I was introduced to a powerful film recently; Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. If you haven’t seen it.....watch it, it’ll be worth it.
It’s set in a world where we can erase our memories of someone, for example after a break up. I won’t delve into it too much, because I wouldn’t do it any justice, but it’s an incredible concept. It made me think a lot about the stage I was at in my life, a little over two years ago.
Back in January 2016 I had just walked away from the most destructive relationship of my life. If memory blanking was a “thing” at that time I’d most certainly have had it done.
But I think about it now, and although that time has damaged me in ways I didn’t think possible, probably irreversibly, I wouldn’t want to take that experience away.
I believe my pain and trauma makes me who I am today. If I hadn’t faced that turbulence I wouldn’t have learnt a lot of things about myself, and about people in general.
Let me go back a little....
June 2014 I left my husband of almost seven years. We had a three year old daughter and a home and a life together. Walking away was one of the hardest things I had ever done, back then at least.
I felt like a failure.
We had been through a lot of financial difficulties and things hadn’t been right for a while. I loved him but not in the right way and I didn’t trust him anymore. Not in the typical sense anyway, I knew he would never cheat....but after having bailiffs knock up my door at 5am repeatedly, thousands of pounds disappearing and endless broken promises, you begin to lose faith in the person you’re sleeping next to.
I packed a suitcase for myself and our daughter and I went to my parents.
It was messy, it wasn’t a pleasant separation. Not that they ever are but you know what I mean, it was very difficult and not at all amicable at first.
I was utterly exhausted, emotionally and mentally drained, I was scared and I felt alone. I knew I was doing the right thing because I didn’t want to spend my life feeling “familiar” I wanted LOVE, like the real deal.
Well I sure got what I asked for.
I met the most amazing man. He wasn’t rich, in fact he was poor as fuck. He wasn’t handsome, or young, or super fit. He was a normal guy, 13 years older than me, with a lot of baggage and a tendency for living life on the edge of the law. Crazy considering at this time I was still in the police. But to me it didn’t matter. I was so in love. Hook, line and sinker. He adored me, the way he looked at me I just KNEW he was crazy in love with me.
The first month was incredible. I felt so happy all the time. We laughed constantly, we stayed up talking all night, we had big plans for the future, we were that couple...you know those annoying ones that have to be in physical contact at all times. He could do no wrong in my eyes. Even though my friends and family didn’t seem to like him I felt safe, secure, loved, I was certain all was going to be ok, life was on the up, nothing and no one could get to me or hurt me.
Little did I know that I was hand in hand with the very person that would destroy me.
I have never been glamorous. I mean, I take pride in my appearance and love to do my hair and make up, to feel pretty, but I don’t strut around in heels every day and always look immaculate.
Some days I genuinely look like a homeless crack addict.
But for the main I make an effort, put basic make up on, do my hair, have my nails painted.
I am also not the kinda girl to wear really short, tight clothing or constantly have my boobs hanging out. I mean there’s a time and a place for a nice little dress but generally that’s not how I am.
A month or so into the relationship he started saying to me “Oh you don’t need make up, you look so much better without it, don’t put any on today” or “Oh, you look a bit dressed up, we’re just going to the shops, maybe you should get changed”
At the time I was FLATTERED..... I thought it was so sweet that he thought I was pretty without me making an effort. I didn’t notice the manipulation. I thought he was cute.
Other little scenarios would occur where he’d suddenly turn to me and say “Were you just looking at that bloke?” and I’d laugh it off, playfully tap his arm and tell him to stop being stupid because I was so into him.
Fast forward six months. I haven’t worn a scrap of make up in forever. My hair gets washed and chucked up straight away without styling. My nails are bare and bitten down to the point they bleed. I’m wearing clothes 3 sizes too big, not only because I’m now over 2 stone lighter but because I purposefully buy them bigger so I can’t be accused of trying to show off my body. My skin is literally grey. I haven’t seen my friends for months and I’m only allowed to talk to a certain specific few that he approves of and only when he is around so he can listen or read the messages. Most of them have given up trying to help me by now because they’re frustrated and it’s hurting them to see me suffer so willingly. I have random spot checks for my phone, he reads every email and message, checks my call list. If I have to speak to a male customer services rep on the phone or sales person in a shop I’m on edge the entire time, making sure I don’t say or do anything that can be misconstrued. I no longer have any form of social media at all. I have been off sick from work for months because I’m not allowed to be around other men without him present. I’ve pushed my family away because I can’t bear for them to see what’s going on. I stay at home, all day, every day. When I hear his key in the lock my insides are frozen, the dread creeps all over my body like thousands of tiny little spiders. When I see his name on my phone my mouth dries out and I feel sick, fearing what the conversation will be about. If I miss a call, because I’m in the shower for example, or I don’t reply to a message quickly enough I almost wet myself with despair because I know my life is going to be a misery for days. I know it’ll flit back an forth between being called every name imaginable and being ignored. I feel like a prisoner in my own home, even when I do leave the house I keep my head down, eyes on the ground. I don’t smile or laugh, at least not genuinely, but definitely for show. My daughter doesn’t recognise her own Mummy anymore and I’m doing shit at the whole parenting thing too. During this time my husband killed himself, I wasn’t allowed to grieve outwardly because if I did I was “still in love” with my husband. He actually left me just 48 hours after the suicide because he felt I needed to “deal with it alone” but came back a week or so later “because he loved me so much”. One time when we were out I pulled my jeans up, because my knickers were about to pop out, bearing in mind the weight loss was extreme by this point.... I was screamed at, I was called a slag, a slut, a dirty whore.... apparently I’d done it for no other reason than that I wanted everyone to look at me.
