Domestic Violence Part 1 – How It All Began

It’s domestic violence awareness month and as part of it I want to try and do some awareness raising around how, like most things in life, domestic abuse is more complicated than it is often thought to be.

Warning: This post will contain triggers regarding domestic abuse as I talk about my own experiences.

I spent five years of my life in an abusive relationship, then another two after leaving it dealing with the fallout. During which time I was tortured, raped, threatened with death, nearly killed, emotionally & psychologically abused and left with a complex case of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). During the same time period I not only held down a job working at least 20 hours a week I also studied for and completed my A-levels and a full-time undergraduate degree in Geology.

It’s a long story and I really don’t fancy putting it all in one entry so I will do it in sections. The first of which will be the early years. I also want to apologise in adavnce if it isn’t very well written, I find talking or writing about it hard which takes a toll on on my SP&G.

At the age of 17 I met a chap at college who was charming and sweet. He seemed to be in touch with his emotions, he wasn’t afraid to say when something hurt him. He was still pained by his last break up which he convinced me and our friends wasn’t his fault. She was just a ‘whore’ that had played with his heart. After a few months he kissed me and we started dating. We were living with each other after a year, both of us convinced we were in love. I thought it was idyllic. Sure he had a bit of a temper, but everyone has character faults don’t they? I told myself relationships were all about give and take. Surely if he had to put up with me being a bit snappy before my period each month it was only fair that I let him ‘vent’ his anger at the unjust world he was frequently falling victim to. I saw the fact it made me afraid of him and terrified of accidentally provoking him as proof I was a bad partner. I was supposed to love him and trust him and understand that when he threatened me it was because he cared, it was because I was privileged to be close enough to see him warts & all. I should be grateful rather than fearful and skittish.

I often ask myself why I didn’t see the abuse in those early days. Once I get past blaming myself for being naive and pathetic I start thinking about how I viewed healthy relationships. Firstly no one had ever really explained unhealthy relationships to me. I had a heavily stereotyped and unrealistic view of what domestic violence was that I had picked up from the media and listening to adults talking. As far as I was concerned domestic violence victims were nearly always; married and or with children, they were women from poor backgrounds with no education or educated friends who got black eyes and broken bones at the hands of a man who was normally a alcoholic or engaged in other criminal activities. I wasn’t like that, he wasn’t like the men I thought abused women, therefore it couldn’t be abuse. No one had ever really explained the concepts of financial, emotional and psychological abuse, let alone explained the nuances of physical and sexual abuse so I simply didn’t see it.

I also had internalised a lot of slightly off messages about what a ‘healthy’ relationship was;

  1. They involved give and take. I couldn’t be selfish, putting up with his moods was part of being an adult. 
  2. Sometimes couples got upset with each other, it was important to find a compromise between both parties. There are always two sides so find a middle ground.
  3. People throw things and yell insults or threats when angry, it’s nothing personal, it’s just anger. Getting upset by it is immature.
  4. You shouldn’t say negative things about your partner to friends or family as it will just cause upset in the long run. Speaking about the positive aspects is much more fulfilling.
  5. When one party really wants something the other should do what they can to help them achieve it.
  6. If you are in love you shouldn’t fancy other people, the person you are with should be enough.
  7. If you look like me (6’1″ tall, bigger than a size 12, not Hollywood pretty) you have to work hard to keep your partner attracted otherwise they will want to stray.

Now some of that might seem like valid advice but when I put it into practice things went wrong. He’d get mad and tell me he wanted to kill someone before punching the pillow my head was resting on as hard as he could – I thought getting upset by it was immature. I thought talking about the fact it scared me would cause lots of trouble and would also let everyone see how childish I was. If that was his reaction to me saying I wasn’t ‘in the mood’ I thought in the spirit of point 5 I should just let him do what ever he wanted with my body. It was a compromise, I wouldn’t be scared anymore and he wouldn’t be angry. When he’d spend the night flirting with other women and telling them “If he was single…” grinding against them in front of me I would believe that it was my fault for not being attractive enough and not giving him enough reasons to love me.

