Turning Pain into Power
By Gabriella Wood
**This piece contains references to content that some readers may find upsetting or triggering**
Domestic violence is a prevalent issue, with concerning high statistics on how many individuals are affected. There is no reliable data on the prevalence of domestic abuse but the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) offers the best data available. An estimated 1.3 million women experienced domestic abuse in the last year (for the year ending March 2016), and 4.3 million women have experienced domestic abuse at some point since the age of 16.
On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. On average the police receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour.
I was one of those individuals, and count myself lucky to escape. Looking back now at how vulnerable I was, who knows what would have happened to me, and what damage could have been done to me physically and mentally.
A little under two years ago, I was swept off my feet by a charming young man. I was put up on a pedestal, higher than I had ever felt before. This was the gratification I had deserved, I had grown up with many difficulties and traumas and now it was my time for true love. I was eighteen with high hopes and dreams but with little direction.
The relationship moved quickly, so fast I didn’t notice. This was something I was used to, looking at a future together didn’t seem so crazy. I was young and it was exciting, I had been sold since I was a little girl that a relationship was all I needed to be happy and my true self. Love that was unconditional, sexy and romantic was the most fulfilling.
It was intense, and nothing seemed wrong with that. Until one day, my boyfriend and I were drunk, it was the first time of him coming to stay with my family and for some reason it got out of hand. He was aggressive, and mean. I can clearly remember being very confused about this. I didn’t understand what I did wrong? It baffled me. Soon this became a normality. It’s just what he’s like when he’s drunk! It started off small, little by little, like I was gradually being taught that it’s a part of my routine.
It creeps, and it’s slow. After every argument, there were so many tears and so many apologies. Our love is like no others! We are different from the rest! It’s all because I love you so much, and I can’t control it sometimes. This is believable. We were like all those films, and books, and magazines. Our love was crazy love, no one could ever understand.
Soon I was living with him, this was something I really didn’t want to do. I wanted to be independent, however, I was tangled into it. I was suddenly lying to my family, they had no idea I had committed to living with someone so young. We lived in a room, in a house with no communal areas. This amplified how intensive this ‘love’ became. It wasn’t long before verbal, and emotional abuse soon turned into something physical. He was a troubled man, I had convinced myself his demons were more important to fix than me.
I can remember, clearly, the first violent argument we had, there was a little alcohol involved, I said something slightly wrong and then he switched. He was spiteful at first, something I had expected. I was use to this now, but then, he threw a glass at me. It smashed everywhere, all over my feet. I was bleeding, and shocked. I had fire inside of me, I would scream back, retaliate, it was perfect for him. More of a reason to carry on, muster his strength over mine. More words are thrown around, screaming at each other all sorts of vile things.
Next thing I remember I’m in the garden, he had picked up the kettle and smashed it on my head. I went outside as I felt sick, it was a little blurry from here on. I try to get inside after a few minutes and he’s blocking the door. It opens, I try to squeeze through, and he tries to slam it shut. I scream in agony. He stops, looks, and calms. I was destroyed. The battle had finished, I was broken and weak. I can’t move my entire face, it’s in so much pain. Later I’m at the hospital, lying about what happened to me. With a bruised face, a bloody eye and a fractured cheekbone. I continue on, this is what I thought was normal.
Months went by, with many instances like this, more injuries adding to my list. More visible and mental scars adding to my collection. I soon lost a sense of reality, I became anxious and uncomfortable in most social situations. I didn’t have many friends of my own, and I became distant from my family and my education was suffering. Knowing if I was asked how I was, maybe it would all come out, and my relationship would be over. I was emotionally dependant and soon became depressed.
Things were getting worse, the bad outweighing the good. The sex wasn’t enjoyable, something I always hated. He started to disgust me. Even on my birthday, it wasn’t a time for me. After a day out, and an argument on the tube, I was crying on my way home, running to get home before he did. I locked myself in my room, and he tried to break down the door. He was saying nasty things to my housemates in the kitchen, they were all agreeing with him, ‘we all know how girls are’. I thought it was me, I was too emotional, too sensitive.
My deadlines were in, I had barely turned up the whole year. I was stressed and didn’t know if this was the path I wanted in life. I got home, worried, and soon an argument broke out. It was extremely violent, I was screaming, my housemates locked in their rooms, knowing this typical routine. Then there was a ceramic plate thrown at my face, I put my hand up and it sliced. Shocked I sat in the hallway, unable to cry. I looked at my hand and screamed at the top of my lungs. It has sliced through the whole palm of my hand, warm blood spurting down my arm to the floor. An ambulance was called. I dropped the plate, that’s what I said happened.
The cut had resulted in a four hour surgery and copious amounts of morphine. It skimmed my artery, which could have been fatal. This was when I became deeply unhappy, twenty four stitches and still able to justify this act.
Months down the line, I was working a full time job, paying for me and my boyfriend. He was taking payday loans out in my name, I was getting into rent arrears and debt. Soon before we moved out, another violent argument occurred, the neighbour called the police and my boyfriend got arrested, I obviously didn’t testify and he got away with a warning. (I even picked him up from the police station). The landlord was concerned for my safety, she came round as she was notified about the arrest, to see the blood stained floors, the broken doors and dents in the walls. It was visible even to the naked eye. We left this house, to a sublet for 7 weeks. Anyone who knew was a danger to us and our relationship.
At the point of only eating rice for a week, after losing my job, house and quitting university I was unable to carry on. I was weak and broken, unable to even fight back anymore. The evitable happened, my stepdad picked me up and moved me home. My whole family oblivious to the year I had endured, unknowing to the fact that they had rescued me. This change in my situation removed the fog. Unable to manipulate me daily, I was receiving random phone calls which made no sense. One minute I was to die, the next minute he loved me. I was done. I still saw him once more, forced to give him a blowjob which made me feel sick to my stomach, and never saw him again. He repulsed me.
It took months before I felt myself again. It was like I was starting over, having to make new friends, move away, find out what I enjoyed again. It still wasn’t that long ago, I still have not been in another relationship since. It was hard, and the mental implications are still there, but I am a stronger person. I no longer need anyone else’s love but my own. I am motivated to be the best version of myself, even through all the negativity, I have found the biggest positive; strength. I don’t believe love is a battlefield, I believe love should be simple.
The normalisation of violence in intimate relationships, and the objectification of women, lead me to unrealistic expectations of myself which left me feeling inadequate. This is not all of the world we live in, but a large part of it. Only through my personal experience have I learnt otherwise. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, and any individual. Sometimes I still believe I provoked these actions against me, but this is just a product of domestic abuse. This person who abused me remains firmly in my past, and does not daunt my future.
If you ever feel like you are a victim of domestic violence and abuse, you can call the police in an emergency on 999 or if you need information or support call the Freephone 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
Other information on local and national services is here.