It’s not black and white: Survivor’s stories
Domestic abuse is the most common form of abuse in the world. It is the hardest to navigate. The amount of reported domestic abuse cases has risen 23% in the last year. Every story is different, and every story is complicated. It’s not black and white. Over several weeks, our Features Editor Ellie Macieira-Fielding met up with a few of Kent’s very own survivors as they, bravely, share their story.
“I was born into an abusive home. My mother fled with my older brother and me; first when I was three-years-old and permanently when I was five years old. My father is an abusive and narcissistic man, who specialised in mental abuse and death threats. That’s not to say he didn’t physically abuse my mother or brother or wasn’t sexually inappropriate with me. It’s the latter things that actually stuck with me from that age.
I do remember ‘him’ being cruel and punishing my brother for no reason at all. I remember the inappropriate stuff. I remember my mom’s pain, tears and heartache in the houses we stayed after we left. I remember getting to skip school to go see the child protection service. I remember saying over and over again that “no, I did NOT want to see my father again”. I remember him showing up at my school’s musical and me hiding behind the stage crying. I remember being 16 and him showing up in front of my house, resulting in me being too scared to go to school by myself.
I don’t remember everything, but I know I have felt more than I should have at three or twenty-three years old for that matter.
To add insult to injury, the patterns that I’ve developed at that young age still persist in my day to day life. When I was younger, I would sense tension and try to break it with a joke or a change of topic (for as far as a five-year-old can change a conversation). I still try to break tension today, even to the extent that I will insert myself into a potentially dangerous situation I have no business being in.
It’s painful to see how often people casually use domestic abuse stories or even joke about them. These people don’t usually know what it’s actually like, which is not a bad thing, but the fact people are so uneducated can be a real struggle. It’s hard to casually confront people with their ignorance while not having to go down the rabbit hole of my own twisted past. Luckily that’s not a battle I have to fight alone.”
“Most of my childhood is a black hole of experiences and memories. Trauma at a young age can cause this; the blocking of memories. Some are hazy and I’m not sure if they are real; others are graphic, and I hope they are not real. I’m given hints of what happened to me through the habits I have today; locking my bedroom door every night and flinching from people if I am in a bad mindset. I have anxiety towards certain things, which I only discovered when I became sexually active. I had a panic attack for the first time, to my recollection, with my boyfriend. I don’t know why I reacted like that, but my body just shut down on me. I still don’t know why; I can assume but I don’t want to.
My mother finally divorced my father when I was 10 years old, the damage was done but at least we were free of him. He died 2 years ago, but there is still a part of my mind that expects him to come back. I think such thoughts will always be with me.
The police did nothing all those 10 years, they spent a long time in our house, they didn’t resolve or help much, maybe it was because we lived in such a small town. We were moved into council housing many times because of the screaming of me and my mother. Our family was too far away to help, and friends were kept at a distance. People knew what happened in our house, they knew from the black eyes my mother had and the fact that I was so shut down and odd as a child.
My childhood will always be with me and be a part of me, but over the years I have been able to let it go bit by bit with the help of close friends and loved ones. The key thing I needed to do was talk about it and open up to people. It took a long time, but I finally did. And I think I can qualify for almost a normal person today because of it.
Awareness needs to be raised about domestic abuse because it leaves a lifelong scar on those it is aimed at. The sooner you get away from the abusive situation, the better chance there is of living a life with only some trauma scars.”
“For 11 years I had to go through emotional abuse by my stepdad. I am not his daughter, I am different. I’m not a typical teenager, which scared him because he didn’t know how to handle me, he would always pick on me, treat me differently to how he treated his own daughter, my sister. Never in the company of my mum, or his family. Having to act like everything was normal whenever we were outside the home was hard. I don’t like to say the names that he called me; I never say the swear words he used to shout at me.
I didn’t know what it was or that it was wrong till I was in Year 10. I was one of the fortunate ones who got noticed at school for not performing well, I eventually told my teacher about everything that was going on at home, the worse seemed like it was over, but I knew better. As a result, my mum divorced him, he threatened us with a custody battle and once he disowned me from his family during the middle of my GCSE’s. I still had to see him because he saw himself as a good dad. I would get nervous about being there on my own and there were a few occasions where I had to leave his house because he was being horrible again. Everyone kept telling me it was my choice to decide if I wanted to see him, but only I knew that it’s not as simple as that and the repercussions would be worse. I now suffer from severe anxiety, and I have developed a mental hatred for alcohol because I hate how it changes people’s personalities. I think it’s important to raise awareness because domestic abuse isn’t just about physical abuse, it’s also emotional and verbal abuse by a family relative. Emotional abuse is always the silent one as it’s all in the head, not many people could guess that I was going through this. I was lucky that I got the help I need, but I know that for some this isn’t the case and anything to raise awareness about this is important no matter what the situation.”
