Life as a Domestic Violence Survivor
October was officially Domestic Violence Awareness month but as this month will host White Ribbon Day and I have been asked to sing at an event ‘White Ribbon Fest‘ put together by the Men Against Violence campaign and to raise finance and awareness for Preston Domestic Violence Services. Here is my survivor story…
February 7th 2010 – my worst birthday
There were many instances of domestic violence within my marriage to my ex-husband but with this being my birthday it definitely stood out.
Looking back now it’s hard to remember what kicked it all off, it would happen so often over so little, that it’s difficult to separate instances. On this particular day, it was my birthday.
We got married September 26th 2009, things were ok for a month or so, but to be fair we’d honeymooned in the Maldives and Dubai and then I was sent to South Africa and Zambia with work when we returned, so he hadn’t really had chance to start complaining (aside from complaining he hated Dubai because he had to carry his own bag in Atlantis when it’s a 5*). There had been issues when we were engaged, many issues, but to be perfectly honest I didn’t see them as that big a deal. Due to the way I was raised and past experiences I wasn’t a stranger to drama and dealing with these patterns was one thing I have learnt to overcome. Pre-wedding though the violence calmed down for 6 months – ish, I had convinced myself he had changed.
On my birthday I can only remember thinking that his guilt over the fact he hadn’t bought me a present had started him off. I have no idea now if this was true or not, but at the time this was what I believed. He would often react at me when he felt guilty about something; I just used to struggle to connect the dots. With it being my first birthday as a wife, I was very disappointed *obviously, and he didn’t like that he could see I was hurt. The rest is kind of a blur, but what I do remember was we were rowing in the kitchen, I had my nightie on, by the time he had finished with me I was covered in cuts from the car keys he had in his hands, he had torn my nightie from me (literally ripped it off my body, maybe with the help of the car keys, can’t remember), and I had wet myself in fear. He then left me in this state and drove off somewhere in the car. WORST BIRTHDAY EVER!!
We were supposed to be driving over to go out for a meal with my family, so I made the usual call (that I had made many times before) to say I wasn’t feeling very well, and that Mick had gone somewhere in the car so I couldn’t get over. ‘Sorry, we’ll do it another time.’ My sister said that it was unacceptable for me to be on my own on my birthday and that they were coming to collect me, even if I was too ill to go out.
Fortunately (disturbing thought process as obviously it would’ve been better if people had known), my birthday falls in winter so I wrapped up as best I could and put a scarf around my neck so they couldn’t see the damage that he had done. We went out for a meal (I was just sat there feeling so surreal with all my family around me but thinking, I don’t know where my husband is, I’m married, it’s my birthday and I don’t know where my husband is).
Picture of me before we went out (found on my sister’s facebook)
My now husband James once asked me the question (obviously at some point I shared this tale with him), ‘how did he talk his way out of that one?’ I told him that I genuinely do not remember, I can’t remember how I ended up back home that night, or why we spoke to each other or what possessed me to buy him an awesome Valentine’s Day gift just a week later. I have absolutely no recollection. Which only affirms to me how frequent these events took place and how well I hid from my family (apart from the fact that our marriage was off to a rocky start) what was going on. I’m sure if they’d known they would never have let me go back there that night, but I did.
Even now, writing this, it disturbs me to think how normal all this was, I just went back to living my life until the next occurrence, and the next occurrence. The pattern was not changing; the violence was just getting worse.
The beginning of June I’d paid for us to go to Mallorca to see my sister, she was working out there as an entertainer in a hotel in Palmanova (just outside of Magaluf, yak!). Mick loved Mallorca, we went each year so he could train (he was a cyclist, Tour de France style and there are lots of mountains in the North). He would literally go out for 12 hours at a time as we were staying in the South and put in over a hundred miles a day to go and train on his bike. Before we set off we were going to go and see my Auntie, she had been very ill, she’s still on dialysis and various other things, but at this point she’d just come out of hospital after another episode of ill health. He took so long wrapping his bike ready for the aeroplane that I needed to ring her to cancel. It had got to nearly 9pm and she lived 30 mins drive away and I was aware she had dialysis at 6am the next morning. I think because he felt guilty again (I don’t know, for taking too long, because I wanted to see her, because she’d been ill and we were going away for 2 weeks, or because he said we would and had been 3 hours longer than originally stated) he screamed down the phone ‘WE ARE STILL GOING’ when I called to say ‘sorry it has got too late, see you when we get back’. I was so embarrassed. My uncle Pat had answered the phone, and as most of the time he works in New Zealand (he was back because my auntie had been ill), I barely know him, I was humiliated, I could just imagine all my extended family laughing and talking about my screaming mental husband. I just hung up on him whilst Mick was mid scream.
He then proceeded to strangle me on the couch, he pressed his thumbs deep into my cheek bones just under my eyes at the same time, the pressure was horrible, I can remember as I tried to get him off me that if I had had a knife next to me at the time, I would’ve stabbed him without hesitation. He obviously stopped before I ceased breathing, and somehow we went to the airport the next day to see my sister in Mallorca.
