“… next thing I knew I was up against the door with my throat in his hands, trying desperately to get free. In the struggle, I broke my toe trying to kick him to get free. And then I had no fight left. I gave up. I thought my life was over”. Domestic violence survivor Liz.
Liz refuses to let her abuser control her future ♥️
I thought I would never be a victim, but then I met him…
I had always been strong. I had helped friends in violent relationships, and recognised abusive men I had dated in the past and left early and without hesitation. I knew what the cycle looked like, and I didn’t fall for apologies. Like many people, I thought I was immune, or too smart, to end up in a violent relationship. At the time, the first year of our relationship felt like any other.
We were in our little cloud, getting to know each other and falling in love. Looking back, there were a lot of things I missed. Things that jumped out at me at the time, that felt wrong in my gut, that I dismissed. He told me when his ex-girlfriend cheated on him he strangled her and “had to be pulled off her.” That when she left him, he killed her cat. When they were dating, he said he would sometimes lock her in a cupboard and laugh because it scared her so much.
My gut told me to run, my heart kept me there…
In the haze, I thought this was the distant past, and he had changed. After all, he didn’t act like that monster with me. After a while he wrapped his hands around my neck playfully one day while we were sitting around. I was creeped out and asked him why he had done that. He shrugged it off with an excuse and “I was just playing”. My gut was screaming out, but I felt silly. After all, it was only a joke. Reading this now I’m sure you’re wondering how it didn’t send me running, but you have to understand that this doesn’t happen in a bubble.
This master manipulator had me in his spell…
He was very good at getting me to doubt myself. A master manipulator that was constantly chipping away at my ability to trust my own judgement in any arena. These incidents would appear out of nowhere in what seemed to be an otherwise loving and supporting relationship.
Another thing I missed in the first year was his possessiveness. He would tell me that my closest friends and family were no good for me, for one reason or another. “It’s always one sided.” “She isn’t there for you like you are for her.” “She is always late,” and so on. Little comments that would chip away slowly at my trust of the relationships I was in. And then, if I went out somewhere he didn’t want me to be he would call incessantly. He missed me, he would say. Or, he was depressed.
I remember once he told me he had a gun and was going to kill himself. Could I please come home? So I rang the police, as any normal person would do. Later, he was angry at me that they went to his house. There was no gun, and he had told the police he was just fine.
Another night he followed me to a pub I had gone to with friends. He started a fight with me and I agreed to leave to talk about things. When we were outside, a kitchen knife fell out of his pants. He shrugged it off, saying it was in case anyone started trouble. In the pit of my stomach, I knew it was with him for my benefit. But, like so many things, I couldn’t really prove it.
Suddenly, my throat was in his hands…
About a year into the relationship, he strangled me. He was drunk and had started an argument with me over nothing. It all escalated very quickly, and next thing I knew I was up against the door with my throat in his hands, trying desperately to get free. In the struggle, I broke my toe trying to kick him to get free. And then I had no fight left. I gave up. I thought my life was over.
Finally, he let go. In later years, if I brought this night up, he would tell me it was proof he wasn’t abusive, because he let go and didn’t kill me. He would say if he wanted me dead, I would be. There was much chaos that night. Police, a family member of mine, and his parents came. He was still violent after this, and I remember his step-father pulling him off me.
I needed help but the police let me down, over and over…
At this point, I knew what he’d done was wrong. I got my things and left. I went to the police station every day and asked for them to press charges. In the end, despite medical evidence, they said it was his word against mine and didn’t. This would be the first in a long line of police that didn’t help me. They did issue an AVO, but that was useless. He came to the house where I was constantly, trying to get me to talk. He called non stop.
Eventually, I caved and talked to him. Looking back, this is the point where I wish I had not gone back. But, I did. I was still naive. I thought it was a one-off. I thought he would change. I wanted to believe in the fairy tale he presented me with 95% of the time. His mother was on his side. Although she had witnessed it, she was angry at me for involving the police. Although I will never understand her position, I now know it was a huge red flag in itself. It shows that he was not raised to be a decent person.
