Writing this blog post was something I have toyed with doing for a long time. I have pondered over my written words and deleted them more times than I care to count. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and for that reason, today I feel ready to share my story.
I was 16 years old when I met my first ‘proper’ boyfriend. He was a few years older than me. He had tattoos, piercings, no job and a heavy smoking addiction; in short, he was everything my parents wanted me to avoid. The seemingly misunderstood “bad boy”, and one I became besotted with extremely quickly, nonetheless.
It was the beginning of the summer holidays when I first started seeing him. I was spending every single day with him, without fail. There were so many days where we had planned for me to go to his house, or we had made plans to go out, and yet when I got there, he would be asleep. I would spend hours on end sat on the computer, waiting for him to wake up. I realise how straight away, he was proving he was a waste of my time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and I realise now just how many red flags I missed. This was just a drop in the ocean.
I returned to sixth form that September to find my friends were barely talking to me. I had hardly seen them all summer, in fact I think I had seen them once, and even then, I left early because he had asked me to go to his. A few weeks later, one of them pulled me aside and told me that they knew one of my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends. She had told them some stories, and they told me I needed to leave him. What was disclosed is not my story to tell but is one I wish so much I had listened to. It is one that when the relationship ended, caused me to find her on social media and apologise for never believing her, for ever doubting her truth.
I didn’t believe any of them; I told him what had been said, and from there on in, things changed.
When you are in an abusive relationship, you often don’t believe that is what is happening. At 16 years old, I had nothing to compare it to other than school boyfriends at the age of 14. I will always remember one day, arranging to go to a BBQ with my friends; he was not happy. We were sat on the bus as he told me how his Dad had booked a restaurant for us, we were going out for dinner with his family and it was all pre-paid. I questioned why he hadn’t told me, but he told me he had forgotten. He told me that if I loved him, I’d cancel on my friends and go with him. So, I did.
There was no fancy meal, but when I was upset about him lying to me, it became my fault. I never wanted to spend time with him, I hadn’t invited him, and why wouldn’t I invite him to a BBQ with other boys unless I fancied them? It was all my fault.
Soon, it became physical. I had mugs thrown at the wall, narrowly missing my head. I was elbowed in the ribs because I had taken too much duvet. I was kicked in the stomach for having too much to drink on my 18th birthday. I had my hair pulled, I had my face spat on, and my face headbutted. I was skipping school because he’d say he wanted to see me, and after all, if I loved him, I would.
Before I was 17, I had never had a panic attack in my life. I have always been a larger than life, very bubbly, confident young girl. At the time, I was working two jobs. On a Saturday, I was a tutor and on a Sunday, a shop assistant. After work on a Saturday, I would get the bus to his house and stay the night. I would leave early on a Sunday morning and walk to the shopping centre where I worked. Every Sunday, without fail, my phone would ring before I got to work. It was him, demanding I came back. I would tell him, plead with him, beg him not to make me choose and explained that if I didn’t turn up, I’d lose my job. On multiple occasions, I phoned in sick and returned to his. He would scream at me down the phone; tell me that if I didn’t return to his then he would turn up and drag me back by my hair. Some days, he would calm down; other days, he would ring me constantly until my lunch break. Thankfully, he never showed up.
Every single time that conversation ensued, I would have a panic attack. I would be in the middle of a housing estate, in a high street uniform, my heart pounding in my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I would be sweating profusely, even in the December frost, my ears ringing, my eyes blurring, my head dizzy. It was horrific. It was a feeling I can remember so vividly, and the start of many panic attacks to come.
I remember one day, being at school in an English class. I had 20+ missed calls from him. I’d left the class to take the calls as they were non-stop; he was hysterical on the end of the line. He lived with another family member who had been food shopping, but they hadn’t got exactly what he wanted. He was so angry; he was demanding I ordered him a pizza. I had £10 in my bank account. I kept telling him I needed that £10 and I couldn’t afford it, but he carried on, and on. I was in tears. He was insisting I either transferred him the money or ordered him a pizza; if I loved him I would and if I didn’t, I wanted him to starve. It goes without saying that I sent him the money.
Nobody ever knew what was going on. I never told a soul. I always remember a few months before it ended; I had tried to leave him. I had told him it was over and the next day gone into sixth form. He was ringing me all day, screaming at me down the phone every time I would answer. It’s easy to say I just shouldn’t have answered, but I can’t explain the hold these people have over you. I was terrified.
