Sunday, 23 July 2017

My last blog post

I've not written a post for quite some time, mainly because life has got really busy. But I realised recently that the things I would like to write about have no connection with being a survivor of abuse and so I am not sure they belong on this blog.

I'm very glad to say that my life and its focus have moved on from being a survivor of abuse to being a mother, wife, friend and more. I am happy and I have other concerns now which for now I am happy not to write about so publicly.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you have found it interesting or useful.

Best wishes,


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Memories of what abuse looks like from the inside

Before I begin, I want to make it very clear that I am writing about a previous relationship, not the one I have with my husband now. I don't want anyone worrying about me and whether or not I am all right!

Sometimes I end up thinking (often with no obvious trigger) about what it was like being on the receiving end of emotional abuse for so long. Never mind the physical abuse which resulted in serious injuries; it was the emotional and mental abuse which had (and still has) much more far reaching consequences.

By being constantly questioned and re-questioned on my every action, decision, and possible motive, I started to doubt my own ability to cope. I began to think of myself as someone who was not capable of making my own decisions. I thought it was my job to keep him happy, and that our relationship was just going through a bad patch.

He did not get on with my family and made it clear that he did not like them. I thought they needed more time to get to know each other, but this did not work as he was already certain that he did not want to like them. He had very few friends (and I never met any of them, which didn't seem odd at the time, but really does now), and he made me feel bad about seeing mine - but not by saying he felt left out, but by saying things like how he worried about me going out at night, he didn't like me having male friends , he felt insecure if he didn't know where I was and what time I would be back. If I ever questioned any of this, I was given various excuses such as his family was not close and they didn't like him (he made out that he was the black sheep of the family, which may or may not have been true. I actually got on really well with them). Other excuses included his belief that he was addicted to smoking cannabis, which he said caused mood swings and paranoia, and that his father left when he was tiny (although he had a stepdad from quite a young age, so I never did quite get my head around this one)... It was so confusing and I really did care about him and thought if I gave him consistent support and help then maybe he would give up the cannabis as he claimed he was doing and he would see what a committed relationship looked like. I was wrong.

My memory of this time is very muddled and blurred: having since come out the other side of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this relationship and the violence that I suffered, as well as the mental abuse, I have difficulty recalling a lot of it except when it pops into my head unbidden. But I do remember some important things: I was gradually and systematically cut off from my family and friends. I was gradually forced to hand over my savings and my earnings to keep us afloat and living in our rented house. I was deprived of food and sleep, and was made to fear the consequences of telling anyone what was going on at home. I was made to feel such terrible, terrible shame for being in a relationship with someone who not only mistreated but despised me and wanted me for nothing but cooking, money and sex, and hated having me around the rest of the time. I was made to believe that I was unable to make decisions without help, and that I would never cope alone.

The recovery from this took a long time. I felt so alone, I truly believed that there was nobody I knew who could possibly understand what I had gone through. I still felt ashamed even though I knew none of it was my fault. Telling my friends what had happened once I came back to live with my parents was incredibly hard. I had to cope not only with reliving the experiences as I retold my story each time, but also with the emotional reactions of everyone around me as they became upset at what they were hearing. I felt guilt upon guilt for what I was putting everyone through as a result of having been abused and trying to tell everyone what had happened. Add to this the effects of PTSD: flashbacks (reliving the experiences), horrific nightmares, panic attacks (particularly when I was alone in the house), and general agoraphobia for a long time afterwards, and you can see why it was so hard.

What made the real difference though, was having family and friends around me who were keen to support me any way they could, even though they didn't always understand how I felt or what it had been like. I was numb and in shock for a long time but gradually I started to get my old self back, or bits of it at least. Added to this was the help I had from local domestic abuse services and the police during the court case. I have written in other articles about the help I received and what I thought of it so I won't repeat myself here.

