This article has been updated since its first publication in October 2016
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This week’s blog post has me worried. It’s not quite in the same league as sitting on a ski lift in a blizzard and nowhere near as terrifying as snorkelling in the dark, but I am very nervous about posting it. So please be kind. I am hoping that you will find it interesting, informative and that you will understand why I am announcing that I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
It’s so scary because this is an extremely personal post. So bear with me and let me explain why I am posting this now and why it is somewhat different from my usual posts. I normally bring you nice travel stories from Laos or Colombia, I sometimes subject you to my opinions such as in this article about diversity and occasionally I will sling in a post which hints at the reasons why I am now travelling.
I have been travelling for more than 3 years but the biggest and hardest part of that journey has been the personal one….
Grab yourself a cup of tea, settle yourself down somewhere quiet and read on.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
I was married at the age of 20 to a man that I loved and who loved me. We had two wonderful children and we lived a normal life. We had a nice home, we took some great holidays and we each had a good job. We made plans for when the children would leave home; we had a good social life and……………..STOP!!!!!
Rewind and let’s take off those rose tinted spectacles.
I was married at the age of 20 to a man that I was in love with and who I believed loved me. We had two wonderful children. Just about the only time that we weren’t arguing was when we were away on holiday.
My first job was in a bank. I LOVED that job but I grew to hate it because I was always walking on eggshells. In the good old days of banking all staff had to remain until all of the cashiers balanced their tills. Every single day from about 3.15pm my guts would start to churn as I worried that I may be late home. Each time I was late home I would be met with disapproval and unhelpful comments such as ‘just walk out’ or ‘you should be here with me’ or ‘tell the boss that you are not staying late anymore’.
Each and every part of my life became dominated by having to second guess my husband. But he would change the rules. Often! I could never win.
I will give you one example below but there are thousands to choose from. Individually they sound weak, I sound weak, but collectively they grow to something enormous, until they have the power to change your entire behaviour, your thought processes and your self esteem.
We would often go out with friends and enjoy ourselves (or so I thought). I would mingle, have my own conversations and laugh and have fun. On the way home my husband would accuse me of abandoning him, of boring the people that I was talking to and of making a fool of myself. In an effort to please him, the next time that we went out I would be attentive to him, stay close and listen a lot. Yep! You’ve guessed it. On the journey home, I would be accused of not allowing him any space, being boring and looking miserable. But not every time. Not often enough for me to call time on our marriage; but enough.
So this became MY normal. We had a home and a dog and our children but so gradually that I hardly noticed it happening I lost my own identity. My life became one of second guessing my husband’s moods. I would try to manipulate events in order to never be late home and I would make excuses for him when he would change his mind or his rules on a whim.
I was instructed on exactly what TV programmes I should record for him when he was out of the house (and lord forbid, I should forget). I was ordered to go and speak to teachers at the school if any issues arose and I was even told that our kids couldn’t have friends over to play if he were home. Not all of the time. But enough.
I didn’t recognise any of these behaviours as manipulation and emotional abuse for many reasons.
- It was MY normal
- I fought back against him, insisting that our children could have friends around for tea, refusing to give up my social life and I began to study for a degree.
- I believed that I had economic freedom; although actually that is not much good if you are in a virtual prison
- I would continue to go out with my friends and I put up with it when I was ‘collected’ early from a night out with them**(1)
- I worked extra hard to avoid confrontation. Sadly I didn’t realise that the increasing pressure that I was putting my mind and body under in order to please him were building up to boiling point.
- It didn’t happen all of the time. But enough.
Why am I sharing my journey as a survivor of domestic abuse with you now?
I can’t say that there has been one pivotal point during the last seven years because each of my experiences have helped to rebuild my self-confidence, however the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand was very special for me – you can read about that here.
I was interviewed for the Humans on the Road site (click here for the article) following which I have had nothing but positive feedback from people who want to connect with me and tell me their own story.
I have recently begun working with a coach (business and life) who is forcing me to face up to my instilled beliefs. Together we are working on old patterns and behaviours which I adopted in order to survive a manipulative partner and I am reminding myself that I AM a good mum**(2).
