I only found out about Refuge, a charity that supports women and children who are the victims of domestic violence, this year. They recently launched the latest part of their 1in4women campaign, giving people the tools to support that one friend in four who will suffer from domestic abuse at some point in their life.
For three of my friends, I am that one friend. And I wished I’d asked for help when I needed it.
When I was a kid I was skinny, all eyes too big for my face and big bucked teeth, scabbed elbows and knees and a wild streak a mile wide.
By the time I was eighteen I was awkward, still round-faced with puppy fat and head over heels in love with a guy I worked with. The same age as me, he had curly black hair and beautiful blue eyes, and I was so happy that someone finally wanted me.
Three years later and the shiny had worn off. By then we’d moved in together, bought our own home, although we lived with a friend who rented one of the spare bedrooms in our new house. Things had taken a downturn; we were broke, he was drinking and I was losing patience with his self-absorbed bullshit.
It all came to a head on my Mother’s wedding day when I refused to let him use the last tenner we had to our name to buy more alcohol. He snapped, pushed me against the wall by my throat and repeatedly slammed his fist in to the plaster by my head. When I pushed him off me and went to walk away, he shoved me, almost knocking me down the stairs.
I walked out that door and didn’t walk back for a week. As far as I was concerned, we were over. I only returned because I was paying the mortgage on a house in both our names. If I’d left for good he’d have taken everything, and I was determined that wasn’t going to happen.
When I did come back it was to a shouting match. More pushing. More punching of walls. To being told that if he found me in the master bedroom he’d rape me. Knowing he would. To knowing he’d continue to drink his wages away instead of contributing towards the house.
But none of that made me back down, that just wasn’t in me, despite my hatred of confrontation I’d always push back, needle away. For nine months I’d lie awake at night, waiting for him to come home, knowing he’d come up to my room and start on me again, punch the pillow my head was lying on while holding me down by my neck.
The lack of sleep, the fear and stress of waiting for the blows to finally hit were taking its toll and I was snapping at people at work, angry and on a knife’s edge. Several times he came home and physically dragged me out of bed, throwing me on the floor.
Our friend, still renting from us, would come and pull him off me, but never once did he ask if I needed more help, neither did those friends at work. It didn’t occur to me, during those nine months of hell, that I was being abused. It sounds a bit silly now, in retrospect, but because he never landed a blow it didn’t seem to count as what I understood abuse to mean.
And despite knowing I had places to go, friends I could ask to stay with short term, I never once thought about it because I couldn’t bear for him to follow me, to start on them. And because I didn’t want anybody to know what he was doing.
That there, with twenty-twenty hindsight, is the red flag. I knew that what he was doing was wrong enough that they’d be upset if they knew, I just didn’t want to face up to that. Most of all, though, I just didn’t want the bastard to win.
I’ve always been ridiculously independent, if I have a problem, it’s down to me to sort it out. This issue, this abuse, was my problem, mine to bear and mine to get through until the house was signed over to me. But I also hadn’t expected it to take nine months, I thought he’d be out of my life a lot quicker.
If I’d known and understood what he was doing and how it would affect me years later, I would have done so many things differently. Now, over fifteen years later, what seemed like something I simply had to endure for a few months has become something that affects my life.
Finally realising it was abuse was like a shock of cold water to the face. Realising that nobody took the time to make sure I was okay, especially our housemate, makes me feel ill. Being abused by the man I trusted, and lost my virginity to, still makes sex an issue now. And 15 years later, I still have problems trusting men, although I’m not so far gone that I expect every man to be like him.
I haven’t had a significant relationship since that first one; the men I’ve been with since have either been too intimidated by my trauma to stick around or more interested in their own pleasure than to ensure my comfort. Either way, I’m apparently destined to be that lady with a thousand cats.
I’ve developed an overwhelming need to be able to hear or see my environment at all times, so I never have curtains on the downstairs windows or headphones on when I’m out and about, especially after dark. I spent a period reacting aggressively towards people I knew whenever I felt threatened, I’ve got a better handle on that now thankfully.
He made me feel small and helpless, which has pushed my control issues through the roof. I shake with terror at the thought of feeling like that again.
I knew there were places to go when I was in that house with him; I knew sanctuaries like Refuge existed, but I never once thought it was a place that would help me because I wasn’t being hit.
While I wished friends had asked, I never wanted to tell them what was happening or asked for help. Now, I’ll happily tell the world, because - and here’s the important part – none of it was my fault. There isn’t a single thing I could have done that made me deserve what he did to me.
Had I known what I was getting in to, or how it would still be affecting me now, I’m not sure what I’d have done differently. I hope I would have told someone what was going on, gotten some help, and some perspective, and pressed charges against the son of a bitch so he’d never do it again.
I’m proud to support Refuge and Avon’s Support a Friend campaign – and I’m calling on you to try the interactive video and find out if you would know how to support a friend in the same position as I was back then. Visit 1in4women.com.