February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and I feel like I am finally ready to share my story, because I truly believe that if others like me hadn’t shared their stories in the past, I wouldn’t be here now getting so much help from Women’s Aid and my family.
When I was in high school, between the ages of 14 and 16, I dated someone who I had liked for such a long time. The first few months were great, so much so that when everything started to go downhill, I didn’t even notice. That’s the thing with domestic abuse, it sneaks up on you, starting off so gradually that you don’t even notice until it feels too late to escape from. For almost two years, I was abused emotionally, physically and sexually. As the relationship progressed, I was forbidden to see friends and family, I wasn’t allowed to sit with my parents, and if I was ever invited to a party with friends, I was always ‘busy’. Sometimes I would be allowed to go out with friends only for him to forbid me at the last minute. As a result, I lost most of my friends as I was never able to hang out with them. Everyone at school thought my boyfriend and I were obsessed with each other and so never wanted to hang out with anyone else; they had no idea.
When I spent time with him at my house, he tried to strangle me ‘to show me what he was capable of’, and he would nip me in the back until I bled every time my parents spoke to me so that I would tell them to leave us alone. He cheated on me countless times, and whenever I was ready to leave him he convinced me no one else would treat me as well as he did. Often times now I have flashbacks of myself curled in a corner in my bathroom crying whilst he was standing over me getting ready to hit me, then my memory goes blank.
I had to give him all of my passwords, and the passwords I didn’t give him (for Facebook and Instagram) he found out for himself and would take down pictures I had posted that he didn’t like. Those of my friends he didn’t like he would block from my Facebook and Instagram.
Eventually, I wasn’t even allowed to have dinner with my parents, and I could never spend time with my mum, he hated her. I had to tell him when I was getting into bed, when I was showering, when my phone went on charge; he knew everything. Finally, he stopped me from messaging my friends, and made me screenshot my message chats so he knew I hadn’t spoken to anyone. On a number of occasions he sexually abused me, but these things I still don’t want to talk about.
In fifth year, I did poorly in my exams because he didn’t allow me to study for them and I felt so disappointed in myself. Eventually I worked up the courage to break up with him, and things went from bad to worse. I was bombarded with hundreds of texts messages every day, he constantly threatened to kill himself and told me that he would leave letters telling everyone it was my fault, he blamed me for all of his problems and called me names all the time. Things got so bad that I started sleeping in my parents’ bedroom because he threatened to break into my house, and I was terrified that I would wake up one morning to find out he had killed himself – it would all be my fault. He would bombard me with messages all night so that I wouldn’t sleep, telling me he was going to kill himself. In the morning, I would wake up with hundreds of messages and he would ignore me for hours, letting me believe he had actually done it this time. Of course looking back I know he never would have killed himself, it was all just a control tactic. He told me that if I left him he would kill himself for sure, I was completely stuck, and I felt like I had no one to turn to. Life felt pretty awful for a really long time.
For months after we broke up I endured emotional abuse daily from him, and still had to see him every single day in school. It hurt so much. Eventually, he realised that he had lost most of his control over me, and I didn’t feel responsible for him anymore.
I want to make it so clear that I haven’t shared my story for attention, I have been trying to summon the courage to make this post for a long time because I know how important hearing other people’s stories has been toward my own recovery. Until just a few months ago, I had never told anyone about what I went through, I have been hurting for the best part of six years, and I never knew why. My self-esteem and confidence were so low, and I had the most negative view of myself. I still believed all the names he called me were true, and I truly thought of myself as an awful person. Fife Women’s Aid have helped me so much in such a short space of time already and have completely turned my life around. I have so much more confidence now, and I know that I am a good person. I know what it feels like to feel utterly trapped in an awful relationship and to feel like there is no way out. The truth is, I didn’t even realise that I was a victim of domestic violence until recently. I believed all the name calling was okay because he was my boyfriend, he was allowed to do that. It definitely isn’t okay. All of the brave people who have shared their stories with the world have given me the courage to share mine, because I really believe that the more people speak out about their experiences, the more others will feel that they can do the same.
One of the most important things I have realised is that domestic abuse creeps up on you, so many people ask ‘why did you stay?’; the abuse began so gradually, I didn’t even notice it was happening until I was being restrained on my bedroom floor, trying in vain to scream out for my parents whilst his hand covered my mouth. By that time, it felt too late.
People do not understand how difficult it is to escape. Friends and family have no idea what is happening because the abuser has isolated the victims from everyone around them. Moving on with life after domestic violence is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Forgiveness is a huge part of moving on, but I will never forget. Domestic abuse is a terrifying reality for millions of teenagers throughout the world, a reality which is for the most part concealed. I wish I had known at the time how many agencies are there to help, family and friends included, it is so much easier to get through when you know you are not alone.
If I could go back, I would tell my younger self that there are so many people around me who love me and want what’s best for me, and most important of all, that I DESERVE that love and help. I would tell myself that it is NEVER okay for a man to lift his hands to me or call me names. I would tell my 15-year-old self that this is not what a ‘normal’ relationship looks like, this was not love.
It has taken a long time to get here, and I have realised that the public will never become aware of what domestic abuse victims go through unless we TELL THEM. Things will never change, abusers will never be punished, and I will never move on and forgive unless I educate others about what it means to be abused. I honestly don’t want to imagine what the result would have been if I hadn’t gotten out of that relationship when I did. It is so important to know the signs of domestic violence; it could literally save your life.