“Growing up in an abusive environment is horrible. It affects the rest of your life. I know that if things were different if I lived in a “happy” family home, I wouldn’t have the problems I do today. I’m terrified of everything. I have severe anxiety, depression, I don’t trust people and I suffer from disassociation. As a man this makes me feel weak. There’s a reason why it seems like domestic abuse doesn’t happen to men, it’s because we don’t talk about it. Because of toxic masculinity, there is a complex which makes it shameful for us to talk about. But it happens.
I grew up watching my dad hurt my mum all the time. Physically and psychologically. Seeing your mum crying on the floor, in the corner of a room as a kid is really traumatising. He never cared about me. I would sit alone in my room and my heart would be racing if I heard his footsteps approaching, not being able to take any more of his verbal aggression. I was never really a masculine kid. I like art and being creative and when he found out he slapped me, spat on me and told me that I wasn’t his son. My mum was with him for eight years, but it took her three to leave him, with the help of the police. Admittedly, they were useless at getting him convicted or even arrested but they did help my mum leave. I don’t know where he is now, and I really don’t care.
People have to understand that domestic abuse is so common, I guarantee you that if you haven’t experienced it yourself you have a friend or neighbour who has or is. It’s not a simple situation, it’s complicated and distressing. I’m doing this because I want all the victims reading this, especially the men, to know that it can get better and it’s okay to feel. You just need to take that first step and talk to someone. My problems will never go away, but I can help myself deal with them better and you can too.”
“What people don’t realise is how much influence someone can have on you. I got told I was stupid, I was getting Alzheimer’s, my cooking is rubbish, what I was wearing looked horrible. Everything you do is negative, and you start to believe it. You just think ‘okay well I’m married now, and I just have to live with it.’ I got married at 18, we had our first child one year later when I was 19 and that was it, I was trapped. Because you’re reliant on your husband to provide for you. You just become the slave to the master. That’s how it works.
The misconception of domestic abuse is that you get hit. I was never hit, I might’ve been pushed and shoved but I wasn’t hit. The way you look, the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you act, even down to what you’re going to eat is controlled. Nobody should be controlled like that. I was married for 23 years. I tried to leave, I left for 3 months. ‘I’ll change. I’ll be better.’ he said. The reality was extremely different, I was punished for leaving. We had CCTV on the house, and I was monitored day and night., All calls were redirected through to him and everything was in his name. I could have anything. I had to ask for petrol money to take the kids to school. When my daughters were born, I actually sent a prayer out saying, ‘dear God please let me die.’ When life gets so bad you just think I’m better off dead. That’s not a life.
I had my light bulb moment Christmas 2012 after seeing a tweet that had an image of ‘The wheel of abuse’ and its eye-opening. If you can relate to more than half, you’re in an abusive relationship. And I ticked 11 out of the 12. I contacted a domestic abuse agency, but it took me 2 and a half years to leave. He hit me the day I left but the police just called it a domestic incident or ‘breach of peace’. I left and I was homeless for seven weeks, living on my mum and dad’s sofa. I have 5 children and 2 of them came with me because he had also been abusing them. For me, there should be no stigma. There should be no shame. It took 2 years before I could start talking about it without crying. I’m 7 years post fleeing and I’m happy. I have a life and a wonderful new husband. Now I’m an advocate for a domestic abuse charity in Tunbridge Wells called DAVSS. I’m a mature student studying law here at Kent. I couldn’t afford legal advice and I had to navigate the law system myself. I’d like to offer as much help and support as I possibly can. The system is ignorant, it needs to change. Teaching kids about domestic abuse in secondary school is too late. These behaviours need to be known about by the time you’re in year 6. If you think it might be abuse, seek help. I don’t know where my first husband is now, and I don’t care but if I saw him in the street I would still freeze. My daughters and I cannot cope with loud or ‘shouty’ atmospheres, it leaves you with terrible anxiety. There is a scar. It’s a real mental scar, I can’t say it will ever go away. For those who think they might be going through this: trust your instincts. Trust in yourself that you can do better.”
“At the age of 8, my childhood ended. My mum gave birth to my brother prematurely and he passed away. That happened because my dad gave her an STD from cheating. I didn’t know at the time and he blamed it on me. That was it for me, I could no longer be a child. I was worried about money, my mum and my siblings.
I don’t think people often talk about the mental side of things. That’s what I experienced. It feels really weird saying ‘my dad’ because I don’t say that anymore. He’s so far from that word. I even changed my last name so that it’s not his anymore and it really liberated me.
It was always very clear that my dad was disappointed that he ended up with a girl as his first child. Throughout my life he’d always say: ‘Why don’t you get involved with sport more?’ and ‘I’m just really disappointed that you’re not interested in maths or science.’ I always felt like I had to live up to his expectations. When I was in school, I did act and he would never come to anything. I just don’t think that he felt that it was worth his time. He stopped my mum from getting a job and enforced that she should be the housewife. She tried to leave but he threatened to kill himself.
