Everyone has their own story, and here is mine.
It’s a story I’ve desperately wanted to tell for a while, but it’s also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I’ve realised as a coping mechanism I’ve blocked out a lot of what happened, as it’s too painful to think about, but I’ll share what I can, because I want to help people who are in a similar situation, to see the light and seek help.
Growing up I was always happy, calm, sensitive and caring towards everyone and everything. During my first long term relationship, which started at the age of 17, the girl everyone knew and loved slowly faded away.
I had become a victim of domestic abuse. I’ve always seen the best in people and even when it’s near impossible to see, I seek for it and do my best to help them. I guess this is why I initially stayed with ex, (throughout this story he will simply be referred to as ‘ex’) before I knew it he’d whittled me down with constant and harsh emotional abuse.
Ex put me down at any opportunity he could, and the more people to hear it the better. He would call me, fat, ugly, mock my job, disrespect my family and remind me how lucky I am to have him, no one else would have, or put up with me, no one else could ever love me like he did.
At first I laughed off the remarks, but being so constant and never cushioned with a compliment it slowly began to tear me apart. I guess the first sign of any physical abuse was in the early stages of the relationship, ex liked to play ‘games’, one of which was where he’d bite me mainly on my arms, so hard that more often than not it drew blood, each bite mark left huge bruises.. and I don’t bruise easily. He’d be laughing hysterically as the tears rolled down my cheeks, his mood would suddenly change and he’d get annoyed with me for being so miserable and not having fun.
Another ‘fun’ game was him pinning me down on the bed, and while hysterically laughing he spat on me watching me try and avoid the spit. He was a strong guy and no matter how hard I tried to free from his tight grip I couldn’t, again he’d only stop when he got bored and just have a go at me for being so miserable, and tell me to lighten up. I remember going to college and trying to hide the bruises, my friends questioned it and I ended up getting good at hiding the truth and almost convincing myself that it was all a bit of fun.
As the years passed, I became more and more of a shadow to the girl everyone knew. He controlled everything I did, I had to ring him immediately every time I arrived somewhere, I had to answer the phone quickly whenever he called, I stopped running, he didn’t like my family and tried to turn my friends against me. He told my best friend, (who is also my Aunty but only 1 year older than me, so we were raised like sisters) things I’d apparently said about her, and then tell me she’d bitched about me. I was crushed by what she’d (apparently) said, but we never confronted each other which kept his secret powerful, and for a while for the first time in our lives it put a barrier between us.
I was never allowed to visit my friends at Uni, I know you might think.. “Of course you’re allowed, just do what you want.” it wasn’t that easy, and definitely not worth the verbal abuse, jealously and accusations, you never know how you’ll react when put in that situation.. and you certainly don’t see it coming. He’d broken me down, I was constantly on edge, thinking first about everything I said or did.
After 3 years together numerous things happened and my family (who never liked him, but didn’t want to push me away) finally had to ban him from the house. Too scared to break up with him, we moved in together.
Up until this point I had no idea what he was capable of, I thought he had insecurity issues I could help him with, but things just got worse. It hadn’t even been a month in our new house and all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, he kicked off! He grabbed my orange juice from the side of the bed, poured it over my head, hit my head with the glass then smashed it against the wall causing it to shatter everywhere and splinter into the wall. He dragged me down the stairs by my hair, grabbed my jaw and didn’t let go for what felt like a lifetime. After that it’s all a blur..
Nothing was really said, I was in shock, and believed he was too. For the next few weeks my ears were black and blue, my jaw was in agony and I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to eat properly. I tried hiding my ears and the dent and shattered glass marks on the wall. At the time I thought this was a one off reaction and it wouldn’t happen again. I didn’t, and still don’t know what triggered him. We lived together for 2 years and I lost count of how many times he physically abused me, I thought he was losing control and didn’t know what he was doing, but not once did he touch my face, so it remained a secret.
It’s only recently that I’ve learnt how controlled he actually was and how insanely predictable his behaviour was. People have literally written step by step books of a perpetrators actions, and they mirror his.
Alcohol was never to blame as he attacked me when he was stone cold sober too, it was just more inevitable it would happen when he’d had a few drinks. It was always my fault, he told me I ‘had it coming’ and sometimes he blamed my parents. I was constantly walking on eggshells trying not to set him off; I also tried to protect my family from him, conversations regularly got heated and I did everything I could to get them away from ex before he switched; on one occasion this really upset my Aunty, she wanted to go outside and reason with him, but I wouldn’t let her. She didn’t know that I stopped her because I was scared at what he might do, so she became annoyed with me too.
After living together for a year, and together for 4 years, I was severely unhappy, scared, trapped and alone, feeling unable to share my situation with anyone. He’d used my name to purchase several items on finance, found my emergency credit card and used it. With him being unemployed half the time I had to work as many jobs and hours I could to make sure they were paid off, and was still expected to give him money before entering the pub so it looked like he paid for everything. Countless times I’d come home from working 12+ hours, stuck inside while it had been a beautiful day. I’d come home to ex lying on the sofa, curtains drawn, 10’s of empty crisp packets surrounding him and multiple DVD cases everywhere, and then I’d be asked when I walked through the door at 8/9pm. “What’s for tea?”
I thought I was protecting everyone else by not telling them. Knowing I was unhappy I still convinced myself that I could live the rest of my life like this, not knowing a way out, feeling this was the best option for everyone. I’d stay with him to protect the ones I loved and keep them from ever knowing what was really happening. I felt extremely alone and for a while the only friend I felt I could be myself with, showing my sadness and vulnerability, was my little dog Chester.
