I’m in Cyprus. I’m lying on a sun lounger next to the pool, in 27c heat, listening to little chirping birds and the dull hum of a lawn mower somewhere in the distance. And for the first time in weeks I feel like myself again. I let out a big, audible sigh.
You may have noticed that I’d taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging, Instagramming and Tweeting recently. However it’s not just social media I’ve been giving the silent treatment – I’ve also avoided talking to loved ones, friends and family. And I haven’t left the house much in the last few weeks either.
The sad truth behind this is that I’ve been dealing with some mammoth issues in my personal life that I felt I couldn’t discuss with anyone. It’s only now, now that there’s finally been some sort of “conclusion” to the situation that I feel ready, comfortable to talk about what’s been going on, and thus begin the slow process of moving on with my life.
As many of you know, last summer I made the massive decision to move up to Yorkshire. I quit my marketing job of three years, packed up my cats and everything I had accumulated through 29 years of existence, and left the busy Berkshire town of Reading for a quieter, more relaxed lifestyle in the tiny rural East Riding village of Burton Pidsea. This came with the added bonus of living with my new partner and his Labrador pup, so (on paper) my idyllic new life should have resulted in an all-round happier me.
But as I’m sure you can tell by the title and tone of this post, I’m no longer living up north. Because regrettably, less than seven months after making the big move, I’ve had to rapidly return to the South, with my tail between my legs, engulfed by mixed feelings of regret, guilt, failure, sadness, relief, confusion and anger.
“Good lord mate. You need a stiff gin”.
At the beginning of April my boyfriend decided to end things between us. It wasn’t altogether unexpected, as the relationship had been on a downward spiral since around the time of our trip to Cuba last year. Yes, I know, shit happens and people break up. It’s not the end of the world.
But it was the end of my world, because he (and the dog) were my entire universe up in East Yorkshire. Far from my friends and family down south, he was everything to me, my life revolved around him, around “us”. Without him, everything just seemed a bit pointless.
Sure, the village was the kind of place I’d only ever dreamt of living in (quiet, picturesque with lots of fresh air), and I’d eventually found myself a marketing job that I not only enjoyed, but also felt challenged in. And because of those two things I would have loved to continue living up north – however the circumstances for the split meant it just wasn’t a viable option. So a week after he’d ended things, for my own sanity, I was rescued by my parents and brought back down to Reading.
I should also mention that the return to my hometown was for my own safety, too.
Because for nearly five months, my boyfriend – the person I was suppose to be able to trust the most, the person that I thought I could count on for anything – repeatedly hurt me, both mentally and physically. I never thought I’d be able to say it out loud, but I am, or rather was, a “victim of domestic abuse”.
“It happens to more people than you realise”.
I don’t need to go into the nitty-gritty of what he did to me during the course of those five months, the details aren’t necessary and bringing them up only upsets and angers me. But some context is needed to explain the events surrounding the break-up, and to ultimately explain why I’ve returned to the south. So, brace yourself…
After he had spent a solid eight hours in the pub (drinking on an empty stomach, while also taking anti-depressants), my boyfriend came home and we rowed about the drunken state he was in. This lead to a physical fight. But with him measuring 6ft5 and me coming in at just 5ft1, it was a pretty uneven contest, even with his paralytic, alcohol-induced handicap. Without going into graphic detail, the neighbours heard the commotion and came around to my aide, just as he slammed the backdoor and locked it.
Taking me back to their house, they called the police, who arrived within about 15 minutes, as unbeknown to us at the time, another neighbour had seen the whole thing and already called them.
Around 3am on Saturday 1 April, after two-and-a-half hours of the police hammering on his door (he was that drunk he had passed out and even the dog barking didn’t wake him!), he finally opened it and was arrested. He was then taken to Clough Road police station where he was charged with four counts of assault on me.
