MY secret is one I’ve wanted to tell for a very long time.
It’s a bit of a sad tale and unfortunately it’s one which is far too common, but in no way is it meant to be depressing. Indeed, my very wish, is that by sharing my story, others can find some hope, comfort and inspiration in it.
Without doubt, it is by far the hardest thing I have ever written. In fact, just the thought of pressing the publish button is making my heart pound.
I hope that my story will show, that no matter what pain you may be experiencing right now, life always has the potential to change for the better.
Here is my secret…
I can still vividly remember the worst Christmas Eve of my life.
The day itself had started out pretty well. I was excited about having the evening off from my part time role as a waitress and looking forward to spending the majority of the day with my then boyfriend. Especially as it was our first Christmas together.
But unfortunately the day soon took a turn for the worst. After disagreeing over our plans for the evening and after declaring that I would rather go out to party then stay in to relax, my boyfriend saw red. He lost his temper, grabbed me by the throat and smashed my head against his car door three times.
It was the first time he had ever been violent.
After scrambling out of his car in floods of tears, I screamed at him that we were ‘over’ and ran into my house.
Determined not to let him ruin my Christmas, I quickly made new plans to go out for some drinks with friends. Inside I was devastated but on the outside you’d never have guessed anything was wrong. I’d made an extra effort to look good (somehow it helped to make me feel better) and went out to try and enjoy myself.
With supportive friends looking out for me, the night actually wasn’t too bad. And after a few lively drinks, we decided to finish the night off with a tipple at the local pub, our place of work.
In hindsight, this was a bad decision on my part. It didn’t take a genius to work out where I would be and so when I walked in, there he was. Waiting and ready to pounce.
If he was angry before, he was bloody livid now. After all, not only had I dared to finish the relationship, I’d also had the nerve to go out without him and boy oh boy was he mad about that.
Fuelled by drink, he quickly became aggressive. A tirade of abuse spilled out of his cruel, drunken mouth and as I battled to hold back my tears, I begged him to stop and tried to calm him down. But my upset only served to fuel his fire. He was on a roll.
Suddenly a look of absolute hatred flashed across his eyes. And then it happened.
The man I loved, spat in my face.
And then, because once wasn’t enough, he did it again.
In full view of a packed bar, in front of friends, work colleagues and regulars that I served and knew, the man who professed to love me so much ‘it hurt’, went and spat in my face.
As tears and spit dripped down my face and onto the beautiful white faux fur coat that I was wearing, right there and then, a little piece of me died.
I was just 18 years old and life had suddenly got serious.
Within days I’d forgiven him. There were many reasons why. I loved him. I was in denial. I was confused. I was scared. And I was sad. So, so sad.
I believed his excuses and promises because quite simply, I needed to. I couldn’t accept that the man I loved had treated me so appallingly. Quite frankly, it was just too awful to bear. And so I ignored the screaming voices in my head telling me that he was a monster and pretended that it had never happened.
Most nightmares don’t start off as nightmares. And neither did our relationship.
It was in fact the opposite. Pretty much a fairytale. But there’s a very good reason why people say that things are ‘too good to be true.’
We met in a pub on a cold January evening. Handsome, much older than me and incredibly charismatic, he was totally charming. Flirtatious and brazen, he also had an edge to him which I liked.
It wasn’t long before we were both totally smitten. Within just days of meeting, things were serious. Everything happened so quickly.
He wanted to spend every spare minute with me. But instead of thinking that was odd and claustrophobic, I thought it was romantic. He wrote me love letters and poems and sent me numerous bouquets of flowers. It was overwhelming, intense and I should have seen the warning signs but I didn’t because I was totally head over heels.
I once told a college friend how he kept a strand of my hair glued to his mirror, which I knew was weird but thought was quite sweet. Her response was that he was crazy and quite clearly obsessed.
