Confronting demons is hard but I do believe, in a lot of cases, it’s something you have to do to be able to move forward. Through counselling, I’ve come to realise I left a lot of things lurking when I should have dealt with them so I could let them go.
Trigger warning: this post discusses domestic violence. Please do not read this if you think it will be harmful to you to do so. With cases of domestic violence said to increase when England lose the football, it’s unfortunate to know there are women who will have experienced similar things to what I am about to discuss while I was writing this post. There are, of course, also men who are victims of abuse and it doesn’t matter who you are: there is help available. If you need help with this issue, or are concerned about a loved one, please contact National Domestic Violence Helpline, Women’s Aid, Men’s Advice Help Line, Refuge or Samaritans.
The other night, I took another step towards recovery by confronting a part of my past which has haunted me since the day it happened.
A few years ago, an ex of mine attacked me.
I mean, beat me until I was black and blue. Until it hurt to breathe.
We had been drinking and were both worse for wear. Yet, he seemed different. His eyes seemed to be going in different directions, he was practically incoherent and I was scared. So, he was in bed, making no sense and because I was panicking, I poured water over him to try and shock him into being sober. This wasn’t my finest idea, I’ll admit, but I was worried.
You could say it worked, I suppose. He sprung up, pinned me against a set of drawers and screamed in my face: “HOW DARE YOU?” I told him he was hurting me, which only made him push against me harder. He held my arms so tight, there were bruises in the shape of handprints the next day.
I tried to explain my thought process, but it didn’t matter. He threw me onto the bed and began punching me in the back. I was sobbing, screaming and begging him to stop. He didn’t. I really believed he was going to beat me to death, and I’ve never been more terrified in my life. Fight or flight must have kicked in, because I managed to push him away, get up and lock myself in the bathroom.
He was banging against the door, threatening to kick it down and mumbling other nonsense. I said nothing. I stayed there until there was silence. Until I knew he had either fallen asleep or realised what he’d done. I slept on the sofa. I couldn’t stand the thought of being anywhere near him.
It was one of the worst days of my life.
The following day, the atmosphere was weird. My back was very sore, but I wanted to get back to normal. I wanted to act like it never happened. I made that choice. It was the wrong one, I see that now, but what’s done is done.
You would think he would be filled with guilt and trying to make it up to me and, for the most part, he was. Until – and I don’t recall what happened to cause this – he poured his glass of Vimto all over me and said “it’s not nice, is it? How does that feel?” It was degrading, unpleasant and unnecessary.
I went away to clean myself up and cried some more. I crawled into bed, where I stayed for the rest of the night, leaving him downstairs to do whatever he wanted.
Well, I would love to tell you it stopped there; that I left or that there were no more instances of this vile behaviour. But I’d be lying. It was never that bad again, but there were other things, usually as a result of his drinking. There was a time when he pushed me against a wall and screamed in my face because I’d woken him up at 7 am. He then proceeded to tell me to “fuck off to work” and pushed me out of the bedroom, scratching my arm in the process.
I wanted to tell my family, but I could never find the words. There’s never a good time to drop that into a conversation. So, I kept my bruises hidden and the secret locked inside. People think it’s often a case of missing the signs, but I made sure there wasn’t any. Keeping things to myself is something I do a little too well.
I never told anyone because I believed it was my fault. I don’t think for a second that I deserved to be attacked, but the root cause always seemed to link back to an action I’d taken. I’d poured water on him. I’d woken him up. I’d done something wrong.
And I’d stayed.
After they happened, we never spoke about these things again. We chose to go on as normal, and I was as much a part of that decision as he was, because I was embarrassed. We even got engaged, despite all of it. This is what bothers me the most, I think – the fact I even considered making a commitment like that to somebody who could do these things to me seems so silly now. I can’t dwell on that, though. Instead, I need to focus on the fact I didn’t go through with it. Still, I find myself feeling angry I didn’t walk away and that’s the same reason I was ashamed. I knew I shouldn’t have stayed, but I did it anyway.
I always thought, if I was ever in that situation, I’d be out the door immediately.
If you’ve never been in this situation, it’s easy to blame the victim. It’s easy to say they should have left. I can only tell you how things were from my perspective. While I was finding reasons for his behaviour, I was losing sight of the fact it simply wasn’t right. As I could always link it back to me initiating some sort of trouble, he escaped some of the blame.
When I wasn’t blaming myself, I was blaming alcohol. These things only happened when he had had a drink. When he hadn’t been drinking, he still wasn’t the ideal boyfriend, but we were happy. He was caring and we could talk about anything and we had fun together. So, then, I suppose the solution should have been simple: don’t let him drink.
