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Unleashing The Voice of Woman - Jacqui's Story

Goddess-of-Fire Goddess of Fire - Kassi Martin

Unleashing The Voice of Woman:  A space for Woman to share their Story, unleashed and without censor, speaking their truth so others can do so too.  If you would like to contribute, please get in touch to find out how to participate:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Here is Jacqui's story:

There are many kinds of journey, and there are journeys within journeys. I want to tell you of one particular major journey within my overall life journey so far, one which enabled me to find myself when I was most lost. It was a journey of survival and resilience.

I entered my twenties completely emotionally unaware, if streetwise and aware in so many other ways, and totally adrift. I had moved 400 miles away from home and family and believed myself to be unloved and uncared for by those I left behind. I now know that to be completely untrue, but it was what I felt at the time because of issues going on within my family. I believed those issues were my fault, but had they been spoken about I might have discovered back then that they weren't about me at all. We didn't, though, and so I left at the earliest opportunity, only later realising how painful it was. I made a few friends in my new home, but none I could confide in, and no one I could be myself with, whoever 'myself' was. I was lonely and incredibly vulnerable; 'textbook' vulnerable, you might say. I did have some vague idea of who I was, I think, but it was pretty fragile.

It was then that the man who was later to become my husband walked into my life. We met in a pub and he singled me out from the group of acquaintances I was with. I couldn't believe that a man like him would be, could be, interested in me. He played electric guitar in a band, or so he told me (the band was a pipe dream in his own head), had a good job (hmm, define 'good'), he'd been to a well-known very respectable private school (I was a local comprehensive girl and so, for some reason, was impressed by this), and he seemed to be really popular in the group, holding court and entertaining us all. He was good looking too. I don't remember actually falling for him, in fact I don't remember having any real feelings at all, other than surprise and joy that I could be seen as attractive and lovable by such a man as him.

It wasn't long before I was at his flat every evening after work and many overnights, especially over the weekends. I didn't want to start staying overnight so early in our relationship, but he would look sad and talk me into staying, saying that he needed me. I'd never been needed before so I was hooked. Or he'd come up with practical reasons why it would be better if I just stayed over, like saying that we were leaving early to go somewhere the next morning, so it made sense, although we never did leave early. He even introduced me to his family quite early on, so I thought he must be a really decent man.

And then he told me he loved me and asked me if I loved him too. I hesitated. I didn't know if I loved him, not really, as I didn't know what that really felt like. I wanted him to keep wanting me, wanted him to love me, but wasn't sure how to answer. After all, it had only been a few weeks. My hesitation caused our first falling out. He was upset that I didn't love him, after all he'd done for me over those last heady weeks and after all we'd done together. He was hurt and upset and, oh god, it was my fault. I did all I could to make it up to him, repeatedly telling him how much I loved him, and spent money I didn't have buying him gifts so he would know I meant it. I was both excited and afraid, although I squashed the latter feeling, when he said we should move in together. Or, to be more precise, he said that I should move into his flat with him. After I'd agreed, we went through my fairly meagre belongings and little by little he said there would be no room for them in his small flat, especially my beloved books, and I'd have no need for them anyway. Where were the alarm bells? I didn't hear them, even though I was upset. But he was a smooth talker and explained everything away so that I'd see the sense in it. And I moved in to his flat with only my clothes and personal items. Soon I stopped going out with any of my girl-friends (they'd only unsettle me by saying unkind things about my boyfriend anyway), even tearfully turning down a wedding invitation because he couldn't go and I couldn't possibly go without him, or so he told me. Soon, nobody invited me out anymore and nobody phoned. He said it was just as it was meant to be – him and me against the world. My stomach churned but I smiled and carried on, not listening to my inner self saying 'run'.

Life gradually changed from colour into grey as we fell into a pattern dictated by him. I was expected to clean and shop and have his meal on the table by 6pm, no earlier and no later, all the while holding down a full-time job, but not the job I wanted to be doing. When we first met, I was doing a job I loved, which involved working shifts. He soon started complaining about my evening shifts, that we couldn't plan our social life (what social life?) when he didn't know when I'd be free and when I'd be working. Didn't I want us to have evenings out as a couple? He'd pile on the guilt until I gave in. Why didn't I apply for an office job with normal hours, he'd ask me. An office job? I'd always said I'd never be seen dead working in an office, that it wasn't me. But who was 'me'? She'd long gone by then, whoever she was. So, I gave in and got a job in an office. It was utterly boring and soul destroying, but to be honest I was so exhausted by then that it was quite helpful that it was pretty mindless even though I hated it. I occasionally thought of looking for something else, but he frequently told me I was 'thick' (his word not mine) and laugh at me, and I believed him. No one would want to employ me, I thought. Occasionally I even thought of leaving him, even once telling him that, and believed him when he said I was lucky to have him, that no one else would ever want me anyway. It didn't even occur to me that I might be enough by myself, without needing to be defined by a relationship with a man!