After a few months of dating, his infatuation and intensity calmed down and everything was relatively normal. But there’s only so long you can hide a devil, before it becomes desperate to make an appearance.
Soon, everything was wrong.
Everything I did, everything I said, everything I wore, only upset him or made him furious. He needed constant reassurance that he was the only man in my life and demanded all my attention, always. My life became all about tiptoeing on egg shells and it was totally and utterly exhausting.
He would tell me that I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen but yet couldn’t stand it if a man so much as glanced in my direction. He wanted me to look attractive but yet would complain if I wore make up. He loved my intelligence but hated the thought that my ambitions would take me away from him.
He criticised my friends and hated my family. One day, I would be too sexy. The next, not sexy enough. I was too quiet or too loud. Too flirtatious or not friendly enough. In his world, I could never win.
He rummaged through my possessions, interrogated me on a daily basis and had secret conversations with friends and family members about me behind my back.
But still I stayed.
Once I was stalked by a man on my way to college. He’d threatened to rape me and understandably I was terrified. But I got no words of comfort from my beloved. Instead, he simply told me, that it was my fault. I’d been wearing a skirt so what did I expect?
After the Christmas saga, his behaviour escalated and he ramped up his efforts to control my life further, smug in the knowledge that I hadn’t left him when most sensible, confident women would have ran a mile.
He would throw me out of his house in the middle of the night, knowing I couldn’t go home, just for his enjoyment. He tried to to sabotage my relationship with my best friends and constantly made out that I was going crazy, by implying I was imagining things. He once put his hands around my neck and squeezed just hard enough to make me panic. My terror or pain was always his end goal.
He was desperate to control me, to mould me into ‘his’ Katie. An emotional vampire, he did everything he could to suck the light out of me. But thankfully, somehow I managed to hold on to just enough so that I didn’t lose myself completely.
Against his will, I continued to see my family and friends. I continued to wear what I wanted, to wear make up and to go out. And when he fought me, I fought him right back.
He couldn’t ‘break me’ and for that, he hated me even more.
Throughout our entire relationship, he went out of his way to try and destroy the very person that I was, the one he had fallen in love with. And yet the bitter irony, is that on my part, whilst he was hell bent on destroying me, all I ever tried to do was to save him. To heal his pain. To make him happy.
After about 18 months, the relationship ended just before I went to University. Soon after, I bumped into an acquaintance of mine who seemed to have a habit of dating all of my exes. She was a beautiful girl, but very vulnerable and asked if she could have a chat with me about my ex boyfriend whom she was now with.
Visibly upset, what she told me, sent shivers down my spine. He had asked her to dye her hair dark brown (like mine), would call her by my name whenever they were intimate and still had all my photos on display in his house. It’s like a shrine to you, she said. He constantly compares me to you.
There and then, I finally saw him for what he was as I realised that he had never really loved me. My college friend was right, I had only ever been an obsession. Someone to capture, to try and make his own, to get to do as he asked.
It was a light bulb moment. After advising her to run for the hills, I walked away that day with my head held a little higher. I was free of him and I knew that I was going to be ok.
But whilst getting over him was easy, getting over the destructive and abusive relationship wasn’t so much. It took a good couple of years before I was back in a happy place, but since then, I have never looked back and life has never been sweeter.
That relationship, as damaging and truly awful as it was, has taught me so much. About myself. About relationships. About love. And about life.
Now, my standards are high, my self esteem is healthy and my instinct to help life’s ‘waifs and strays’ is channelled much more effectively!
My spirit that he tried so hard to break, now soars as high as a bird. I am stronger, happier and more confident than I could ever have dared to imagine back all those years ago. A very different woman, unrecognisable from the young girl that I was.
This year on Christmas Eve, any tears that I shed will only be happy ones.
I just wish I could pop back to see my 18 year old self to tell her how awesome she is and let her know how happy and content she will one day be.
For advice, help and support on how to deal with and leave abusive relationships, visit refuge.org