I was an empty shell. A worthless excuse for a woman. I had given up on everything. I was trapped in a glass box watching my pointless existence get bleaker and bleaker. I wasn’t even hammering on the sides anymore, screaming for it to stop.
When I think of it now I’m so deeply embarrassed that I allowed this to happen to me. So quickly too.
If you asked my friends and family they would tell you that I’m strong and independent and confident. That I’d never take shit from anyone. I am the last person they ever envisaged being in an abusive relationship.
But there I was. Letting this man tear me apart, stripping my soul away, day after day, for just over a year.
Christmas 2015 was a turning point. He made me so upset that I walked out of my parents house, in the rain, with the dinner half cooked, and left him and my daughter there with the rest of my family. Aimlessly walking and sobbing. I was at breaking point. I was having thoughts about not wanting to even live anymore.
He left and I stayed for the evening. The following day when I got home all his belongings were gone.
I’m forever grateful that he left me alone after that. I honestly wouldn’t have had the strength to resist if he had walked back into my life. I was that low and that dependant on him. I’m ashamed as I write this, I know I could have ended it but when I tell you that I couldn’t I genuinely mean it. I knew it was wrong, I knew it was toxic and unhealthy and that I needed to get out. But I simply just couldn’t.
The woman I am today sticks two fingers up and says “good fucking riddance”. Outwardly at least.
Inwardly I still feel the sting from the isolation, the sheer lack of self worth and value in who I am and what I deserve, the uneasy feeling I’m doing something wrong even when I know I’m not, the fear of judgement, the dismissal of praise, the quick bite if someone accuses me of something I know I haven’t done. Albeit fleetingly these days, it is still deep rooted over two years on. I think about it most days, even if only for a few seconds or so. If I see someone that resembles him my body involuntarily shakes. If I get calls from unknown numbers my mind races at the possibility it’s him. It all sounds so irrational and I’m scared I’ll feel this way forever but I talk myself into believing that old adage “time’s a healer”. It is better than it used to be but I can’t wait for it to piss off completely and leave me in peace.
As traumatic as it was I have learnt some lessons. It has taught me to be much more cautious about people and their intentions. It helps me hear those warning bells that much clearer when things aren’t quite what they seem. I’ve always been intuitive and in the police I dealt with multiple victims of domestic abuse, knowing it would never happen to me. But it did. My intuition let me down but I think it fine tuned it too.
I don’t trust how I used to, other people and even myself at times. I look for ulterior motives.
It makes me feel strong that I now know what I need in my life and how I deserve to be treated.
No matter how many times my anxious brain pipes up to tell me that it was all my fault, my sensible brain always comes forward and punches it in the face.
I didn’t deserve that. No one does.
I feel so fortunate to be out of it. I won’t allow it to happen to me again. I’m thankful I got my friends back and found a decent job. My relationship with my daughter and my family is stronger than ever. It has taught me exactly what I don’t need or want.
Domestic abuse isn’t just violence. It covers a huge array of behaviour. Some people don't think they’re victims of it, some people don’t even know they’re doing it... I certainly don’t think he knew what he was doing to me. Or maybe he did, maybe I’m being generous. Who knows.
The point is we all need to be aware of the signs and to try to have the confidence and self worth to nip it in the bud. We need to look out for others, to help where we can. It’s so incredibly damaging if left to grow and develop.
If you’re reading this and you’re in a similar position then I beg you to get out. I think I’m lucky to have gotten away with just some emotional scars. I’ve seen scenarios with the worst outcomes imaginable. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m the first to hold my hands up and say if it wasn’t for him I may still be in the same viscous circle. But please try to get some help. Find that courage.
If you’re reading this and you know someone going through this please don’t hesitate to speak to them about it. Be careful how and where, but don’t sit back and wait. Don’t think that they’ll “get out when they can” or when they’ve “had enough” because I can almost guarantee that they’ve had more than enough. Your support may just be enough to break the cycle.
For help and advice you may find these links useful.
Thank you for reading.
Love Always xoxo