Finally I want to say that there's a verse in the Bible that says that God helps us and then brings us alongside others who are in trouble so that we can comfort them with the help that we ourselves received. If there is anyone out there reading this who is feeling alone and that they are the only ones to have suffered in an abusive relationship, please know you are not alone. There are many sources of support out there and you are never alone.... God bless you.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Musings on justice, forgiveness, and moving on

I have been asked to take part in a study looking at how victims of abuse view justice. I won't be taking part until next week, so I'm not entirely sure what it will involve yet, but it has got me pondering what I really think.

This year it will be nine years since I left my abusive ex, and yet sometimes it still feels like yesterday. When I close my eyes at night I find myself transported back to the house where the physical assaults happened, and find myself remembering every room. Somehow that house and how it was when I left it has been preserved in my head and I can't seem to make it go away for good.

I am fortunate in that I am unable to easily recall faces. I can recognise people when I see them, but to remember what my family or even my husband and daughter look like, I have to remember a photo rather than the real thing. I have never been able to picture people from a description (which as a keen reader is a very frustrating problem), and so I am now pretty much unable to remember what my ex looked like unless I try very hard to recall him. Which for obvious reasons, I don't do. It's one unexpected blessing from the way my memory works.

Thinking about next week and justice, I am not sure what I think. Of course, the fact that my ex was given a custodial sentence was extremely good, and more justice than many victims of domestic abuse receive. However, I am convinced that until the perpetrator fully acknowledges the severity of their crime, there can never fully be justice for a victim. If the perpetrator is in denial about what effect it had or how seriously the criminal justice system sees the crime, then no amount of punishment is going to make them turn their life around. I think that justice and repentance have to go together to be effective. So for many survivors like me, true justice will never take place as the perpetrators have to fully accept that their behaviour is wrong. Moreover, if this is the case, then perpetrators will go on to behave that way in future relationships as well, and thus create more victims in their wake.

On the other hand, my faith in Jesus tells me that whatever the situation in this lifetime, there will be judgement when we die; so whether or not I consider the human justice meted out to my abuser is sufficient, in the end he will face true justice. This sometimes feels like small consolation, particularly when I am reminded of the details of what he did, but it does mean that I can be assured that it is out of my hands and not my responsibility.

Allowing God to take it out of my hands is vital in order for me to move on. It enables me to let go of the anger and hate that I felt towards my ex, and in fact enables me to pity him. Not to let him off the hook or deny the severity of what he did to me - I have the mental and physical scars to prove it - but it takes a pretty poor sense of self worth for someone to have to force respect and fear from another person just to prove that they are more powerful and perhaps to enhance their self-image... I have taken steps towards forgiving him, although on my worst days I have to remind myself of this fact. I know that this means that if he ever truly found Jesus, my ex would be forgiven all his sins, but this isn't my decision and so I need to let go. By letting go, there is at least a chance that my life will not permanently be defined by the abusive relationship I had... that's the theory at least, although at times the memories encroach on the life I am now living. But look at where I am now: I have a loving husband, a wonderful (if occasionally challenging!) toddler, and a job I enjoy. I have learned that I am a strong and determined person, and I am beginning to learn to speak up when I think something is not right. I rediscovered my faith in God and my life in the last nine years has moved on unrecognisably.

So what do I think of justice? Well, I think that we can only do so much but we have to do something, even if our judgement and justice system is flawed. We cannot change the heart of someone who does not want to be changed (and neither can God either), but if they truly want change then we should help them to achieve that. Only God knows the true state of a person's heart and only he can transform someone from the inside, but if there are ways that we can be used in that process then we should follow his prompting to enable it to happen.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

New academic year, more new beginnings

After a busy summer, I found myself facing yet more new beginnings, this time in the form of a new job and sending my daughter to nursery for the first time.

At times over the last few months it has felt as though I have been dancing on quicksand, with the ground under my feet changing so rapidly.

I have had a steep learning curve in terms of becoming more confident in my driving, and although I have had the odd moment that has made me a little nervous, I have not experienced the panic that I was dreading if things became a little difficult.

