A quarter of women and 16 per cent of men are affected by domestic violence in their adult lives. As Friday marks the start of the 16 Days of Action campaign against domestic violence, one writer shares her story.
I am writing this anonymously not out of cowardice on my part, nor out of any misplaced loyalty to him (although there was a lot of that for a long time), but because I want to protect the other people involved: families, friends. Anonymity affords me a complete honesty I hope will give a bit of strength and support to anyone in a similar situation who might need it.
Me: I’m a chatty northerner who’s a bit gobby and self-aware enough to know I can be an utter pain in the arse. And at times in this relationship, I really was.
Henry – let’s call him Henry – and I got together in an absolute shitstorm, both of us in long-term relationships on their last legs. Instead of giving them and our then-partners the respect they deserved, we embarked on an affair. This lasted for months. It’s something I hugely regret and something I would never do again as it caused unnecessary upset for all involved. It also meant that mistrust became the foundation of mine and Henry’s relationship.
All in, Henry and I were together for about four years on and off. And by on and off I mean like a kettle. Whenever we argued, which we did a lot, Henry was prone to such Oscar-contender reactions that I was dumped at least four times a year. The dumping was never just between us; it was public, Facebook-status-changing, maximum-humiliation-causing dumping.
I’m telling you this to give you an insight into our rocky road of a relationship. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot of love there. There was. Certainly on my part – I adored him and was utterly blinkered to the red lights at the beginning of our relationship that warned things might get a lot worse. When we got on, we got on like a house on fire and had the most amazing times. But there was no happy medium: it was either utterly amazing or utterly shit.
The physical abuse started very gradually. The frequent arguments meant there was often tension and upset. I hold my hands up here to say that a lot of the time I was the cause of it: I would prod until I got a reaction and, over time, the reaction got worse.
Looking back, the emotional abuse was always there: he’d often tell me I was fat/ugly/mental (to the extent that when we broke up, he texted my mum to tell her I’m mentally ill – I’ve checked, I’m not).
I didn’t really recognise this as abuse back then. Maybe that’s due to growing up in an abusive household where name-calling, plate smashing and slamming doors was the norm, or maybe it was just that whatever he told me, I genuinely believed.
I look back at pictures of me taken at the time and I see quite a pretty, slim-ish woman looking back at me. In my head I was an ugly, fat, stupid girl with mental health issues who wanted to be with this guy so much it hurt.
“I knew this was beyond wrong and that it wasn’t acceptable on any level, but I honestly thought it was my fault and that, if I behaved, it wouldn’t happen anymore.”
Over the course of a few years, Henry started prodding me when we argued and pushing me away. His ‘thing’ was to lock himself in a spare room and not speak to me/let me in so when I was hysterically upset on the outside wanting to make peace and apologise (I apologised for bloody everything!) he could open the door, re-confirm how mental I was and push me away.
This escalated into spitting in my face and then either slamming the door in my (spit-flecked) face or flouncing out of the flat for hours on end. When these arguments happened, there was no reasoning with him or cooling off, just over-the-top drama that if it wasn’t so horrible, would have been hilarious.
A bit of prodding, spitting and pushing became the norm alongside the name-calling when we argued. Henry only actually hit me maybe five or six times and it was always my fault. Of course it was. His reactions were textbook: “Look what you made me do”; “If you weren’t this mental, I wouldn’t have done it”; “You need to go see someone.” Sigh.
The worst one was when he had me on the floor in the hallway of our flat: he kicked me in the stomach and repeatedly hit me on the head and on my back with a shoe. I remember going to bed that night, crying because I was in so much pain I could hardly put my head on the pillow.
Another incident was in an alleyway on the way home after a night out and I’d foolishly questioned something he said. He slapped me around the head so hard that I actually saw stars (it’s not just in cartoons) then just left me there crumpled on the pavement in the dark.
After these incidents, there was a routine: I’d get a half-arsed passive-aggressive apology and we’d be OK for a bit – until we inevitably argued again.
I’m not stupid. I knew this was beyond wrong and that it wasn’t acceptable on any level, but I honestly thought it was my fault and that, if I behaved, it wouldn’t happen anymore. Which is why I stayed. Which is why I kept apologising. Which is why even when he dumped me, I begged him to stay and promised I’d get help.
In the end, he left me. I fought for him, still keeping schtum to my friends about the realities of what had happened. Thankfully (although I didn’t feel thankful at the time), he refused my entreaties to try again.
I’ve since learned that I’m not the first woman he has abused – and sadly might not be the last. Oh, and that actually, I’m pretty OK and always have been. He was projecting his shit on to me. My friends were amazingly supportive during the break-up and astonished when I told them what had been going on, with some upset that they felt I couldn’t tell them.
What I’ve had to explain is that I was in denial: if I’d admitted it to myself, to them, it would have been real and I would have had to walk away – which I just wasn’t strong enough to do, because if someone whose opinion you respect constantly tells you you’re nothing, you believe them.
Today I am happier than I have ever been. I look back on those years with one regret: that I never told anyone. I may not have left even then, but I would have understood that his toxic control and manipulation was abuse and it may have given me the wake-up call I needed. If this resonates at all with you, please recognise it for what it is and reach out. I am you and you are me and there is no excuse ever, ever, ever for anyone to be abusive to you.
If anyone speaks to you in an insulting or offensive way – this is abuse. If anyone lays a finger on you in a cruel or violent way – this is abuse. Control and manipulation are scary and powerful tools, but we are amazing beings whose lives are precious and each of us deserves to be treasured. For this to happen, the person that needs to love you the most is you.6420 Views