Facebook reminded me this morning that seven years ago today I drove my eldest son to school, drove home then opened and downed a bottle of wine before 10am. I then posted rather drunken posts about having done so on Facebook knowing someone would come and take care of my younger children. I was found by my friend and my sister almost passed out on the sofa whilst my poor toddlers climbed all over me.
Seemingly happily married, nice house, 2 cars on the drive, just opened my own business, went to church on Sunday. To the outside world and as far as my previous social media posts were concerned, life was rocking along normally. Why would I, someone who rarely drank anyway, get myself hammered whilst responsible for two small children on a Tuesday morning?
A few days earlier my husband had beaten me up in the en-suite bathroom of my house whilst my toddlers played in the garden. He told me he’d just “blacked out” and “lost control” yet all the bruises, and I was black and blue, were around my legs and hips where nobody could see them. It hurt to stand, it hurt to walk, it hurt to lie down but none of it hurt as much as the fact he hadn’t even said sorry or checked if I was okay.
I’d never acknowledged his violence before this, I’d been bruised before, usually across my back where I’d been pushed against something, he’d thrown things at me, spat at me, put me in choke holds until I passed out, but I never thought of him as physically abusive. Denial does that.
As far as I was concerned, he’d never actually meant to hurt me all those other times, he’d never actually punched me. Now he had and for the first time I told a few people.
A week later he came home. He didn’t come home with flowers or apologies, in fact to this day he still hasn’t actually apologised for beating me black and blue that day. He came home because I begged him to. I begged him.
I begged him to come home because I was worried sick about how much the hotel was costing us (all our finances were shared)
I begged him to come home because I was lonely and the bed felt empty without him in it.
I begged him to come home because I didn’t think I could cope with the children on my own
I begged him to come home because I didn’t want to be one of “those” single mothers. A failure.
I begged him to come home because my boys needed their dad
I begged him to come home because my pastor told me “there are men who beat their wives and there are wife beaters, and they aren’t necessarily the same thing”
I begged him to come home because I was worried about him. Was he eating without me there to cook for him? Would he shower without me there to remind him?
I begged him to come home because I was his carer, who would chase up his mental health appointments without me?
I begged him to come home because I couldn’t afford to divorce him, our finances were tied together, they were tight, and our credit ratings were shot. I begged him to come home in case he tried to kill himself again.
I begged him to come home because I promised “in sickness and in health” and he couldn’t help having a mental illness that made him hurt me.
I begged him to come home because he was the man I’d lost my virginity to, and that meant something.
I begged him to come home because I didn’t want to end up a lonely old woman and nobody else would want me with three children in tow and the body of someone who had had three children.
I begged him to come home because we’d been through so much together already, I didn’t want those years to be ‘wasted’
I begged him to come home because God hates divorce
I begged him to come home because Jesus told us we should constantly forgive.
I begged him to come home because when he was really lovely he made me laugh and I missed that
I begged him to come home because maybe this would be the catalyst to him seeing he needed to change and going back to being the man I fell in love with.
I begged him to come home because as unhappy as I was I couldn’t picture a world without him in it where I was happy.
I begged him to come home because I was missing him.
I begged him to come home because I loved him.
It was another eighteen months before I left him, and things didn’t get better in that time, they only got worse. And things didn’t get better when I first left either, the first year or two after leaving was hard. Really hard. I genuinely thought I would never be happy again.
Seven years after I cried that I wanted to die but wasn’t brave enough to kill myself, five and a half years after I left and was shocked to discover I was considered to be at high risk of homicide. Four years since my divorce came through and I felt like a big fat failure I am, in fact, deeply contented.
If you’d told me in the depths of my despair that by 2018 I’d have a lovely home, happy and thriving children, an incredibly rewarding job that I love, fabulous colleagues and loving friends I wouldn’t have believed it.
If you’d told me then that by now I would have experienced loving relationships that didn’t hurt, with men who didn’t hurt me but respected and valued me for me- I’d have said it was impossible.
If you’d told me I could not only be happy without my husband but that I could experience a deep joy and peace I didn’t even know existed I’d have told you that you couldn’t possibly understand how much I loved him.
And if you haven’t experienced abuse you probably wouldn’t understand the ‘love’ that you feel when you are in an abusive relationship. It is so intense, so full of highs and lows, it’s like a drug. I have never loved anyone like I loved my husband and I sincerely hope I never will again. It didn’t make me happy.
There is a point to this ramble. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of all women in the UK experience domestic abuse. I know this means there are lots of people reading this who are feeling that deep despair and unhappiness I once felt. When that was me so few people knew, we hide it, we cover it up, sometimes we don’t even know thats what we’re experiencing ourselves. I also know there will be women reading this who have recognised it but who are not leaving for all the reasons I didn’t leave and more, or who have left and feel they will never be happy again. I’m writing to tell you you can. Seven years on I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, it took time, it was hard, really hard but I did it, I left, I got help, I healed, I recovered, I re-built my life and it’s good really bloody good. And you can too.
If you feel that you might be in an abusive situation, help is on hand. You can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, or speak to Refuge using their online chat function. You can also get in touch with our Survivors' Network - we're not an emergency service or helpline, but we can stand alongside you as you access the support you need.