Perhaps my story will surprise you… I didn’t live with the man that abused me, I wasn’t subjected to regular physical abuse and I never went into refuge. I continued to work and many people that know me never knew what I was going through.
I was 22 years old and my daughter was 5. I had not been in a relationship since she was born and I was lonely. He showed me what I thought was genuine interest, he was kind, he said that he understood why I still felt vulnerable and that he wanted to be in my life.
Now that I look back I can see that it was never a ‘normal’ relationship. He was always in control and he expected me to be grateful and appreciative for everything he did for me, but there was always an ulterior motive. On our first date he stormed off because he said that I hadn’t spoken to him enough. I assured him that I had just felt a little shy, that I wanted to talk more and get to know each other.
Everything past that point seems to blur into a huge, overwhelming mess of confusion. There was no clear point that I could put my finger on, to say there, then, that was when I should have walked. Things just built up, steadily escalating over the weeks, months and years. I made excuses for him when he didn’t want to do things that I suggested, didn’t want to see my friends or wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. I forgave him when he called me names, put me down and caused arguments. He would blow up so quickly, one minute everything was fine, the next he was angry, questioning me about everything; why was I late home from work? Why was I wearing that dress? Why did I want to meet a friend? Why, why, why! He criticised me constantly about everything, for wearing high heels – he didn’t like the noise they made, for the way that I did the shopping – it wasn’t efficient, for talking to my friends – I was obviously talking about him, for not calling him enough, for calling him too much. The list goes on and on and on.
He would flare up over something that had just happened or had happened two weeks ago. I couldn’t predict what would upset him or why. I tried to understand why he was angry but he would add more and more issues, working himself up into a real rage. They were always such small, insignificant things, just picking away at every bit of me. I would try to respond, but if he felt that I had interrupted him, he would be furious.
He made me put my hand up if I wanted to speak. When I did say anything he said that I thought I was always right. He called me names, disgusting names. He wouldn’t let me sleep, calling or coming back all night.
One of the biggest messages I want to convey is how he controlled my mind. How he managed to change my actions and reactions to things. My behaviour and whole demeanour changed. When I look back I don’t recognise the person I had become at all, he conditioned me to behave in the way that he wanted. I now know that this was ‘Coercive Control’ and it is the very heart of domestic abuse.
I thought that I could manage him, manage to keep things calm by staying one step ahead so he wouldn’t get angry. He controlled me so much that I began to make the choices for him, not to see my friends, to make sure I was never late home from work, never to make plans with friends or family. I made myself available to him 24/7; I was at his disposal. I was walking on egg shells.
As I said he didn’t hurt me physically but that wasn’t a good thing. He didn’t need to hit or beat me, he had control over me by shouting, intimidating, pushing his finger in my face and threatening me. He would smash household objects close to me or raise his fist and then drop it, laughing as I flinched or cowered.
I learned that I could’t make a phone call in the evening because I would be in trouble if he tried to call and couldn’t get through. I learned that if I called him after he had finished work and he didn’t answer, it was because he was on his way – and the panic would set in! I would rush round the house, panicking that it wasn’t tidy or clean enough. I couldn’t go to bed or simply not answer the door because that would be being ‘rude’ to him, something that was completely unacceptable.
The sexual abuse is the hardest part for me to think or talk about but I know that I shouldn’t carry the feeling of shame. He raped me. Yes, we were in a relationship but No means No – even when a person can’t actually say no through fear, because they have frozen, because they are terrified.
I did my very best to cope, to be strong, to fulfil my roles of mother, daughter, friend and colleague but this left me even more drained and my feelings of isolation intensified.
My daughter was a huge concern for me. I spent so much time telling her to be a good girl, making sure that she only ever asked me for things and never him so that he wouldn’t get angry with her. I could never tell how he was going to behave towards her, sometimes bring her treats and others blaming her for everything.
People ask me why I didn’t end the relationship. Simple, because I couldn’t. He would tell me in great detail what he would do if I ever left him. He told me that I was nothing without him. He told me I needed him to function, to tell me what to do. He criticised everything I did and said until I believed him. I believed I was a bad mother, that no-one else would put up with me and my bad habits. I felt totally powerless. There was never any respite. I stood for absolutely nothing and he had worn me down so much that I really did feel like nothing, so small and insignificant, completely hopeless.
Then I found out I was pregnant. My initial reaction was fear, I felt total and utter despair. I did not want this baby with him but I couldn’t contemplate a termination either. I remember crying my eyes out when I felt my baby move for the first time. I didn’t want to share this pregnancy with him at all. I was spending all my time crying for my baby, knowing that I would spend my days trying to protect him and keep him safe. I questioned myself continually, had I made the right decision to keep him? What would his life be like? How could I keep him safe when I couldn’t keep myself safe?
He didn’t want me to have the baby but when I did he used him to control me even more. He would turn up at any time of night and set rules which I was not allowed to break. For example; I couldn’t have friends to visit, if people did visit me they were not allowed to touch the baby – that included my daughter.
I went from being someone who prided herself on being a strong, capable person, managing work, university, taking care of my daughter, being there for my friends and dealing with my past – to being someone who couldn’t leave the house. I was signed off work and would sit on the sofa all day doing absolutely nothing. It was totally soul-destroying. I kept telling myself, ‘get up, go and make a cup of tea, pull yourself together’ but I just couldn’t.
I finally got help from my doctor. My family and friends, who never gave up on me and could see what I couldn’t, helped me too. They put me in touch with Eve, professionals who understood and helped me to break free and stay free. Eve supported me with group work, 1:1 support and advocacy with my solicitor and court case.
The court battles around child contact are still ongoing and are still vicious, designed to drag me back down and re-instate his control. But with help I’m still standing! I have completed my degree and have set up my own business as well as caring for my two wonderful children.
It is hard to see the consequences of the abusive relationship on my children, but I am determined to ensure that they grow up to know what healthy relationships look like. I am also determined to move on from what was a dark time in my life and build healthy relationships that are an example to my children.
If you recognise your relationship in Amelia’s story you can get help by calling 01604 230311 or any of the other useful numbers on our Need our Help? page.