Seven years of hell, an eternity of trauma and pain…
I stayed for seven years after that. There is so much more I could write, but there’s not room for a novel. He hadn’t changed. As the years went on, things got worse and worse. I became isolated from my friends and family. He abused me in every way a person can. Physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual. I spent years in fear. Eventually he stopped being physically violent. He was going to counselling for other things and tried to tell me this meant he was getting better.
I think he just didn’t have to anymore, he had me so constantly petrified and under his control. The threat of violence, or death was always there. Little comments, like “I know how to make explosives, it would be so easy to blow up someone’s car without them knowing,” or while watching a true crime show about someone who killed their wife “I could do that to you if I wanted, and no one would know”.
He would also leave weapons around, just so I knew they were there. Eventually I started recording him, and when he figured this out he would not say things anymore, but he would give me a certain look that triggered memories of other things he had said, or mouth things to me like “you’re dead”.
There are places my mind can never go…
It was always at a level that I couldn’t prove. Always just a joke. Always there but just under the surface. There is so much more I could say, but there are years that are still a haze in my memory. Places my mind is not yet ready to go. It may never be. Over the years, my health has declined. I have chronic illnesses and I have battled extreme anxiety, ptsd, and depression.
It’s only now that I realise so much of this is because of the stress I was living under. For a long time, I thought I would not make it out alive. If he didn’t kill me, I would end up killing myself. It’s hard to explain how it feels to live years feeling trapped. I became obsessed with birds. I would watch them and wish I had their freedoms. I always thought it was out of reach.
When I tried to leave, he would threaten all kinds of things. He would use the police against me (which he had succeed in doing before, remember — master manipulator? He would use the law against me, and take my son (who he was a stepfather to) away. He had all control of money for awhile, which made it incredibly hard to leave. He would kill me himself. There was so much fear. I was often too unwell to find the energy needed. If I did, I always went back.
Why I stayed…
It sounds crazy from the outside looking in, but you have to remember, this is still the person you think loves you. This happens as a process. You are groomed into these dysfunctional beliefs and fears. It is almost like a different reality. Somehow he had me believing he was the only person in the world that cared about me. I thought I needed him.
He had made himself both the poison and the antidote. Or, he was suicidal, and I felt guilty for leaving. Or, it just came down to money. I did go to shelters twice, but I didn’t feel safe or secure there, either. There was always a reason to go back. I get irritated when people ask why I stayed. It’s not up to me to change him. The onus for everything is on his shoulders. Whether I stayed or not, I didn’t do anything wrong — he did. The focus should be, not on why women stay, but on why men abuse them.
But, I stayed because I got stick in a loop of blaming myself for being in the situation. I stayed because I felt guilty. Because he had an illness. Because he was trying to get better. I stayed because I loved him, and didn’t understand he was incapable of love.
I stayed because I was conditioned to be abused, and isolated from the people who could have built me up and helped me to leave. I stayed because I was ashamed to admit I had failed and needed help. I stayed because I thought my son needed a two parent home. I stayed because denial is powerful. Mostly, I stayed because I was scared to leave.
I had no control over whether he kills me or not…
I did leave, though. In the end, after dealing with all of the other reasons for not leaving, fear remained. The DV service told me I need to leave the state, or the country. He is incredibly dangerous, they said. But, I know if I run away he will still find me if he wants to.
I won’t ever really be safe while he is on this earth. So, I finally realised that I have no control over whether he kills me or not. I am still afraid, but I don’t let the fear (or him) control me anymore. I had to surrender to the idea that I have no control over whether he kills me. When you’re living together you think that you do have control of it on some level.
You learn to read them, and know when to leave the situation for awhile, or when to appease them to de-escalate the situation. Your entire life becomes about keeping them happy so that you can stay safe. This gives you the illusion that you’re safe. You’re never really safe, though, because they don’t stay happy no matter what you do.
Yes, I’m scared, but fear no longer controls me…
After leaving, I still don’t feel safe. I am hyper-vigilant and don’t have a single day that I’m not scared of him. I just want more for my life. Fear is there, but it doesn’t control me anymore. It’s incredibly freeing. ♥️
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.