[I had my words stolen yesterday. By a "feminist" man. He won't apologise or acknowledge that he has done so. That happens all the time. Owen Jones supplements his income with taking feminist words. I have never been paid for writing and don't care if I'm not. I love writing.
I am annoyed, but I will do what is better for me than being angry. I can write about an experience only a woman can have had. He can't rewrite this for his own "feel good" factor. Because this cannot have happened to him.
I'll also be accused of "playing the victim". Yeah - I don't care that much.... because I was one. "Victim" is left behind when something bad has been done to you. Bad things were done. I don't see why women should feel terrible about sharing that experience so that other women can get angry and perhaps get free as I did. Now I am a survivor. Now I can look back on this awful time with more clarity and know why it matters to write about it for others. ]
This is years ago. I had taken back my abuser after splitting with him for 6 months. We do that. I had believed his promises. We do that. I had trusted he would and could change. We do that.
I hadn't realised that things had already begun to slip. I didn't know that he had been lulling me into believing that things really had changed. There was a night I knew for sure.
I had taken him back after a break because he went on a downward spiral of drink and drugs. He had threatened to kill himself and one day I turned up at his place with our child to find him distraught and virtually unintelligible surrounded by a heap of bottles and filth.
I am a caring person and immediately set about helping. I didn't take him back at that very moment and held out for a few more weeks. I tried to stay free. But the promises and the emotional manipulation proved too strong. Another woman told me I would be better off taking him back as I was going to struggle financially. I wasn't, I had found a really good job. She said I was better off with him than letting another woman have him. This gave me the feeling that no one else would want me and that men are a valuable commodity we need to survive. I had very low self esteem and a genuine fear that I would fail at life if he wasn't around. He had been giving me that message for many years. I had doubts I would live through a year. I was afraid my child would suffer and I was being selfish. He had told me that too. Often.
People say all sorts of unsupportive things when you are being abused. You are lost and advice is comforting. Some of it you take. Sometimes the right advice isn't offered. I had no feminist connections at that time for obvious reasons. He had severed most of my connections with friends. I had no close family to rely on. He had ensured any sort of loose connections were severed. I had a friend at that time and he accused me of sleeping with him. He still accuses me of this when he gets the chance and some free texting time. He tells anyone who will listen that my infidelity is the reason he abused me for what else could he do? It is nonsense. I didn't try to sleep with his best friend either. None of his friends were any more attractive as human beings to me than he was.
I took him back. I enjoyed the new start and he promised that is what it was. He was more caring for a while and said less horrible things. I didn't feel controlled - as much. "A bit nicer" when you've been abused isn't that hard for an abuser to do. For anyone looking from the outside it would still look like pretty horrible treatment and a pretty horrible life.
I didn't realise that I was still apprehensive about asking to go out with friends. A friend had asked me to drinks in another part of town. I was afraid to tell him because he didn't know these friends and he was very judgemental about that part of town. I decided to stick to my guns and new freedom and go though. I did eventually work up to telling him after deciding a few times that I wouldn't bother going. Convincing myself I preferred to be at home anyway.
He made me fearful by telling me it was not a good venue. In a pretence at caring he dropped me off and watched me go inside. This way he knew I was "safe". I look back now and am ashamed that I ever thought myself free. I wasn't. I had been apart from him. I had never been free. He had been carefully invested in getting me back under control. That is all.
I began to talk to people in the pub. I suspect now that he probably stayed outside a while. Watching. I felt a bit awkward but had a couple of drinks and began to talk to new people. I am pretty sociable and I had always been good at passing myself off as confident and good at socialising even when I was in the middle of being abused.
As the night wore on I began to get texts. Texts asking how long I would be. Then another and another and another. Finally telling me to get in a taxi and come home or the door would be locked against my getting in. It was about 11.30 pm.
I hailed a taxi in a panic. I couldn't get one at first and was on my doorstep a little after midnight. Maybe 12.10 am. It was locked. The key was in the other side. I knocked gently. My child was in bed. The next day was school. I knocked again. And again. I panicked. I became really scared. Where would I go? Eventually I saw him come downstairs. He did not speak. He stared at me and stormed back to bed. I felt confused. I went to bed and he did not speak. I didn't sleep well. The next morning I felt pretty angry. I knew inside that I hadn't done anything wrong. I went downstairs as he was going off to work and had not spoken a word to me. He had been waiting. I began by saying I had done nothing wrong.
The switch flicked.
He threw the table across the kitchen smashing it into the wall where it caved plaster out of the wall. Yes. That much force. He threw the chair at me, just missing of course. He pounded on the sink draining board with his fist until it caved in. All the time screaming that I had disobeyed him. He couldn't trust me. I had promised to be in for 11 and I had stayed out beyond that. I had never said a time I would be home and he had never asked for one. I ran to the bottom of the stairs and sat crying. I pleaded and tried to reason with him. He shouted all sorts of names at me. Called me a slut and deceitful. Said I was taking the piss out of his good nature. Why had he come back when I was only making him miserable? On and on. Finally ignoring my distressed state he left, slamming the door behind him and I immediately set about clearing the mess and getting my child ready for school. Trying to act normal. Trying to field questions about the mess. Trying to hold my insides straight and tidy whilst my mind whirred in complete confusion.
I met the friend with the "go back" advice for a coffee as it was my day off. I told her what had happened. She seemed to be uncomfortable but still said it was "early days and will calm down".
I listened to her and I decided she was right. I probably hadn't tried hard enough to make him feel secure. Yes. I actually thought like that at the time.
I spent the day upset and wondering what to do. I was right. I did have the right to be out to a time I decided. I also spent some time wondering if I really had agreed to be in by 11pm and if it really was so unreasonable for him to expect me to be home. This was gas lighting. I know that now. I had never said it and both he and I knew it.
That night he didn't come home from work. I tried calling. There was no answer. I didn't spend any time thinking about the smashed up kitchen but I spent subsequent years looking at the damage left behind that I could never quite bring myself to fix.
I called again and again. I got scared. I wanted to apologise and fix things. We are conditioned by abusive men to try to fix situations caused by their poor behaviour.
Eventually he called me. Well I say he called me. His phone called me. I answered. I could hear footsteps as I said "Hello. Hello?"
I heard doors opening. He had obviously called me by mistake. Or so I thought then. I don't now of course.
I heard a woman's voice speak. I was gripped to the phone and sweating. I was still trying to get his attention by shouting his name. The woman said something I could not hear and then I heard a door open and close with a squeak. The footsteps began again. I heard his voice ask a question.
"Have you got one in stockings?"
I went cold. He was in a brothel. He admitted this later. He said it was my fault. I began to cry. I listened to him enter a room and slur something to a woman there. Then there were a lot of muffled noises whilst I screamed his name and begged him not to do what he was clearly doing.
Eventually the phone went dead. Clearly he knew I had heard enough. I was with him for about another 4 years after that. You can imagine what they were like.
So.... to the man on Twitter doing your "amazing work for women" by rewriting things we write and talking of our activism as though you are part of it - know this ... you can't steal these words or this experience because you haven't lived it. Many women have and for those women my heart cries.
(P.s - I'm free. I did not catch a sexually transmitted disease from that vile man. I am sorry to the poor woman he used like an object. I hope she didn't either. I hope she got free of that terrible life. I am not sorry for sharing this experience and I have not shared it because I want people to feel sorry for me. I share because another woman somewhere is hearing shitty advice and wondering whether to take it. I hope she doesn't take it. I hope she finds some feminist advice instead.)