By NAOMI ASHCROFT
I didn’t think it could happen to me.
I’m a masters educated, independent woman, in my mid thirties who always had a good social life and lots of friends. But I’ve just left an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship that was escalating to the point I could clearly see that physical abuse was coming next.
Like putting a frog in a slow boiling pot of water I didn’t even realise it was even happening until I was well and truly broken. As a teenager, I remember seeing a midday movie about this subject and thinking, “that looks awful, but I’d never stay with a man who’d treat me that way.”
One incident stands out. Not for any real reason… but it was what I had become used to hearing every single day.
After my best friend’s wedding in country, we drove back home and had a Sunday night dinner with a movie on the couch. About 9:30pm I started feeling sharp pains in my stomach, so I went to the bathroom where I began throwing up, became sweaty and flushed with a high fever.
I called out to him and as the bathroom was within earshot of the lounge, I expected him to come in. He never replied so I came out into the lounge and said to him, “I’m really not well, I think I might have to go to emergency now.” I was shaking with fever and quite scared. He had been snoozing on the couch. He looked up at me and said, “If you stop being a bitch I’ll help you.”
I was shocked and my mind immediately raced to what he could possibly have thought I was being a bitch about. I had seen this unpredictable, unreasonable turn in him before so in my vulnerable state I knew the best thing was to go. He followed me, apologising for calling me a bitch and then got angry again when I told him I was too sick to argue and I had no idea why he called me ‘that’ name.
I walked away got into my car and drove to emergency in tears of confusion, feeling very let down… again. I was there 5 hours until 3am, a friend came to support me and stayed the whole time. He called once to ask where I was, I told him at the hospital which was only few minutes from home. I again told him calling me a bitch upset me, isn’t acceptable and is verbal abuse. He began defending his position, saying it again and saying I shouldn’t have done this and that.
I hung up and went back into the emergency waiting room. I had blood tests, internal examinations and cried in my little back-sided open white gown, the fluro lights stinging my teary eyes until 3.30am. I hoped deep down he would turn up to support me, but I knew in my heart of hearts he wouldn’t. I recognised I had begun to walk on eggshells around him. I didn’t want to be on the end of another unreasonable angry outburst. I was afraid of him.
I cut contact and after a few days I began receiving texts, emails and phone calls of heartfelt apologies. Long messages of how ashamed he was of his behaviour and how he would never treat me that way again. I had heard it all before so I didn’t respond, I began to listen to friends who saw the pattern. He wouldn’t let up with deep sad apologies, even climbing onto my mother’s balcony when no one was home and letting himself in to leave a present by my bed – all this without permission to come in.
I resisted for a while but then I began taking his calls: he was sweet, humble, sorry and begging for another chance to show me how he could change. My heart was torn. I missed him. I was feeling alone.
It took 4 weeks of ‘good behaviour’ before the next incident occurred.
Each time I returned, I became more ‘conditioned’ to the levels of abuse I wouldn’t have accepted the time before. I felt like I was losing my mind.
Each time I returned, after he had ‘won’ me back he’d be wonderful for weeks, we’d laugh, make plans, enjoy life together like normal couples and I’d feel hope he was going to be the man I loved all the time, finally.
Sometimes it’s subtle and when you love them deeply and are planning a life with them as there are so many good times, it’s a shock when he turns on you. It began with small things, bad moods, broken promises, controlling ways then it would begin escalating and finally build to another unbearable abusive episode.
Just over month ago, I left for good.
I’ve joined an online verbal abuse bulletin board and I read it everyday to remind myself of the truth which seems to fade all to quickly. I am rebuilding each day slowly and will never go back. I will now only be treated with respect, love and mutual kindness.
Woman stay in abusive relationships for lots of reasons and I judge none of them – although I would have before going through this myself. Now I see we need to speak up about this, we need to start sharing our stories, telling our young woman and opening our eyes fully. So we have the education, the knowledge and the power to stand up for ourselves and our loved ones. So that we are strong enough to leave.
Naomi is a masters-educated, mother of one beautiful daughter and considers herself a supporter of feminism and women’s rights.
White Ribbon is Australia’s campaign to stop violence against women. You can donate to them here or, better still, get all the men in your life to take their oath to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.