Christmas campaign: ‘It’s like he stole my personality’ - survivor of domestic violence speaks out
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Stories about domestic violence do not always end in tragedy. Many people escape the cycle of abuse and begin new lives free from violent and controlling behaviour.
In the second week of our awareness campaign highlighting the work of the Herts Domestic Violence Abuse Helpline in tackling the issue, we hear first-hand from a survivor of abuse who wanted to share her story. Nikki is now a volunteer call taker for the helpline, wanting to be there for other people in her situation.
“I was married for about three and a half years, but it seemed like an eternity.
“I’d always been very independent, but my husband slowly started making decisions for me. He led me to believe that everyone I knew thought I was flaky, annoying, mentally unstable and a general burden.
“Nobody liked me; they just wanted to exploit me so they could laugh at me. He told me my friends were spreading rumours about me, and he’d often list the complaints that other people had made to him about me. He was a saint for putting up with me and he was the only one who was trying to help me.
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“We lived overseas at the time which made me extra isolated. I became desperate - I really thought I was going insane. Everything I had ever known was turned upside down and every insecurity I had about myself was magnified.
“I became physically and mentally unwell. It was difficult for me to concentrate on anything and I was barely capable of working. I cried almost continuously and rarely left the house – my husband had told me it was unsafe. I knew how hard it was for him to be married to me so I didn’t want to make things worse for him.
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“I knew something was wrong but I didn’t understand what. My family were incredibly worried but they were a long way away and although I had told them some of what was happening I wanted to shield them from the worst of it. I tried to ask for help from members of our church but it seemed that people didn’t understand what I was getting at.
“My husband was a well respected man in the local community. Because I was so confused I wasn’t able to articulate things properly – plus I was terrified of him finding out that I’d been “airing our dirty laundry in public”. People told me I needed to get used to living in a different country, but I knew it was more than that. I couldn’t make myself heard and I began to believe that I had no right to complain because everything was my fault.
“As well as this emotional abuse my husband was physically, financially and sexually abusive – although I didn’t realise this until much later.
“Eventually, after a long and traumatic saga, my parents brought me home to Hertfordshire. I started to slowly put my life back together. I got a temping job which became permanent. I went to my GP and asked for mental health support. At this point I still hadn’t realised I had been abused.
“The GP referred me to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programme, and they, in turn, referred me to the North Herts Women’s Centre for counselling. This meant I was able to talk things through with a third party and work out what was best for me. I was gradually able to understand that what had happened to me was abuse, and that I had done nothing wrong. I decided to file for divorce.
“Two years on I’m still putting my life back together. It’s been incredibly hard. I still can’t believe anyone could treat another human being like that and there are still times when I think I must have made a mistake or interpreted things wrongly.
“It’s sometimes difficult to remember who I am - it’s like he stole my personality. I miss the country where I used to live, and my wonderful step children, and it’s heart-breaking to think I might never be able to go back there. I’ve had to change all my contact details so my ex-husband can’t get in touch with me – and this meant I’ve lost touch with some old friends.
“Just over a year ago I trained as a volunteer call taker for the Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline. This is really important to me as it I know how much strength it takes to make that call and I know how important it is that someone is there to listen.
“I still get flashbacks and struggle with anxiety. I’m now having private counselling at the Hertfordshire Therapy Centre. I’m learning to be kind to myself and give my body – and my brain – time to heal.”
If you can relate to Nikki’s story and would like to get information about what options are available, then please call the Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline on 08 088 088 088. The helpline is a free and confidential service. It offers advice and support to any colleagues, friends or family members who have concerns that someone they know is enduring abuse and would like advice on how to help. Visit www.HertsDomesticAbuseHelpline for more information.