Survivors know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves – and often, as she fights to stay out of – an abusive relationship. Here, I discuss the hoovering, harassment and fear that I went through and the events that contributed to convince me of my own strength.
Occasionally, visitors to Avalanche ask me what happened next in my story. This is my attempt to piece together the traumatic, confusing and painful events that occurred after I left my abusive partner.
Already, I’ve shared how the man I thought was the love of my life dropped his Prince Charming mask during my pregnancy. A drug and gambling habit emerged, and so too did terrifying jealousy which drove obsessive and paranoia-driven abusive behaviour toward me.
As the temperature ratcheted up, I reached my boiling point and fled our home, and him. I went to my parents. Whilst this meant I would have support with the baby, from people who understood, it meant my ex knew exactly where to find me as he embarked on a monumental hoovering campaign. He carried out emotional blackmail using suicide threats, called incessantly, turned up on the doorstep at all times of the day and night.
Fear and shadows
I was afraid to leave the house – if I had to go out, I’d run to my car and lock the doors as soon as I was safely inside. I was afraid to stay home, feeling like a sitting duck trapped in a goldfish bowl. At night, the shadows that crawled the walls shaped my nightmares and I slept with my silenced phone in hand, in case I needed to call emergency services.
He told me he would kidnap my child and murder my parents. He promised to kill any new man that entered my life – and me too, of course. Or, if he didn’t kill me, he’d take me out of the country with him. It was at this point that I realised I must protect my child and family members by involving the police.
The police issued an official warning to stop harassing me, which he ignored. He was arrested, cautioned and released. Within hours he had broken the terms of his caution. He was arrested again, and bailed pending prosecution. He entered a plea of ‘Not guilty’ to harassment.
The same night, I saw him crouched in a bush outside the property, watching and waiting. When he saw me at the window, he unfolded and beckoned me outside. My legs turned to jelly, but I did nothing and told no-one. I was still grappling with the trauma-bond and numbed to the point of inertia.
Sleep-walking days and wide-awake nights
Then the phonecalls resumed and I knew this would never end. My heart aching, I gave yet another statement to the police. They struggled to find him to enact an arrest warrant. I felt I was sleep-walking through life, the only colour and joy came from my baby boy – without knowing it, he reminded me daily that we both had the right to live free of the fear and chaos of domestic violence.
The police installed a range of security measures at my home. I sat with my closest relatives and agreed an emergency word, one which – if I ever used it in a telephone conversation – would mean I was being held against my will.
Weeks later, the police reported that they had arrested my ex. He was remanded in prison for a fortnight, appearing at court via video-link, where he continued to maintain his innocence. He was once more released on bail. Within days, he had picked up right where he left off. The merry-go-round of endless police reports and anxiety as they tried to track him down each time left me dizzy.
The day of the trial arrived. Sick with nerves, I attended to give my evidence. He didn’t even turn up to court, and so was found guilty in his absence. Once more, the police tried to track him down. It took weeks. When they eventually found him, they held him until his court appearance. Sentencing was postponed until assessments were completed. He disappeared again. Weeks later, he was arrested once more. Somehow, he walked out before the court session concluded. Another warrant was issued for his arrest.
The end of justice
Months went by and I heard nothing. A small part of me, the part encased in a cocoon, began to unfurl. I started to believe he had left the country. The knot in my stomach eased, and I could imagine a future where this madness was not my life. Then, a letter from the justice system. He had been arrested and brought to trial. I had my restraining order. I was given no other information. As far as the police and legal system was concerned, their job was done and the matter was at an end. I read the letter repeatedly, knowing that for me, it would never be over. Since that time, my ex has not contacted me. He has been sighted just once, by a friend.
The beginning of a stronger me
I expect I will always be watchful. I will always pay attention to the shadows. I will never leave a door or window unlocked. I will always tense at certain things and some songs will trigger unwanted flashbacks. I will, probably always, miss the memory of the man I loved. I will regret, for myself, my son and even for the man that inflicted so much pain, the broken promise of a happy, united family.
But I will also value the things I learned about myself. I am confident in my resilience and my compassion, and empowered by self-acceptance and self-reliance. I am free. I am healing. I am building a good life for my son. For me, this is just the beginning because I am, at last, getting back to me – and I wish the same for all of you.
What did you do to be safe when you left your abusive partner? Did the legal system make you feel more secure, or did it add to your trauma? What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is going through the aftermath of abuse?
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-15