We’ve spoken to a woman in her twenties who has experienced and survived an abusive relationship. We ask her about the relationship, how it began, when the abuse started and what the turning point was.
What was your experience with domestic abuse?
I once looked at a tick box of red flags for these kind of things: gaslighting, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial control. I could tick everything single one on the list.
It all probably went on for a year and a half. It’s really difficult to pinpoint because there was so much trauma happening in my home at the time and there so much stress, so I just don’t remember how long it exactly went on for. Arguably it wasn’t a long amount of time, but it also felt like a lifetime. The amount of stuff you can go through in such a short space of time is crazy.
What was the turning point for you, where you first felt you needed to get out?
I left Gregg’s house one weekend and I decided I was never going back. So I was out. I was physically safe, but I wasn’t really out. I texted him to let him know I was going on a trip and wouldn’t be able to reply until I was back, and he turned up at my place of work looking for me.
When I went to university I lied about where I was going. But through a friend he found it. He started sending me seriously threatening messages. He threatened me, my friends and my family. He said he would hunt me down and kill me. He sent me details he’d planned out.
I phoned the police, but they didn’t have the capacity to send anyone. I remember phoning them on repeat. There was something else major happening in the city, so they just kept reassuring me and telling me “don’t go” and “don’t leave your accommodation, please stay where you are”. I phoned them back just before the final bus that would get me to town and I said, “Look I’m really sorry but I’ve got to go”. I felt like I was letting them down. They did actually send a policeman at that point. When he came I showed him the texts and the emails that I had. He asked for a description of Gregg and they went and picked him up straight away. So that was good.
Gregg ended up on probation, so he wasn’t allowed to speak to me but he still would anyway. He was texting me and emailing me, and his family were texting me. He turned up at my family home. My family had no idea any of this had been happening, so it was a really big shock and a big thing to explain to them. They then had to be interviewed by the police, so it wasn’t a good time for anyone really.
Has your experience with domestic abuse impacted you in the long term, if so how?
Some of the biggest struggles have been guilt, self doubt and fighting everything. It’s just difficult to face things.
It’s difficult to face your family and tell them that these things happened, and that you couldn’t speak to them. I think that’s what hurts my mum more than anything – that I felt like I couldn’t turn to her (obviously she was really upset about the abuse itself).
You carry that guilt around. It feels like it’s a part of you, until you get so far past it. The only struggle I’d say I still have to this day is the knock on effect of things like the eating disorder, PTSD and other ongoing stuff. You still sometimes worry that this person is going to crop up somewhere in your life, you never quite get over that. You just have to hope that they’ve moved on as well.
I guess there is a sort of resilience and strength you develop. You reach a certain point where you can find a level of love for yourself that means you will not let someone treat you like that again. I guess the only time I ever do tend to look back on this experience these days is if I’m struggling to do something, and I just remind myself I graduated whilst all that was happening. If I can do that, I can do anything.
I remember also hitting a certain point of strength after it all had gone down, when I was told by the police to change everything – my social media and my phone number – and I decided I wouldn’t at that time because I was done with Gregg controlling my life. Of course I made all of my social media as private as it could be, but I was going to stand up for myself.
I feel like one of the biggest things you gain is just understanding and compassion and being able to spot these kinds of things in your friends, and knowing when to speak to other people and help other people.
What help did you receive after getting out?
At the time I received a lot of help from my university. We had counselling on the grounds, so that was nice, but also jarring because those services aren’t there for that level of trauma. They’re there for people who feel homesick, or who are stressed because of exams. I’m not diminishing that at all, but my counsellor was not ready to handle domestic abuse, and well, he tried, bless him. He did everything he could.
You have to be ready to talk about these things, and at that time I wasn’t. I think a lot of people who experience trauma do this. I was lying about a lot of what happened. I felt really ashamed that I got into that situation because I know better, and I know I knew better. It took a long, long time to stop beating myself up about it and to stop blaming myself. I used to lie about it to the point where I don’t think any of my friends separately knew the same story. I certainly couldn’t talk to this man about it. God help him he was really trying, but it was really hard, so I kind of pretended everything was okay when it wasn’t.
For the three years I was at university I saw my doctor once a week, so we were like best friends by the end of that. I spent a lot of time discussing medication because straight off the bat from the abuse I developed anxiety, insomnia and depression.
In my first year of uni I started on anti-anxiety and sleep meds. Later into my second year, I was put on antidepressants. Looking back I know it’s what I needed to help me cope at the time.
I had PTSD as well, so I ended up in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help handle it. I also developed an eating disorder, so I ended up in specific talking therapy for that too. Basically I was just in constant therapy for my whole three years of university, in one way or another.
As a positive note, I did come off my anti-anxiety meds in my second year of uni, and by my third year I was completely off my antidepressants as well. I felt so much better for it. Obviously PTSD is a long standing thing, but I no longer jumped at loud noises and men who shared certain characteristics with Gregg no longer scared me on the street.
A few days after that towards graduation I remember crying with my friends because I’d not felt happy in the longest time due to medication impacting my mood. It was crazy- I graduated uni but I always say the highlight of that year was feeling ready to come off meds and being happy for the first time in about four years.
Gregg is a pseudonym
No one should feel trapped, afraid or alone it’s important to know support can be accessed safely through online sites and helplines without being traced, where safety is paramount. You will be listened to without judgement, providing a safe, confidential space to share how you feel, along with support to get immediate help and/or advice planning a way out such as arranging outreach support including safe, confidential meet- ups to help you find ways to cope and break free.
Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (IDVAS) can also help in working towards you leaving the home safely and providing somewhere to go to which will be safe from the abuser.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger call 999.
Online support and telephone support is offered Free through Qwell, Safe lives, Women’s aid with safety as a priority.
● 0808 2000 247 Freephone 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline (All calls are confidential)
● 0808 801 0327