Originally pleading not guilty, because of the evidence and the witnesses, for mine and the dog’s safety, he was detained in police custody for the entire weekend. After he’d soberred up, on the Monday he was taken to the Crown Court, where he changed his pleas to guilty. He was released on bail that afternoon, with conditions not to contact me and not to enter Burton Pidsea, with a court sentencing date of Monday 24 April.
“I’m so sorry to hear that moving to Yorkshire wasn’t your happy ever after”.
You may have noticed that earlier I said that it was he who chose to end our relationship. Once he was released on bail he deleted me off Facebook and changed his relationship status to “single”, without waiting for the dust to settle or waiting to discuss it with me. As I wasn’t able to speak to him when he ended things, I wasn’t sure what he was telling people about it (if anything at all). So when people contacted me asking what was going on, I was snappy and short with them.
Breaking up was never my decision. And until the Tuesday after he was released on bail, I didn’t want to break up with him. I still loved him (and if truth be told, a small part of me still does, the part that knows deep down he has the potential to be a nice, kind, caring man). I had hoped we could work things out. Yes, I know you’re probably thinking “but how can she love a man that does that to her?”. Foolishly, that’s how.
I’m embarrassed to admit that despite everything he’d done to me, all the hurt and upset he’d caused me, I still defended him and his actions. It wasn’t me that called the police to have him arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning, and it wasn’t me that pressed charges against him. Because, naively and stupidly, I didn’t think police action was necessary – all I wanted was for him to get professional help, because I believed he was suffering with depression and alcoholism.
But that Tuesday after he’d been released on bail, I was given a massive wake-up call. His actions on that Tuesday spoke louder than any words he might possibly have said to me; they slapped me hard across the face and made me finally see sense. His actions on that Tuesday just stood to prove that he had absolutely zero remorse for what he’d done to me and our relationship.
On that Tuesday, earlier in the day a concerned friend from the village messaged to ask if I was ok, as rumours were rife around Burton Pidsea. “It’s a small village, let people talk, they’ll soon find something else to gossip about,” I replied. But I was then messaged by the same friend a few hours later to say that my (by then ex) boyfriend had been seen drinking in a pub in a neighbouring village with his ex-girlfriend.
His ex-girlfriend had been trying to come between him and I ever since we first got together. She would flirt with him openly in front of me, she would send him provocative messages and dirty pictures, and she would beg him to come to the pub when she was working there because she was “bored”. Many would dismiss her as the sad and desperate woman she is, but to my boyfriend she was the bestest friend he’d ever had, because by working in the pub, she could give him the one thing I couldn’t: an endless supply of cheap (maybe even free on some occasions) beer.
To hear that he’d gone back to her, less than 24 hours after being released on bail for four charges of assault on me, was enough to push me over the edge.
That was when I finally realised that me constantly excusing him, believing that he was supposedly depressed or an alcoholic was not a justifiable reason to hurt me in the way he had.
“A lot of people have depression and don’t hurt other human beings”.
Depression wasn’t why he did it, and depression didn’t make his mental and physical abuse towards me acceptable. Perhaps in his own head being “depressed” was his way of justifying what he’d done – but I now believe he used depression as a way of controlling me, making sure I’d stay quiet about what he’d done, by telling me he didn’t want people to know he was depressed, because I was the only one who knew that he apparently had suicidal thoughts.
Since very early on in our relationship he would tell me about how he wished he was dead so he could be with his father (who had died two years prior), how he didn’t want to reach the age of 40, he wanted to “die young and live forever”, a real life Peter Pan. These conversations would only come about when he was drunk and emotional, and I felt special, trusted that he would share such personal, intimate thoughts with me. But he made me swear not to tell anyone about them, about what he’d said. He especially didn’t want me to tell his mother, who I had grown close to since he and I had gotten together.
Like it would with anyone who tells you they’re feeling suicidal, these conversations worried me. When sober the next day I would urge him to get help, speak to a doctor. But he wouldn’t, for many reasons (including not wanting to surrender his firearms licence and because he is a “Yorkshireman, and Yorkshiremen don’t go to doctors”) – which lead to more rows. And more drinking.
