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I Shall Not Be Silenced About My Domestic Abuse Experience

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very long time now, but I’ve been too scared. For too long, I’ve been riddled with conflicting impulses. I wanted to scream my story at everyone who’d hear it, lament for hours and explain the whole thing, and make sure it would never happen to me or anyone else ever again. But the other part of me was frozen and silent. Silenced.

• What is PTSD?

The result was blurting out uncomfortable jokes about what had happened to anyone who’d listen when I had five seconds of courage, for them to misread my trauma for attention-seeking trivialization. Or to break down and weird everyone around me out for reasons that, to them, made no sense at all.

A lot of the people I wanted to talk to, I could tell, just didn’t want to hear it. So, I closed up until recently; after waiting for so long for a mental health intervention for the issues resulting from my trauma, I finally decided to reach out of my own accord and seek therapy for domestic abuse. The fact I’m able to write this shows how far I’ve come. I can face my past now, and it’s so important for me that people exposed to malicious lies, or sometimes just confusion or miscommunication about me, can hear the truth from me. It feels a world away now, but simultaneously seconds ago. But that’s how trauma works. It never really converts into long-term memory and stays at the front of your mind, so it’s clear as day.

This is my experience of domestic abuse. I shall not be silenced.

I was walking down the steps to our first date in a bar near my university. I scanned the room and spotted him immediately. He was cuter than his picture. The date unrolled and I found myself lapping him up, this shy, cute guy who seemed too good to be true. As the dates rolled on, I reflected on how I’d never met anyone like him. He was funny, charismatic and meticulous; as we got more and more serious, he ensured everything was picture-perfect, soundtracked and phrased like out of a fairy tale. He told me he loved me, and smitten, I loved him too. Within mere weeks. More intensely than anything I’d ever felt.

He started to open up to me and we bonded in helping the other feel heard about things we’d never told anyone else. I told him about my deepest insecurities, and he told me about his. He understood me like nobody else ever had. He finished my sentences and he felt like an extension of my body. Like a better version of me.

Within two months, we were making plans for the long-term. He flattered me with endless interest and enthusiasm, and I reciprocated because I loved him. Like he’d said, we were written in the stars. Soul mates. We mapped out our future together, and I believed every word of it, and of course, saw no room in this dream world for anything bad at all; he’d even told me he wanted to help me with my anxiety and held me through the first seizure I had in front of him.

Control set in as early as the love bombing; within weeks, my plans with my friends were scuppered. He’d hyperventilate and tense up when I arranged to see male friends and swiftly enforced rules. I was allowed to see men no more than once every two months, in a public but “non-datelike” setting, with prior approval. My housemates and other friends were criticized as he didn’t like who I was when I was with them. Feeling paranoid and inadequate, I complied without question as I’d been told people had abused his trust in the past and I wanted to be the best girlfriend I could be for him. So few people understood him; he’d been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and didn’t need someone else like me making him feel bad about his symptoms.

Looking back, I can now see the control over my connections and posts on social media, what I was allowed to wear outside of the house and what I was allowed to tell people about him, were massive red flags. He used his past and having confided in me as a reason to justify and mitigate every action. I was scared. Each time he suspected I’d broken his trust or disappointed him, he made me suffer by distancing himself from me, as though I were damaging to him.

The repeated highs and lows started to take their toll on me. During the early stages of our relationship, my mental health had been on an amazing high almost as though I had been on some incredible drug. This started to falter. Not my love, but my happiness.

I started to worry nonstop about hurting him. I knew how cold he was to other people and never wanted to be on that receiving end. He started lying to me all the time, about little things, and sometimes bigger ones. Making me doubt myself and feeling irrational when I didn’t know what he was doing. He stopped complimenting me, my body, my personality, everything he’d professed he’d loved about me, and instead I noticed a subtle increase in reminiscing about his exes. By no means did I want to dissuade him from this, as I’d seem jealous, but I started to realize he thought they were better than me, skinnier than me, prettier than me, funnier, more unique and creative and interesting than me. He’d show me their profiles on social media and it started to drill into me that I was a fraud. I was nothing on these girls, he’d had better than me and he deserved better. I knew I had to be better otherwise he’d leave me, and nobody would ever again touch a fraud like me.

