You might have seen the poster stating that domestic violence towards women rises by 38% when England loses a football match. You might have been surprised. You might have thought, typical of the kind of man who’s a football hooligan, but not any mate of mine.
Few people talk about domestic violence. The nature of abuse is that it causes the victim to feel shame, as well as fear, anger and helplessness. So people don’t talk about it. I think it’s about time I did.
It was a few months into the relationship that I first witnessed his ‘temper’. We were on our way to see his friend, and by the time we met him I’d been cowed into tearful silence as he bellowed at me. The reason isn’t important, it never is, but if you have to know, he was angry that I’d been friends with a boy a few years younger than me when I was a teenager. Yep.
He didn’t hurt me physically until much later, but by then the emotional groundwork of abuse had been laid. Instead of telling me not to see my friends, he hassled me each time, gaslighting me when I protested, until it just became easier not to see them. I told myself I wanted to be with him as much as possible, and that I didn’t need to see my friends all the time.
After the first time he hit me, something had given way and now he had permission to hurt me physically, as well as by telling me I was stupid, and fat, and unloveable until I cried. He’d soothe the emotional and physical wounds he’d inflicted by holding me and telling me he loved me, loved me so much, with tears mirroring mine in his eyes. I didn’t have the clarity to see that the only reason he had to comfort me was because of his own actions.
I did leave, eventually, but not before I’d cried wolf several times, taking refuge for the night at my aunt’s and then returning. I told no one about what was happening; this wasn’t the kind of thing that happens to a girl like me, a normal girl from a normal family with a normal job. Before I could leave, I had to believe that I could make it on my own. Being able to do that when someone has spent a long time telling you that you are shit, shit at cooking, shit at looking nice, shit at being smart, just a shit person. One who only they could love. And he did love me, wasn’t I lucky, to be loved by someone beautiful when I was so shit.
It took a new friendship with someone at work to see that I could make a new life. I knew the abuse wouldn’t stop, and I knew it could one day kill me. Once I knew that I had other options, I was able to finally leave. Terrified that I would be alone forever and that no one else would love me (because brainwashing like that sticks), I still left.
Why am I telling you this? Because victims of abuse aren’t frail, timid little people who jump at every loud noise. Sometimes they’re the opinionated, funny girl you work with who seems to bruise quite easily. Abuse can happen to anyone, and it doesn’t mean they’re weak. It means they’ve been manipulated and bullied until their self worth is almost non-existent.