“My lessons and learning’s from the dark times of my life are also my gifts, my light, my strengths that are to be shared, used to guide others so that my voice after so many years of silence will finally be heard and will echo for many years to come”. – Domestic violence survivor Linda.
Through her love of horses, Linda is changing lives for survivors young and old ♥️
I knew the signs.. everyone of them. But I fell hard and fast into the abuser’s trap…
Why I stayed? How often did I struggle with that question? I have spent many hours over the thinking about this. I have and will continue to go over the reasons for the rest of my days and why I stayed in an abusive relationship for so many years.
It astounds me how the behaviour patterns of abusers are so very similar yet we often don’t see it coming. How did I fall into the trap like so many others before me and, sadly, so many will after? I still remember the dreaded moment, years into our relationship when it finally dawned on me that what was happening was abuse. I attended an inservice on what to watch out for in women attending emergency where I worked.
As they described the behaviours of the abusers I felt a sickening wave wash over me. I was married to the man they were describing! Despite that final realisation that what was happening to me was abuse it sadly still took me many years longer after so much of isolation, physical, verbal, emotional abuse, torture, tears, heartache and pain to last me 100 lifetimes over, to finally break away.
The abuse for me built up slowly , silently , really mostly without me even realising it and gradual increase as I became unconsciously conditioned to tolerate behaviours that were far from acceptable.
I was loyal, caring shy and head over heels in love…
I was young, naive and, looking back, really the perfect candidate for him. I was training to be a nurse at the time so, like so many in that profession, my underlying core was driven by meeting others’ needs. Somewhere in the early patterns of my own behaviours, within my heart, soul and spirit, I sought out a connection.
Someone who made me feel wanted, needed, desired and I found that in him. I was loyal, caring, shy and head over heels in love. The early classic characteristics of our relationship which swept me off my feet were actually part of the entrapment and isolation. We were engaged within weeks, pregnant early on, then moved far away from all our family.
There were many very subtle warning signs right at the start which, although my instinct was that something wasn’t right, I chose to ignore. Little did I know it, but our relationship would take a gradual twisted, dark and bleak path from which I would forever carry the scars.
In many ways, society feeds the shame and embarrassment that comes domestic violence…
Isolation and fear was probably the most prominent areas that set the stage for the long, sad hard years ahead. My ability to connect with the outside world, connect to others, was diverted and frozen directly on him. Unconsciously, my connectedness had changed to such a degree I struggled to connect with others and actually drew away from those who loved me.
Initially, I think it was driven by my desire to be what he wanted, to allow him to shape me into what and who he wanted. Over the years I had very little contact with family and friends as he had gradually eroded this without me even realising it.
By reducing my connections and, subsequently, magnifying the isolation around me, I also, in a strange and delusional way, kept myself safe and kept my family and friends away from such a horrible life. There is an incredible amount of shame and embarrassment knowing that it was my choice to marry this man and in many ways society supports this belief. Shame is such a soul destroying thing that erodes away at our very core and my shame is allowing someone to do this to me and my children was huge.
My children fed my soul and kept my spirit alive…
As the years went by what he wanted, what I could give, and what was humanly possible to be done, was continually being stretched and changed. By reducing my connections with others and burying deeply what was occurring I was also able to keeping my little children close to me. My focus in life was my children as that fed my soul and kept my spirit alive.
They gave me so much strength. It would come in waves of intensity. At times life continued really normally providing I behaved in ways expected of me. A good wife, mother and nurse modelled into his ways and expectations.
He would remind me that any of my success was because he pushed me to do things and allowed me to. I sometimes wonder what he thinks now as, although there is still a daily struggle with my past, my life since our relationship ended has blossomed.
Life was a balancing act, based on fear and risk…
We rarely ever fought or argued despite what a lot of people may think about the triggers for abusive episodes, they never stemmed from arguments spilling into violence. The episodes were sparked by unexpected things, triggers that got harder and harder to predict, and that progressively got harder and harder to bear.
Things like I wanted to visit my parents, I had become ‘cold’ and not affectionate to him, I commented on his looks and, gosh, did I pay for those things! It was a balancing act based on risk, fear and the underlying thoughts of, if this is how he behaves now when I do everything he wishes, what would happen to my children and myself if I did anything he didn’t approve of.
In the early days escape was not really an option, as I blamed myself for all the things that was going wrong and for many early hoped, dreamed that life would get better, that the abuse would stop. It took me a long time to finally realise that there wold be no stopping.
