How can anyone ask for support when they don’t know they need support with?

Many people aren’t aware that they are in abusive relationship because the signs are not always visible or physical.  People believe that because they are not hit, they are not being abused.  The reality is, domestic abuse is all about power and control; physical, psychological, sexual and financial.

My own personal experience was me not knowing what I had been through was domestic abuse, until I had left the relationship and was put onto an 8 week awareness course.

We live in a society where people tolerate things and accept them for what they are, often thinking what we are experiencing is normal behaviour and that it happens to everyone, or, on the other hand we think we are the only one going through this so we don’t speak out because no one else will understand.

The power of social media is not strong enough in itself for survivors to raise awareness and to highlight the early warning signs.  We need to see the Government set up a mandatory and solid package throughout the nation where everyone is made aware of the early warning signs.

It needs to start from school, college through to working life because domestic abuse knows no boundaries, it happens to men, women and children and we need to help keep them safe.

Educating our young people about this issue shouldn’t be a taboo subject or one that is swept under the carpet but it should be introduced into all sex education classes.  It is important for the next generation to be aware of it.  It isn’t about scaring them into never forming a relationship but supporting them in making the right relationships.  Sex education needs to be about the biological side as well as the physical side because at the end of the day, they go hand in hand.

We teach our children the difference between right and wrong from an early age and raising domestic abuse awareness is just the same.  Far too many young people think it’s OK for their boyfriend or girlfriend to look through their phone, tell them what clothes to wear and to choose their friends for them.  No, this is wrong, not right.

Are we not failing our children if we don’t make them aware of these things from the outset?  We aren’t telling them what to do or what not to do but making them aware of the situation in order for them to make their own decision in life.  Our young people can’t help who they fall in love with but we have a duty to care for and protect them.

Domestic abuse can still be deemed as a taboo subject and one that is swept under the carpet, what with refuges closing and funding being cut, making it easier for perpetrators to go on abusing.

We live in a frustrated society where people say, well if it was that bad you would just leave, with education the knowledge would rise to the surface knowing it isn’t easy to leave the toxic relationship.  So many barriers are put in the way of the thriving survivor – many placed by the Government – by the perpetrator making it so difficult for them to do so.  Someone trying to leave an abusive relationship is automatically at high risk and vulnerable because the perpetrator will do all they can to gain and maintain that power and control over them.  Verbal threats to family and friends soon become reality.  Isolated from life and what once was normal, financially abused and often left in debt and with no self confidence, self esteem or worth making it seem pointless in leaving.  How can a person who lives every single day of their life in fear leave with no safe place to go, with no money for the bus journey and no one to turn too?  The reality to them is, if I stay at least I am safe but to society, that doesn’t make sense, simply because they do not understand the complex cycle.

Awareness is as important as aftercare and support is.

When the relationship is left, the abuse doesn’t stop and for many, it really is just the beginning of a long and rocky journey ahead, which at this point is where aftercare and support is a vital lifeline, which could prevent someone going back into the arms of their abuser.

It was dark and bleak for me when I left; a new mum, in a new area and always looking over my should whilst raising my daughter as I dealt with my own fears and insecurities, when all I wanted was someone to listen to me, to understand me and be there for me but isolation had made that difficult for me.

In time I found the strength to go to various mother and toddler groups but many don’t even have that option which is why aftercare and ongoing support is paramount for all.

Speaking out and asking for support isn’t an easy task, especially when you have constantly been told over a period of time that no one will believe you because it’s all your fault.  You’ve been subtly brainwashed into thinking and believing it is your fault so you don’t bother speaking out.

The first step is always the hardest to take but the most important because you can choose the direction you want to go to get back in control of your own life.  It can be a long journey but one you can take at your own pace.

It’s important to learn to understand that domestic abuse happens because the perpetrator choose to abuse not because a person ask to be abused.  It’s equally as important to learn to love yourself again and the most important relationship to have after leaving, is with yourself.  You need to find yourself again.  You can and you will do it but only you can do it; aftercare and support is just a guiding hand to lead you the way you want to go.

