Guest post: "My identity was eroded by abuse – but now I've rebuilt my life"
Louise*, a survivor of domestic violence, says the support she received from Refuge saved her life
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Former Refuge service user
Posted on: Mon 12-Dec-16 15:16:02
(9 comments )
I never thought it would happen to me. By the time I reached my thirties, I had my own flat, a career I loved and plenty of friends. I felt lucky and independent and proud of what I had achieved. When I first met my ex-husband, I thought he was the final piece of the jigsaw – the love of my life.
The violence started when I fell pregnant. We were arguing over missing a restaurant booking. Suddenly he hit me and threw me across the room. This makes my ex a pretty typical perpetrator, actually – 30% of domestic abuse begins or gets worse during pregnancy. Perhaps it is the idea that you might soon love another being more than you love him; that he will be forced to relinquish some control.
During those nine months, he slammed doors into my bump, kneed me in the stomach and threw me down the stairs. I visited hospital twice, afraid I had miscarried. He told me it was my fault, of course – I was hysterical and I was going to harm the baby, he said.
It wasn't just physical abuse. I was undermined and humiliated in a million different ways. When we got married, he insisted we did it alone, without my devastated family and friends. When I gave birth, he made me apologise to the midwife for being too aggressive. When we argued, he would threaten to throw me out of 'his' house; I had sold mine, and given up my job, because he thought it would be best. Instead, I was paid 'housekeeping'. The idea of me freelancing was rebuffed with "I am paying you to relax and stay calm".
Refuge helped me to realise that my ex's behaviour was nothing to do with me and everything to do with him; it was a deliberate pattern of control. My keyworker gave me the language I needed to describe what I had been through.
Work – and the hard-won financial independence of my twenties and thirties – had been a big chunk of my identity. Work doesn't just mean money; it means a different pool to swim in. It means 'outsiders', with norms and boundaries and insight, which might just prompt you to question what is happening at home. Instead, my sense of self was being eroded, bit by bit.
The intense isolation meant I had lost perspective. This wasn't abuse – it was just my life. It was surprisingly easy to dismiss every put-down, every humiliation, every blow, as a series of unrelated incidents. He was just angry. He was stressed about work. I was being hysterical.
I received support from Refuge after one particularly frenzied attack, which took place in front of the children. I called the police, and eventually they referred me to one of Refuge's outreach services. Refuge helped me to realise that my ex's behaviour was nothing to do with me and everything to do with him; it was a deliberate pattern of control.
I can honestly say that nobody in my life has done more for me than my Refuge keyworker. Her support, over many months, evolved and developed as I did – always at my pace. First, we made a plan to keep me and the children safe. She found ways to explain to me that what I was experiencing was abuse. It was not acceptable; I was not mad; it was not my fault. Later, her support became very practical, too – she held my hand, sometimes literally, through divorce proceedings and child contact battles.
I remember us going through the Power and Control wheel, which describes common abusive behaviour, and ticking off every behaviour apart from one. I asked whether my experience still 'counted' as domestic violence, if I couldn't tick all the boxes. Not only did she validate my experience, she supported me to realise that my minimising was part of the abuse. She gave me the language I needed to describe what I had been through. It's like she gave me a secure base, from which I could begin to rebuild my life.
Now I am divorced. I have set up my own business. My children and I are happy. It sounds dramatic, but my Refuge keyworker saved my life. I really feel that with every fibre of my being. I find it really moving that there is someone out there, without whom I probably wouldn't be here; without whom my kids wouldn't have a mum.
Refuge is currently providing specialist support to around 4,500 women and children experiencing domestic violence and other forms of gender violence. 'Specialist support' trips off the tongue, doesn't it? It is a well-worn phrase that doesn't do Refuge justice – but I hope I have given some insight into the vital work they do every day. Please do donate to Refuge if you possibly can – your support will save and change lives.
*Name changed to protect anonymity
I've never been directly involved with Refuge, and I only experienced emotional/psychological/verbal abuse... Never physical. But I 100% understand the "loss of identity" you describe. I wasn't myself. I left 12 weeks ago and I'm just starting to find my old self again, it feels like taking a breath of fresh air and stretching after a long sleep all at once. Refuge, Women's Aid and all the charities and organisations helping domestic abuse victims and survivors do really save lives. Often literally, and often they help to you to stop surviving and start living again.
Beautifully written. Plus, I think you have highlighted that abuse can occur to anyone. Good luck and happiness on your future ventures.
I just wanted to send you a , although I have never been a victim of DV myself I just wanted to say, thank you for sharing your experience with others. Your truth just shows that DV can happen to anyone but it it also shows that with the right support you can come through the other side. Thank you OP
So familiar and I'm out now too. Been out nearly a year.
Do your children see him?
Has he moved onto another victim?
This pattern of abuse is so common..always be worried if a man wants you all to himself and makes to deglect your friends and family..this is the start of the control...I've been free now for 18 years ... it tock me 10 years to get him to leave me alone ..but I did escape ...stay strong if this is happening to you .it will work out
9 years after splitting from my sons dad he still stalks/harasses me/us.
Even with a new wife and baby on the way.
Just goes to show his want to control me will never end.
Because of this we are having to move (which is just not right, so unfair and shows laws need to be changed)
I've recently been diagnosed with ptsd, anxiety and depression.
I'm a strong minded, hard working woman but right now I feel completely broken/defeated.
But with the help of refuge and other charities I know I will get through this.
These people are life savers and I truly hope one day once healed myself I can go on to help them support others xxx
to all who have experienced this. And to all the helpers.
I would never have believed anyone who said I would end up as a victim of domestic abuse but it really can happen to anybody. Thankfully I'm now 16 years on and I am back to my strong independent self but it took a long time and the emotional scars will never leave me