Maybe I just have particularly miserable friends, but I’m starting to think that people who have uncomplicated, happy family Christmases might be in the minority. For every person who’s told me they had a really lovely time (bear in mind that 50% of these people will be lying through their teeth), there are another two saying things like “well, I survived” or “at least it’s over with for another year.”

For me, the Christmas and New Year period means spending more time alone than I would usually. This is in complete contrast to the way my life was when I was still in an abusive relationship. My partner didn’t want me to have any time alone where I might reflect on the way I felt or the way things were between us, so she crowded me and filled up my time as much as she could. She was constantly there – at home, she made sure I was never in on my own, she undermined my confidence to the point that I never socialised without her, and when I was at work she would email and text me constantly to make sure that I had as little independence as possible. She would deliberately refuse to make plans in advance or change her mind at the last minute to ensure that I couldn’t ever know when she was going to be in or out and when I might get some time to myself.  On the very rare occasions when I got to be by myself, I would cherish the time greatly but often spend it lying around on the sofa, exhausted by all the energy I was putting into pleasing her and trying to avoid making her angry. I was also expected to be sexually available at all times, and would get accused of being frigid, selfish or secretly straight if I tried to say no to her, so even over my own body I had no privacy and never knew when I might be raped.

When I first escaped from the relationship, I suddenly found myself with as much time alone as I wanted. I could go out when I liked. I could talk to whoever I liked. The inside of my head was no longer filled with her opinions, her needs, her constant analysis of my inadequacies.

It was horrible. I had no idea what to do with myself. The support worker at Women’s Aid said: “You don’t know who you are.” I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing or what I was good at, I hadn’t been allowed hobbies or friends of my own, I didn’t know what sort of person I was or what my personality traits were. All of these things had been defined for me and decided for me and now the whole framework that my life had been built on was gone. On top of that, having some time to myself for the first time in years brought all my repressed feelings of worthlessness and self-disgust to the surface.

I’m still working on all these things now. Learning to like myself, to enjoy my own company, not to feel that I would be happier or more complete if I had spent the festive season with my former partner still beside me. I’m not trying to become ‘normal’ or to achieve the perfect family Christmas that doesn’t exist outside of John Lewis adverts. I’m not trying to go back to who I was before, I’m trying to go forward. Sometimes it’s scary and lonely and hard, but I’ve chosen to be alone and free rather than to stay trapped with my abuser. I trust myself to survive. I’m still not sure who I am or where I’m going, but I know what I’ve come from and I’m not going back.

Advertisements