 

 

You’ve Changed

You don’t come out anymore

You always cancel plans at the last minute

You don’t dress the same

You never make eye contact with anyone

You never answer your phone

You never call

You never stay out long

You are so quiet

You say you are ill but you look OK

You don’t eat any more

You drink too much

You are always bumping into things

You are always making excuses for your partner

You don’t smile any more

You jump at the slightest sound

Your eyes fill with fear when you hear the key in the lock

You seem withdrawn

You’ve changed.  You aren’t you anymore.

That’s how you see me but this is how I see you; You never listen, hear me or believe me.

Mirror Mirror on The Wall

Standing in front of the mirror, the reflection looking back at me was unrecognisable.  It was just a figure of a person.  There didn’t seem to be any life inside the soul, any light behind the eyes or love behind the smile.  It was as if they were just staring through me, not looking at me, with a pale complexion, no smile, not even a frown, just a sad looking face.   Hair dull and lifeless to match the face, clothes dark and dull covering a figure that was just stick thin and no longer shapely like before.

I remember when life felt like I was a bottle of fizzy pop, take off the lid and everything would be so bubbly and fizzing! Personality was just oozing, friendships galore, a career and a family who adored me, life couldn’t have been any better.

Nowadays every single day just merged into one that I didn’t know what day of the week it was.  It was exhausting living on autopilot, making sure I was doing everything right not to upset him.  Opening my eyes sometimes was a struggle.  Often I would sigh deeply, thinking oh, another day.  Another day of being in this life whereby it just felt that I was walking inside someone else’s footsteps, that I wasn’t really living my life, this wasn’t even a life, I had no idea what it was but I knew, as long as I did what I was told and what was expected of me, I might just get through another day.

When I felt his fist to my ribs or the back of his hand across my face, the hurt last a day or two maybe but when his words cut through me like a knife, they lasted a lifetime.  He couldn’t help but suffocate me as he bombarded my mobile phone with calls, text messages and voicemails if I was ever brave enough not to answer the phone.  His demanding questions when I had been to the shop or to his mum’s house, always making me feel guilty and like a naughty child, saying sorry for something I hadn’t done just to keep the peace, and to save my life.

His tone was always so calm and in a strange way, loving, his eyes were gleaming as he twisted everything around that I had said.  All my innocent words taken from my mouth and glorified to insinuate I was up to no good, I was talking to someone I shouldn’t have been and that I only went out to cheat on him.  I knew that wasn’t right but the look on his face, the look of pleasure knowing he was messing with my head and heart told me, whatever I said didn’t matter because he was always in control and always had power of me.

Mentally, I was drained and exhausted, waking up each morning, never knowing what today would bring or whether today would be the day that I was going to take my last breathe.  Sometimes I felt it would have been so much easier if that had been the case.  No two days were ever the same, which made life so much more difficult; if only he had kept the goalposts in the same place.  He didn’t have to touch me to make me feel scared of him, I would only hear his key in the front door and panic would rip through my body with thoughts of, have I done everything that was expected of me, echoing in my mind.

Looking at the reflection in the mirror, I couldn’t believe how one person could have this impact on me.  How, I no longer wanted to get out of bed in the morning, how it was a struggle to have a wash and get dressed, let alone eat something.  Some days I would just sit in the armchair, my knees up to my chest with my arms wrapped around them; childlike.

I couldn’t understand how my life could be completely destroyed, yet his carried on exactly the same, just how he wanted it to do, doing whatever he wanted.  Love wasn’t supposed to feel this way but I felt so entangled in his devious web I just couldn’t find a way out, no matter how hard I tried or how much I wanted to leave him.

Of course I loved him, well in the beginning I did, but that love feeling soon turned into fear.  Even the butterflies that once lived in the pit of my stomach disappeared, leaving nothing more than fear and dread behind.

The reflection looking back at me was telling me how having my mobile phone thrown out of the window because I had spoken to my mum wasn’t acceptable, how been locked in the flat not being allowed to go to work wasn’t love and how being strangled with a kettle cord shouldn’t be tolerated no matter how sorry he was after.