I pushed myself to complete a Couch to 5k course, and although I didn't quite manage to run 5 kilometres by the end, I did manage to do 27 minutes of jogging without stopping, which was a massive achievement for me. My physical fitness has improved a little, which means being able to do more before I become breathless and tired, and although I knew from the start that I was never going to become a runner, I have been able to appreciate being able to dance with my daughter for a lot longer before having to stop for a break.

I found that I was struggling as a stay at home mum. I was ashamed to admit it to anyone in case it made me look like a bad mother. So much of the time we hear parenting opinions through social media that are loudly expressed, which may not be the same as what is best for our family. I was particularly affected by this and couldn't understand why I wasn't enjoying being at home with my daughter, but was bored and depressed. It didn't help that she was accidentally giving me flashbacks to the behaviour of my ex, simply by being a toddler and behaving like a typical child of her age. Toddlers will not understand concepts of personal space, they do not understand that no means no, or stop means stop. In my daughter's case, it meant giving me affectionate 'squidging' of my cheeks with both hands, throwing her arms around my neck very tightly, and hugging or headbutting me on the arm that has never fully recovered from the assaults I suffered. Not to mention shouting, throwing things and generally tantrumming as you would expect a child going through the 'terrible twos'. The flashbacks were causing me to push her away and basically shut down, either totally freaking out of wanting to keep myself away from any physical contact from anyone. It took me a long time to work this out and once I did, I was able to understand why my child had been so bewildered at my reactions to her. I was able to remind myself that she acts the way that she does because of the developmental stage she is at, whereas my ex acted that way in order to manipulate and intimidate me.

Sometimes I wonder how many more years it will be before I stop being reminded of what my ex put me through. I wonder if there will ever come a point where I will forget the physical effects and no longer suffer from any mental scars. Although I don't generally have continuous reminders, there are enough here and there to make sure that I am unable to ever fully forget it all. While I still suffer from depression, anxiety and other problems involving what I would describe as post-ptsd symptoms, it is still going to be there in the back of my mind.

But in spite of this negative view which I find myself thinking about from time to time, I still believe that God is working through my life in many ways. I do believe that he is there giving me strength, and there's a song I've been thinking about whilst writing this blog post. It's a song we sometimes sing at our church, and it means a lot to me. It's called Praise is Rising, and the words include how God makes our broken lives new and saves us...

I feel that God has definitely been with me this summer. By the end of the summer, in spite of not actively looking for work, I had found a job at our previous church, with lots of people I already knew. I had also found a lovely nursery for my daughter to go to, which she absolutely loves. I am thoroughly enjoying being at work again, and can feel pleased that not only is my daughter doing well with the childcare I have put her in, she is actually thriving and developing in all directions thanks to the excellent care they are giving her. I am working part time so am still spending plenty of time with her and can actually be more organised about doing fun things together on my non working days. My husband is looking after her one day a week as well, so they are getting some proper time together too. I have no need to feel in any way guilty that I am enjoying being at work again.

I think sometimes I have listened too much to the opinions of the world around me, particularly through social media, without looking at what would be best for me and my family. It is hard to switch off from the cacophony of voices from all directions, but I am learning that sometimes it is best to follow my gut and not listen to all and every different opinion out there. I am learning that actually sometimes I know my family best (much as I have always hated the phrase 'Mum knows best'!)

So, as I continue with the new normal this term, I am able to be confident in my own decision making, and that I have a God who is with me and working in my life in ways I may not be expecting. It's a good feeling to have.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Rising to the challenge

During the last few months I have been giving myself challenges to change my life. Some of them have had major effects, such as beginning to drive after an eleven year hiatus, and others have been more difficult to rise to.

The driving has been a mixed blessing. When I first got my car a couple of months back, I thought that the anxiety I had felt about driving would magically disappear. However, after a few weeks I was disappointed to find that this was not the case. I have managed to get used to a few local journeys that I make regularly, but when I am trying to go somewhere bigger or unfamiliar, I get panicky and am still not happy about driving, even though I have a sat-nav and allow plenty of time. It is still an ongoing challenge, although for getting around locally it has made a massive difference to my life and that of my family, particularly in getting to and from our church and regular toddler group. I am glad that I got myself to a point where I was able to help our family in this way, but part of me sometimes wishes I had an excuse to just get the bus and not push myself so much.

