Below are the testomonies of women who participanted in the project. Please note that these stories contain themes which some may find upsetting.
Don’t believe my words; they’re lies that I make up to project a good life,
and convince you I’m okay.
Don’t trust the smile; it’s a facade to conceal searing pain, acute shame
Don’t be fooled by the laughter, it’s merely an echo of the hollow inside.
Don’t be convinced by the clarity and order; it’s an attempt to control the chaos and calm the storms brewing inside.
Don’t be blinded by the happiness I exude,
The courage I fake,
The confidence I wear,
For I am broken…….
It wasn’t all bad – he wasn’t all bad and I certainly wasn’t always good; I got things wrong all the time and I’m pretty sure towards the end I was increasingly cold and distant as I tried to build up a protection around me, to keep him out, to pretend it was ok, I was ok.
We weren’t even together that long I guess – we probably only lived together a couple of years and even then he’d be away from time to time and we’d keep moving because that was what he was used to and because he’d get into an argument, start drinking, there’d be a fight, maybe the police and sometimes he couldn’t even remember what had happened because he’d drunk too much and blacked out.
He didn’t hit me that often, he never really hurt me physically, not badly. Yes, there was a black eye – the worst part was probably having to walk down the line to my sewing machine past all the eyes, guessing what had happened. I was working in a factory sewing buttons onto M and S shirts and I remember having to be there that day and feeling so exposed and so stupid – but there were other women there who did understand, who wanted to help. I could have asked for more help then – I wish I had. Later, after we’d moved again and our son, my son, had been born, I remember a woman who worked in the shop two doors down, asking me at the counter if we could keep the noise down as it was ‘not very nice’ to hear raised voices. I could barely speak to her – I wanted some help, someone to care, she didn’t care what was happening behind our door as long as we kept it quiet.
I felt so trapped, I just didn’t see how it could ever end. I remember walking behind him on the beach …. following him, wondering how it could end. Would he kill me? Would I end up killing him?
Every day I was tip toeing on eggshells, never knowing when or why they might crack. That was the hardest part, never being able to trust that the good mood would continue, knowing deep down that the anger would surely erupt again, the criticism, something I’d done wrong – like leaving hair in the bath after I’d washed it, or under-cooking a boiled egg – would provoke the shouting and the throwing and the overwhelming fury.
It was the walking on eggshells which almost broke me.
It was like being trapped, held down, unable to breathe in a dark and scary place filled with pain, constant heart breaking agony. It felt like there was real danger everywhere and I couldn’t let my guard down for a second in case he turned on me or worse still my children. Even in public there was the risk of him ‘having one of his turns’ and me having to deal with the aftermath then going back home with him again not knowing what would happen next. Living with ‘it’ was exhausting. ‘It’ was the abuse – dress it up as mental health problems, put it down to personality, call it what you will but it was and still is abuse.
Hours spent trying to understand why, often using self blame as an answer and wanting to fix things but also wondering if every marriage was like this and if so could I really do this for the rest of my life and at what cost to my own mental health and safety? I could trust no one having been let down by the one person I had given my absolute all to – til death us do part, in sickness and in health and forsaking all others.
A decade later and trust is still a challenge, the need to self protect when triggers occur, and they do still occur, will always be ingrained. That panic, the rapid heartbeat and the sense of fear fade but the scars don’t.
There’s light though now, so much light, it’s bright and sunny and brings with it freedom, self belief, confidence. and love. It shines through every aspect of my life and makes me happy to be me and proud to have come through those times.
Real love and respect need to start with the journey to feeling those things for yourself. Real love doesn’t hurt, physically or emotionally, it doesn’t cause fear and it helps us grow stronger and heals wounds.
Within The Family
I lived with domestic violence within my family. I felt fear for my loved ones who experienced it. In different decades my sister and my granddaughter lived with violent partners. My sister lived with her architect husband and 2 young children in a leafy middle class London commuter town. She would call me in tears, he had hit her, she was left bruised, sometimes bleeding, and bemused. She had been to the doctors or a hospital. In the late 60’s early 70’s these events were not discussed. I was the only person she revealed her pain to. I told her to leave him, see a lawyer. How different things were then, on the cusp of women’s liberation, women’s fight for autonomy. We were still owned, chattels. She wouldn’t, couldn’t leave her husband. I felt helpless. She loved him she said, she stayed with him for the children. She eventually left him when my nieces were young adults and one had been beaten herself.
Years later, my troubled younger granddaughter then in her early twenties got involved with a violent dangerous man. He used to watch her every move, we tried to get her to leave him. They lived on one of the big Glasgow estates. Detached from the world she had grown up in, she sank into the darkness. My daughter, instead of calling the police after a beating incident, would get up at 3 in the morning and go round there to calm him down. He threatened other members of my family. We felt my granddaughter would die. This time though we shared our fears as a family, with our friends, with help that had become available.
When I was going through this experience with my sister I heard a women’s hour programme on domestic violence. At this time Erin Pitze was starting Women’s Aid, I heard there what I had felt through those troubled times, that people supporting those experiencing domestic violence needed support groups for themselves as it is a very lonely, stressful experience. Things have changed from that time in the late 60’s. Help can be easily accessed on-line, through gp’s and other agencies. You do not need to be alone.
This is not Love…….is it?
Sex that made me feel demeaned and depressed, regularly
Sex that had no signs of love
Sex that made me cry
Sex that made me feel deeply ashamed and disgusted with myself
Sex where you wanted to punish and discipline me
Sex where you wanted me to crawl on the floor
Sex where you wanted to drag me around by the neck
Sex where you wanted to hit me hit me hit me
Sex where you never kissed me
Sex where you’d ask me to say please and thankyou
Telling me the bruises turned you on……
Telling me you owned my body, it was yours to do as you liked
Telling me you’d like me more if I was skinnier……
Telling me I was a slag and whore who you didn’t have to pay.
Why was I addicted to the trauma?
Why did I stay so long?
Why did I let you do it, why? Why? Why?..
[ Anonymous ]
We are so grateful to all of the women who bravely told their stories.