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Joy’s Journey

February 7, 2020

I am a woman, aged 38 with a son aged 4. I have been living in Fife for over 7 years and have been in an abusive relationship for over 8 years.

I am now very happily living on my own with my son, in a really supportive community, in the village where my close friends also live. Sadly my parents are now both deceased and other family live in England and Canada.

My life has completely changed because of Women’s Aid. And I am eternally grateful for all the support that I have received. I have phoned the helpline a few times prior to and after visiting the centre in person, and have spoken to the support worker, who listened and made me feel that I was safe to tell her what I was feeling and what had been happening to me.

A significant event I remember, before my most recent involvement with Women’s Aid, was in September 2016. I turned up at the Fife Women’s Aid centre one Tuesday morning. I remember it vividly as I was terrified. I had my son in a sling, he was only 16 months old. I was crying and desperate to speak to someone. I hadn’t opened up to anyone about my relationship. I was welcomed warmly and without judgement and I told the woman who took me in, a few examples of the situations I had been in and the bullying, tormenting and cruelty I had been living with. I couldn’t see a way to escape and I felt I could not go on any longer feeling frightened, exhausted, confused and hurt. After spending time talking, I decided to go to a refuge in the Scottish Borders, as I had lived there before I moved in with my current partner. I was in a state of panic as I rushed home to pack everything for me and my son. I have never felt as scared and uncertain in my life. When I arrived, I cried and cried, then felt absolute terror at leaving and about the unknown of my future. I went straight back home and told him I had gone to stay with my dad in England because we had argued.

I carried on with life, denying the truth of what was happening to me, and living in fear of the next outburst, and feeling scared and upset, and confused, angry, unsettled. In work I was a different person, a flourishing, bubbly and enthusiastic professional. But at home, I was quiet, timid, afraid, isolated. We had good times as well as bad, and I had tried to leave 3 or 4 times before, but he always persuaded me with his tears, threats of suicide and other ways that the best thing was to stay together. Although, the niceness faded and we continued in a cycle of intense stress and discomfort, hardly speaking to each other and times where he would look into my eyes and make me trust him. He said sorry a lot, made me laugh and at times made me feel comforted. But this was always unbalanced by criticisms, shouting, blaming, slamming, storming out and generally making me feel like I was on guard to be attacked constantly.

In September 2018, after my dad died in August, I was an emotional wreck. Something had to change. I was desperate to have a “family” now that I had no parents and I was estranged from my sister and isolated from her because of my relationship with my partner. And this was used to persuade me to stay, even though he kept leaving me, and then coming back! I had been to the doctors a few times and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I felt eroded, I had lost myself, I decided I couldn’t live like this anymore. I declined medication and decided to access help and support in other ways.

I phoned Fife Women’s Aid and I was put on the waiting list for counselling.

Within 3 or 4 months, I was offered my first appointment. The counsellor was really helpful in arranging a time that suited me, and when my son was at playgroup. This was absolutely essential, as I needed the time and space to explore and explain my feelings. I felt so welcomed by the counsellor, and I was already reassured by the fact that she was working specifically for Women’s Aid, so I knew she would understand and be able to help me, this was vital to my recovery.

I had 12 appointments over 10 months, and I can honestly say that Women’s Aid is not only life changing, it is life saving!

I was broken, scared, uncertain and feeling like I was going to burst with the emotional pain and psychological distress that I was experiencing. She listened, without judgement. She let me talk, I felt safe to cry and I explained my situation and feelings with honesty. My initial goals were to learn some coping techniques that would enable me to stay in the relationship, as I felt I had explored many different avenues in an attempt to live with my situation. I felt trapped, financially (I worked part time and paid for all of our sons childcare) and I felt trapped emotionally, and I felt that my life would be worse if I was on my own with my son, as I expected that my partner would make my life even more difficult if we were apart. I had tried to leave before, and he always persuaded me to come back. I thought leaving would never be an option for me. I had been told many many times by him that I would never cope, that I was “mental” “crazy” and had “lost it”, when in fact I was displaying signs of the traumatic experiences that I had encountered over the years.