The most recent challenge, which I am still trying to push myself towards, is that of being more physically active. For some reason I am still unable to fathom, I signed myself up for a Couch to 5K course in my local park, and just under a month ago, I started pushing myself every week to pant my red-faced wobbly way around the course with a group of others (who appear to be doing a little better than me) with the encouragement of an instructor who has been trying her best to make us feel that running could be a fun activity. We have been alternating jogging and walking, and it is increasing incrementally each week.

Now, anyone who has known me for even a short while will know that, whilst I am able to do a short sprint to the bus stop, I am not a naturally sporty or active person. In fact, even at school I was one of those kids who would rather have their nose in a book than be outside and running around. It has taken a massive change of mind to get myself to a point where I would voluntarily sign myself onto a course that has anything to do with running. I have been a little overweight for years, and after having my daughter I did not have the willpower to make any effort to lose the weight through exercise. I have been gently reminded by a number of people that being a little bit more active would bring more benefits such as extra energy and less chance of being depressed.

Well, so far, the running has not given me more energy, I have been exhausted the day after each time I've been out. I've been aching all over and it is such a challenge to get round the course, especially on the 'homework runs' we have to complete between each session. I have also been having a lot of issues with depression in recent months. However, I am determined to carry on even though it is definitely getting harder each time. I am also lucky enough to have made a friend who has been doing the course with me, and have been really enjoying the chance to get to know her. I think having someone alongside me has been making all the difference.

Having someone who is able to come alongside us is so important in all challenges of our lives. I believe that God gives us people to travel part of our journey with us at key points in our lives. I have been fortunate enough to have a number of people who have been alongside me for various points of my life, from the minister who played a key role in helping me to escape my abusive ex, to the friends who have been helping me to realise that I am being a good mother to my toddler. Not to mention my husband, who has been alongside me in so many ways since we met. In the Bible it says that God brings us alongside others going through similar experiences so that we can encourage them with the comfort that we ourselves received first (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). It is good to know that we have a God who cares about us so much that he not only helps us himself, but gives us others to be alongside us along the way.

There will always be challenges that I come up against, and I will have to keep finding strength and willpower to keep pushing on. But I am confident that I will keep trying and that God will provide me with people to encourage me along the way.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Positive anniversary time!

Last month was a time of anniversaries of unpleasant experiences and difficult times. I am so glad to say that this month is the month of happy anniversaries and good memories. This coming week is my wedding anniversary, and later this month it is the anniversary of meeting my husband. (We met just under a year before our wedding).

I am so happy that I have been able to move on enough in my life to meet and marry my soul mate. I know a lot of people say these things and I am risking being incredibly cheesy, but I really feel that he is the right person for me. I was in a bad way when I met him, not sure if I could trust anyone enough to enter a relationship. I had just had an on-off relationship with someone who wasn't sure of his own feelings, the first relationship I had attempted after the abuse, and I wasn't sure how I could meet anyone normal / sensible / ready for a relationship.  I had had a few years of the disconcerting feeling that I wanted someone to be kind and romantic, being attracted to various people who weren't interested and finding that I was too scared anyway. I was convinced I was unlovable and too messed up in the head for anyone to really want me, and yet I kept finding that I was still a romantic at heart and wanted to be loved for being me. I was also convinced that because nobody would want me, I would never be able to become a mother, which had been a dream of mine since childhood. I became angry at people I knew who were having children, and horribly jealous. It was very difficult and I remember praying that God either send me someone to marry or take away the desire to have a child as I just couldn't understand why he would give me such a strong desire for something that would never be able to happen.

Being introduced to my husband by some lovely matchmaking mutual friends was a big risk for me. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea but decided that I had nothing to lose. I had known my friends for a while, and they had known my now husband for over eight years and so I decided to trust their judgement and exchange emails and facebook messages before meeting so I could suss out what he was like. I prayed about it a lot and asked for advice from family and friends before deciding to actually meet him, but once we met, we hit it off so easily and so amazingly well that it was hard to believe we had only just met. Finding someone who I could truly relax with was awesome, and I still can't believe that I have someone so much like me who believes in me so much.