More and more, people are telling me how much I have inspired them to think about their lives in a different way and how much courage I have shown in the face of adversity, so now is the time to open up and tell you too.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse takes many forms. Abuse takes many forms. It can be
- verbal or nonverbal (psychological, mental, emotional)
- stalking, cyber-stalking or harassment
- economic or financial abuse
- any combination of the above
The perpetrators can be men or women, of all ages and from all backgrounds.
No one type of abuse is any worse than any other. Cyber-stalking can damage a person just as much as a physical beating. Sadly, too many victims may take what they see as their only escape (suicide) because they can see no other way out.
I was extremely lucky.
I was failed many times by the police and the justice system in the UK, and I hear harrowing stories daily about law enforcement officers around the world who are so dismissive about domestic violence, but I had a supportive network of friends who were looking out for me, and a little later, I was referred onto the Freedom Programme**(3) which was my salvation.
One problem is that, especially in the case of emotional abuse, the offenders are generally excellent at portraying a different side of themselves in public so few people suspect anything is wrong.
After 25 years: surviving domestic abuse
My own situation began to spiral out of control; although it was gradual at first when I began to question our relationship. I asked my husband to attend marriage counselling with me. He refused point blank.
I now know that his pattern of excuses could have been lifted from a text book and that I was never going to win; but I was very naive at the time and I so wanted to make our marriage strong again that I kept on fighting.
The excuses over the course of a few months were along these lines,
- There are no problems in our marriage
- You may have some problems
- I am not going to marriage counselling to be lectured by a do-gooder in a twin-set and pearls
- You are neurotic/menopausal
- You could do with some help
- Why don’t you go to the doctor
- A marriage counsellor will only confirm that you are neurotic
- We just need a holiday
- There is nothing wrong with me
- Find a male counsellor and I may consider going along
- Why can’t you just be like you used to be?
So I went alone to counselling.
And my ‘caring’ husband who just wanted to help me to ‘get better’ refused to discuss or even listen to what had happened in that first meeting.
I went a second time.
And this tiny little elderly lady, who was in fact wearing a twin-set and pearls, opened my eyes. She asked if I were happy. She asked if I had any regrets. She asked me how long I had been fighting to change myself in order to placate and please my husband.
I realised that he would never change if he wouldn’t even listen to me, so to shake him up a little bit I told him that I wanted two weeks – just two weeks apart from him because I needed to think things through.
I planned to find a little country cottage miles from anywhere where I could sit and think. I guessed that I would come to my senses and return (if he would even agree to have me back) and life would continue along the same path as before.
BUT, as it began to dawn on him that he might actually be losing control of me, things began to escalate.
The gas-lighting and controlling incidences began to happen more of the time. And I was now aware.
And then I met another man. He was living his own version of an unhappy marriage and we talked. He asked if I were happy. He asked if I had any regrets.
I began by trying to persuade him to stay with his wife (a colleague of mine) and he began by trying to persuade me to remain with my husband.
But as we talked I realised that MY normal was in fact not normal at all. There were empowering men out there. Men who wanted their wives to stretch themselves and who were not themselves threatened by a strong or an educated woman.
There were men out there who would allow their wives to go away with work colleagues for a weekend**(4) and men who didn’t constantly compare their partners to others or put them down in public but pass it off as a joke.
There were men who wouldn’t throw a tantrum or sulk for days on end if I were to forget to record Emmerdale (oh yes!), or if I wasn’t ready and waiting to open the garage door when he drove up after work.
So me and my new friend talked some more. And I decided that I wanted this sort of a man. Not this actual man but someone who would support me and who would not be threatened by me and who wanted me as an equal. I wanted my husband to be a man like that.
But by now, I realised that my husband would never change. He could never change. He didn’t want to ever change.
You must remember that we had two wonderful children. I didn’t want to tear their home environment apart. I had come this far (I had actually considered leaving 8 years previously when I suspected my husband of having an affair), so I naively believed that if I took a couple of weeks away I could sort out MY problems and return to being the wife that he wanted and behave in a way that I was expected to behave.
So I insisted on two weeks away.
The arguments got more intense and his behaviour became more threatening. Instead of attempting to placate me or entice me to stay he became ever more accusing. He explained that my request was obvious justification for my increasing madness.
Whilst I still hoped for my dream husband to emerge from this creature that I now saw, I guess that deep down I knew that he would never change and so I began to make plans.
I opened a bank account in my own name and I packed a small bag.
