Huge thanks to this lovely birth worker who has shared her story with us as part of our focus on surviving domestic abuse.
The end of June marks a year since I moved out of the home I shared with my abuser. Learning to be independent with two young children for the first time in my adult life has been incredibly hard, but choosing a life that meant I could feel free and in control has been the best decision I’ve ever made.
When a friend of mine first pointed out that she was seeing abusive behaviour in my relationship, I was shocked and speechless. Part of me wanted her to be wrong, after all he had never hit me, he didn’t threaten me or act aggressively towards me, he said he loved me and I loved him. The other part of me felt relieved. Relieved that there was someone who didn’t think I was crazy, someone who wanted to support me to finally voice my truth.
I met my ex when I was just 14. He was 21. Our age difference should have been the first red flag I saw, but at the time, I had a difficult relationship with my parents and had recently been sexually abused by my previous boyfriend. I was young and vulnerable and he took advantage of that at every opportunity. In the wise words of Maya Angelou,
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
I still wish that the people around me back then had helped me to see who he really was, because in hindsight it was plain to see.
The abuse I endured over the next 12 years was not overt. Instead it was subtle and insidious, and for the majority of the time I had no idea what he was doing to me. As an ardent feminist, I never imagined that I would find myself in an abusive relationship but he uncut any shred of confidence and self-love I had and replaced it with confusion about my value, self-worth and mental health.
He made me feel as though all the issues we had in our lives were my fault so I never even considered that he was the root cause of my pain. When he took loans out in my name and made me feel like I had to ask for permission to spend our money, I didn’t call it financial abuse. When his words made me doubt my own sanity, I didn’t call it gaslighting. When he silenced me by continually speaking over me and twisting my words, I didn’t call it manipulation. When I wasn’t able to work because his needs always took priority, I didn’t call it controlling. When he coerced me into having sex, I didn’t call it rape. Choosing to finally give voice to my reality and accept that the man I loved had been continually hurting and manipulating me was so painful and terrifying but if I wanted things to be different, it was the first step I needed to take towards positive change.
I knew that I had to leave but there were so many hurdles along the way. My children were just 2 and 4, I had no money of my own and at the time, my work as a birthworker was not providing enough money to sustain me independently. I struggled to find somewhere else to live that didn’t involve me and the children moving into a refuge and I was constantly scared that he would try to take them away from me. Sometimes I wondered if he could change. If things could be different wouldn’t it be easier to just stay with him? Deep down though I knew that people like him rarely change for good.
The key in being able to hold on to my truth and finally move out was finding the right support. I had some amazing friends who were there to remind me how strong and capable I was and what my life would looked like if I stayed. I had a counsellor who was an amazing emotional support throughout. I had family who were able to help me out financially and with the practical aspects of moving house. I reached out to Women’s Aid and saw my GP who referred me to a support worker with IRIS.
The last year has been challenging in so many ways; learning to be solely responsible for managing a household, learning to parent alone, learning to balance work and family life as a self employed single parent, learning to live with C-PTSD, learning to find healing, build my self worth and start loving myself again. Whilst it’s been a difficult journey, I am beginning to live the life I know I deserve, where I can keep hold of my power and feel safe and supported.
To anyone who is walking this path, you are strong and worthy of so much more. You are a whole person who has the right to be heard and loved, just as you are. Right now you might feel trapped and out of options but your power is yours to keep and you have everything you need within yourself to live the life you deserve.
I write my story anonymously but if anyone reads this and wants to talk to someone who understands, I am here and happy to be contacted through Growing Families. I hope that by sharing my story, I can show women who might be in a similar position to where I was last year that there is light at the end of what seems like the darkest of tunnels.
Much love, L x
Some charities that I found useful:
24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
0808 2000 247
This is run by Women’s Aid and Refuge and was so helpful when I needed to speak to someone out of hours.
Women’s Aid Manchester
0161 660 7999 (Monday to Friday 9:30am – 4:30pm)
You are able to self-refer to Women’s Aid and get assigned a caseworker who can support you throughout.
0808 802 0925
This charity works to support single parents and the information they give is super helpful. The have lots of factsheets on their website about everything from benefits to contact arrangements and the people that run their helpine are very knowledgeable.