It has been almost 4 years since I was told by my doctor that I was a victim of Domestic Abuse, but I hate the term ‘victim’. It gets used too much these days for the smallest of things and just loses its meaning.
I suffered domestic abuse most of my marriage until around 9 years ago, and it was only when I met a new doctor to increase my dosage of anti-depressants, when she asked about my past. I explained my past and she was shocked.
When it was explained to me, I did what many people say – “I thought Domestic Violence is only for women?”. It is not, but sadly the vast majority of support exclusive to women. With my permission, she passed my details on to a project that was being run by Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse organisation for women. They had a small project for men, and luckily there was a group that I could join.
This was in the early days of Covid-19, and the fortnightly meetings were held over Microsoft Teams.
I have always found it difficult to discuss my feelings, as part of some CBT (Cerebral Behaviour Therapy) counselling, I described part of myself being behind a brick wall infinitely wide and infinitely tall, and could not get past that, so that ended. However, with this group, the councillor explained foremost the stigma men have with domestic abuse – the embarrassment and shame of being in that position at the hands of their partner. It takes a lot for a male to explain and admit that they are suffering, when they believe the expectation is just to “be a man”. Words are far easier than actions.
There are so many events I look back to in my history and wonder why I didn’t do anything at the time, but this is one of the main factors of domestic abuse – always being made to feel that you’re useless, that you’re a terrible father, how every little thing is a burden, and to an extent, at the time, I just believed that I deserved it, and that I should be lucky I am still in the family. For starters, over the time I was married, I have been stabbed, bitten, threatened with adultery, hit with cookware (once a cast iron skillet into my shoulder), punched in the head whist driving, and on one occasion was pinned on the floor, with my then-wife attempting to insert a pencil into my eye. Besides using every ounce of my strength against her, the two things I remember seeing was the absolute animalistic look in her eyes, and the colour of the pencil. It was yellow and black striped, and freshly sharpened.
Others on the course experienced abuse to varying degrees – from gaslighting to assault, and as we all shared our experiences, we all understood that we have all gone through similar pasts, but the fact we were all talking together in a safe and confidential environment meant that we could start to put a name to it.
I explained that during my marriage I had developed a drinking problem and had tried nearly every anti-depressant that the NHS prescribed. My monthly assessments would both max out as a depressed person (PHQ-9) as well as someone who suffered from anxiety (GAD-7), but I was just told ‘exercise more’, ‘drink less alcohol’ then sent on my way.
The councillor explained the cycle that the abuser takes – the relationship in the cycle starts off positive, then slowly starts to turn – the affectionate slap starts to sting, little comments here and there have a bit more bite – challenging these would get a retort of “You’re being paranoid” or “oh don’t be silly”, until it comes to a head, when violence can erupt. However, with the gaslighting, and the rejections of your concerns, you end up in a state where you doubt yourself so much that you believe that you are in the wrong, and that the only way out of this cycle is to submit, admit you are in the wrong and beg for forgiveness. The abuser is the one in control and has the power.
I spent many years being told that something was wrong with me, and that I was not normal to the point that I believed it, and it was getting me down – so the negativity I was getting from her, and the self-reflected negativity was really bad. This self-depreciation and low self-esteem meant I relied on her more, I was giving more attention to her, and it was cyclical, forever getting worse, as each time the abuse cycle went round, the knot got a little bit tighter.
Both the councillor and my doctor explained that my ex-wife had a narcissistic personality disorder – selfishness, with a sense of entitlement and a need for admiration, someone to be the centre of attention, and a belief they are special and unique. They have a way of easily winning over new people, but can easily discard people, and turn others against those people to alienate them, and that really it was not my fault, and that all the guilt and pain I had been feeling for many years was unjust.
When we separated, the last string holding me together snapped. I moved into some shared accommodation, and into a room that made Harry Potter’s bedroom under the stairs look roomy. I stopped eating. I was losing on average a stone a week. I started hallucinating and came perilously close to killing myself. I got to the point where I had planned everything out and got everything, I needed apart from one thing. My doctor had given me a phone number to call if I were to ‘do anything’ – this would have had me picked up and locked up in a psychological hospital, I didn’t go that route because, as stupid as it sounds, I was unsure whether that would have counted as sick leave. I do remember though standing in the middle of the room, hunched over due to the angle of the ceiling, thinking, watching the walls rippling, and I imagined being a deep see diver, at the very edge of a trench, looking down into a darkness that was darker than dark. It felt like forever, just looking, then, just like storm clouds, it passed. My drinking got worse, but those suicidal feelings passed, and I promptly moved out and into a place of my own.
At this time, my line manager was not at all supportive – “Your problems are not problems for the company, so you should not let it affect your work” was the support I got. However, ironically, when he went through his own separation, he’d be stomping through the office shouting at his ex wife down the phone in front of everyone. That became a work problem instead.
When I explained this to the group, there was a painful silence, broken by a very quiet ‘wow’ – nobody else had come anywhere close to that.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I am a firm believer in what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have taken solace from the fact that as painful as it has been for a few years of my life, I have come out of the other side of it. I have won. I have lost so much, but in the end I have still won. Without the constant negativity, threat of violence, and the ability to do and believe what I want, my relationship has improved leaps and bounds with my children, I bought my first house on my own, and I am starting to feel a sense of peace inside of me. People have noticed I am completely different, and I am becoming the real me. I very rarely drink alcohol, I exercise, and I am starting to enjoy life more. There are still scars – the thought of being in a relationship does scare me, and on occasions dip my toe in, but hastily retreat.
The last time my ex-wife tried to control me (even after we divorced), I decided to stand my ground. I noted all her complaints and accusations and responded in a formal two page letter after seeking advice where needed. When she read the letter, she asked me ‘Why did you do this?’ – the once great monster was reduced to what she really was. A small, insecure person. I explained “You had concerns, and instead of arguing about it, I contacted a few government agencies to check to make sure what I am saying is true, and that all your accusations are completely baseless”. I just got an “oh”. That was it. I had not just won the fight, but won the war.
This is my story. I have spoken to many people now, the group I speak to every week, and also people who have contacted me directly, both men and women to tell me their story, and how they too have won, escaping a relationship that has emotionally imprisoned them, but also the people who have been inspired by my story that they need help, they realise that they are in an abusive relationship and need help to take the first major step in escaping.