I lost the ability to feel the full brunt of his onslaughts…
I never sustained the horrific physical injuries that other people had received, in a way I just flew under the radar. He knew just how to push, what parts of my body to hit and all the other abuse he subject me to., Well according to him no one wold even believe me anyway and in many ways he was right! Little did he know that they children in years to come would be vocal witnesses to his crimes. It was ultimately about control and making me do, say act in ways he wanted. I completely lost my sense of self, who I was but every now and again she would surface, momentarily, standing up for what she held dearly. I was punished in ways that would make people’s blood go cold.
If I didn’t answer him after hours of obsessively him going over and over something that he was unhappy he would pin me on the bed, hold a pillow over my face, suffocating me whilst my children screamed and watched on. He would use behaviours were needed to get what he wanted.
To survive I had become an expert in disassociation, of separating my mind and spirit from the torment that was occurring to my body. I spent many years feeling completely numb, with very little idea of how I felt and have many foggy, hidden memories. I could quickly and effectively separate my mind and body. How else could I tolerate it such horrendous things, so many of which words will never even come close to describing?
How else could I experience all the traumas of my life and go on afterwards to live a good life? In times of significant hardships we can be so adaptive and resilient. I had become so de-sensitised that I really lost the ability to feel, think and experience the full brunt of the onslaught.
Even now, I can give detailed accounts on what he did without feeling anything other than a big void. Yet I can get triggered in a heartbeat, body trembling heart racing with just a few words, a look, anything that my subconscious mind still keeps a cautious watch for. As they say, the body keeps a score and mine will never forget!
I never believed I would survive, let alone escape…
I truly believed that I wouldn’t survive, that I would never escape; not alive anyway. Although I was never suicidal, I would often think about death and see it as a welcome relief. Thank God it would be over! But then a huge part of me could never let that happen as there would be no one to protect my children.
I did whatever it took to keep them safe. I just couldn’t take the risk of trying to escape with my young children for fear of what he would do to us. I was so scared he would take them and I would never see them again, they were so little, so vulnerable. It breaks my heart thinking of what they went through.
He would regularly put the children in the car and drive off, telling me if I didn’t do what he wanted this would happen and I would never see them again. I still see their little crying faces through that back window as he drove off. I would give my life for my children without a moment’s hesitation.
Sometimes I was disgusted with my weakness, my inability to stand up to him…
I lived continually in fear and had a dread that lived continually within me. For 12 years I told no one what was occurring. I would often sit crying in the car in the dark on my drive home from work, dreading what lay ahead of me when I got home.
How had my life come to be like this and how on earth could I stop it? He told me this was my punishment and I brought this on myself. He was too cunning to leave any obvious marks on my face. I was not one to bruise easily but it was not uncommon to have my shoulder muscles so swollen and sore from this punching that I had difficulty moving them.
I can remember one time when my shoulder was so black and swollen and I had limited use of my arm for over one week. All of these episodes were unprovoked. I tended not to challenge him, part of me was disgusted with my weakness of not standing up to him, but my fear of him far outweighed this. He would very quickly resort to violence if I stepped out of line and this was very effective behaviour to bring me back into order.
My broken heart inspired me to fight for my freedom…
I remember the day clearly when I realised I could no longer go on like this. The realisation that my life ahead of me would always be like this and that I couldn’t help him change or save him anymore. The distress had thrust me headlong from denial, avoidance, self-blame to the complete stark realisation, awareness and acceptance that I had to put a stop to this.
I was the only one who had the power to stop it and I knew, drawing from all my past hardships, that I was strong, resilient, powerful and determined. It had only taken 10 years to reach this point! I had, at this stage, accepted that I would probably sacrifice myself in doing this, however, I was determined that I would save my boys and that they would grow up to be kind, caring and wonderful young men.
Heartache was what drove me to start the daunting and terrifying process of putting an end to this life. Sadly I had stayed to keep us safe. How bizarre does that seem now? I had nowhere to run. For years I believed I couldn’t expose anyone, including my family or friends to this horror. This was my life, my choice. I was so hard on myself. I had very little self-compassion. I look back now with so much more awareness of just how his behaviour and patterns had infused their way into so many parts of me.
The future offers so much promise, if only you can find your way there…
Sadness will always sit with me as I know he lost all that was important to him as well. Our family was completely shattered. My sadness sits with all the pain, heartache, torment and tears he put me through, what he exposed our children to, yet he still had no awareness that any of this was wrong.
For most of my life in order to survive I didn’t focus on yesterday or even a few minutes ago. I focused on my future, my children, pets who all were the only on the things that brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart.
I struggle with the guilt that he hurt my children, my pets and myself…
During the years another thing that grips my heart each time my thoughts drift back, is the torture, abuse and harm he caused to my beloved animals. I knew in my gut that something was always wrong. At the start he told me how much he loved animals.