“You guys looked so happy together, I had no idea he was doing this to you”.
Up until maybe the beginning of November, our relationship had been pretty solid. Living together wasn’t always easy, we were cramped in his small two-bedroom bungalow, but we were happy nevertheless.
We would spend time together at the weekends, taking the dog for long walks (like when we walked the Trans Pennine Trail together) or going on random day trips to places (like the time he took me to see the seals of Donna Nook). While weekends were fun and energetic, weekdays were quieter, usually spent cooking for each other after work, then chilling in front of the TV.
But from around the end of November, we started having rows – many of which were the result of his ex-girlfriend and her persistent messaging. I always blamed myself for the rows though (and so did he, because according to him I was jealous of his “friend”), so I was always the one to say sorry first.
I’m not sure how, but then one day in early December the verbal rows became physical fights. Hurtful comments like “is it any wonder you were single for so long before me, nobody would want you” were followed by blazing arguments and normally led to him storming out to the pub for hours at a time, where he’d ignore my texts and calls asking when he’d be home, instead choosing to get completely wasted. I would lie in bed wondering fearfully what would happen when he came back, if he came back at all. I began sleeping on the sofa with the emergency sleeping bag I always kept in my car.
“In no way is this, or was this ever, your fault”.
He would always turn things around, manipulate things. A favourite game of his was to use my intelligence against me, I was “educated, sweetheart” so why couldn’t I get it through my “thick head” that he wasn’t an alcoholic, that he didn’t need therapy or pills. But after everything he hurled at me I just carried on with our “relationship” because I thought it wasn’t his fault, it was my fault for not being more understanding of his illness.
A few people that I confided in, including his mother and some people who I thought were my friends, said that I was pressuring him, that it was my fault we rowed because I “pushed his buttons”. They said that he needed space, he needed to be left alone…
Except the night I left him alone and took myself off to the cinema (to watch Split, a James Mcavoy film about mental health, ironically) to give him some space in his house (what he’d asked for that morning before I left for work), I came back to find that he’d been in the pub all night anyway. He returned home drunk, angry and looking for a fight. A pathetic argument about washing up liquid ensued, ending with him nearly killing me.
Knowing I couldn’t stay there, I took refuge at the neighbours’ house, and hid from him for a few days. The neighbours helped get some of my belongings from his house, so that I could continue going to work, continue with as much normality as possible. The kind-hearted neighbours also rescued the cats for me. He’d threatened many times that he would tear their heads off, and after everything he’d done I wouldn’t have put it passed him, so wanted to get them out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t speak to him or let him know where I or the cats were.
After two days of silence he contacted me though, apologising for what he’d done, saying he was ashamed of his behaviour. He wanted to meet to talk about what had happened. I agreed to see him in a public place, away from the house. He looked distraught, dishevelled, told me he’d wanted to throw himself off the Humber Bridge. So foolishly, after promises of getting help for depression and promises about cutting back the amount he drunk and the amount of time spent in the pub, I forgave him and we carried on.
But that night in January changed our relationship forever, and there was no way it could ever go back to how it was, no matter how hard I tried and how much I wanted it to. I’m not a quitter though, so I preserved. Looking back I now regret not walking away sooner, and I regret not opening up to my family and real friends about what was happening. Hindsight is such a nuisance, isn’t it.
Since talking to my family and friends about everything that’s happened, I’ve realised that I was being emotionally blackmailed into staying with him. I felt I couldn’t leave him because I feared what he might do to himself if I went.
It wasn’t just him though, his family played a part. I wanted to protect them and shelter them from any more hurt (as they’d often mentioned how difficult life had been with my boyfriend’s twin brother, a self-confessed alcoholic who bragged about being able to drink a litre of vodka in two hours). But in protecting them I wasn’t protecting myself – the person who needed the most protection of all.