My sister could see that I was miserable, but she didn’t know why, she had always been a fan of my husband, mainly cos he was a talented singer and musician (which was an area she worked in) and she only saw that side of him really. She started to write me a song whilst I was there actually, she finished it after everything came out but the first verse and chorus she played to me during my stay. The video is cheesy but I’ve attached it so you can hear her beautiful voice.
It was my sister’s friend who noticed my body language, I had never met the girl before, but she blatantly told my sister ‘she’s being abused’. This resulted in my sister questioning me and my bursting into tears. I had an epic row with Mick then that night and he abandoned me in Magaluf. As a former singer myself (he had knocked all the confidence out of me and I hadn’t done it for a while) I put myself in to sing at the nearest karaoke bar (Magaluf is FULL of them) and performed Beyonce’s ‘Listen‘.
I received a standing ovation and everyone kept asking me where my passion came from? It was the start of a turning point for me. I realised that I had to focus on making myself happy whatever form that took.
When we got home I put this into practice, started going back to church, as he had stereotypically been isolating me from all my support networks, trying to hang out with some friends. I don’t think he liked that my confidence (although still completely on the floor at this point) was starting to come back. 5 weeks after that holiday he left me whilst I was at work one day. He moved everything out into a flat that he had sorted, took all my wages out of our joint account and just left me. It was an awful rainy day, torrential, I had been trying to contact him to see if he would be ok cycling home from work and he hadn’t answered the phone all day. He finally contacted me about an hour before I was due to finish work to inform me that he hadn’t been to work that day, he had been moving out. In hindsight, I now know that this was another one of his mind games, he probably was trying to shake me up again so that my confidence would again be knocked and I would worship the ground he walked on when he returned once more. (He told me the next day he would’ve spent all night moving everything back if I’d responded differently). I didn’t react though, I just informed him that with such scheming what could I possibly say to fix things, as far as I could see he had ‘plotted, planned and executed, what could I do?’ I fell in a heap on the floor at work, informed my friend who found me, he had left me. The first thing she said was, ‘good, he’s done what you never could’ve, he’s done you a favour’. I wasn’t ready to hear it but she was right.
He tried to come back to me a month later, we met up to close some bank accounts, he broke down in tears on me. My heart sank as usual, he could do that to me. I told him that if he wanted to work at it, I was willing, we would get counselling, as individuals and as a couple but I couldn’t have him move back into the home until I felt safe. He wasn’t willing. I remember going back into work (it had been on my lunch break) and just collapsing in the tiny toilet. I didn’t leave the floor for 3 hours. I couldn’t get my head around it. I loved this man but he wasn’t willing to do that for me. It was hard to accept that he didn’t love me enough but I can now look back and see it was not about my worth. Someone posted on facebook recently ‘your worth isn’t decreased by someone’s inability to see your value’ (paraphrased). Or a picture my Mum used to use when leading Women’s confidence seminars, she would take a £20 note, crush it up, get someone to come and stand on it and stomp it into a muddy puddle. Then she would ask ‘does anyone want this now?’ of course people did, the £20 was still worth the same. It’s value hadn’t changed.
Many other things happened to lead me to a place where I realised that the best thing he EVER did for me was leaving me that day. I enrolled on a course at the ‘Hope Centre’ a place run by our local women’s refuge called ‘the Freedom Programme’. This taught me the patterns of abuse that had occurred in my life in the lead up to my marrying Mick (too many to go into this post, but I will write another one about the importance of male, particularly paternal role models). That next year was difficult I ended up in a refuge due to the financial mess he left me in and had to rebuild my life, was signed off with depression for at least 6 months, but things started to change the year that followed.
I am now extremely happily married, with 2 step-daughters (8 & 5), a little boy (2 and a half) and 3 weeks away from my little baby girl Eden’s 1st birthday. It has been just over 4 years since he left. What has changed in my life has been immense, but it wasn’t easy. Putting yourself first, learning to communicate with people when there are issues, and especially not putting up with ANY crap at all, my poor husband will now tell you, he doesn’t get away with anything, because I won’t stand for it. I have learnt my own worth and it is important to me. It’s important to me that I show that to my step-daughters and daughter. It is important to me that my little boy sees my husband’s positive example.
It may seem strange but the honest truth is, the day I finally brought Judah home (we’d been in hospital over a week), I sat with him on our bed, holding him and just cried, with happiness, that I knew I had chosen the right man to bring a little life into the world with. I know that James is a fantastic role model and a great Dad and treats me with amazing respect and care. The relief as I pictured my little boy on his 18th birthday knowing that I had done the best I could do in choosing his Dad to assist him in becoming a good man one day.
I am willing to chat to anyone about any of my experiences if they would like, highly recommend the Freedom Programme and above all, put yourself first people, if you are happy, your children will be happy. You are also much better at looking after them when you look after yourself too.