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Something I have wanted to do for many years is write about abuse. Yes I know, it’s a difficult subject, one wrought with emotions and different feelings. Having lived through not one but two abusive marriages, I found myself a single mother living in Auckland New Zealand in 2009 .
I had a protection order in place and decided to attend some self help groups. I attended several classes one after the other and my eyes were opened. I learnt so much, gained the confidence I needed to return to the UK with my little girl and start a new life.
I didn’t just attend these groups, I studied everything I learnt. I made notes, learnt to stand up for myself, to not go back to my abusive husband (at the time) and learn my worth. I attended a class called “The Cycle of Abuse”. I then attended IRATE, although I was not really and never have been an angry person, it was a great thing to learn. I then went on to attend a class called reclaiming myself.
For confidentiality reasons I signed an agreement at the time of my class to never reveal the other people in my “breaking the cycle” class. The class started with about 10 women who all wanted to leave or had left abusive relationships and wanted to prevent returning to their partners.
So every Thursday night I would drop my baby to my mums and drive to Auckland city to attend my group. The first night was an eye opener. We simply introduced who we were and why we were there. Over the weeks I got to know the women and sadly over the weeks the class grew smaller and smaller in size as some women left “returning to their abusive life” too embarrassed to come back to class.
It was this first class however which turned my life around. I had left my husband at the time and was on my own with our baby. The temptation to return to the man you love is so so difficult and I had to stay strong, strong enough to be heart broken and be on my own.
It wasn’t the classes in the group that did this for me but the women and their stories. This was something I learnt from and something i think others could learn from and for that reason I will share. Names have been changed for confidentiality reasons.
Rosie was a Maori women with her two front teeth missing. Rosie lived in a half way house. She had lived with her abuser for 5 years and the relationship was based on alcohol and drugs. Rosie would be beaten, thrown across the room, threatened and psychological abused. She clearly had become mentally unwell from the abuse and her partner had knocked out her front teeth. Rosie said she wanted out. She couldn’t take the abuse anymore. She would rather die. Rosie lasted one week and returned. Two months later, I saw her in the city walking down the street with bruises on her face. I asked her how she was and she had returned to her life of abuse telling me, to not do the same.
Hannah was a beautiful young girl about 21. Hannah was gorgeous, dressed in expensive, stylish clothing. She had expensive jewellery and a fancy car. She had been studying at University until she met her boyfriend. Her parents were rich and begged her to leave him. He was a drug dealer and had gotten mad and choked Hannah. He tried to strangle her but she escaped. Hannah attended our group 3 times, then she stopped coming. About 8 weeks later I saw Hannah and a skinny “scary” looking man with tattoos all over. We were all in the benefits office. She was worn down. No makeup, her face was covered in spots and she looked a different person. You would have never guessed she was the same woman.
Sarah was another young woman. She was 19 and had 2 children. One had been sent to the Pacific Islands to be raised by grandparents and the baby was still with Sarah. Sarah’s partner was a famous NZ celebrity. He was on tv doing his thing but behind closed doors he was abusive and violent. I heard all the stories. Sarah and I became good friends and supported each other to stay away from our abusive pasts. She lasted the whole course like me, however in 2010 she returned to her abuser and had another child to him. She unfriended me on face book around the time she returned to her relationship.
Helen’s story pulled on my heart strings. I had not expected to see older women in my group but Helen was in her 60’s. She had been married 40 years to her abuser and could not leave. They had children who had left the nest and her life was one of walking on egg shells. She attended the group each week and each week she hoped to gain the strength to leave, but she would always have a reason not to, be it the grandchildren, the house, the car, the mortgage. Helen’s husband an older man himself had picked her and thrown her down the hallway and controlled most aspects of Helens life. She could not leave, however she pleaded to me and the other young girls to never return to our partners. Her plea etched into my heart like nothing before. Whenever I thought of returning to my husband, I thought of Helen.
Mandy was a really rich and confident American. I loved her accent. She was a blogger and Youtube Star and fascinated me from the day I met her. However she lived with an abusive man in New Zealand and was stuck in a violent and psychologically abusive relationship. Mandy shared her experiences of taking out protection orders, ringing police and trying to stay safe. About a year after our class Mandy was back in America with her daughter doing her thing online and to this day she seems to be in a much happier place.
Claire was a worn down abused woman in her 40’s. Although Claire looked much older. She suffered from terrible anxiety. The abuse had made her unwell and lose all her confidence. She constantly apologised and said, sorry all the time. Claire would sit and have panic attacks when she arrived and cry throughout our meetings. She could not cope with life anymore. She was out of her relationship but the damage had been done and she was seriously unwell. I remember thinking to myself, that is how I’d end up if I returned to my now x husband and the knowledge of Claire’s life helped me to not go back.
Sandra was in a homosexual relationship, however her partner was violent, abusive and controlling. Sandra was shy, but felt angry all the time due to the power and control games that went on in her relationship. Sandra left her partner and took her daughter and went to stay in a women’s refuge. She managed to leave her partner for good and was really happy by the time our course had ended.
I have my own stories of abuse and why I left my marriage. I plan to write about it in the future. Despite all I went through, I loved my daughter’s father at the time and missed him however I knew he was not going to change. I could not put myself nor my child through that. I had to be strong. It wasn’t easy and I almost went back quite a few times but each time I would think of the women in my course especially the older ones who had been abused for years and i’d think, I don’t want to end up this way!
Had I stayed in New Zealand I may have ended going back, I just don’t know. It’s not easy to leave someone you love even when the relationship is abusive. In fact it is difficult because abuse comes in cycles, with honeymoon stages where the abuser treats you great and then you talk yourself into believing they have changed, when the reality is they have not.
I did what I had to do. I moved far away and started fresh. I moved to the other side of the world. To the UK. The hardest part was leaving my parents, brothers and sister behind. I miss my sister and her kids. I haven’t even met her youngest three, but this was what I needed to do to keep me and my child safe and to learn to live on my own away from abuse.
I’m grateful to the women in that group who shared their lives with me. I’m grateful I learnt from them and had the courage to do what I needed to to keep my little girl safe and I’m so pleased I did because 3 years after moving to the UK I married my sweetheart, a wonderful man who does not have an abusive bone in his body and for that I am truly grateful.
I hope to write more about Abuse, about recognising it, learning the signs before you start an abusive relationship and how to get out and stay out because I know when I was going through this, I needed somewhere to turn and there will be many women in the world looking for the same thing.