’After all, he didn’t hit me’

Photo courtesy Laura Dodworth, taken for the 'One thousand words' project by Zero Tolerance and Scottish Women's Aid.

FOLLOWING our series of articles on the work of the local Scottish Women’s Aid office last week, another survivor of domestic abuse has volunteered to share her story with a wider audience to encourage more women to break the silence.

We publish her account in her own words:

“Even the bad days are better than they were before. I have to remind myself of that constantly. Two decades of enduring negative input about my body, skills, abilities, sexuality, personality and everything else that made me who I was; I learnt to act in certain ways to protect myself and bear the unbearable.

I survived and I escaped – since then I’ve been learning to rewire my brain to respond positively. I no longer need to apologise for things that aren’t my fault or blame myself for his behaviour. I’m taking control of myself, my decisions and my actions. I’m reclaiming me.

He would manufacture situations where conflict and chaos reigned, out of thin air. This kept me constantly off balance, off centre. If I excelled at anything, if I accomplished anything, I was punished.

I could not have good feelings about myself. Now I congratulate myself for each new day, each small personal victory and every independent decision I make.

He made me feel uncomfortable in my own body, unsafe and defenceless. He hurt me and made it so that he was the only person who could make it better. I thought I was the cause and deserved his anger and demeaning behaviour. He invalidated me.

Revalidation in my brave new world is amazing, even the little wins like when I can voice an opinion without worrying about the consequences.

He constantly reminded me of every single thing I ever did wrong, even things from when we were teenagers. I was brainwashed into thinking everything he told me about myself was true. He was so sure and I was so confused. Now I see. His certainty was his investment to maintain power over me.

I was never sure it counted as abuse; after all he didn’t hit me. I thought I was too sensitive or expected too much. I think sometimes people fail to acknowledge that domestic abuse does not always look like black eyes or broken bones; it can, of course it can, but sometimes the abuse can sound more like you saying to yourself, time and time again, “but he doesn’t hit me.”

  • He would berate me and sulk for days for suggesting going to see a raunchy film with the girls, making me feel disgusting for thinking about it, waking me up in the night to tell me how despicable I am, quoting research about rape and torture and accusing me of all manner of indiscretions, but he didn’t hit me.
  • When friends came over, he would be overt with his affection, he’d cling to me, wait on me, insist on being the gracious host. He was generous and giving with his attention, until I said the wrong thing, then he would give me the look that told me I’d overstepped, enjoyed myself too much, made him look foolish. I would shrink into myself and disengage from the party, terrified of what would happen when everyone left, but he didn’t hit me.
  • He would tell me I was stupid or ignorant, and if I voiced an opinion contrary to his he would talk over me and twist my words until I said he was right, but he didn’t hit me.
  • If I went out for a drink with a girl friend, and he would insist on knowing where I was at all times. He would text me detailing sordid accusations and call every five minutes to shout and swear and call me a whore. I would be terrified to go home, but he didn’t hit me.
  • I knew, though I felt exhausted, if I didn’t have sex with him he would keep me awake for hours on end until I either made myself receptive to him or he stormed off in a rage and sulked for days, but he didn’t hit me.
  • He learnt my innermost private dreams, secrets and regrets and then he held them against me, throwing them at me like weapons when I said the wrong thing, looked at him the wrong way, forgot a conversation we never had, but he didn’t hit me.
  • When he got angry, he called me a whore, and told me that no other man would ever want me. His words would cut like a knife; he would punch the walls or storm out in a rage. He would tell me we’d had conversations that I had no recollection of. This would make him furious until I was not only terrified, but also questioning my sanity, but he didn’t hit me. He would come home the next day, after a night of belittling and rage, with a bouquet of flowers and another empty promise and I would forgive him… because he told me it was my fault and, after all, he didn’t hit me.

One day he will be an unpleasant memory; but for now he’s my reminder to be more careful about the people I let in. He’s my reminder to fall in love with how people treat me, not what they tell me. He’s my reminder that, even if I do choose the wrong person to love again, I’ve survived the worst.’

Our contributor said that Shetland Women’s Aid played a huge part in her recovery and added that the organisation’s aptitude for counselling and confidence building in a safe and person-centred way was life changing for her. “I’m still recovering, but they gave me the tools to make that happen”, she said.

Scottish Women’s Aid helpline is available 24 hours on 0800 027 1234. Shetland Women’s Aid can be contacted on telephone 01595 692070 or e-mail: office@shetlandwa.org. They can also be contacted via Facebook.