A letter to women in abusive relationships – from a survivor, me
EVERY week in the UK two women are killed by a current or former male partner.
Yesterday, I also discovered that around 30 women a DAY attempt suicide as a result of domestic violence. Chills your blood doesn’t it?
As a woman who survived an abusive relationship in my late teens, I consider myself one of the lucky ones.
But for the ones who aren’t so lucky at the moment, this is my letter to them.
My dear Comrade,
It took me a while to consider what to address you by and how to start this letter, as obviously I don’t know your name. But as a woman who I think understands more than most what you are going through and living with, I thought ‘comrade’ was perfect.
Because you’re not alone you see, there are many of us ‘comrades’ out there who have experienced or are experiencing abuse at the hands of a man they love. And I hope that might just make you feel a little better and a little less alone for starters.
Loneliness is one of the worst things isn’t it? When we are in a relationship that is damaging, unhealthy and painful. I can remember it now. The feeling that I couldn’t really talk to anyone, that no one would understand, of feeling too embarrassed or ashamed to tell anyone how the man I adored – and who claimed to adore me – could hurt me so much, in so many ways. The way in which I cut myself off from loved ones so I didn’t upset him or make him angry.
My abusive relationship happened over 16 years ago and yet I can still vividly remember that horrible feeling of knowing that I had to ‘keep him happy’ in order for everything to be ok. And like you I learnt how to walk on eggshells and tip-toe over minefields so I wouldn’t make him explode. Oh yes. I remember it very well. The exhaustion. The pressure. The way my heart would sink when a furious look would cross his face or he’d start with his thousand and one questions, about where I’d been or what I’d been doing.
I remember it all. I really do. But The irony of course is that it doesn’t really matter what you do for it will be never be enough. You know that right?
I bet he can’t stand your friends or family. I bet he hates the way you do your hair or the way you dress. I bet the meals you cook are never to his satisfaction. I bet he even hates the way you speak. Because let’s face it, you’re not allowed to have a voice are you? To offer an opinion or express your feelings. Hell, I bet you’re not even allowed to do as you please.
It’s not normal you know. This behaviour of his. The relationship you have.
I say this because it can often feel ‘normal’ to us when we are in it, but it isn’t. This kind of relationship is not the ‘norm’. If you don’t realise this already, please start. It’s crucial that you realise that in a good, happy, healthy relationship, abuse just does not figure. And that it doesn’t have to be your future.
Do you feel like you are controlled? I know I did. I certainly remember realising that he did his best to control me, as much as I resisted it. Or perhaps it’s worse. Perhaps you know that you ARE controlled.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
How do I know? Well, because I am proof. You can read my story here, if you fancy it. About how a man I loved tried his best to destroy me. It may make you feel less alone. Inspired perhaps. Either way it is my hope that it might bring you some comfort. That you’ll realise that it happens to the best of us.
I know you love him. And I understand how you still can. I loved my abusive ex too. And I also know that you relationship may not be all bad either. (Otherwise you would never have stayed in the first place would you?).
Was it like a fairytale at the beginning? Was he your knight in shining armour? Did he come in, sweep you off you feet, charm you, make you feel like a goddess?! I know the man I loved certainly did.
Yes he was possessive and jealous, but so what, I told myself, it was because he LOVED me! I mistook his aggression for passion, his criticism for care, his smothering for love. I thought he was my ‘hero’ but he soon turned into something far from that.
First came the little put downs. Next full blown criticism. Then the control started. The questions. The rifling through my belongings. The demands. The mistreatment. The cruelty. The abuse.
It’s so subtle that by the time you’ve noticed what’s really going on, it’s too late. Before you know it, you’re in way over your head wondering what the hell has happened. You become confused, upset, bewildered and terrified. You long for the man you met and don’t recognise the monster he has become.
You hang on to the memories of the man you fell in love with and to any bit of positive, reasonable behaviour as proof that he IS ok. That you will be ok. But deep down in your heart, you know the truth. As did I.
I say this to you because I understand what it is like to love a man whose behaviour is often monsterous. Because I’ve lost count of the amount of times a female friend has said to me, “if any man ever hit me, I’d be out of there like a shot!” Because it infuriates me when people say “why doesn’t she just leave?!” as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.
Most people like to think / need to think that abusive relationships are black and white, but they’re not are they? We know that. The abusive men we love or have loved don’t start out hurting us at the beginning nor are they always total monsters. That’s what makes it all so confusing and so hard.
But they are weak. And cowardly. And demanding. They need love and affection in impossible amounts. They are brilliant at crying, at faking emotions and making you feel that somehow their behaviour is all your fault. Experts at manipulation, tyranny and bullying.
Do you know that they prey on women who have big hearts like you and I? Women who are loving and joyful but vulnerable to a sob story. They truly are vampires of the worst kind you know. They have so little good in them, that they seek it out in a woman and then somehow try to steal it for themselves. And when they realise they can’t, they go out of their way to destroy the goodness and life in YOU. Abusive men suck the lives out of their women because that is all they know how to do.
Please don’t ever think for a moment that their behaviour is about you, because it isn’t. It is about THEM.
Every time I tried to walk away from my ex, he would cry, apologise, make promises (he never kept) or occasionally, when things were really bad, even threaten suicide. My head told me to leave him on many occasions and I often did. But I always went back. Until the last time.
Because I did manage to walk away one day and here I now am talking to you, a very different person from the hurt, confused young woman I was back then.
I am happy. I am confident. I have a good life. There is no abuse in my life (in any shape or form). When I wake up in the morning I feel grateful to be alive. I know my worth and my life is generally a wonderful, positive experience.
And it can be the same for you. Really it can.
It’s not easy to leave I know. Even the thought of leaving may be too much to consider. But escape from the prison that he has created, that he has put you in, in a bid to control and terrorise you, is possible. Perhaps not now, perhaps not even next year, but it is. Honestly it is.
Hold on to that thought when things get tough. When you feel like you’re in hell. Hold on to it and if all you can do right now is to hope for a better tomorrow, then just do that. Hope can take us to happier places and possibilities, so it’s always a good place to start.
I know you will have lost your confidence. I know you feel weak and broken and incapable. I know you feel a mere shadow of your former brilliant self. And I’ll be honest with you. It won’t be easy.
It will take time to recover. It will take time to heal. But that pain you are feeling and the horrible stuff you have experienced at his hands can be overcome. Life can become happy and peaceful again. Take that from a woman who’s been there and survived.
You will know when the time is right for you to leave. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help get you through. Stop denying the truth about him and your situation to yourself. Be hopeful and make plans, even if you’re only thinking of them. Dream of a better life and know that it is possible. Talk to someone – anyone – about what you are experiencing. Go to the police. Know that you are NOT alone. People can and will help, if you let them.
Organisations like Refuge and Women’s Aid can help you deal with all manner of situations and provide practical advice as well as emotional support so seek them out. They will help you to rebuild your life. It is their job and they are brilliant at it.
Finally, I want you to ignore everything he’s ever told you and let me tell you this. Are you ready?
You ARE beautiful. You ARE capable. You ARE worthy. You ARE loved. You ARE strong. You ARE magnificent. You ARE more powerful than you can imagine.
I salute you comrade and your bravery and resilience. The way in which you try to protect yourself. The way you try to protect your children. And I salute your huge capacity to love. To love a man who is unloving, because that is no mean feat.
But now it’s time to show yourself that love instead, to gather what strength you have left and create a new happier life. I know you can do it. I know you can be happier. I know you can find a gentler kind of love and a more peaceful existence.
And from the bottom of my heart, I wish you all the luck and courage in the world.