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I haven’t posted on here for a long while, and I feel like it’s time to formally stop blogging. I still get a few hits each week and I’m going to leave this blog up so that if the occasional survivor comes across it she will still be able to take a look, particularly at the resources for survivors. If this blog has ever even helped one person in a very small way then it will be worth the effort. I’m in a place now where being a survivor no longer feels like the centre of my life and of my identity, and I don’t want to revisit those feelings and experiences, at least not for now.

Take care sisters and good luck,

Violet

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I saw this list on a leaflet about sexual violence I picked up and couldn’t believe how well whoever wrote it seemed to understand me and know how I feel. It amazes me how survivors of all kinds of sexual violence from all kinds of backgrounds seem to have so many feelings in common. To someone who isn’t a survivor this list probably seems really obvious but everything on here I have had to learn or relearn since leaving my abusive relationship. I wanted to share it as I hope it will help other survivors.

  • I have the right to be treated with respect
  • I have equal respect for myself and for other people
  • I have the right to say ‘no’ to sex I don’t want
  • It’s OK for me to change my mind
  • No-one has the right to hurt me in any way
  • I can take responsibility for my behaviour that may be harmful to myself or others – I am open to change
  • It’s OK for me to make mistakes – I can learn from them
  • It’s OK to express my feelings, thoughts and opinions

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.

As a survivor, I feel grateful to organisations like Women’s Aid, Refuge, Broken Rainbow – unfortunately I didn’t use them as much as I could have, because it took me so long to recognise that what I was experiencing was domestic violence, but it makes me feel glad, and safer, to know that they are there.

But the one thing that I found more valuable than anything, and without which I think I would be in a lot worse state right now or possibly even still in my abusive relationship, was the love and support of a good friend.

My friend didn’t judge me. Even if I’d have stayed with my abuser she would have been there for me. She didn’t treat me like I was stupid for getting into and staying in an abusive relationship. She believed me, she listened, she never expected anything in return. She didn’t tell me what to do, but supported me and trusted me in making my own decisions. She treated me like a good person who deserved love, and that made it possible for me to begin to believe that about myself. Every day I went home to a partner who, through the way she treated me, told me that I was stupid, worthless, unloveable. I was only able to begin to question these messages because of my friend’s love and faith in me.

Friends, sisters, parents – so many other survivors I have read about or spoken to have talked of having people who were there for them when they really needed it.  Just like survivors, supporters of survivors are all around us, they don’t look different to other people, and they don’t talk about what they’ve experienced. Anyone can be a supporter. They don’t win awards, no-one writes books or magazine articles about them, but there are so many people out there who change and even save lives everyday without anyone noticing except for the survivor they helped.

When I think of the scale of the problem of domestic violence, how it happens in every country and culture in the world, the sheer number of abusers who are out there, it’s easy to start feeling hopeless. The people like my friend- the supporters- are the people who give me hope.

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