For most people, dropping a wine glass would be just a mild annoyance. But when I smashed that glass after our prosecco-fuelled housewarming, I was transported back two years – back to another life.
Panicking, I scrabbled up the glass, cutting my hand. Barely able to breathe, my best friend stayed on the phone for half an hour to calm me down and remind me I was safe. It’s only a glass. My boyfriend wouldn’t be angry. He wouldn’t hurt me. I was safe.
My last relationship was much different.
I kick myself now for not seeing the signs – taking jabs at things I liked, insulting my friends, blowing up about tiny mistakes. I always excused it as just wanting to take care of me, wanting me to be my best. He belittled my loud boisterous nature until I became a shell, always worried that what I said or how I acted could make him explode. The shouting was scary but the silence was worse – I craved his forgiveness or for him to just speak to me.
When we moved in together there was no escape from the subtle comments judging how I talked, what I wore, even what I read. I lost most of my close friends, who hated him – and hated the person he was turning me into. A night in the pub would almost always end in an argument between us two.
I’d always had reproductive problems and almost died after a bad experience with contraception. I’d always told him I didn’t want children, but he kept pushing it on me until I wanted it myself. Then he told me he could never care for me or my “crippled babies”.
“One day, he decided he'd had enough of me. With nothing else, I begged for forgiveness. But I’m glad now it didn’t work out...”
And then, one day, he decided he’d had enough of me. With nothing else, I begged for forgiveness. But I’m glad now it didn’t work out – it was only after talking with friends after we broke up that I realised I’d been a victim of emotional abuse.
I felt humiliated. I couldn’t believe that I’d allowed myself to be manipulated and controlled by someone; and I knew that if I’d seen this happening to a friend, I’d have tried every way possible to help get them out.
It’s been a difficult few years of healing. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and still have nightmares where I feel unsafe and can’t explain why, where I’m trapped by a faceless person, until it’s his face that comes into view.
Letting myself be loved again has been the hardest part. I was scared I’d open myself up again and be hurt, that I would never be loveable again. It made me feel small and broken, like he would always have a hold over me. Yet when I finally opened myself up to a new relationship, I found a man the complete opposite of him: observant instead of jumping in with his opinions, thoughtful instead of trying to have things his way. He is the most caring and selfless person I’ve ever met.
“When my ex left me, I felt completely unworthy of love – but I know now that his version of love was wrong, not me”
Though I wish it didn’t, my abusive relationship affects my new relationship in large and small ways. For example, I still find myself constantly seeking my husband’s approval on things he couldn’t give a stuff about; and I imagine he definitely wasn’t expecting the kids conversation on our first date, but given my history it was something I had to get out there. But from day one he’s always told me I’m more important to him than kids.
I’ve worked hard over the years to control my triggers and reactions and with most I would say I’m a lot better, but I know I’ll never be fully healed. I used to blame myself for not being enough for him, but I know now I was too much for him. Some men see a strong confident woman and feel so threatened they have to break her down. When my ex left me, I felt completely unworthy of love – but I know now that his version of love was wrong, not me.
Everyone assumes that the abusive relationship ends when you walk out the door, but I know the impact on the victim can last for years, even decades. You can’t expect to just magically heal from something that’s been inflicted on you for so long.
The most important thing is that no matter how hard he tried, he didn’t destroy me. I emerged from the destruction and have only grown stronger. I know it doesn’t matter that I forgot to put the clothes away. I know it’s okay to be mad sometimes. I know now that a glass is just a glass.
I know that I am safe.
Alice is a writer and survivor of emotional abuse, writing under a pseudonym
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If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321