Our wedding day was just what I always wanted. Simple but lovely, with all the people I could have wanted there, with the exception of my grandparents, who sadly had passed away before they ever got to meet my husband and see me find happiness. We chose the hymns that mattered to us, including 'Be Thou my Vision', because for us, the service was the most important part. I will never forget walking into the church and seeing so many lovely people there wishing us both all the best. The reception was fun too, but it was the service that really mattered to me. I wanted to give thanks to God for bringing me to that point in my life, from the bad times to the good ones. The reading we chose was significant too. My ex had always used scripture as a weapon to make me do as he wanted, especially Ephesians 5:22-24, which says that wives are to submit to their husbands. However, for our wedding we chose this passage but put it in context, so had the reading from verse 21 to verse 33, and from The Message translation. If you're not familiar with the passage we chose, it starts by saying that everyone should submit to one another out of love for Christ. It then says wives are to submit to their husbands, but husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (in other words, be prepared to die for her). It was really important to me to reclaim this passage for its true meaning.

This doesn't mean that I promised to obey my husband in our wedding vows. Submission and obedience are two different things. I'm not going to go into this here as its quite complicated, but needless to say, it was my decision to have this reading at our wedding as a sign to myself and to everyone else that I was free to make my own choices in this relationship.

And of course, just over a year and a half later, we had our daughter and I had no reason to be angry or jealous of my friends or family any more for having their children. I had always felt guilty for feeling that way anyway. I sometimes find parenting really hard, but it's a journey I am very glad to be on.

It's nice to be able to write about positive anniversaries after the unhappy remembrances of April. I'm trying to remind myself to look at the more recent past and enjoy what I have, and to look forward to the future too.

I make no apology for how soppy this post has been, by the way!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The difficult choice to be positive

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the last five days of living with my ex.  The anniversary of the worst of the assaults, the rape and the sleep deprivation which culminated in my ex telling me I had to leave as he was worried about what he would do to me next. The anniversary week of being told by the police that they may well have been dealing with me as a murder victim had I remained in the situation any longer.

Every year I have flashbacks where I relive what happened. Or at the very least, memories keep edging their way into my conscious thoughts and I find myself constantly having to bat them away or fill my mind with other things to keep myself distracted. Every April I tell myself, 'it's been so long, maybe that reaction will have gone away this year'. And every year I find that it hasn't.

I have had years where I have been less burdened with memories. I have tried various tactics to combat their appearance. I have had days to myself, to process everything. I have had times where I have chosen to forget the anniversary entirely (this was not at all successful and resulted in me sitting in church in tears - a bit embarrassing, to tell the truth as I then felt I needed to explain why I was crying...) and this year I have decided to do something a little different.

I am having a party with some of my lovely friends to celebrate the freedom that I now have. I am not sure if I will feel in the party mood by the time the day arrives, but I think if I can surround myself all morning with people and make myself be up-beat, I may just make it through that day without getting bogged down in negative emotions.

I am choosing to be positive, because if I think about it without the emotions and the memories popping into my head, there is so much to be thankful for. I have achieved much since my ex was arrested - not to blow my own trumpet, but it ranges from being brave enough to go to his sentencing hearing, to getting myself back into my old job and all that entailed within eight months, to going back to university and studying for my master's degree in a city I had never lived in before, all whilst suffering from PTSD.... Plus I have found and married someone who is truly good and caring, and have a beautiful (if rather challenging) little girl who fills my days with so much activity that there isn't much time to think about anything else!

It is not easy to choose to be positive with all this temptation to focus on the bad experiences I had, but I believe it is really important. Along with choosing to forgive my ex, which I still struggle with enormously, focussing on the celebration of my freedom rather than the intrusive memories gives me the possibility of one day leaving it all behind and being able to live in the present with the life that I now have. I believe that this is what God is calling me to do, and that somehow I can help others to do this too.