It’s highly likely my ex was an alcoholic. He was a grown man and I couldn’t watch over him all the time. Sometimes, I would go to bed before him, and I wouldn’t know he had been drinking until he stumbled up to bed, stinking of cider. By that point, it was usually around 4 in the morning and I’d have to get up for work at 7. Trying to argue with a person in that state at that time of morning would have been futile.
In all of it, I wasn’t blaming the person I should have been: him. Yes, I had done some things to annoy him, but none of them can justify his response. Nothing can. And, yes, I know alcohol causes people to do all sorts of things, but they have to be capable of them to begin with – I believe that. They have to have that somewhere inside of them for alcohol to unearth it.
The thing about never talking about it is you begin to question if it was real. We were the only two people there. Me and him. It has been haunting me ever since but, because we never addressed it, I started to think I made it up. Maybe I’d dreamt it, or imagined it. So, the other night, I messaged him on Facebook and forced both of us to face the reality of it.
He has been getting help for his issues, and I take comfort in that. He’s on medication and speaking to a professional. I was scared he would do it to somebody else, although maybe he wouldn’t stop that time, and I’d have to live with my guilt for never telling anyone. So, to know he’s getting the help he clearly needed puts my mind at ease.
He also apologised, but it wasn’t what I wanted. Sorry will never undo what happened. I think all I wanted was to know it was real. As horrible as it was, as much as I wish it was a dream, I wanted to know it happened. I wanted to know my turmoil wasn’t about something in my imagination. I remember it so vividly, I knew it was unlikely, but I needed confirmation.
So, we talked about it for a while before I told him I never wanted to speak to him again. I blocked him on Facebook and let a lot of the pain go with it. Do I feel better? To a certain extent, yes. I think it will take a while to make big steps, but it’s a little one I’m proud of. I feel like it’s another move towards letting go of the things which hold me down. There has been this weight inside of me for so long; a secret so unbearable that to finally face up to it is freeing.
Why share this online?
There are so many reasons I chose to write about this. First and foremost, I’m doing this for the same reason a lot of people do: so that anyone in a similar situation knows there’s never any justification for someone laying their hands on you. It’s not your fault. It has taken me a long time to be fair to myself and to understand his actions were never justified. Whatever I may have done was never going to excuse him causing me harm, because there is no excuse for it. It shouldn’t happen.
And I get it. Everyone talks about it like it’s easy to walk away, but the reality can be very different. Even me, writing this, may not be enough to change your mind, but I want you to try and have a bit of hope that there’s someone out there who would never dream of hurting you, and I want you to try and chase that, rather than settle for anything else. Please don’t do what I did and try to brush it under the carpet, or keep it inside you until it burns a hole.
Plus, I want to educate people. Some are so ignorant about the realities of domestic violence; quick to blame the victim and say what they should do. As with a lot of things in life, it’s not that black and white. No matter how much you wish it was, no matter how much you think it should be. Human beings are complex. There’s a lot which goes on beneath the surface. Their reasoning might seem completely illogical, but they’re in a situation which doesn’t make sense. Someone who is supposed to love them and care for them is hurting them. It’s hard to know how to respond to that and how to deal with it.
Talking about it and now writing about it means it can live somewhere else instead of my head. It can reside on this page of the internet but it’s taken up precious space in my mind for too long. The core value of this blog has always been to help others, and I think talking about things like this is one way I can do that.
As well as that, I want people to realise sometimes, it’s hard to go back to that place in your mind, whatever it is, but sometimes, it’s necessary. Reliving that night was difficult, but it was no different to what I’ve been doing since it happened. The only difference was I was living it out loud, confronting the person who took those actions against me. That might not be the right approach for you. I wouldn’t encourage everyone to seek out the person who did them wrong, but talk about it to someone. It becomes real, and it hurts, but then it helps. I feel like all of this is allowing me to have closure I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Most of all, know it gets better, if you let it. My ex was a flawed individual in many ways. There came a point when I realised I deserved more. I’m now with the most incredible guy I’ve ever met and that’s because I walked away. Neal is kind, caring and I know he would never lay a finger on me. He’s never even raised his voice to me. Despite the fact my mental health has taken a plummet recently, as far as relationships go, I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t ask for more.
My view of most things in life is that they shape you or they break you. While it was a miserable experience, I know I’ve come out of it as a stronger person. It’s not easy, it’s taken me years to even think about untangling the mess it created, but it started with the realisation that I deserved better.
You are worth so much more than somebody who doesn’t treat you right.