I’m a survivor.
Not of a train crash, an earthquake or a disease. I’m a survivor of an Abusive relationship.
I don't write this just for the sake of sharing - I write this because of the perception that abuse only happens to a certain type of woman and that abuse only takes one particular form. This can happen to anyone and may be happening to someone you know.
Some type of abuse is experienced by 1 in 4 women (Yougov research, July 2008.)
Look around your circle...1 in 4? Regardless of your socio-economic group, race or age - you know someone.
I met and started dating ’C’ when I was 16 and a half - he was 3 years older than me, a musician and physically beautiful. For the most part he was charming so... I overlooked the petty jealousy, the requests that I spent most of my spare time with him and the demands that I ‘prove’ myself - all things that caused some of the people close to me to dislike to him. Things went along - lots of breaks and make ups but when we eventually parted things were reasonably amicable.
I finished secondary school. Started an Economics degree at a top London University and basically got on with my life.
C reappeared about a month into the second year of my degree and suggested we meet up. There was still that old chemistry between us so I thought "Why not?". I was in a house share off campus which afforded us far more freedom than we'd ever had and within a few weeks he had more or less moved out of his parents place into mine.
It became apparent that C had developed a habit of regularly getting drunk or high (it helped his creativity apparently). Oh, and he’d fathered a son who he was in the middle of a bitter custody battle over. When he was drunk or high we rowed. A lot. The arguments became more frequent and ferocious – sometimes ending with C physically preventing me from leaving the room and yelling till I just gave in. It worried me but I excused his behaviour blaming it on the stress of his situation and the drink or drugs. Until he did it once whiles he was completely sober. On that occasion, over some perceived disrespect, he dragged me into a side alley and proceed to shout at me for what felt like hours. I'm 5ft 5(ish) and around 120lbs so I was not going anywhere. I remember looking around for someone to help me and when a man who was about his size cut through the alley I thought "Thank goodness".. But when C turned and looked directly at him with a “What the f*** are you looking at?” the man averted his eyes and kept walking.
The end of our relationship came a couple of weeks later. I hadn't seen much of C, but we’d spoken and he’d apologised profusely. I was shaken but still slightly in the frame of mind where I’d excuse him, so when a University friend said they were having a party - I invited C along. The moment he arrived, younger brother and best friend in tow, I sensed that something was wrong. His brother and friend, after giving me the normal greeting, disappeared off into the crowds but he just stood – stony faced and bodyguard like - a few feet from me. A couple of the guys who I went to Uni with stopped to say hello to both of us. He blanked them. Muttering "The next n***** that talks to you is going to get stabbed."
He repeated what he’d said adding that he had a knife with him.
Thinking more about the safety of the other guests than myself - when he insisted that we head outside to talk I left with him. Hindsight is a wonderful thing... I spent the next 4 hours with a knife at times being held to my throat with ‘C’ alternating between saying that he was going to kill me or was going to kill himself because he "couldn’t live” without me.
We broke up over the phone. Or rather I broke up with him over the phone – it had taken an extreme event for me to see the situation for what it was and to realise that I was no longer safe with him. A couple of days later I packed up to move to another city.
So what do you need to look out for?
Remember that 1in 4 figure I quoted? Look around your circle of friends and acquaintances again. Refuge, one of the UK Charities against domestic violence state the warning signs to look out for are any combination of the following:
• Is he jealous and possessive
• Does he cut her off from family and friends and try to isolate her?
• Is he charming one minute and abusive the next, does he have sudden changes of mood – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
• Does he control her life –for example money, who she should see, what she should wear?
• Does he monitor her movements?
• Does he blame her for the abuse?
• Does he humiliate or insult her in front of others?
• Does he verbally abuse her?
• Does he constantly criticise her?
• Does he use anger and intimidation to frighten her and to make her comply with his demands?
• Does he tell her she’s useless and couldn’t cope without him?
• Has he threatened to hurt her or people close to her if she leaves?
• Does she change her behaviour to avoid making him angry and triggering an attack?
• Does he force her to have sex when she doesn’t want to?
If you are in this or a similar situation – hear me when I say that ANY sort of abuse be it emotional, verbal or domestic violence is not OK. I’ve had people come out with the ‘at least he never hit you’ BS - please understand, he doesn’t have to have hit you for a relationship to be abusive and unhealthy. He does not behave the way he does because he ‘loves’ you. His behaviour has nothing to do with love and everything to do with control. I need you to recognise this as I want you to be secure – both physically and mentally. It’s going to take time – but confide in a trusted friend, a charity like Refuge or the police and start looking at an exit plan.
Maybe this doesn’t affect you directly or maybe this has started you thinking about someone you know. On some level you sense that something is just not right. You think of that woman and you see someone who has convinced herself that maybe she did something wrong or that maybe she is stuck in this situation (because of money because of children). Be patient with her – it’s going to take time to deal with what is often an overwhelming range of emotions. Again, the police and charities such as Refuge are your key starting points for advice.
I justified a lot. I hid a lot. But on some level I knew that what was happening was wrong. There was so much shame associated with even being in that situation that I just turned the blame inward - because I was smarter than this and should never have got into this situation. It took me a really long time to move on from blaming myself or seeing evil in every male out there and to move to renewed trust in my instincts, my values and myself. And I can only wish the same for other women out there.
“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.”