I have the privilege of sharing a friend’s story here. She shared with me a small part of her story and I asked if she would like to tell it anonymously, more publicly. I think she is tremendously brave for having said yes.
I have had this post in my head for a long time now, unsure quite how it would translate on the page and agonising over how to say it.
I was going to say ‘I was a victim of domestic violence ‘but I didn’t like the word victim and then I thought of ‘I am a survivor of domestic violence’ but again the connotations of the word survivor didn’t feel quite right and I could all but stop myself singing Destiny’s Child in my head and that wasn’t it at all. I almost settled for ‘I experienced domestic violence ‘but somehow that makes it feel like I went on a cinema trip or something.
So I suppose I came to the conclusion I should just tell my story and that it would all fall into place, that somehow the words on this page would express what I wanted them to and that actually it’s less about how I say it but more about what I say, what I want to say.
This, my story, has ruminated within me for a long time, desperate to get out but with no outlet.I am not at the stage rightly or wrongly where I can say all of this in any other guise but that of anonymity. I am brave enough to speak it aloud but not yet brave enough to bare all with my name to it.
@God_loves_Women has been somewhat of an inspiration to me, her boldness and passion and her ability to use her story and her experiences to strive for things to be better, for good to come out of evil. Her bravery astounds me. She offered me this opportunity to be able to tell my story when I admitted I didn’t feel I could be brave enough but that deep down I needed to tell it, to say it because I ultimately believe it is a path I have to take to receive true healing from it and to diminish the power it has held over me for a long time.
I recently opened up to a friend about it – I said “I suffered domestic violence’ and they were surprised because I don’t look like I have or act like I have maybe or perhaps I don’t fit the expected appearance or demeanour – who knows? I have thought about this a lot, is there really a ‘type’ who goes through these experiences? Or is it simply what we choose to accept to believe about it? That it’s a particular type of women only, that it wouldn’t happen to us?
It was 1999 and I was a fresh faced 18 year old heading off to university. I had a boyfriend, long term all through 6th form but inevitably the long distance thing didn’t work out. There was also a guy in my halls who was in the group of friends I had made and we hit it off really well. We ended up getting together.
With hindsight, I would love to be able to say that there were clear signs but there weren’t. I also think a lot of my better judgment was perhaps clouded by being in the university bubble, it’s not quite ‘real’ life somehow.
I guess at first I thought he was quite protective of me, or maybe that’s how I chose to accept it. I needed to have a part time job to supplement my loan to be able to survive at university. I worked part time in a local bar. I was very popular at work and got on really well with my colleagues, I also had to put up with a lot of the ‘banter’ and comments from the punters. I could handle it but often my boyfriend would come and sit at the bar and ‘watch over’ me and the situations.
He would talk to me when we were back in halls and say that I didn’t need to work because he would give me the money I earned there, he could afford to look after me so it shouldn’t be a problem. I avoided and ignored getting into this too much for about six months but in the end I left my job. I didn’t feel I could enjoy it in the same way, or stay after shift for drinks.
My course was quite a close knit group and I had a mixed group of friends I spent time with. I had less hours of lectures than my boyfriend so there were often times I was out in the pub or around the town with my course mates while my boyfriend was in lectures. He often commented that the other guys on my course were only after one thing and that I should be wary of them. He didn’t like me spending time with them and was very vocal about it even in front of them at times.
The day before my birthday in my first year we were cooking our dinner in the halls kitchen and we were chatting and I was talking about what we had done on our course that day and he suddenly became really angry, it took me by surprise to be honest as I had no idea where it had come from. “He fancies you and he wants you for himself and he’s laughing at me!’ he shouted at me. I asked him what he was taking about and he continued shouting, threw the bowl of chopped vegetables at me and then grabbed a pint glass and smashed it into his forehead.
At this point, I was screaming for help, for him not for me, because there was blood pouring down his head.
So the night before my birthday we sat in A&E waiting for him to have his head stitched up. I’m not quite sure what explanation we gave to the hospital staff or why now one of them didn’t take me aside and ask if I was ok. But, it didn’t happen. I also don’t know why at that point I didn’t completely freak out about the fact he had behaved that way but he apologised, said it was because he loved me so much and he just wanted me to be careful.
We went out with my course mates on my birthday. Some knew what had happened but none of them really mentioned it, I suppose in a way this further normalised the behaviour to me.
I remember one evening I had been out with my course mates and I came back to find my boyfriend crying in my room listening to Semisonic “She’s gone to the movies” and he was distraught about the fact he was losing me and that there was nothing he could do. I reassured him, he wasn’t losing me at all. I still struggle to listen to that song now or indeed any of that particular Semisonic album which is a shame because it’s a great album.
There was another trip to A&E, for me this time after an argument in my halls room where he had thrown me against the bed frame and I had damaged my neck – luckily not bad enough to need a brace, bruising mostly, but in a way I had wanted a neck brace because I had wanted someone to ask me what had happened so I could tell them, talk about it,
One of my closest friends pulled me aside one night and said he was worried about me because he had seen me happy and I wasn’t happy anymore and he wanted to know what would help. Part of me wanted to say something but I didn’t know what so I said I was fine and he shouldn’t worry
I suppose towards the end of my first year things must have calmed down or I was oblivious to what was going on because we decided that for our second year we would live together. We found a two bedroom flat to rent and all was well, we even went on holiday with his family abroad that summer.