He rang me as soon as I finished and demanded I went to his house. I was on my way to work but he wouldn’t listen – I had to go to his and I had to go then. He wouldn’t let me go after work. If I didn’t go straight to his, he would go to my house and tell my Mum some things that at 17/18 years old, you really don’t want your mother knowing. Now, I realise I should have just let him go – I realise now that my Mum would not have stood for this waste of space standing at the door of the family home, making a fool out of her daughter. Now, I realise he wouldn’t have – they were empty threats to manipulate me, and the only person he would have made a fool of was himself.
My friends were on the bus and could not believe what they were hearing; he was screaming at me like something you have never heard before. It was embarrassing and I was a quivering mess. He rang me again just before I got to work, telling me that if I didn’t turn up, he was going to kill himself. He had got the paracetamol and he was ready. He wanted me back and if that was what it took then so be it. I walked into work and just cried. I was hysterical. My boss didn’t even ask what had happened before telling me to go home. I was under a time limit, so I got a taxi straight to his house.
Writing this, I realise how many opportunities I missed to tell someone what was happening. How many times I played it down, how badly I wish I had told my parents then; told someone, anyone, what had happened. I was always so scared, so convinced I was just dramatizing a bad argument.
Inevitably, I walked into his house and he was fine. He was there with an “empty” packet of paracetamol that had been popped into the bin. He begged me to take him back, how he was sorry, how he loved me, and everything would change. How many times I had heard that before… and yet once again I believed him. I listened to every word and I believed him.
That night I stayed at his until I was due to finish my shift at work. I didn’t want to tell my Mum that I had been at his; she would have asked questions and I had no logical answer that didn’t involve telling her. No lie would have made sense, so to me it made sense to say nothing at all.
All that time I was terrified of that boy. I call him a boy because that’s exactly what he was. Despite being in his 20s when our relationship ended, there was nothing about him that made him a man. The way he spoke to his family; the way he spoke to me; the fact that when school rang my parents to tell them I had been playing truant and they turned up at his address, he ran out the back gate and left me in the house with my parents ready to lose their minds at me. There was nothing man about him.
There was nothing human about him.
I remember the Halloween, a couple of months before it ended, sitting in a grungy, sweaty little bar with my friend and her boyfriend. She went to the toilet and her boyfriend’s friends asked if I was his girlfriend; I said yes. They told me they heard he hit me and asked me if it was true. I denied it; I had no idea how they knew. I started to question the stories I’d heard. After that day, something in me changed. I didn’t want to be the girl that people spoke about like that – wondering if she was the one whose boyfriend spat in her face.
A few days later, I turned 18. It was around this time I had started questioning our relationship massively. I don’t even know where it came from, but I suddenly started to despise him. I would go out drinking of a night without telling him. I’d tell him I was staying at my friend’s house, but I’d always be getting drunk in town. I don’t know if it was because I had been having so much fun, or whether it was because other boys were giving me attention I hadn’t had for a while, making me realise that I was more than he said I was, but every time I saw him, I felt like I started to hate him that little bit more.
That Christmas Day was the first time I didn’t spend the whole day with my family. I had been at my Mum’s during the day; we had a really lovely Christmas and it was one I still look back at so fondly. I had been longing for a pair of Jeffrey Campbell high heeled boots; the black lace up ones with the brown wooden heel. That Christmas I got them, and I loved them with every ounce of my being. We had spent the day stuffing our faces and drinking prosecco – it was perfect. In the evening, I headed to his house. We had been to see his family, and everything was seemingly so lovely.
That night we had a get together with his friends; something he did every Christmas. It was great, everyone was drinking, we were having a really good time. It was creeping into the early hours and I was exhausted; I had drunk far too much and all I wanted to do was go home. He wouldn’t let me; I wasn’t allowed to leave without him and he didn’t want to go home yet. I was falling asleep sat at the table and he kept telling me I was embarrassing him. I was making a fool out of myself and looked like a child. Eventually I just stood up and left. He only lived over the road; I didn’t walk far, but I got back and got straight into bed.
It must have been about half an hour before he came back in. He climbed on top of me and started shouting in my face about how much of an embarrassment I was, how disgusting I was and how I was never going to make anyone happy if that’s how I behaved. He was wicked with his words; previously he had told me how my parents hated me, how my friends simply felt sorry for me, that nobody but him would ever love me. Hell, on one occasion he even told me he hoped my Mum got cancer. But that Christmas, he carried on calling me everything under the sun, before telling me he should cut my throat.