After the attack in January, I decided to speak up and tell his mother and stepfather about what he was doing to me. They were sad to hear what had happened, and appeared sympathetic. His mum messaged to ask if I was going to leave him, and that it was a shame what had happened because she thought we could have a fantastic life together. I felt guilty for upsetting her, for causing her grief, so I stuck it out. I tried to continue my relationship with her son, but only on the proviso that he got help for depression and cut back on alcohol.
Unbeknown to me, but known to many others, l wasn’t the first girl he’d abused. Apparently 20 odd years ago he used to knock his first girlfriend (the only other girlfriend he’s ever lived with) around. Though she never took it to the police, years after they’d split she finally came forward and told his family why she had left him.
This crucial detail was only mentioned to me in passing by his twin brother, after my boyfriend had been released on bail for abusing me. “History repeating itself” is what his brother described it as. Nobody had ever told me this though. If they had have done I would have left after the first time he was violent to me at the beginning of December.
What upsets me the most though is that his mother knew exactly what he was capable of, she knew he’d previously been violent to a woman. Yet she still encouraged me to stay with him. She is just as guilty as he is for the emotional blackmail I was subjected to. And I can never forgive her of that.
“Times like this you learn who are real friends”.
Another reason I didn’t speak out or leave, despite everything he’d done, was the worry that people in the village (his friends) would see me as the enemy, that I’m just some “soft southern cunt” as he’d called me multiple times. I worried they would think it was all my fault and that I deserved it, as all everyone saw was me “nagging” him about how much he’d drunk or telling him I wanted to go home from the pub, texting all the time to find out where he was when he went out drinking and I wasn’t there.
But at the end of the day the guy everyone saw in the pub laughing and joking and pissing about wasn’t the real him. I believe that he’d drink to excess to hide the fact that he’s insecure, he’d pay for everyone to have a drink to buy his friends and so he wouldn’t have to drink alone, he’d drink to numb his depression. And then when in private, when he was drunk and rowing with me, he’d mention suicidal thoughts (or worse, become violent).
Nobody saw this though, or saw what I had to endure.
So the day after he was released on bail and chose to go drinking with his ex-girlfriend was the day I chose to finally speak out about what he’d done. I wasn’t going to excuse what he’d done any more or keep telling myself that it was my fault.
Most people were very supportive, especially those that have known me a long time – ex-work colleagues, uni friends and my family. But there were quite a few up in Yorkshire (mostly those in the village, as predicted) that chose to believe him when he went around telling people that I was lying… this really got to me.
On the morning of Sunday 9 April, it all got too much and I had a massive breakdown. I couldn’t cope any more. That Sunday I hit rock bottom. That was when my parents came up to Yorkshire to save me.
I had two of my own friends up there, living in a nearby town. We had been friends since way before I moved up – they were actually the ones to introduce my boyfriend and I, setting us up on our first date. But after I finally spoke out about how he’d been treating me, their reaction and treatment of me was disgraceful. They effectively disowned me, saying it was all my fault that this had happened to me, that I was selfish and that they wanted nothing more to do with me. They believed him and added him back as a friend on Facebook (they had previously deleted him back in January). Meanwhile I was de-friended and blocked.
I was devastated – I had known them for seven years, I went to their wedding, their little boy’s christening, I had gone above and beyond for them over the years when they lived in London and when they lived in Hull. They knew me better than anyone up there, and they didn’t believe me, they believed him. I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t handle the lies and the rumours and no one up there believing me. So I broke down, then came back down south, where I belong according to everyone down in Reading.
It amazed me how the people down south, the ones that really know me, know that I wouldn’t lie about something serious like this. They have supported me 100%, with words of encouragement and positivity.
“A piss poor sentence for what he has done, both mentally and physically”.