It couldn’t have been further from the truth. They would dart off as soon as he entered the room, have unexplained injuries or disappear. Later on, after we were no longer under his control, the children told me of the horrific things he did to the animals.
I still shudder when I think about how twisted can someone be to take joy and satisfaction out of hurting animals. I do struggle with my guilt that I failed to protect my children, myself and my pets from such trauma. Luckily most people will never know just incredible hard it is to end these relationships when you believe that may not survive it or to know that your actions could very likely cause the death of your children.
What an incredible burden that is! I had three young vulnerable children all scared, terrorised and I was their only hope. I also had the burden that if we did end our relationship then my children would have to spend time completely alone with him and that chilled me to the bone.
I shudder to think how close to death I came on that day…
I knew I was dealing with a man, mentally unstable, who was extremely high risk. I also knew that the risks were significantly increased during the turmoil of relationship breakdown and I was already dancing with death before this had already began.
What he hadn’t planned on was how well he had trained me on hiding everything I thought and felt. The last episode of abuse was horrendous; it went on for hours, my body was so sore as I had struggled to stop him. He had wanted me to watch him shoot himself in the head and had tried to drag me into the room where his gun was so I had to watch him do it.
My children were present during this time and the scars from this are forever etched in their souls. We both knew who the bullet would hit first and I still shudder thinking of just close death was to all of us that day. I had tried to get rid of the gun before however he became very agitated at the slighted hint around the need for us to have the gun.
I was so scared that he would hide it and then, God help me.
I still remember that after the last episode that night I could barely being able to roll over in bed as m body was completely shattered after clinging to the bed, trying to stop him.
Some of the things he did to me caused so much shame, that I will take them to my grave…
I started the process of ending our relationship which was done all done in absolute secrecy, even from my children, who were already begging and pleading with me to do something,. The abuse at this time escalated, as the cycles got closer and closer together.
He became more out of control and it was now a deadly dance as he tried to control the gradual steps as I moved away. The initial advice I got as I sought help was that we would probably still have to live under the same roof once I applied for my protection order and that was terrifying.
Yet, despite this, I continued on with the process as it was our only hope. In a disturbing way the children and I were lucky as he had done was as ‘bad enough’ that we were seen as significantly at risk, even though there were many things he had done I never told anyone.
There will be things he did to me that caused me so much shame I will take them to my grave. There were some incredible brave people who supported me through hardships what followed and looking back now I still wonder how I made it and I know I never could have without their support. It has been a very gradual path to regain my life back, to discover the real me again. I know I will never be the carefree young girl I was before I met him, however, I am now so much more than I would have ever been without all my hardships.
I believe through hardness we rise so much higher and often reach for so much more. It’s now over 10 years since that time the relationship ended and since then I have watched my children grow into wonderful, kind and caring young men. My own life, although still difficult at times, has been a journey of discovering new paths, new joys as I reconnect with life.
My heart is now a sanctuary for the bruised, the broken and the beaten…
I have dedicated many years now to the prevention of harm to others initially in patient safety within healthcare to prevent harm occurring to patients or clients and supporting families and staff impacted by adverse events. Now, as I needed time to heal myself, I have able to start working with the true passion of my life, which has been to assist people to heal, grow and blossom following life’s challenges.
I have found this in my equine assisted therapy work at ‘Rein Changer’ and the programs I am now running which uses spirit of the horse- human relationship to discover our true selves, build support and resources so that we are able to live life more fully.
I have also built a beautiful and safe sanctuary at our quarter horse stud which forms a vital role in our programs as a safe nurturing environment is so vital for change. My horses have always been my guiding light, my anchor, my refuge. I have drawn so much courage and strength from them and now am so blessed to work alongside them as part of the vital healing of past hardships.
I’m very passionate about helping survivors of trauma and abuse rebuilds their lives, truly find peace with their past and forge a new bright future. I am also committed to working young people to ensure that the behaviors and patterns that lead down to the path to such hardships never form.
Prevention through awareness and building life skills is so vital to breaking the cycle of abuse and without it we are lost. If I can change just one person’s path from the sadness that mine was to the joy I now hold dear then it has all been worth the struggle. My lessons and learning’s from the dark times of my life are also my gifts, my light, my strengths that are to be shared, used to guide others so that my voice after so many years of silence will finally be heard and will echo for many years to come. ♥️
If you are in domestic violence crisis help is available from the Australia-wide telephone hotline 1800RESPECT. If you want to take part in the “Why I Stayed” project click here ♥️♥️♥️
Photograph by Sherele Moody © 2016.