And then after a month during which he stood in the kitchen and screamed how he hated our son**(5), when he told me that I had to give up my ongoing Open University degree because…wait for this one…. ‘I was getting ideas above my station’, and he informed me that I would NOT be allowed to use my phone and text in front of him ever again, I left.
I left in the middle of the night. Our son had already been forced to move out of the house and was living in a bedsit**(6), and our daughter was about to go and spend a week in Spain with her friends.
During a massive argument that night the bedroom was trashed. My clothes were swept out of the wardrobe by my husband in a red-hot rage. He tried to wrestle my phone from me but I ran out into the street. Out there, things calmed down as he needed to present a lovable front to the neighbours. But after he had left to take the girls to the airport, and after I had sat and cried solidly for 5 hours amongst the trashed bedroom, I picked up my small bag and I left.
Taking back control.
That was the beginning of another chapter in my life. It was a dark time. At one point I absolutely lost the will to live but with the care and the love of my family and my friends I grew strong again.
No longer able to control me, my husband swung between victim (crocodile tears), to loving father (now he NEEDED our son to be strong and to support him), to threatening myself and my friends. He tried to force his way into a friend’s house, he sent disgusting letters to others and he terrified another friend by rampaging around her garden at two in the morning.
I filed for divorce. It took over three years to be granted and during that time he persuaded our children that they should have no more contact with me. He was the victim in all of this, right?
I was bullied in work and the management stood by and did nothing. Quite frankly they were out of their depth, weak and inept (that is another whole long story which I will spare you from now) but I spent eight long nightmare months being totally ignored by the people in my office.
I crashed and I burned in a total meltdown. I spent weeks limping from day to day in a (prescription) drug induced haze. I came close to checking right off this planet. To this day I believe that a guardian angel was watching over me and it was not my time to go.
I decided to take back control. I made the decision to live. Now I was going to design the best lifestyle for myself that I could imagine. Treating myself as an ongoing project, I drew up the outline of a plan and I worked on myself.
I was going to make the best of a bad situation and I was going to be the best.
I bided my time, waiting for my divorce. Waiting for my children to understand that there are always two sides to an argument and waiting for them to reply to my messages and cards. Waiting for the police to take action and put a stop to the harassment and the stalking that my ex-husband was subjecting me to**(7).
While I was waiting for my divorce to be finalised I began a transformation. The eggshells became less crunchy and I started to trust my own instincts without having to defer to another person.
With sheer will power and determination my own character that my husband had obviously recognised and attempted to crush all of those years ago began to emerge from the debris.
Tentatively at first, but then faster and faster I hurtled forwards. I got my decree absolute, my degree in Sociology & Geography and I quit my job.
I am the first to admit that I was terrified when I stepped on board my flight to Lima. I was convinced that I would never be able to cope and I would be lonely and alone.
And for a couple of weeks I wanted nothing more than to head back to my now long gone little apartment and to curl up and to hide under the bedcovers.
Six weeks after that I was celebrating the start of a New Year by the side of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and three months later I knew that I would not be returning any time soon.
And I didn’t go back. Project Me was a success.
Ok – it hasn’t been 100% successful because my children still choose to condemn me for leaving an unhappy marriage, but I did what I did at the time in order to survive. I have to have hope and faith that one day they will recognise how their father used them as pawns. I don’t want them to reject him but simply to allow me to be their mum again.
I have been travelling for more than four years, mostly solo and thriving on challenges, realising that many people do not find me boring as I was so often told. I have met so many people who tell me that my courage inspires them too and who ask me to help them to move themselves forwards.
And this is my work now.
I run my own business helping people to realise their own value and self esteem. I work with clients who come from all sorts of backgrounds and I inspire them to live the best life that they can. I encourage them to push themselves; because it is only when we step out of our comfort zone that we discover what we are capable of.
I mentor them and we work together so that they can identify their passions and they can incorporate those passions into their own dream lifestyle; and all the time, along the way they are building their self belief.
But I am not ashamed of my life journey and I am proud to stand up and say ‘I am a survivor of domestic abuse’. For every woman and man who will stand up and announce the same, there may be another person out there who believes that just maybe, they can also find the courage to stand up and REALLY live their lives.
Thank you for hanging on in here.
If you have made it to the end of this rather long article, thank you.