I said at the beginning of this post that I only felt ready to talk about what had happened because they’d been a “conclusion” to the situation. On Monday 24 April my ex-boyfriend went to Hull magistrates court for sentencing. He pleaded guilty to four charges of abuse on me, and was given the following:
- 16 weeks imprisonment, suspended sentence for 24 months
- 30 hours alcohol and drugs rehabilitation programme with the probation service
- 120 hours unpaid work to be completed in 12 months
- To pay £115 victim surcharge
- To pay £85 Crown Prosecution costs
It’s not a lot considering what he did to me over the course of those five months, and considering the consequential unemployed and homeless state I’m now in. Not to mention the constant nightmares I’ve had since that fateful night back in January, and the anxiety and depression I’ve felt since all this came to light at the beginning of April. Plus, if we’re getting really granular, all the money I spent (and lost) on him, the holidays I booked and paid for, the laptop I bought him, the days out and meals I paid for. I could go on.
It’s not really a fitting punishment at all. But at the end of the day, he’s the one that has to live with the guilt of what he’s done. He’s the one that has to stay in that small rural village in East Yorkshire, always looking over his shoulder and always wondering what people really think about him, knowing what he’s done.
“Remember you’re a survivor – not a victim”.
That’s right, I’m not a domestic abuse victim anymore, despite the blunt label from the Humberside police. I’m a survivor. So what am I going to do now?
Well, it’s the first time in my adult life that I’ve been unemployed and without my own home. With no real reason to get up in the morning, I have been very down recently. But I’m trying to be as brave and upbeat as possible, trying to find positives in everything that’s happened.
My family has been really supportive, and even helped with hiring a van and driving 500 miles in one day to go and collect all my possessions from his house. I attended my cousin’s wedding just a few days after coming back down south. I was reluctant to go at first, as I didn’t want questions and pitying looks. But with my dad and one of my brothers at my side, I went – I even managed to smile and dance with my cousins and their partners. I was proud of myself, taking small steps.
It’s not just my family that have rallied around, my friends have been diamonds too, all offering me sofas to sleep on and somewhere to stay when I need a break. I’ve had messages of support from people who have been through similar experiences too, which although sad to hear, makes me feel less isolated.
My friends have been my pillars of strength through all of this (I’ve even used some of their comments and messages as sub headers in this post). My only regret is that I didn’t speak to them about all this sooner, as it may not have got as far as it did if I had have done. But that’s hindsight for you, again.
At the moment my life does seem like a series of cliches, one after the other. They say that “love is patient, love is kind”. They say that “love conquers all”. And they say that “love is blind”. While I definitely can’t attest to the first two anymore, the third phrase has been uttered to me so many times in the past few weeks that it no longer seems like a cliche, more of a mantra in fact.
Having already told my friends and family about what my ex-boyfriend had done, I debated long and hard about writing this post, about whether I felt comfortable with complete strangers knowing what had happened. It would have been easier to just carry on blogging without mentioning what’s been going on, but to do that felt like burying my head in the sand. So instead I’ve decided to draw a line in the (Cypriot) sand, and take fingers to keyboard to share my story.
“…happy you’re home, now go and enjoy your holiday”.
As mentioned before, since returning to Reading, I’ve not left the house much. To try and get my head in a better place, I booked a last minute break to Cyprus (keeping travel costs down with just 5kg of carry on luggage, of course). Some time away is just what I need right now, and the 27c sunshine is definitely helping.
One of my good friends is even going to pop out for a few days to join me (impromptu plane tickets were booked last night, and she arrives tomorrow). It will be lovely to have some company, and I’m sure endless chatter with her will stop me dwelling on him, the ex-girlfriend that he’s now back with, and the Labrador I miss so much.
“Time will be the healer”.
I’m still on my mission to complete the 30 countries before 30 challenge I set myself, so I’m determined not to let everything that’s happened recently hinder that. And while I no longer believe that “love conquers all”, I want to still believe that “everything happens for a reason”. I sincerely hope that “time is the greatest healer”, and I’m crossing my fingers that there are “plenty more fish in the sea”.
But to end on my own cliche, I’ve proven to myself that no matter what is hurled at me, I will “always carry on”.