I'd run out of ideas. I had tried everything I could think of to fix my marriage. Counselling, marriage courses, trying to be the perfect wife, talking, listening, serving, praying, crying, trying to accept, brainwashing myself to like this life, losing myself in the kids... I was miserable, scared, lonely, depressed and ill.
Not that many people knew. Oh no, on the outside I was a typical, middle class woman; two kids, a husband, attending church, serving in kids church, etc.
But how could they have known? I didn’t even know what was going on.
Looking back it seems incredulous that I couldn’t see I was being abused - I had ended up in A&E for goodness sake! I was living in fear.
I’d seen the posters about abuse on toilet doors, but I didn’t think that applied to people like me. And I believed the myth that the police didn’t care, that they wouldn’t interfere.
I was well aware of church views: God hates divorce, I should serve, respect, submit, consider others better than myself. I had told a few friends and family members who didn’t seem unduly worried. No one mentioned abuse until very near the end. No one even said it was wrong. Instead, all I heard was hand me down oppressive misinterpretation of scripture and 'divorce is bad for kids', 'how could I be so selfish'. Divorce wasn’t an option anyway, my husband had told me in no uncertain terms that if I ever so much as mentioned divorce, he would physically throw me out of the house and take the kids away from me.
'We assume our normal is everyone's normal.
I think that’s why many victims of abuse find it hard to realise what’s happening...'
The abuse got worse little by little so it increasingly became normal, until my ex destroyed every part of me. But I grew up in abusive home and so much of this felt normal, my normal. I have learnt just because it feels normal doesn’t mean it’s ok and certainly has no bearing on whether it’s God’s will. The power of 'normal' is so strong and yet invisible. We assume our normal is everyone's normal. We never question so many of our normals and I think that’s why many victims of abuse find it hard to realise what’s happening and that it’s wrong.
Please, if your 'normal' is pretty good, open your ears and eyes to a friend whose normal is damaging her. Incredible as it might sound to you, she may not realise that she doesn’t have to live like that. People like me don’t go to the police or a refuge but they might talk over a coffee. How you respond makes a huge impact.
There is so much help for all sorts of problems but most people need a friendly hand to guide them to the help. If a friend is talking about fear, control, violence these are red flags. Don’t be deceived by appearances - one of the craziest comments I received was 'you can’t be suffering from abuse your hair is always so nice!' Victims don’t always fit stereotypes and neither do abusers.
So if you are worried for a friend, what should you do?
Obviously there are no rules but a few suggestions would be:
1 - Don’t just do 'the sad face'
Tell her you are worried; tell her it doesn’t seem right. Ask her what you can do.
2 - Give her a safe place to use the internet
This enables her to look up organisations that can help, like Women’s Aid and Restored.
3 - Find out about counselling
There are counsellors trained in domestic abuse. Help her to find them, and to get there when she's ready.
4 - Help her find legal support
Give her a safe place and a phone to contact solicitors.
5 - Encourage her in her faith, listen and pray hard for wisdom.
I passionately believe that it is everyday ordinary friends who can make the difference. You too can become an awesome friend.
Control and abuse are, sadly, prevalent in our communities and our churches, with one in four churchgoers experiencing abuse in an intimate relationship.
There are lots of ways you can get involved to help us change the stories of women who are affected by domestic abuse.