His ritual “pinching an inch” joke, where he grabbed my belly, played off of my underlying eating disorder, and I realized we both knew I wasn’t purging “enough.” We spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds on five, six, seven takeaways a week and I reflected on my grotesqueness. I lost an unhealthy amount of weight, was cooking, washing up, cleaning his room, making his bed, sending him little gifts and doing anything I could to make him feel special.

The anger started to build. Everything I did was wrong. I made his bed with the pillows at the wrong angles, I’d had a night terror, I sent him two messages in a row. He started to scream at me, tell me I was damaging him, that I was a cheat, that I was an embarrassment to myself.

My seizures got worse and I paid for it. He would stand over me and order me to stop, or insult me for having them. He shook with his whole body and his green eyes seemed to turn black with rage and I started to be terrified of him. His silence was the worst, a dangerous glare and chilling silence that led me to question what was going to happen next. One time, naked on the bedroom floor, I recovered from a seizure amid a torrent of insults and threats. I panicked and sprinted for the door. He beat me to it and grabbed me. Pinning me by my wrists, he held me against the door, crying and begging him to let me go, whilst he stared at me contemptuously for minutes and minutes of terror. I’ll never forget it.

I started to regularly sleep on the floor and keep a bottle of spirits by my bed. I feared him and my body often kept me wide awake for hours; drink was the only way I could cope. I started to drink by myself in the middle of the night, and self-harm. Nobody could know. We would get through this. I would become a better girlfriend and we would be completely fine again.

Just as prescribed, I’d learned to see his anger as a sign of my inadequacy. This inadequacy grew and grew, and I began to feel trapped and isolated in my existence. He told me he’d started to love me less but was sure we would “get back on track.” The trip his housemates had invited me on had sounded so exciting until he took me aside and told me he didn’t want me to embarrass myself in front of his housemates in case I had a seizure. I realized I wasn’t wanted anymore, it felt by anyone. One day, it all became too much and I realized I was at risk to myself. I begged him for his support, and he told me he wanted to put on a film with his housemate and didn’t have time for me.

I attempted suicide and waited to die. Following the attempt and the consequent help, I was assigned to home treatment and was seen daily by nurses, but he never came to see me. He was “too busy” for the five days between my release and his house trip, and then went away to Wales without me.

I was at my lowest and felt so despised. We spent a fortnight more together, but I knew how little he cared for me, how inconvenient I was to him in front of his new friends. One day, I had a panic attack during a discussion about his drug abuse and he told me he couldn’t stand me anymore. We were done.

To anyone who knew me at that point, despite what you might imagine, that news was the furthest thing from relief than you could think. My world had caved in. He told me I was disgusting to him, and that he’d broken us up for my benefit, saying that once I “got better,” we could be together again.

The loss consumed me and his words flicked around my head. I had developed a trauma bond and felt the deepest loss of not only him, but myself. In that relationship, I had lost the only tolerable parts of myself and I knew I was worth nothing.

Thankfully, my social worker forced me into inpatient psychiatric care following the breakup, but this allowed him to twist the story in his favor. Telling everybody I was a “psycho,” he called and messaged my friends and family with accusations of toxicity, blackmail and blatant lies about our relationship and breakup. I was distraught and broken and the following months were the blackest days of my entire life.

A year after we ended, I am so proud of the way I have outgrown the abuse that broke me down. Domestic abuse therapy, counseling and specialist therapies for trauma-based disorders have allowed me to build myself up and identify how I was so wholly controlled. I still struggle every day, with flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), night terrors and an irrational paranoia of seeing him anywhere, but I am now able to own my life and story. I have learned to unlearn the thought patterns and awful things he taught me, and no longer feel like I belong to another human being. I am in a healthy, loving relationship with a supportive, beautiful man, and I am doing so much more with my life than I ever could have envisioned this time last year.

Victims of domestic abuse should never feel ashamed to tell their stories. So often, abusers and stigma force us to be silent and terrified. But the more we talk about these things, the more people will learn to spot red flags and abusive behaviors before it’s too late, and the more we empower survivors to leave and recover from situations that can threaten or destroy lives.

Photo by Yuliya Kosolapova on Unsplash

Originally published: November 8, 2019
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