The second year began fine, we had a flat that was our own. I was further away from my course mates but still seeing them regularly. My boyfriend just asked that I be home for when he arrived home for lectures.
I somehow turned into the little housewife. Home by 5pm, dinner cooking, kitchen and bathroom scrubbed and cleaned, hair and makeup done. I had no job anymore, I was given money. As I write this I can’t believe it either, that I didn’t see, that I didn’t recognise what was going on, but I didn’t.
I can’t remember why it happened or quite when but I found myself cowering on the stairs in the flat at one point while he repeatedly smacked the side of my face and my ear. It turned purple. I hid it with my long hair. He apologised, said he loved me, we moved on. I experienced real severe loss of balance and dizziness, I went to the doctor they said I had an issue with my inner ear, didn’t ask about the bruising. I stopped hiding my ear, no one mentioned it, so I didn’t. It healed,
One morning, I woke up and my hair was wavy, an extreme bed head look I guess, he said it looked nice, that I shouldn’t brush the waves out, so I didn’t. I had a lot of bruises on my upper arms and back he gave me one of his jumpers and said I should wear it so I think for a week I went to uni with unbrushed hair and a huge baggy jumper but no one asked me why or said anything so I normalised it all.
Our neighbours called the police one night, because of the screaming, they knocked at the door and I hid in bed. A female police officer came up to see me to ask if I was ok and I said I was fine, I told her that I had really bad PMT and things had got out of hand and I apologised and she left. Said I should call if I wanted to and I remember thinking that was odd, why would I need to call them?
He bought a hifi and was trying to sort out surround sound with wires etc. and got frustrated so he whipped the wires against my back a number of times and when I went to escape upstairs he head butted me in the face and broke my tooth. I called the dentist desperate because of my tooth, not because of what had happened. They saw me the next day and the dentist mentioned the phrase ‘domestic violence’; and it sounded so alien and I explained to him that wasn’t what was happening to me.
We went to a fancy dress party and he got angry I was talking to a couple of guys from my course so he came up and pulled my hair really hard and called me a ‘slag’. Everyone was pretty drunk so there were some heated exchanges of words but by the next day it was all quite hazy in everyone’s minds so no more was said about it.
There were a whole catalogue of incidents, too many to write, and I didn’t say anything but I did start spending more time with a guy from my course. Nothing happened between us to begin with but then I kissed him and was immediately overcome with guilt. We saw each other for a while, my course mates knew and said nothing. I decided to end it with my boyfriend.
We split up but we still had months left at uni and we were sharing a flat, I moved into the spare room. I didn’t get together with the other guy, it was all too messy. Every now and then at night I would wake up because my ex-boyfriend was in my room, in my bed. It was easier just to put up with it,
An argument happened again, i don’t know why, it was early in the morning, I was still in my pyjamas and he threw me across the landing and kicked my knee, it is still scarred today. I think I passed out because I woke up I’m not so sure how long afterwards without my pyjama bottoms on.
I called the doctor and was seen by a nurse. She told me she was going to document what had happened and that I should go to the police. I didn’t go to the police, I went to the guy from my course, desperate, feeling so awful and in pain and miserable. He was great to begin with, I had a bath at his, he went and picked up some clothes for me and I felt safe with him, until a hug in his bedroom suddenly wasn’t enough for him and again it was easier to just put up with it.
I still blame myself regarding that particular incident and it smarts to write it down and it hurts and it’s still raw because I still can’t forgive myself, I should have known better, I cry as I type this as the judgment that many would heap upon me for all of this I heap on myself and I suppose that’s why I have never said it all because deep down I still feel like I’m to blame.
I sit here now and I can run my tongue over my broken tooth, I can still feel it in my mouth, it has been repaired twice but it sits there like a stone reminder of the mistakes I made and my bad decisions, when I wear a dress, the scar on my left knee shows, to me at least, it reminds me of how I failed as a woman. How I let my own kind down.
I never went to the police, the guy from my course told everyone that I had slept with him and I was shunned and labelled for my whole third year. I ended up sharing a house with four guys I didn’t really know but one of them was key to me surviving my third year because he became one of my best friends and exactly that, he never once tried anything or even entertained the idea of us getting together. I lost touch with him when I left but I am forever grateful to him.
So where am I now? I’m married with a young son and to all intents and purposes I have moved on, all of this that happened almost feels like a different life, like it wasn’t quite real. But typing this has brought out the rawness that still exists and the regret and the blame and the judgment and now I can work through it and make sure it has gone for good.
So why share my story? Why be so honest? Because. Because, I didn’t know that was domestic violence, because I was at university, because of the situation, I didn’t think it counted, I didn’t think anyone would care and on so many occasions people turned a blind eye and that kept me silent.
I write this because it’s not the only story, there are many more, hidden away, untold. I write this because I want to be free from carrying it as a burden in my heart any longer. I write this because it is the truth of what happened and the truth that was never told – not until now. I write this because at last someone wanted to know my story and someone allowed me to speak, to verbalise it and to set me free.