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"'Why didn't you leave?' is the question that always hurts the most."

I come from a loving and supportive family, I have lots of friends and I am not someone you would consider unintelligent.

But know this: one does not have to be dumb to fall for the wrong person.

When I was 18 I had just started university and I was full of energy and life and I was very impressionable. Six months into my degree, I met a man five years older than me.

We dated for awhile before he moved in, I saw less and less of my friends because he called them immature and not ‘his sort of people’. His family was negative and not supportive, his stepfather was horrible and his real father wanted very little to do with him.

Over the course of five years, I went from being bubbly to downright depressed. This man managed to crush all of my personality and make me believe that I deserved it, when I was only ever supportive.

I tried to help him get into university, I sat down with him and helped with all of his assignments, he couldn’t be bothered. He next decided he would get an apprenticeship and I spent weeks looking for jobs and writing his CV; he lost interest.

This man told me I was overweight when I was 178cm and 65kg. He would not let me go out in public without make-up in case we saw someone he knew. He would tell me I looked tired, or that I looked fat or simply that I just looked plain awful.

This man had a gambling addiction. At first it was just a few hundred dollars every so often (which I thought was terrible as it was), it then turned into hundreds, then to thousands and one day it was over ten thousand. He quit his job and told me he was making enough money gambling. I tried to change his mind. I was embarrassed by his choice. I cried every day. I lied to my family, saying he was still working because I was so ashamed. My parents would visit and I would make up an excuse so they would not come inside and see him there.

As the gambling got worse, so did the emotional abuse. If he lost, it was my fault, he would scream at me every day. I was trying to study and he would be yelling at me and blaming me. My friends at university never met him but they knew how unhappy I was. They would ask if we had something in common and I would reply, “no.” They would ask if I was happy and I would reply, “no.”

It is hard to explain to someone why I stayed. He would threaten to kill himself if I left because he had nothing else in life. I was truly worried that if I did leave he would and it would be all my fault.

Towards the end, the physical abuse started. He would lose a bet and throw something at the wall, usually a phone, a wallet and one day my calculator, which I was using to study with at the time. Then he started throwing them at me because I would be crying.

He would tell me to shut up and that I had no reason to cry because it was him that had lost. He would then push me or throw me on the bed. I tried to tell him he was hurting me but he did not care.

I tried to get him to quit, I spent hours every day researching online, wondering if I was alone, because I felt so very, very alone. I love my family but due to shame I didn’t think I could tell them, didn’t think I could ask for help.

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I had only one, last close friend who knew everything that was going on.

This friend urged me to reassess my life and to kick him out.

It was a long time before I did. But then one day, I snapped. I couldn’t take it any more.

I picked a fight with him and told him to get out. He lost it completely. He screamed and cried but I didn’t budge. I said I’d had enough and I couldn’t help someone who wouldn’t help themselves.

I continued on with my life and enjoyed being free.

A year on, I met my current boyfriend. I tried so hard not to like him, I just kept telling myself he would let me down or he would cheat on me. Because that is what all men do (or so I thought). It was hard to do this when the differences were so stark. Where the other had been aggressive and condemning, he was caring and supportive, where the other had no motivation, he had drive and determination and where the other had lied to me, he was truthful and honest.

There was one thing that threw me about my new boyfriend though, it was when he asked about my ex. I struggled to tell him the details because I was so ashamed. His response was simple “why didn’t you leave?” That is a question so many people have asked me since. It is hard to describe just how much that question pains me. It is like people are criticising you for staying so long, almost like it is your fault, that you asked for it. The reason I chose to write this piece is because I want other women out there to know, you do not have to be ashamed for staying so long, but to be proud that you finally escaped.

It is a hard thing to leave someone who has abused you. After a while you begin to believe their harsh words, that you aren’t worth anything, that you’re ugly and no one else would want you.

If any of you reading have experienced this, I want you to know you are not alone, there is always an option, it may be hard but in the long term, you will be so happy you escaped. I am not the bravest I could be and I know that, but it is something I work on every day.

I know that there are women out there who have suffered far worse fates than I, but if we all talked about our problems, none of us would ever be truly alone. As a lone person we are vulnerable, together we can always find a solution.

Without the help from my dear friend, I am not sure I would be the person I am today. Like me, she had a boyfriend who was volatile but together, we both escaped and are all the more happier for it.

People prey on our emotions, whether you are in a relationship or not. I struggled to trust anyone after what had happened to me, my self-esteem was in ruins and I couldn’t take a compliment from anyone.

My boyfriend has spent so much time trying to make me believe I am worth something, some days I struggle to believe him, but I genuinely try. I try because deep down, no matter how much it hurt, I know that I am free now. No one will ever treat me that way again for the simple reason, that I will not let them.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous.

 If this post brings up any issues for you, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or go to their website. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.