Looking back I see how I deluded myself by rationalising what was happening. Of course because of a high level of internalised self-loathing and a lack of positive role-models my ideas of what was healthy give and take were skewed to say the least. I saw my occasional pre-menstrual grumps as being just as bad, if not worse, than when I would say “I love you” and he would tower over me and scream “How dare you!” in my face before making me into apologise for being insensitive. I honestly thought I was a horrid person and I believed he was justified in is actions. He would loose his temper frequently and punch holes in doors and in weak internal walls, when his temper went all traces of self control would. I’d look in his eyes and no longer see the man I knew, just rage and hate. It was terrifying. I couldn’t trust him not to hurt me too. Often I’d get hit as he threw things around in a fit of anger but I told myself it was an accident and that mentioning it was a bad idea. Why risk making him angrier? It started a pattern of behaviour that would lead to me apologising when he didn’t get his own way and he would loose his temper and punch the wall an inch away from my head. He used my self-loathing to his advantage, telling me that I treated him just as badly and confirming my growing belief that I deserved it. 

During this time I changed. My whole world became dedicated to keeping him happy just so that I wouldn’t trigger off his uncontrollable anger. If I mentioned our relationship to anyone I spoke at length about how lucky I was to have someone who loved me and how by compromising we had built something special. I lost touch with many of my friends because he didn’t like them and they didn’t like him. He told me they were jealous and I found it easier to believe that than listen to people telling me he wasn’t great. I lost a sense of owning my body. It was now his as much as mine and if he needed it, it was all his. He had debts which he would assure me were not his fault, so I would work extra overtime so I could pay for both of us. It then wouldn’t be his fault in six months time when somehow I would discover he had never actually paid any money towards them even though I’d been giving him lots of extra money. After a year of wearing down I had untold levels of self-loathing and had lost nearly all my strength to resist unjust criticism or to stand up for myself. After two years it had pretty much vanished. As far as I was concerned anything negative that happened to me was my fault and everyone knew it. I would cling on to anything that inspired positive emotions all the more because I was so so miserable and could see no way of changing it without killing myself. Sadly, he spent all his time putting himself in a position where he was the only positive thing in my world. He was the only person that wanted to be near me, he was the only person that made me feel loved because he had also kindly taken the time to show me that my friends and family didn’t really care for me after all.

At 19 I had finished my A-levels and was ready to start university. He was working at that point but things weren’t going well so it was decided he would move with when I went to university. A whopping great 360 miles away from everyone I knew and the last threads of my support network.

Continued in;
Domestic Violence Part 2 – Where It Led
Domestic Violence Part 3 – The Aftermath

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  1. Thanks and well done for writing this. I relate to your experience on very many levels, especially the sense of massive responsibility for making my relationship work – the idea that putting up with bullying and violence was part of being a good partner, and that maybe I had to do more than that because I was such a rubbish person and he was doing me an almighty favour putting up with me. And like you, I constantly spun the relationship to others (and myself) that it was not too bad, not even just all right but something really good. One of the scary things about having blogged for so many years was that afterwards, I found some of that nonsense-reasoning I had actually written down (although obfuscated enough so nobody had a clue what was happening to me).

    I wrote a little bit about my own experiences last Blogging Against Disablism Day and I sometimes touch on these issues in my blog.

    I hope you're on the mend from all this.

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  2. Thank you so much. I'm still working through stuff, some of the things later contributed to my PTSD and they are proving to be harder to get by.

    I try to talk about this stuff now for two reasons; firstly it helps me get it all straight in my head which is immensely beneficial to my mental health and secondly, because I think too many people don't realise just how domestic abuse works.

    I've just read you post & it was wonderful. I'm just sorry you had to live through that 😦

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  3. Thank you – I'm sorry you've been through this too. I think it is very important to talk about this stuff (when we're able) for both the reasons you describe. I think talking about our experiences is part of reclaiming our own life story. And I know it was – still is – a huge help to me as a survivor of abuse to hear other people's experiences. Abusers seem to be cast from such a similar mold…

    If it would ever be helpful to talk, my e-mail address is the name of my blog at gmail.com

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