say screaming, I mean screaming – & remember I couldn’t talk so this is all one way. I remember lying there crying, wishing I could speak to my mum. And then at 4 in the morning he finally got tired enough to come to bed where he just repetitively kept kissing me on my cheek & telling me it was all ok. I’ve never felt so sick in my life.
‘I remember lying there crying, wishing I could speak to my mum. And then at 4 in the morning he finally got tired enough to come to bed where he just repetitively kept kissing me on my cheek & telling me it was all ok’
Once I could talk again, I broke up with him over the phone because I was too afraid to do it in person – he said that I had made him love me & this was all my fault.
I met up with him a week later to give him his things back, he made me feel guilty for seeming relieved. I felt emotionally responsible for him the way he had taught me to be (he used to call me ‘his apprentice’). According to him it was all because he didn’t have a job, and he had a job now so things would be different. We were back together.
The second time he didn’t want me to go out to see one of my friends, so he started shouting at me in the middle of the day for no reason. He said that the fact I sat around all the time (I have a disability) was really unattractive & just started shouting at me for being useless. I got up to try to leave and he stood in front of the door and said ‘I can’t let you leave, because girls like to talk’. I managed to get him to settle. Later that day I left & we broke up.
This time I didn’t make the same mistake as last time. I dropped all of his stuff off at the shop where he worked and refused to see him. He messaged me a few weeks later to say he was feeling down & that I was his only friend, and would I please meet him. Mistake number two . . .
We talked, he found out I had been on a date with someone else, he made me feel guilty for having done so. According to him it was all because he had an addiction to weed, and he had given up weed now so things would be better. We were back together . . .
We later went on to live together and the cycles of abuse became clearer. He would be really lovely for like a day or two and then something in the air would change. Things would get weird; he would seem to start to get pent up. And then out of nowhere he would explode. In the day to day there were constant put downs, ways to make me feel inadequate, draining my energy so I didn’t feel up to seeing my friends or relatives. Saying they were turning me against him. If I disagreed with anything he said, he would say ‘I didn’t trust him’. He would regularly grab parts of my body and say that he couldn’t wait until they were more toned or that he only found girls a lot skinnier than me attractive.
Then came the more obvious things, like the day he was screaming so badly I became afraid, and so I ran into the bedroom and pushed the bed against the door so he couldn’t get to me. He came in, realised I was behind the bed and pushed it over me.
The thing about abusive relationships is they aren’t bad all the time. And most survivors just want the abuse to stop, there are other aspects of the relationship that are ok. And things could be worse, couldn’t they? There is always someone who has a worse example of abuse than yourself that you can use to tell yourself that your situation isn’t so bad. And the thing about victim blaming is that it generally starts with the victim themselves. They find reasons & excuses. Examples of why the behaviour may have been their fault, or how if they acted in a different way maybe something wouldn’t have happened. Victim blaming is what kept the survivor there in the first place & is one of the most harmful things you can do to anyone who has been in this situation.
‘Victim blaming is what kept the survivor there in the first place & is one of the most harmful things you can do to anyone who has been in this situation’
By the time we were living together my confidence was so crushed I had no way out even if I tried. But then I started a new job, & I finally had money again. And I had a way to regain my confidence & social life. I can remember going out and feeling uncomfortable that people were being nice to me. I couldn’t understand it.
I managed to build myself to a place where I was ready to leave, but we still had 3 months left on our tenancy. I bit the bullet and went for it. He shut me in a room . . .
He said that I wasn’t going anywhere and that he was going to throw my mac out of the window. But the thing was, his spell was broken. I had found confidence in myself. I said I wasn’t putting up with his bullshit anymore. He broke down on the floor crying and I ran for my life.
I found myself outside at 11.30 at night with no shoes on. Holding nothing but my phone, some paper & a pencil (weird how the mind goes into survival mode when you are terrified). So, I called my mum & a friend from Brighton who was able to put me up. I slept on sofas for a week whilst I sorted out my next steps & borrowed money from a friend for a deposit. I then sold all my stuff over the next month so I could pay him back.
I was so lucky to find confidence in myself again & to have people around me that still cared when I managed to break free of that relationship. And I worked with Rise in Brighton who were INCREDIBLE at helping me get back on my feet.
I can remember feeling a long period of elation, and just the joy of going out for a coffee and not having someone shouting at you. But also, for a long time I blamed myself, how could I ever trust myself to not end up in a relationship like that again? This was definitely all my fault. I should never date again because I can’t be trusted to not end up in the same situation.
But then the call came. I was to join a group therapy series through Rise that would help me deal with my feelings & learn new ways of ensuring I recognise the signs of abuse earlier on. At the time I can remember thinking – ‘oh god, a room full of crying women, haven’t I been through enough?’ But I went. And when I went, I was faced with a room full of the most amazing women you have ever met. Each one of them was so different, and so incredible in their own right that it was hard to choose who I wanted to be friends with most. And that’s when it clicked – none of these women were at fault. In fact, all of us were so different that there’s no way that you could even say that there was one characteristic that was at fault. We were not to blame.
That epiphany in itself was one of the most healing things that has ever happened to me & since then I have gone on to grow a truly beautiful life that I love. What I do want to say though is that whilst we are not to blame, we are responsible for taking better care of ourselves. At some point in my life I realised that the only way to stop myself ever getting into that situation again was to love myself so deeply, & create a life that was so positive, that literally anything that began to intoxicate that frequency would be immediately noticeable.
‘At some point in my life I realised that the only way to stop myself ever getting into that situation again was to love myself’
It’s still a learning process. I still work constantly to try to build myself up & to build positivity around me. And while I can’t say that I will never end up in a situation like that again, what I can say is that I am my number 1 priority, my main responsibility, & that I will never let anyone make me feel otherwise again.
For anyone experiencing anything similar please contact one of the following organisations :
Womens Aid : https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
Or Rise : https://www.riseuk.org.uk/
Or if it’s all you can manage at the moment, listen to Lizzo or Gabrielle & know that you are doing everything that you can for yourself in this moment. And you will find the strength to do more some day.
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