I was a victim of domestic abuse. I didn’t leave the relationship soon enough, neither do I publicly speak about it.
I didn’t recognize it as abuse at the time. We were both in college, and we were young. I cannot even now recall how it started, but eventually it fell into a predictable pattern. Things would be good between us. Then we would have a disagreement. I cannot even remember what the disagreements would be about. Under pressure from the strain of our relationship, he would suffer terrible migraines. I would feel sorry for him, do everything in my power to nurse him back to health. We would then re-pledge our love for each other, then things would be back to normal. Soon enough the cycle got more frequent and more vicious.
He began to collapse after intense migraines. He would recover after a little while, claiming severe headache. After a while he would collapse long enough to need to visit the clinic. Eventually he collapsed long enough to need hospitalization. That happened the first time I wanted to break up with him. I was dissatisfied with the relationship. So he collapsed, had to be taken to hospital and of course I was unofficially his next of kin. I called his family and made arrangements.
Underneath all that I felt cheated. I felt burdened by a responsibility I did not want. Meeting his family? Supervising his medical issues? I wasn’t married to the guy, and I resented having to do all that. But I did it anyway. I couldn’t walk out on him right when he needed me. He spent a night in hospital. By the next day he was well on the road to recovery.
He insisted on buying me a huge teddy bear to thank me for caring for him while he was sick. I thought it was unnecessary, I didn’t really want it. But he bought it anyway. He even wanted me to talk to his family so they could thank me. I felt smothered, trapped. I couldn't leave. People were constantly saying how kind I had been to him, what a great couple we were. No one should judge anyone's relationship. You never know what is really under the surface.
The cycle continued. One time an ex got in touch. I was in no way interested in him, but I was apprehensive to confide this incident to my boyfriend, seeing how his moods were very erratic. As fate would have it, he found out anyway. He was predictably furious. He took a stone and smashed his hand with it. Another time we had a disagreement while driving around. He drove at high speed in reverse down a busy road. I was frightened.
The relationship was all about pacifying him. By now we had been together two years. I was now in an internship away from college. I met someone new. I met lots of new guys actually, and the thought of having options was nice for a change. Again something went wrong. He tried to find me once and couldn’t locate me. I lied about where I had been. He exploded. He was walking me home. He raised his hand and hit me. In the street. I was shocked, scared. He apologized, I took the blame. Anything to get me home safe.
Once I was home I sent him a text. It was over. I thought it was over. Then he turned up at my job the next day. He said he only wanted to talk. We walked out to the parking lot. He had a car there, and … he said there was a gun in the trunk. I didn’t wait to see it. I ran away in fright, screaming my head off. (Later I discovered this incident ruined my chances of getting full time employment at this company.)
That evening he turned up at my house. He came to tell on me to my mother. He told tale after tale, and asked her to talk some sense into me. My mother suggested we go for counselling to one of my aunts. I said okay. I walked him out of the house. I went to open the gate, he reversed out of the yard. I stopped him at the gate, told him this has gone too far. This was the last straw. I never want to see him again. He drove away erratically.
I sat down with my mother. I explained what I could, but insisted that I wanted nothing more to do with him. We drove to his house. His entire family was there. He and his brother tried to intimidate me,denying that he had done all those bad things. His father cried.
I walked away from him that day. I went for counselling. Then I worked on moving away from the terrible memories. People would ask why I let it go on for so long, and I didn't have an answer. I had always been on the brink of leaving him, and it had never quite worked out. Perhaps that final escalation of violence had reminded me what I was worth, and what I needed from the relationship.
At the end of all this, I contend one of the greatest ways to ensure security for myself is to have lots of confidence. When I determined in my mind that I wasn't going to put up with the disrespect and abuse, I literally could not take it another day. For most young women this is a difficult point to reach. We have so much optimism, so much fear of the unknown rather than the bad that lives with us every day.
Women need to be encouraged to place more value on themselves than their relationships. Culturally, there is more pressure for women to maintain relationships than for men. There is more shame and humiliation for victims of abuse. To feel safe, women need to feel worthwhile. I advocate for programs and initiatives that promote self-esteem and self-worth for women. Emotional and mental fortitude are invaluable in coping with the threats that women face on a daily basis. From when they are little girls, someone needs to be looking out for them , helping them create their own internal safe spaces, telling them they are valuable. From this they can draw the strength they need to identify, avoid and combat threats to them.