The explanation of the how’s and whys of leaving and recreating a new life as a single mum with a baby and a young toddler are usually met with words such as “inspirational” or “strong” or “courageous”. And yes, I agree, I am not one to take away from someone else’s experience of my story and how it affects them but, in those moments, even now, when I look back at those times, the only emotions I remember are fear coupled with zero belief in myself.
The hearts, the flowers, Barry White on the radio – they all brought things into sharp focus. For four years I’d been paralysed with doubt. That’s the insidiousness of it. When it’s good, he’s charming: hold your hand in public, sends your flowers, makes dinner, buys you jewellery. When it’s bad: the constant criticism, the sulks, the threats, the explosive rages, the intimation, the put downs, the isolation – it’s so relentless, lonely and bewildering, you start to doubt reality. “Maybe it is me?” you think. You say sorry. Try harder.
My story is not rare, it’s more common than people think and not as horrendous as some women’s stories that survive to tell them. It takes time to see how scared you are, to realise how one’s sense of self disappears. The shame that is often felt is awful. Confidence gets lost, faith in one’s self and ever finding a way out dwindles and if your financially dependent as a stay at home mum, it is all too consuming. When verbal turns physical and people ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”. It’s an ignorant question. There is a pattern to abuse: how it starts, escalates, and how it messes with your mind. Physical violence, verbal abuse and the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control someone is what alters your behaviour because you are frightened. I was frightened, those within it are frightened and those that have survived will still have those memories.
But there is something so important, something that needs you to pay attention too. Whether your stuck right now, you’ve left and are healing and finding your way, or you know someone that needs support. All of these fears you have that you’re unlovable, stupid, useless, ugly, fat, unemployable, and too sensitive are not true. They are not true! They have formed through repetition over time like a bulldozer paving the way, in this instance the bulldozer being the one who has harmed you. You are not to blame for someone else’s bad behaviour. Your feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness are because your world is dominated by a partner who shames you, ridicules you, makes you question your decisions and capabilities. Not because you actually are those things. One of the first casualties of an abusive relationship is your self-esteem and self-worth. It was mine, hands down.
I knew that the way he treated me was wrong, you do too. Violence and abuse are not acceptable in any form. However, I was so desperate to have someone love me that I compromised myself, my life, for his misogynist behaviour. I felt I couldn’t do my journey alone, especially when I became a mum. I needed someone. Anyone. I wasn’t good enough. And he reinforced those negative self-images I had about myself. This isn’t as strange as one might think, more often than not this is the thought process of women who have been and are in these types of relationships, especially if they are financially dependent on them and a mum.
Leaving an abusive and violent relationship is often more of a process than an event. The leaving takes planning. The leaving takes a support system. It takes determination to maintain the leaving. My journey of leaving was when I started questioning myself as a role model to my kids. I questioned if I wanted them to grow up and see the treatment, to have them think it’s OK to treat people this way, for me to be treated this way. It’s the seeking for other ways, instead of the agreement of what the abuser says that marks a turn of self-worth, deserving and searching for answers.
All you read is not just my story, but the story of countless women that have been, currently are and could be in the future paralysed by domestic violence and abuse. And to each and every single one of you I want you to know that you do have the strength and power to find your own self again. To find that inner person that is so unique in this world. You can find your own path, your own light. You can embrace life again; the common place and the everyday details that are yours to enjoy in freedom.
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