Staying awake for so many nights and sleeping for so many days all because he didn’t want to stay on his own and if I really loved him I wouldn’t let him sleep alone, having food that you cooked but not to his standards was thrown against the kitchen wall and him walking into the bedroom one night with the bird he had killed on the end of a kitchen knife never leaves you, not how a bruise on your face fades and disappears, the memories of living with a perpetrator who psychologically abuses you, never leaves you.

A certain song, smell or significant day can bring back a memory just like it had happened yesterday.  Experiencing domestic abuse because a part of you but as the days go on, you somehow find an inner strength and you learn how to deal with how you were once treated.

Sometimes we don’t know how strong we are or what we have been through and survived until we take a long hard look in the mirrow.

 

 

So what next?

Back in April 2009, as I set up the locked support group page on Facebook, I had absolutely no idea, what if anything at all would come from it.

 

Many people, including professionals told me it wouldn’t work and how I was wasting my time.  For me, this felt exactly the right thing to be doing.  I wanted to help others and give something back to society.

 

Over the last several years I have spent many an early hour and late night just listening to people who needed to be heard.

 

Travelling to BBC WM and local radio stations, being a speaker at various events, all travel expenses paid by myself because I am passionate about making a difference because I know it’s something that is needed.

 

In a way, it felt to me that I needed to experience domestic abuse so I could support others.

 

Sometimes it felt as though I wasn’t really making much of a difference but then I would get a little thank you email and I felt honoured that a person would feel that way about me.

 

So, basically I found a good use for the internet with my support group but I really wanted to do more for my community, I wanted something bigger than just online support.

 

In 2016 my committee and constitution were formed and suddenly fundraising ideas galore were rising to the surface.  There were also people willing to support what I wanted to try and achive.

 

I really am so overwhelmed.

 

So what next?

 

Amanda Redman MBE is our Ambassador and Dee Kelly our patron, several fundraising events lined up and Beverley Callard a special guest at our fashion show, all helping us raise £5,000 toward becoming a Registered Charity and getting our much awaited charity number.

 

SODA W-M is looking for support from local business and organisations to support us; we are in need of help with printing posters, raffle prizes and volunteers.  We also want to work alongside and support other agencies, if they feel this is something we could do together.

 

Offering ongoing aftercare and support is something we are passionate about because we know and understand how much this service really is needed.  This is not just a 5 minute wonder, raise £5,000 and that’s the end of it.  Oh no, this is the start of something that is going to be really big and successful.

 

One aim is to rent a shop whereby we can run a cafe one side and a charity shop the other, not only bringing people together but also providing jobs too.  A cafe is an ideal place to meet people and build new friendships; we feel this is important because once you have been affected by domestic abuse it really is hard to know who to trust.  Visiting a friendly cafe could help building up your self confidence too.

 

Hard work and determination could see SODA W-M open a refuge, as a long term plan and something we would strive to achieve. From small seeds grow almighty acorns.

 

I never try and make SODA W-M about me or what I have been through because that’s not important, what is important however, is reducing isolation and raising awareness and getting the key message across to society that, domestic abuse is not normal, it should not be accepted as love but seen for what it really is, a crime.

 

Talking about a topic that is still deemed as taboo is something that needs to be done, without it there are going to be so many more people and families lives that are completely and utterly shattered and torn apart by domestic abuse and people saying, I had no idea I was being abused.

 

A major factor should be education our next generation on the early warning signs, especially the ones that don’t physically harm us.  Power and control are the two key words that spring into my mind.  It is about a partner controlling every single aspect of your life and having the power to make everything seem as though it is completely your fault.  At the time you believe them, even friends and family do too but when you step out of the box and look in, it’s quite scary in the fact that the abuse from the perpetrator starts a lot earlier than that first slap or punch.

 

For me, there was no looking back but I just knew I wanted to turn this situation into something positive for others and that is what I intend to keep on doing, no matter how long it takes I will become a person that not only inspires others but a person who can make real change to lives where it is needed.