For years, I would try to help and support him when he felt that he needed me, and I was frightened that he would commit suicide without me, but then he would criticise our relationship, saying that he was just going through the motions, and that he was going to find someone else. He had shouted at me that he wanted to get married and have children but not with me a few times, and on one instance, on holiday abroad, he kicked me out of bed in the middle of the night and threw my suitcase at me then left in the hire car and told me that I had to find my own way home. That was about a month before I fell pregnant. I felt so confused by incidents like this and I couldn’t think straight or make a decision. My mind was constantly replaying traumatic events, with visions and repetitive words and phrases. I had heard so many negative criticisms and insults over the years that they were imprinted in my mind. I believed that I couldn’t function, live, cope and be happy without him.

As well as helping him constantly with his insecurities, and feeling drained by it, I also tried suppressing and ignoring my feelings of distress, rage, hurt and fear. But after my dad died, the grief was unbearable and I had come to the point where I felt that it was absolutely impossible to suppress my feelings any more. I was not functioning as a human being! I had learned how to stop myself from crying, feeling, reacting for so long that I was actually numb to positive as well as negative feelings and emotions. In my desperate need to stop feeling anxious, triggered almost on a daily basis now, I compressed all my emotions and controlled them so that my son wouldn’t see me breakdown. I wanted to show him that I was strong. He has since recalled memories to me of “mummy I remember you crying in the toilet…you thought I didn’t know but I could hear you”. And of mummy “Trying to calm daddy down when he was shouting but daddy wouldn’t listen”. One afternoon around the time that I started the counselling, I had been shouted at and ridiculed for something, and I just couldn’t hide anymore, and I went up to the bedroom and cried. My son (who was 3 at the time) came running upstairs and gave me a cuddle and he had brought me some of my crystals (I collect them) to make me feel better. He asked “Mummy why does daddy shout at you all the time”. I knew I needed to change for my son.

Within a few sessions my counsellor used a tool to help me explore some of the situations that I had been in and my responses to them. It was a “Brainwashing” tool. And I honestly think this was one of the momentous parts of my journey to recovery. I answered with the truth and was shocked but very grounded by the results that showed I had been brainwashed with anxiety and fear. Every time my partner (now ex) tried to persuade me that he was going to change and that he loved me, I remembered this tool. It was life changing.

I decided (in my own time) that I wanted to leave the relationship for good.

The counsellor never told me what to do. She was wonderful. She never pressured me to leave. She let me find my own way in my own time. Truly person centred, reflecting back my experiences and validating my feelings.  She recognised that I was traumatised. I had been denying this truth as a way of coping with how overwhelming my situation was. Once I had made the decision to leave, my constant mind chatter stated to disappear… I used to constantly question my decision to stay or go and my mind was either filled with my own voice talking me into staying in the relationship or repeating his voice and flashbacks of traumatic exchanges between us (which were now on a daily basis, there was no cycle of happiness in between). My counselling and support from Women’s Aid gave me the strength and courage to make the break for good.

I always felt relieved after a counselling session and always felt that I had been given the time to express myself…and cry. Gradually, the crying eased, I talked more and I felt a bit brighter. Once I had the mind space to focus and felt more peaceful in my mind, I was able to let go of some of my anxiety and as if by a miracle, everything fell into place. I was offered some extra hours at work, which enabled me to get a mortgage for a small house on the same street as 2 of my friends.

My son and I have now been living in our home for 5 months. Moving house, having a full rewire, new kitchen and decorating within 4 weeks of moving in was incredibly stressful! But nothing compares to the daily stress, anxiety, fear and uncertainty of living with Domestic Abuse.

I feel so peaceful, so relaxed and my head is clear. My depression has lifted and I am able to feel joy and happiness, true, real happiness for the first time in years!

My son brightens my day, he has adapted so well. We giggle more and he knows mummy is happier. I have proved to myself that actually I CAN COPE! And I feel so empowered, proud and strong. I am eternally grateful to Women’s Aid for enabling me to make the right choices for me and my son’s wellbeing. I am learning every day and, because my son sees his dad 2x per week, I am growing stronger as I establish boundaries and strive to maintain them. Thank you Women’s Aid for SAVING ME! And for helping me to

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