University and Domestic abuse.
I would like to share with you a bit of my story, I would also like to warn that some readers might find some of what I am going to say triggering so please take care x
As a survivor of domestic abuse, I have relentlessly pursued regaining my power and control back from the relationship where I lost it all. I have learnt the most powerful thing I can do once I am safe is to share my story…
I met my ex partner the summer before I started university at the age of 17yrs old. He was one of my first ever-serious relationships. This relationship, unknowingly to me at the time became very emotionally abusive, my partner would threatened throughout the relationship that he would take his life unless I did what he wanted- because as his girlfriend he thought my job was to always make him happy. My Ex partner throughout the relationship suffered with addiction from cannabis onto alcohol and I was always to blame for this. As a result, I quickly learnt my role in relationships was to put others’ needs before my own if I wanted to see them happy. I was only 17years old, still a child in the eyes of the law. If I ever tried to speak up against my partner, this would result in arguments- I am left with memories of him leaving in the middle of the night and coming back to me drunk, him trying to get me involved in his criminal activities and drug use and putting me down when I refused. This story follows many of the clichés I have now learnt; my partner would cause arguments with my flatmates or refuse to spend time with my friends. He would completely break down my self-esteem picking on anything he knew would hurt, but then became the only person to pick me up.
By the time, I was finishing second year of university the emotional abuse and at times sexual violence I had endured for two years had left me desperately trying to leave. My partner’s behaviour was completely unpredictable – he would have knives on the wall above my head on the bed, or show me where he had been so angry and punched the wall. He would come back drunk and my mind would go into over drive trying to predict his behaviour and how I could act to prevent it and keep myself safe. I felt so alone and ashamed that I couldn’t just get up and leave the relationship- I didn’t tell anyone the true extent of what was happening to me. By this time, I knew I had to get out, my flatmates had begged me to leave this man but I was so terrified and truly had accepted I wouldn’t be anything without him. When I was in that relationship my only focus was survival I couldn’t think about the situation I was in or how to leave because I spent all my time trying to be two steps ahead to stay safe- and it was exhausting, I became this shell of myself.
After many attempts, I left the relationship. I missed nearly half of my second year at university- i had not left the house alone in months. Every time I tried to go to the door I would break down because I felt I was not strong enough, I couldn’t be outside without him. The deadlines at my university continued to pile up and into my third year my dissertation was due- I did not tell anyone about my experience until two years after I left. I continually doubted that what I had experienced was abuse, no one I had known my age had ever experienced this … or at least no one ever spoke about it. My universities policy at the time was that you required proof for mitigating circumstances … how was I meant to prove this ? So I felt like I could not tell anyone. Whether it was too heart breaking for those close to hear that they dismissed it to a bad relationship or those people that couldn’t believe someone my age could be abused- I heard all the answers that only further kept me keeping my story a secret.
I found a burlesque group at my university- and I truly believe that group saved my life. With the help of my flatmates I managed to go to this group- were I met so many strong women. I was encouraged to dance and love my body … I had control over my movements. From there I started the process of claiming myself back. We started the group with a statement of achievement each week even if it was getting out of bed today and coming to the class.
I continued to be in relationships that were not healthy because my understanding of what a relationship should be had become so warped. Whilst not trusting any new partners I also felt I couldn’t be alone. It was not until I started my training as a children’s social worker that I spoke about my experience. But why was I never taught about this in school or at university, why does this matter that affects so many people continue to be aimed at a particular age and demographic?
My ex-partner stalked me until I was 22 years old. I hid my address; I didn’t register for the GP or to vote to protect myself. Women’s Aid supported me with counselling to build up the strength to go the police. But I will never forget the absolute terror I had walking into the police station alone to be asked why I hadn’t reported this sooner if I was that scared. This is only a small part of my story, but I imagine many of you have already found aspects you can relate to.
Domestic abuse is not something you can recover from overnight, to this day, it affects my relationships, I sometimes get flashbacks and there are days I will be terrified. What I have learnt is there is power in speaking up. There is power in sharing our stories and being a community that helps each other. I truly believe we can share our strength and share the stories of success after leaving.
I have joined I am arla as an ambassador, as a 22yr old survivor of abuse, because I want to share my story to the universities, the friends who had never heard of it before and to someone in the same situation to know there is support there- a community of women who have incredible strength helping each other.