[Warning: this post contains pain. You may want to look away now. Especially if you’ve experienced domestic abuse.]
Memories sometimes resurface even though you’ve dealt with stuff. Today I find myself remembering a day in June 1994, when I suddenly broke the status quo and stopped playing the game that my then partner and I had been playing for so long, it had become normal to me.
Suddenly I was tired of playing the game in which I was always the one trying to make everything okay, placating someone who had no real right to be angry with me, placating just for the sake of peace in our home, placating and soothing and being nice and just waiting for the effects of the alcohol to reach the point where I’d have peace because I’d be the only one left awake in the house. Buying time and getting a peaceful night.
A peaceful night is, after all, a lot more pleasant than one in which you are yelled at and accused of imaginary things and made to feel you’re no good. It’s a lot more pleasant than getting the “you don’t really love me” diatribe, sometimes with the extra garnish of “I’ll just go and kill myself and you and everyone else will be a lot happier”. A peaceful night in which your partner is safely snoring away – again and again I played the game to buy this precious commodity.
But one day I’d had enough, I just couldn’t handle it any more. I snapped. I answered back. I allowed myself to express anger. I broke the rules, I shattered the status quo, and looking back I am so so so glad I did.
It cost me. But it also ended up with me walking out to freedom, not looking back. Leaving behind the person who claimed to love me but kept hurting me. Reclaiming my life.
What did it cost me? it cost me some physical pain but that is really the tiniest part of the whole thing. It cost me the shock of finding myself being physically assaulted in my own home, and the utter fear that I was going to actually die there and then. And it meant giving up the comfort of all that was familiar, the life I was used to, the house I’d called home, the neighbours, the cat… even the town where I lived, because it was too small for both of us.
Starting life afresh when you’re thirty something, and when you’ve had so much of your own identity knocked out of you by constant emotional abuse, when you’ve been trained to simply agree with another person because that is what’s safe – it was hard, but it was the only way. I wasn’t going to stay and be someone’s punch bag.
Grateful, so grateful for the people who supported me when I was in such great need. People who took me in, gave me a bed in their spare rooms (and I say “rooms” because there was a series of them until I found somewhere to live), showed me love and helped me to gradually start working out who I am at all.
It feels like something that happened light years away, to someone else almost. But that girl was me, the one who had got into a relationship and, slowly and gradually, without noticing what was going on, became more and more isolated from friends and family and more and more dependant on this one person. Slowly and gradually, without noticing, she became more and more vulnerable to this other person’s stronger and more frequent alcohol-induced mood swings. Slowly and gradually, without noticing, she changed from a confident young woman to a cowering, fearful person, terrified of saying the wrong thing and getting yelled at.
But somehow, one day I snapped and refused to play the same old game. The immediate result was a change from yelling to punching, a change from verbal abuse to physical violence. But somehow this gave me the prod I needed, this made it clear to me that I couldn’t stay. So I’m glad I snapped. It opened up the way to freedom.