And then things turned from grey to the deepest shade of black. I can't remember now how it even started, but he was reciting his string of criticisms of me until something inside of me snapped and I shouted back to defend myself. Not only that, but I threw whatever it was I was holding across the room and it hit his precious guitar with a thud. There was a shocked silence for a moment and I didn't dare breathe. The next thing I knew I was being slapped hard around my head and then was punched to the ground, on my knees and winded. Somehow, I got myself to my feet and ran out of the door and down the street, the tears streaming down my face. I walked and walked but there was nowhere to go. Eventually I calmed down and knew I'd have to go back. When I walked through the door, he came running towards me and hugged me, so sorry for what he'd done, and so worried about me. He begged me to forgive him. It had never happened before, and it was my fault for throwing something at his guitar wasn't it, so I took the easiest option and forgave him. All was well for a while until it wasn't. Again, I can't remember quite what started it except that I'd lost something, a pack of photos I think. I know I was sitting on a stool in the hall, beside the phone, when suddenly he kicked the stool out from under me and dragged me along the hall by my long hair, kicking me and screaming at me. I don't know how long it went on for but eventually it stopped but I didn't dare move out of the fetal position on the floor that I found myself in. In that moment something inside me changed. I feared that one day he might even kill me. I slept on the sofa that night, shocked and bruised. We didn't speak in the morning and I left for work as usual, complete with a bruised eye. Nobody said a word at work. After work I met with a friend of my husband and told her what happened and asked for help. She didn't believe me and called me evil for saying such a thing. I was beyond shocked by then. I thought that if she didn't believe me then neither would the police, who I had thought of turning to next. It never occurred to me to turn to my family either. In fear and dread I went home and got the same reception as last time, the apologies and the begging for forgiveness, the promise it would never happen again. I said I forgave him, but it didn't really matter because inside I had died. And for many months I wished I was dead.

As it happens, he never did attack me or use that degree of physical violence on me again. He didn't have to. I was a puppet, wooden and obedient to his pulling my strings. Deep down I was waiting for it to happen again, for him to finish it this time. Soon others around me started suggesting I see the doctor about my depression. His mother told him I should get some medication, so he made the appointment for me and accompanied me to my appointment to make sure I didn't tell the GP the truth. And I did get put on tablets once he'd affirmed how depressed I was. After a while I started to feel better and he started being kind to me, for some reason. I think he was afraid I would leave now that I was stronger. But I didn't and we never spoke of his brutality on those two occasions. I always knew when his mood was likely to change though, and would cook that 'special' meal or boost him up in some way, or buy yet another gift for him, to make sure I stayed in his good books. I have no idea who I was in those days.

All of a sudden he said we should get married and would I buy myself a ring. I was sick in the toilets at work at the thought of it but went out and bought a cheap gold ring during my lunch break. I was too scared not to. And so we married, quietly in the registry office with two witnesses who were both friends of his. Afterwards we went home and carried on as 'normal', and life went on, if you can call it life. He decided we should try for a baby and that I should come off my contraceptive pill. So I told him I would but kept on taking it while I tried to sum up the courage to leave him. Except, of course, we were now married and I was so scared he would track me down wherever I went and make me come back. I hadn't heard of women's refuges then. When I didn't conceive after a few months he insisted we see the doctor as there must be something wrong with me. In his arrogance it never occurred to him that he wouldn't be able to father a child! This scared me as I didn't know what he would do to me if he found out I was still on the pill, and in a panic I missed one dose, just one dose, and fell pregnant. This was the beginning of the end though.

What I couldn't do for myself, I would do for my child. As she grew within me, so did my strength and determination. I didn't know who I had been for all that time, but I knew who I was going to be in a few months: a mother. I feared now, not for myself but for my child in the future. It took me two years after my daughter was born to finally leave; two years where all my fears were confirmed as to his controlling behaviour with her. He no longer cared about me, thankfully, except for cooking, cleaning and doing the essentials for this new little person, but if I wasn't careful I would lose her to him. And I could only guess what the future held for her if we didn't run from him. For confidentiality's sake I will say very little more here in terms of detail. After a few abortive attempts (which he never knew about), I managed to get a flat share with someone I worked with to tide us over until I could provide something better for my child. While he was out at work one day, I packed the bare minimum I needed for us both, and left with no forwarding address.

As I anticipated, it didn't take long for him to find out where we were, but by then I had started talking to a few people, telling them what life with him was like. And people believed me. After all that time, they believed me. I can't tell you what a relief that was. Steadily I began to come alive. I found a good solicitor, which I needed since he tried hard to get full custody after our divorce, and I bought a flat. I was being as best a mum as I could be, but still didn't know who I was beyond that. I held on and, importantly, I asked for help. Firstly, it was from my new GP, a lovely supportive woman who I shall never forget, and then began years of counselling and therapy. That was another journey within a journey, and a tough one at that, but I began to discover that there was so much more of me locked inside, just waiting to emerge. And I summed up the courage to reconnect with my family, which was painful at first but which became another journey of healing. My daughter is grown up now, but I am still on that journey, still exploring and learning to express more of who I am as well as reflect back on those dark times. These days I do it through creativity, and it is a joy. These days I hold my head up and say that, not only did I survive but I am fully alive and I am fully me!

Jacqui - Scotland

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Tuesday, 31 January 2023

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