It has been more than three years now since I found myself free and floundering. Those early days, weeks and even months were filled with fear, confusion and grief. My world had not only suddenly collapsed, but I was slowly becoming aware of the reality of my marriage.
There are still times where I find myself wondering how I didn’t know, whether I have exaggerated events or if I deserved it for being a bad person. But then the flashbacks come, and I know it wasn’t me. I guess nineteen years of conditioning will take some time to undo.
Looking back, I can’t place exactly when the control started. There are a few moments, snippets, that may form parts of the initial foundations, though I can’t place them clearly on a timeline. Many of these seem trivial in isolation, or maybe they are normal things that I am confusing as the starting point, but they all helped to form the multiple layers of confusion and fear that over time dismantled my awareness.
The fragmented memories mean my recollection, and this post, are disjointed, therefore I apologise to anyone that tries to read or follow this post. I guess it is more about me trying to confront, process, log and release the many individual events that haunt and control me even now.
In the early weeks of our relationship, he would phone me all the time, and if my friend was with me he would get really annoyed if I spoke to her or if he could hear her say anything. He began to make negative comments about her, and saying he wouldn’t talk to me if she was around. It started as little jokes, but over time, as his confidence grew, they became cruel. I now know an early test was when he made me choose between him and her. This would have been one of his first major victories.
I had a pair of shorts I loved, but the second summer were together he told me I was too fat to wear them anymore. He bought me a beautiful white summer dress, he insisted on buying it for me after I had tried it on and showed him, but then he never allowed me to wear it out because it was “too see through”. I bought a Christmas t shirt, but he hated me wearing it as he said the slogan was intended to make men look at my breasts. I bought a pair of white trainers which I only wore once because he said they were too white and were blinding people. Clothes slowly got longer in length, higher neck lines, baggy and plain as he didn’t like anything with writing or patterns.
He told me I should be independent, and go out with friends. But whenever I did, he would keep texting or calling me, then when I came home he would accuse me of being a bad mum for not doing dinner or bedtime for my son. I remember a work do I had to go on, and one of my colleagues told me to run for the hills when she overheard him. I defended him, said he was just thinking of the children (my son and step son).
Any time I had been out with friends, he would search through my bag and purse in front of me to see how much money I had spent. He would then quiz me about how drunk I had appeared so he could work out how many drinks had been bought for me. One time I had been given a phone number by a guy I’d met. I stupidly put it in my bag, but forgot to get rid of it before going home. I had to lie and say it was for my friend, but she couldn’t take it home because her boyfriend would search her bag (I knew it was a rubbish lie and so did he).
After we got engaged, we went for a meal with our parents so everyone could meet. On the drive home he pulled up in the countryside and told me I needed to “thank” him for the engagement ring and for paying for my parents to eat.
That seemed to start a pattern. Any time my parents would phone me, he would start trying to make me perform oral sex, so I wouldn’t be able to speak to them, or concentrate on the conversation. I would have to try to hide away from him, or not let him know my phone had rung. The moment the calls ended he would walk off. My parents had emigrated, and over time their phone calls became less frequent. He told me it was because they didn’t care.
Similarly, whenever we had family over for a meal (usually his family), he would corner me in the kitchen, with everyone in the next room waiting for us to bring in the food, and try to force me to perform oral sex. He would become angry when I refused, he would call me names. I would then have to make polite conversations during dinner, all the while knowing what would face me once our guests had gone home and our boys were in bed.
I had a rental tv (back in the good old radio rentals days). I loved my tv, and when we took out a bank loan (in my name) he said I could either buy my tv to keep it, or pay off one of his bills. I chose to buy my tv. It turned out this was the wrong choice, he told me I had failed his “test”. This was the first time I was aware that he was testing me, but every time I always seemed to fail, no matter how hard I tried to please him and get it right. I used to ask him not to use me as a toy for his psychology studies, he found that very funny and told me I was paranoid.
He had always wanted to study criminal psychology, he was fascinated by serial killers. We often talked about him returning to study, but he said if he worked with or studied offenders he feared he would end up following a very dark path. He used to tell me that every man should have at least one chance to kill, that they needed to experience it.
After our son was born, I wanted to go back to work, just to earn a little bit of money so I didn’t need to rely on him, or always ask him for money. He didn’t want me to work, he resisted it, and I had to fight for permission. I got a part time job over the weekends so my kids always had one of us at home with them. After about a year, my manager left, and I was faced with either going full time, or losing my job, I had to go full time, though it meant no longer only working weekends. When he changed jobs I had to get a better paid job to make up the drop in money coming in. He wanted me to pay my salary into his bank account. I wouldn’t do it. Money caused us lots of conflicts.
Eventually he stopped working as he claimed to have had an accident at work (a pattern I hadn’t realised he had done in his previous relationship) . He wanted me to stop working, but work was my freedom. I was the only one bringing a wage into the house, and I was finally in a job I loved with great promotion prospects. But after I returned home one day to be told he had beaten my son in a fit of rage (caused by his pain, he said), despite him being very apologetic, I had no choice but to give up my career, my children were far more important, my family needed me home to keep us safe and together.
Having lost my only access to money, I was no longer able to make my loan repayments, or credit card bills. We owed nearly £30,000 in total, and it was all in my name. I was forced into bankruptcy. He told me it was my fault, I couldn’t be trusted with money. From that point on, I had to ask for money, explain what it was for, and provide receipts for any spending. He accused me of trying to hide money in an escape fund, so he also made me write down the login details for my bank.
I had to pay him “in kind” for anything I wanted. He made me sign agreements or contracts. I wanted a pet, so he made me sign an agreement to perform specific sex acts on demand in order to pay for them, despite being heavily pregnant at the time. We got two cats, and our older sons were so excited. But because I didn’t keep my side of the contract, he had the cats rehomed to punish me after we’d had them for six months. All of my current pets also had to be paid for, but I had learned not to default on his payment terms.
Any time I started to question what was going on, he would accuse me of being melodramatic or living in a soap opera. He convinced me I was crazy. I believed him. He was the real victim, and I was the abuser.
If this was how it had been all the time I would never have stayed. There were some happy times. Weekends away to celebrate anniversaries, messages left on the bathroom mirror for when I had a shower, having our own secret language where we would discuss Christmas presents in front of the kids without using full words so they had no idea what we were talking about. I often felt like we were one person, friends commented that they wish they could find what we had. I truly loved him, I just wanted to make him happy, and for him to love me.
It was a fine balance between happy, normal life, and confusion and crazy making. This was how he slowly suffocated my spirit. If I ever dared to be angry about something, he would be even angrier about something else. I couldn’t understand why I felt confused, scared, alone, or why I always apologised for everything.
As I said out the outset, I can’t put my finger on the exact moment or action that stopped me from feeling like I had any value. The moment where I lost who I was. The moment where his control over me was complete. It was so gradual, so carefully done, I didn’t see it happening. I just wish on one occasion when I’d sought medical help, that someone had asked me the question about what was really happening. Why was I not coping? Why was I so convinced I was crazy? Why did I not have a support network around me?
Sometimes I feel like a fraud. Other times I fear that I am so broken I will never feel like a whole person again. One thing I know is that I have coped or endured through so much already, it gives me hope for a possible happier future to come. For now I cling to the pleasure freedom gives me.