I don’t know what happened; maybe it was the drink, maybe I didn’t believe him, but I laughed at him. He headbutted me and stormed downstairs. He returned with a knife. I was on the bed, terrified, and there was this man who was supposed to love me, on top of me, holding a huge kitchen knife to my throat. There’s something about a shock to the system that sobers you up; a cold shower, a shot of espresso, but I tell you now, nothing has ever sobered me up quicker than the fear I felt in that moment.
I don’t know how long he was there for, but it felt like forever. I laid silently, before pleading with him to get off me. Eventually, he did. He broke down crying, apologising and begging me to forgive him. And like a fool, rather than calling the police, or my Mum or my Dad, I hugged him and told him it was okay. I probably deserved it.
2 days later I left him.
I had been to get my hair done; I sat in that hairdresser’s chair and for the first time ever told someone that he wasn’t very nice to me. I didn’t divulge all of the information, but that hairdresser told me I needed to leave him. That I was worth so much more. Something inside me had snapped, because I don’t know how or why, but that evening I was in his bedroom, waiting for him to wake up. I was listening to the clock ticking, and to this day the sound of a clock ticking reminds me of that moment. I must have sat there, silently, for about two hours. I knew if I left, I wouldn’t do it.
He woke up, rolled over and the words “we’re over” left my mouth before I even took a breath.
The next few days, weeks, months, were hard. I had to change my number to stop the constant calls. I remember one day he was outside my house at 07:30 in the morning with a can of cider. He would ‘tweet’ lines of songs he knew I liked to try and get my attention. He somehow got my new number and the calls and texts started again. He rang me once on a night out; he told me he could see me and told me exactly what I was wearing. I didn’t see him, but it was enough for me to go home. A few months later, he found out I was seeing someone else and would send accusing text messages, until I blocked his number, finally. It took about 5 months for contact to fully seize, and a while for it to fully sink in that it was abuse. Somehow, 8 years on, his actions still live in my head rent free. I don’t think they will ever fully leave.
I went to University to study Criminology; I focussed my independent study on domestic violence and wrote a dissertation on the matter so I could perhaps try and understand it some more. I have seen multiple counsellors since it happened. I have had trauma therapy that was supposed to be for my infertility but focussed specifically on him for all but the first of the sessions.
I stopped having the nightmares about 4 years ago. Occasionally one creeps in, but not very often at all. My panic attacks have reduced, but they still appear; the latest being halfway through writing this up. I still have the tattoo he paid for, and every day I look at it and am reminded of all I went through. But it also reminds me how strong I am; how much I was put through at such a young age, and how I survived.
Not every woman is that lucky.
2 women a week are killed by their partners in England and Wales. (Office of National Statistics, Nov 2019)
Almost 1 in 3 women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. (Office of National Statistics, 2019)
In the year ending March 2019, 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse. (Office for National Statistics, 2019)
It is estimated that around 3 women a week commit suicide as a result of domestic violence. (Professor Sylvia Walby (2004) The Cost of Domestic Violence)
The police receive a domestic violence related call every thirty seconds, and yet HMIC found in 2014 that less than 24% of domestic violence incidents are reported to the police. What’s scarier, is that only 8% of domestic abuse related crimes reported to the police result in a conviction. (Office of National Statistics,2019)
I appreciate for many this will not have been an easy read. I am sharing this simply for one reason; to make you think, or make you talk. Raising awareness, as with anything, is the key to making a change and if we keep brushing this under the carpet, nothing will ever change.
I would love to be able to tell you that I don’t know anyone else who this has happened to, but sadly that is not the case.
Domestic violence is something you never think will happen to you. That one time they raise their hand, no matter how much they tell you it will be; it will not be the only time.
Those nasty, cutting words they use, telling you that nobody else will love you – it’s not true. You are so much better than that. You are worth so much more than that.
And if, like I did, you fear that nobody would believe you, they will.
There are people who can help.
I wish every day that I hadn’t experienced what I did. I wish every day that I could wipe it from my memory, but it has made me stronger in a way that I never imagined it could.
You can walk away, and you can be free.
If you relate to the experiences mentioned in this blog post and are in immediate danger, always call 999. If you are a victim of domestic abuse and are safe at the moment, call 101.
REFUGE – 24 HOUR NATIONAL DOMESTIC ABUSE HELPLINE – 0808 2000 247