My heart was beating so loud, I just froze, my breathing became fast, I gripped the car handle as though my life depended upon it. My mouth became dry, tears stung my eyes as my body began to shake.
“I can’t get out” I whispered, my eyes looked straight ahead. My head was now full of every single hurtful word he had said to me during our three-year toxic relationship. I felt physically sick, I was so scared. Yet here I was, sitting next to the man who loved me unconditionally and I was too scared to get out of the car to pop into the shop because I had seen my ex-partner walk past us.
The impact of his behaviour, even though we were no longer together was extremely powerful. I was still scared of him. I had seen him do things to people that will stay with me forever. I have been on the receiving end of his wrath, I’ve heard his verbal threats and I know what he is capable of. Other people have only ever seen the nice side, not the nasty, I have seen his abusive ways in all its glory and it isn’t a pretty sight. The things you see and feel when living with an abuser live with you forever, once you have survived it, it stays with you whilst you learn to try and cope with it. You have to learn how not to let it take over and control your life, the way your abuser did. Some memories are better off not thinking about but sometimes it’s hard to switch off.
Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t as easy as people think. You are battling so many emotions, you’ve already cried enough, you want to move forward but every step you make is so damn hard. You love him but you are scared of him but you want to be with him. You feel as though you are fighting a losing battle, all these emotions running around in your mind and all from one person.
The one person who claimed to love you and now your barriers are so high around you that you have no idea who to trust anymore. You don’t recognise yourself, friends and family no long know who you are because surviving domestic abuse completely changes you.
Your thoughts and feelings aren’t what they used to be and it’s as though you are seeing life through someone else’s eyes. It feels like you have been on autopilot for so long that you have just been exisiting and now you have to learn to live again. That in itself feels not only daunting but frightening too because the one person you have relied on for so long is no longer here. They have taken control of you and your life and now you feel alone.
You will jump at the slightest noise you hear, even in the safest place on earth. Even a certain smell can be a trigger and take you straight back to a place you never want to revisit again.
Paralised with fear but somehow you have to find the strength from within to be strong and move forward with your life. It’s about taking one day at a time, life isn’t a race, you have all the time in the world to get to be where you want to be.
Your feelings are like a dripping tap, you can’t just switch them off, you have to learn how to deal with them. Society is under the make-believe influence that you leave an abusive relationship and everything is fine, the abuse stops and life carries on. That is so untrue.
The perception of domestic abuse by those it has never had an impact on is far much easier than the reality of the complex crime. If only it were as simple as being hit by your partner and then leaving – if only. However, this is not the reality of domestic abuse.
Many survivors are not physically abused, abusers don’t come with a warning sign and the abuse – physical, psychological, sexual, financial – doesn’t always start straight away.
As a survivor you are completely judged for every decision you make – yes, the survivor not the abuser.
Over the three-year period we were together, not once did I ever hear anyone question his behaviour toward me. He was often manipulative in front of others but no one questioned it. No one said it was wrong, it was acceptable or stood up to him to stop it. He knew that people feared him and that they wouldn’t approach him. As there was no one or nothing to stop him, why would he?
His own life never changed. He was always in charge, always in control, came and went as he pleased, as long as I was in the flat when he got back then all was good for him.
It is a strange experience living with an abuser because all of your own thoughts, beliefs and view simply melt away from you. It is as though abusers have such an immense power they re-train your brain to think how they think.
There are no specific types of abusers or survivors. Abusers often come disguised as teachers, doctors or police officers – all part of the cycle and abuse because often when their true identity is revealed the community find it so hard to believe.
Survivors healing process is an unique and individual one which takes time. We have to take one day at a time because we don’t know what is around the corner.