At 16 he said I had to start providing for the family. So, I worked 2 jobs as well as going to sixth form. I was the one buying all the food, doing all the cooking and bringing him his meals. Eventually, those small things took over my life. I was constantly walking on eggshells. I couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t say anything. I would sit in my bedroom and I would freak out, I was so scared that he would come into my room and start yelling at me again. And this was every single day. It got to the point where I was so scared to leave my room.
I cut off contact from him almost 3 years ago. Now, I have anxiety, bi-polar disorder, I gave up singing and acting because he sucked the enjoyment out of it. There are certain songs I can’t listen to or certain films or books. If my friends just say ‘I’m seeing my dad today’ I instantly tense up. I also don’t trust men anymore.
My life has not been great. There are some things that I will never forget or get over. But I’m actually really happy. I’m happy with myself and the life I’ve been able to build since I cut him out. It was so hard getting him out of my life, but it felt so freeing. I don’t have this weight on my shoulders anymore. It means I can do things without second-guessing it all, without having to worry about what somebody else thinks because I’m my own person now. I don’t owe anybody anything. So, get past that first hurdle, if there is someone toxic in your life. Get them out. Don’t try and make excuses for them, because a toxic person will always be toxic."
"I come from a Welfare family; I have two physically disabled parents. When I was about five, my mum nearly died. My dad locked all the doors after an argument and in attempt to get away, she climbed out a second story window and broke her back. My dad has physical issues and both of them have mental health issues too. My mum tried to give me what she could, but I don’t think she ever really understood how to build an emotional connection with us.
Growing up I was abused. My dad would lose his temper quite a lot and when he did, I would get right hooked. From a young age, I faced issues with my mental health, and by the age of 14 I had taken time out of school. My parents were domestically abusive to each other too; sometimes I think it would have been best if they hadn’t ever met. Looking back; both of my parents were just as bad as each other in different ways but I don’t remember a lot of my childhood, I dissociated most of it, from trauma.
I’m currently trying to cut my family out of my life because they are emotionally and psychologically abusing me. My mother often gaslight’s me and pretends things didn’t happen, when they did. She lies to me and my siblings and I’m not sure why. Sometimes it feels like she’s trying to turn us all against each other. When you grow up with that kind of stuff it’s a cycle, it’s just your life. You forgive and you bring them back in and so on.
That’s what happened with my ex. I had met shim not too long after I had been sexually assaulted for the third time in my life. Looking back, I see how vulnerable I was. I was in an abusive relationship for just over a year and I got out in my first year of university. He would gaslight me and give me the silent treatment and was just a very controlling and nasty person. Sometimes I question if it was ever truly love or just co-dependency; either way the damage has been done. I would tell him ‘you’re hurting me’ but I kept on thinking he would change; he would convince me that he would. One time he said to me ‘I got with you because I saw you as a lump of clay that I can mould into perfection.’ I had such a traumatic past that abuse was normal for me and I really didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to get out. I thought it might have just been me, even though deep down in my heart I knew things weren’t right. At one point he told me that he was going to kill himself and I almost failed all of my exams. It took me a long time to accept that it wasn’t my fault.
I am not a perfect person, but I didn’t deserve to be domestically abused. People ask me how I cope with it all, but I don’t have a choice, I just have to get up again. What else am I supposed to do? Sometimes there isn’t inspirational and successful stories to look up to. Just people who you can relate to. I wish I could give an inspirational story on how I’m doing now and how I got out but to be honest all I can say is that I’m surviving. Now, I deal with disassociation, major anxiety, depression, trust issues, OCD traits and paranoia. I’m currently on a 3-month waiting list to see a psychologist. But I’ve been on the NHS waiting list for about a year and a half. People continuously assume that if they’re not hit, it doesn’t count. That’s not the case. I’ve dealt with physical, psychological and emotional abuse, and they’ve all affected me in different ways. Things might not be perfect, but you can find things that help. Luckily, I have now met someone who has really helped me and taken care of me. I don’t believe for one moment that there is enough discussion of issues of domestic abuse in society, or even action. Universities and unions aren’t doing enough, I hope one day this all changes. I’ve known too many fellow survivors, many who are students. They deserve better, we all deserve so much better.
If you have been affected by any of the content in this feature or have been a victim of domestic abuse please contact any of the following: Student Wellbeing Services (H Block Keynes) Crisis drop-in sessions every weekday 14.00-16.00, Canterbury Nightline: 01227824848, Inform Kent (InK) at ink. kent.ac.uk to report a problem, Rising Sun Domestic Violence & Abuse Charity: 01227452852, #Respecttheno to talk, find out more about services or to find a safe community to be a part of, Becky Wyatt, Wellbeing Adviser (Sexual Assault and Harass- ment): R.F.Wyatt@ kent.ac.uk
This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.