This year has been a tough one for me, for lots of reasons. Part of it is that finally, for the first time, people know that I’ve been on the receiving end of partner abuse.
My partner and I have both balked at the word ‘abuse’. I’ve had to accept that’s what it is. It’s not Domestic Violence as people imagine it by default. He hasn’t hit me. But I’ve left my house because I’ve been too afraid to stay there.
This had been going on, very rarely, for years, but this year it got much worse. It got to the point where we had to acknowledge it, and for the first time tell other people about it. And the reactions have been interesting.
Those friends who have stuck by me this year, through all the other shit, have been brilliant. And yet, even then… There is a pervasive attitude, that I had myself without realising it, that if it’s not violent, it’s not serious. I’ll tell people what’s happened, and they’ll ask if he’s hitting me. They’ll say, “If he hits you, leave.” As if everything before that point is somehow okay. They’d never say that, of course, or consciously think it, but the unconscious separation is there. Not all abuse is physical, and the emotional and psychological abuse counts too. Just as much.
I’ve lain on my bedroom floor crying hysterically, while he leaned over me and yelled abuse. I’ve struggled to dress and leave while he mocked me for “pretending” to be afraid. I’ve seen my GP in tears because I can’t tell her that when I go home, I’ll be safe. The fear became my defining characteristic, the thing that controlled my behaviour and influenced my decision-making. Even when we started trying to work things out, I made myself responsible for policing his behaviour.
This happened for the first time sixteen years ago, and for all that time I kept it to myself. I told no-one. Most of the time things were fine, after all. He’d come home from work the next day and everything would be back to normal, like it never happened. I helped him pretend it didn’t happen.
So in February this year, when it got so bad I was safer on the street at four in the morning than at home, I had nowhere to go. Not one of my friends who lived in the same city knew what was going on. I’d, quite voluntarily, isolated myself from help.
What I did have was the resource pack my counsellor had given me, from Women’s Refuge. No matter how alone, how frightened I was, there was somewhere for me to go.
So this Appeal Week, I’ve made a donation. Maybe you could too.
As a friend, you can’t save someone else. You can’t make someone leave a situation like this. What you can do is give them your belief and your support, and take what they say seriously. Just because there aren’t bruises doesn’t mean there isn’t damage.