I work with people in emotional difficulty, from all walks of life, victims and perpetrators alike. I listen to people's stories and help them to make sense of how they got here. My working life has been a process of incredible learning but in truth, I have learned way more from my own life experiences than I could ever learn from any textbook. This is a part of my own story, a small excerpt from a chapter of my life that in many ways I would rather forget, and yet, as so frequently is the case, it has made me who I am.
At the age of 38 my marriage ended. My husband worked away and whilst our relationship was always verbally loving, there was no intimacy between us, no passion and no real support. I was a single parent whether he was at home or away. When we finally separated it was painful for us both, but appropriate and we both knew it. I began to date my neighbours brother, a working-class man, uneducated but intensely passionate. After a marriage of benign absence I craved attention, it was the first time in years I had felt like a woman.
We flourished as a couple, he adored my children, they were all teenagers, with my eldest daughter at college and approaching university. Our relationship grew and so I could work more hours, he offered to call in and check that my children were okay when they came off the school bus. I arrived home, dinner was cooked, the house tidy, wow!! This was worlds away from my marriage.
He lived locally, in a rented house belonging to friends, but their situation changed and they needed their house back. He asked if he could stay temporarily while he was looking for alternative accommodation. He arrived, lock stock and barrel, it was a bit more than I'd expected, but hey, it was a temporary solution. What followed was a slow and gradual process. Weeks passed and he showed no inclination to be looking for anywhere else to live. My younger two children who were living at home began to change and lose confidence. I discussed this with my partner, they were having difficulty adjusting; it was all too soon. Everything that we spoke about was appropriate, plausible and normal and it was after all, a temporary arrangement, but I needed him to move.
One evening, I came home, house tidy, dinner on its way; by now my eldest daughter was at university. My twins were sitting at his computer in the small den just off the kitchen. The computer crashed, as can happen, and for the first time I saw another side of this man. He exploded into a torrent of pure aggression. If you could verbally pummel somebody to a pulp then that is what he did to my children. I saw them physically recoil from the sheer enormity of his attack.
When I look back I find it bizarre that I remained so calm. I asked my children to go upstairs and as they walked past me, one of them hesitated, it was barely audible but under her breath she said, "Now you know what he's like when you're not here." My world imploded.
There isn't space here to write about the enormity of what followed. He clearly had no intention of leaving and when he did finally go, it took an evening of extreme terror, while I tried to negotiate with him, my children hiding, waiting for police to arrive. His family, my neighbours on both sides, closed ranks, I was "the bad guy", I had "grassed him up." Their absolute denial of anything and their support of him gave him a free reign. Local people also ignored me, joining forces with the gossip that was spread by them. I couldn't risk my children being alone at home and became frightened to even leave the house, never knowing what I might come back to. I was under siege in my own home.
I developed cystitis, and saw my doctor. I broke down and for the first time I spoke about the situation to a professional. And this is a moment I will never forget. My GP very calmly looked up and said, "Would you like some antidepressants?" There was no inquiry, and no interest, no questioning. Are you safe? Are your children safe? Only a desire to somehow medicate my distress and to help me to tolerate the situation better.
Despite the fact that my youngest two children were in the middle of their GCSE exams, a crucial time in their education, I put my house on the market and I moved. It really was the only option. We couldn't continue living there. I am so grateful that I had my financial independence. Despite threats and claims from this man and his family that he should have some entitlement to my home because he had stayed with me, I had choices and I could move. I also had the support of a few close friends and family. I moved locally so as not to disrupt my children's education, perhaps not far enough away.
This happened many years ago and at the time I viewed the attitudes of this family as a minority but through further experiences I have come to realise that for many people this approach to life is the accepted norm. In the months that followed I learned that his family of origin was rife with sexual abuse, boys and girls alike. I am not condoning his behaviour, but clearly in his childhood no-one had ever noticed or stepped in, or perhaps just chosen not to. I have learned how powerful it is to live in a culture that chooses to turn a blind eye. A culture that prefers to spread gossip and rumour rather than acknowledge the truth, and whether it's family, friends, social groups or a professional like my doctor, it is a tragedy. The lack of honesty and the lack of any desire to inquire more deeply for both the victim and perpetrator ensure that these situations will continue. Some years later I met his ex-wife, she showed me the scars, at least those that were visible.
If we can't process the emotional aftermath of traumatic experience then emotional scars will remain, unseen but dictating the terms by which we live. Although for a while I lost all confidence, remarkably, I came through this with something of my self-esteem intact. Despite the rumours and gossip that were spread about me by this family and I daresay still are to this day, I know that I never once retaliated and never once behaved as they do. I came to understand the relationship that honor has with our self-esteem. I said NO but remained true to my own values and true in my own integrity and I still approach my life with compassion and understanding and with a desire to look further and deeper and in this I stand strong.
We need to speak out, not with blame but with understanding, otherwise how will anything ever change.
Jenny Florence enjoys conversation with her readers, you can reach her on her Facebook page, The A-Z of Emotional Health
Jenny's new audio book, Emotional Health, the Voice of Our Soul, has just been released. It is also available in Kindle