Recently I realised that I needed to get a bit deeper over here…
Yes, pretty things and places are nice… BUT there is more to life.
So many people are suffering silently through all manner of illness, crises and chaos because the truth is that life is actually pretty hard sometimes!
And I realised that with “Becoming you” as the name for my platform, I’m perfectly placed to get a bit more real and raw around these parts…
This new My Journey With… series will come out every second week (so only twice a month). The idea is that each post will feature a new brave warrior women sharing her journey…. things might get a bit heavy – death, eating disorders, abuse – but my hope is that these real stories will make a real impact in your lives over the next few months by starting new conversations, allowing sharing and encouraging healing.
I’m so grateful to the brave woman who have already come forward, willing to share their journey. Some have chosen to remain anonymous, some are sharing openly. Either way their stories are powerful and I know that by them being honest about their struggles they will help someone else deal with their own.
I’m so excited for this journey!
Today I feature the second story in the series…
TRIGGER WARNING This article contains information about physical abuse & sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.
My Journey with…. Being in an Emotionally & Physically Abusive Relationship
I am sure that my story is no different to many women who have been in an abusive relationship! And that is the most surprising thing for me, honestly! How do woman of “substance”, who have been raised in normal society, with caring parents, education etc find them selves in situations that they discover, or feel, that they have no control over!
It all started when I met a charming man at my flat just a couple of months shy from my 19th birthday. My girlfriend and I were getting ready to go out, it was a Friday evening and Sue’s friend Tom and his mate Brett had been playing golf. They popped in for a quick coffee. The guys stayed for a while and when they left I remember feeling like I had been struck by a lighting bolt. I told Sue right there and then that I was going to marry that man! I had never been more certain of anything!
We started dating and things progressed very quickly. I moved in with him although it was to be a temporary arrangement as the block of flats I lived in were being demolished and Sue and I had not found anything else suitable. Needless to say it became very clear that I was not going anywhere.
This man was several years older than me and had been married before. He had won a scholarship to a university in America through sport where he had studied medicine and now worked as a successful medical rep! Brett had a magnetic personality. Everyone loved him, he had a large circle of friends, he entertained constantly and I was there, on his arm and so very in love!
He was meticulous in his actions. I didn’t even realise at the time! He methodically alienated me from all my friends and family. It took a while but it was cunning. He basically took over my life in every conceivable way possible. I agreed to have my salary paid into his bank account, he told me what to wear, what and how much I could eat, even what movies we watched and what music we listened too. I was so young, so naive… All the time I thought he was “taking care of me”.
The first time he lashed out and physically abused me, I remember feeling sorry for him!!!
We were at one of Brett’s work functions, a colleague of his started chatting to me and he obviously took exception! When we got home all hell broke lose! I was accused of having an affair with this man (I had just met), I was accused of making Brett look like a fool in front of his colleagues and clients. He punched me so hard in the stomach I flew across the lounge onto the couch, sobbing hysterically. He demanded that I stand and stop behaving like a child! Something, I learned I would have to do in order for the abuse to finish off quickly! Stand, take it, don’t make a sound. And don’t, for the love of God, cry!
He then burst into tears, he apologized profusely saying “Do you see what you have made me do? Do you see how much I love you?”
Reading this back sounds like a bad movie script! But I took responsibility, totally, I didn’t understand it, but he appeared to be so broken by what he had done… How could he possibly be wrong!?
Things just got wild after that. I discovered he was abusing the pharmaceutical drug called Wellcanol (used for patients in extreme pain), he would crush the tablet and inject himself. He told me he had malaria, the “symptoms” were so similar! Once I found the drug paraphernalia I did some sneaky research and tried to talk to him about his. That was a big mistake. I thought that if I loved him enough he would stop! If I stuck it out, I could help him, change him even!
The abuse just got worse and when the physical abuse didn’t seem to satisfy him, he started to abuse me sexually.
What astounds me now that I think about it, is he never hit me where the bruising couldn’t easily be covered. Always flat hand on the face, arms, body and legs were “anything goes” kind of target! I remember having to cover bruises on my ears with foundation and having to tell my dentist (who happened to be a golfing buddy of his) that I fell in the shower! That was my explanation for my cuts on the inside of my cheek as result of a flat hand on the face!
I never knew what I was coming home too.