I offer no apologies if you would have preferred a post about my experiences in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia or hwo to survive the night in a hostel because maybe this article will strike a chord with some of you and it may help many of you who are moving towards your own dreams.
If you want help to become a survivor (not necessarily from domestic abuse, but from whatever it is that’s holding you back), or if you want to share your own experiences with me, please do reach out to me and let’s connect. It’s not that scary. I do understand because I have been there. Opening myself up and sharing this article with you was scary, but now the ‘send button’ has been pressed and it seems that it has turned out OK!
You can leave a comment below or connect with me by email because I would love to hear from you. And please, if you know anybody who could do with a gentle push to make some changes in their life, do forward them this article.
Thank you for listening to me.
My name is Jane and I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives (Home Office 2007)
**(1) I was told that because he cared for me he would collect me from an evening out with friends. Great – or so I thought. But time and time again he would arrive early and insist that I leave with him, even if we hadn’t got as far as ordering the desert after a meal. I couldn’t make a fuss in front of my friends so I would comply because the alternative was unthinkable. He would be moaning for the next week or worse… my fear was that he would ‘kick off’ in front of my friends…so I kept my mouth shut and I did as I was told.
**(2) On my very first night out a couple of weeks after our first child was born I went to a Tupperware party in a friend’s house. I received a phone call and I was told that I had to return home immediately as our son was crying and my husband was unable to settle him. I could hear distressed screaming in the background – so obviously I left quickly.
Baby fed; check. Clean nappy; check. Solution: walk around with baby on my shoulder until he fell asleep. Easy peasy. THAT was just the first and one tiny incidence of millions – but it took me a long time to realise that it came from a position of one person controlling another, and crucially from a person using the children as a weapon.
**(3) The idea for the Freedom Programme evolved from an excellent book called ‘Living with the Dominator’ by Pat Craven. I really believe that this book should be compulsory for all older teens and adults. Click and order the book if you want to know more.
**(4) When I was working for a bank the management arranged a weekend away in a country house hotel for about 20 staff as a prize for our productivity. I was thrilled to be chosen but my husband’s reaction confused me. He initially insisted that he be allowed to come too (WTF??), and next, that I should decline the invitation because partners were not to be included. I had every reason thrown at me by him. He couldn’t trust the other men going, I shouldn’t want to go without him, we were a team and should do things like this together…blah, blah, blah. I did go away for that weekend but I spent my time balancing on those by now familiar eggshells. He promised to phone me at some time, saying that if I had nothing to hide I should obviously be free to speak to him. So I left our evening meal early and instead of joining colleagues I went back to the hotel to wait for his call. Unless you have ever been the one trying to placate somebody like this you are probably reading this and thinking that I was weak but you have to understand how living like this gradually creeps in and takes over your whole life. I wasn’t weak. I was strong and I was doing my best to survive in my own way.
**(5) I KNOW that I am a good mum because I spent nineteen years standing as a buffer between his moods and our children. I spent nineteen years telling our son that he was not stupid despite what his dad said and seventeen years telling our distraught daughter that everything would be alright. Randi G Fine explains all of this rather better than I can
**(6) I am not proud of the fact that I allowed our son to leave home, but I know now that I was getting him to a safe place. If things went badly and I wasn’t allowed to return to my marriage I would no longer be able to protect him from his father’s rages and destructive comments.
**(7) Whilst there are some excellent police officers out there, sadly there are many who don’t understand or who can’t be bothered to learn about domestic abuse. I finally found a wonderfully professional and supportive officer (thank you Officer N – I hope that you know who you are); but sadly not before many who went before her had abused their position. I have several letters filed away from the Chief Constable apologising on several occasions for the behaviour of some of his officers – yet sadly the incompetence and conspiracy occurred more than once.
If you would like to become a survivor of domestic abuse…
You can find out how I now empower men and women to realise their own identity again by working with them to build their self esteem. If you are not sure whether I can help you or somebody that you know, please do drop me an email and we can have a chat.
You can find out more
Learn more about becoming a survivor
I am passionate that more people learn a lot quicker than I did (it took me 25 years of marriage) about coercive control, domestic violence and the inbalance of power in a relationship.
And don’t forget to check out Pat Craven’s excellent book, and if you are in the UK find out if there is a Freedom Programme running near you