I had no support (or so I thought)
I had to leave jobs I really enjoyed because either I was working with too many men and I couldn’t be trusted! Or the hours were to long and I needed to be home when he got home…
The list of my inadequacies were endless, I was told that the air he breathed was too good for me!
One morning, he woke in a rage. He had a day of meetings with his bosses and he didn’t have a long sleeve shirt ironed which meant he couldn’t hide the large, lesions on his arms from his continued drug abuse.
I was told I was to go into work, resign with immediate affect and come straight home. He would deal with me when he got home that evening.
I had thoughts of killing myself that day. Once I had tried to open the car door while we were flying down the highway one evening, I had taken an overdose of Rhepanol months before, but on that morning, after 4 and half years I finally knew I had to run away!
I got to work dressed like a bag lady! My manager knew immediately and told me to pack my bags and go! I called the security company and they accompanied me to the house. I packed all I could in my car and with only R200 in my purse I fled. I left Durban with the security company following me for the first 40km, I was that terrified Brett would find out I was leaving and come after me.
I drove to JHB, in a blur and found myself at my old primary school where I called an old school friend from a pay phone and told her I was there for the weekend!
I called Brett’s best friend in Durban and told him everything! I knew then, that he needed help and I was not the one to help him.
I eventually went back to Durban to try piece my life together. I told my family and a small group of friends what had happened and I was loved and supported!
It wasn’t quite the end of all the drama though. I had to get a restraining order against him as he would follow me. He tried to get me fired from my new job and he tried to sue me. He got my car stolen for drugs, he pawned my jewelry that I had left at the house when I packed in such a rush!
With help from a therapist and endless support from family and friends I was able to work through the worst.
A year after I left Brett he died of a drug overdose.
Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you might have done differently before, during, or after, your tough life experience?
I would love to say that I would never have started the relationship! But how can I say that… I wish that the 19 year old me had more faith in herself. I wish that she could have seen her worth and been more courageous!
What, or who, helped you to overcome or push through this experience? A book, a person, an incident, therapy, medication or was it just simply time?
It was a combination of all of the above! In fact, there are times now, when I feel inadequate or overwhelmed and it all comes rushing back to me, those feelings of being worthless… fortunately they don’t linger too long! I have a fabulous base that help keep it all very real and a wonderful husband that is totally my rock in the most quiet and supportive way!
Obviously there is not always a reason for going through such hard times in life, but now that you have come out the other side of the “tough stuff” (or are further down the journey) can you share any insights or personal growth that the experience taught you?
It took me a long time to accept the fact that it wasn’t my fault. It took even a longer to trust men and their motives!. But time does soften the edges a bit. No one should be abused and raped! It happened to me, I would not be the woman I am today had it not happened…. I don’t think I would have married the man I did. So I don’t want to say that I am glad I went through it! I am not… but I am very glad where I have ended up!
Where do you find yourself now? Please share an update on your current progress or new space to encourage others who find themselves in the midst of the “tough stuff” right now.
After Brett told be to resign I knew then I wanted to live… That might sound really dramatic, but it is the truth. I knew in my bones that if I did not leave on that day, I would have been beaten to death. I remember driving and thinking that there has to be more to life than living in fear with someone you love…
When this was happening to me I felt it was all on me. I didn’t know anyone would care to help. I didn’t think anyone would believe me! 20 years later, we are talking about these “taboo” subjects a little more openly now, thank God! If you find yourself in this situation, tell someone, there are organisations set up to help you, discreetly and quickly!
If you find yourself in a similar situation please seek help. There are people willing and able to help you.
LifeLine Southern Africa offers a 24-hour free and confidential telephone counselling service where trained counsellors help callers with challenges such as trauma, suicide, rape and relationship issues.
Helpline: 0861 322 322
People Opposed to Woman Abuse (POWA) is a Gauteng-based organisation offering shelter, counselling and legal support to women in abusive relationships, rape survivors, survivors of incest.
Helpline: 083 765 1235
Sisters Incorporated is a home for abused women and their children in Cape Town who aim to help every women, teenager and child who comes to them in crisis. They offer help and hope regardless of race or religion.
Helpline: 021 797 4190
Stop Gender Abuse offers crisis counselling for women who have been raped or abused, advice and support for people wanting to support women in need of help, legal and other options available for abused women and rape survivors.
Helpline: 0800 150 150