However, there became a turning point in the relationship. Just after we moved house again ex had a good friend, we hung out a lot and I got on with him like a house on fire, with a lot in common. Ex always accused me of wanting to be with him which fuelled a lot of attacks but I never saw him that way. Ex would be suffocating me with a pillow whilst the friend was sleeping on the sofa in the next room, trying to get me to scream so the friend would come running in, but I never did, thinking I was protecting him. One day this friend told me how much he liked me and I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was; all he’d seen was the emotional abuse and verbal attacks I constantly received. We became closer and for the first time in years someone other than my parents gave me compliments, it was a shock, and I didn’t really know how to handle it, but it opened my eyes to what I could have, what I should have. Someone who really loved me and made me feel special.
Meanwhile, my brother was living the dream in Canada. I’ve always been close to him and even though he’s younger than me I’ve always looked up to him. Growing up he always raced bikes, he got his first Motor Cross bike aged 4, and started racing at the age of 6. Aged 12 he started Downhill Mountain Biking too. After a few years competing in both, he had to choose just one.. So he went with Downhill Mountain Biking. I supported him with my family at every single race, he had his biking, I had my music, I played the piano, flugelhorn and any other instrument I attempted, but it never occurred to me that I could be any good at biking too.
Seeing the life my brother lived and how happy he was hit me. I could have that too, I deserved that. He is an inspiration to me. My brother knew I was unhappy, I hadn’t been the sister he knew for years now, he told me to borrow Dads bike and go out riding with his friends.
So that’s what I did. A complete novice, grabbing Dads hard tail with SPD pedals, I grabbed my skater shoes (not even a close match for the pedals) and off I went for my first ride with my new biking friend. I was awful, my butt hurt, I fell off lots, bashed my shins to pieces, but I smiled the whole time, I loved it! It gave me a sense of freedom and control, which I’d been deprived of for years.
Even though he was in Canada, I felt close to him when I rode, I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to make myself proud, I lost count of the amount of nights I lay awake staring at a picture of myself as a child, crying, saying sorry, and feeling devastated at how I’d let that baby down, by letting ex treat me the way he did.
Ex came out riding once and didn’t bother again, it was too much hard work for him (I also lost count of the amount of jobs he lost because he didn’t like being told what to do). He never took my biking seriously, just laughed at me; thankfully that attitude allowed me to be persistent on the bike, and I quickly started to improve. I started running again, but didn’t tell ex. I also saw my family every day, but tried to keep it from him. I paid the price with both physical and verbal attacks if I was caught.
I could feel myself getting stronger, more confident and determined. I loved being outside, I felt safe (even with the risk of crashing into a tree), I didn’t have to hide or prove anything, it was just me and great outdoors; the fresh air, working in harmony with the rawness of nature; It might sound cheesy and a bit hippie like, but being outside comforts me, whether it’s harsh winter conditions or the middle of summer, I am simply content. I loved the social life biking started to bring back in to my life, people of all ages, abilities, backgrounds become connected and form an amazing bond through biking. I started leading a double life and it slowly pieced me together again.
No one ever knew the extent of the abuse, everyone knew he had violent traits, but hadn’t even dreamt he was violent towards me. Mum worked with children and was delivering courses to professionals on how domestic abuse affects children. She’d come home with leaflets and get me to read them, ex showed all the signs of a perpetrator, she was warning me of the type of person he could become, having no idea he’d already become that person. At this point I knew I wanted out, I was just trying to gain the strength.
Ex knew I’d gotten stronger, every time he attacked me I didn’t care, I started to challenge him and he didn’t like that, he got worse but I still didn’t care. So he started to hit me where it hurt and threatened to hurt my family. He graphically described how he’d kill my dogs, burn the house down, or slit Dads throat in his sleep. This terrified me more than anything. I genuinely feared for their lives, I thought he was going to kill me countless times, so thought he wouldn’t think twice about killing my family who he didn’t like. This trapped me with him for a few more months.
In August 2009 my brother was home from Canada and was due to start Uni in a couple of weeks, I felt stronger when he was around, if I was going to break up with ex it needed to be now. I told him I didn’t want to be with him and he broke down, he said he’d change and to give him a chance. I knew he couldn’t change, the damage was done, I hadn’t loved him for a long time and needed out. I gave him a 2 week trial, and slowly started moving my stuff back to my parents, I knew it would be a messy break up and I’d leave with nothing and never want to go back. So I just waited for him to kick off. A couple of weeks later he kicked off, beat me up and started storming up the road to my parents threatening to strangle them in their sleep. I can’t remember how I diverted him from my parents, but the next day I broke up with him for good. We spoke for 6 hours until he stormed off to the pub, I saw that as a good opportunity to pack and leave. Then my best friend/Aunty called and asked if I was ok, she said ex had just left the pub and he didn’t seem right. I told her I’d broken up with him and started crying. She said she was coming down to see me right away. Just as I hung up ex came bursting through the door, he threw the suitcase across the room breaking it, then chased me in to the kitchen. I was backed in to the corner as he grabbed the kitchen knife holding it at my throat shouting at me. He kept shouting and through all of the attacks I’ve never seen him look so serious, so threatening.. So deadly! I thought that was it!
Then the door knocked! Literally saved by the bell, my best friend was here to make sure I was ok. It snapped ex out of what he was about to do. She didn’t know it, but she saved my life that day!
He stood there still holding the knife to my throat shouting at me in a whisper “why is she here?!”
I told him she’d come to make sure I was ok (emotionally, not in a million years did she think she’d be saving my life). He shouted at her to go away but she wouldn’t leave till she saw me. He ran out and slammed the living room door behind him, this door was broken and never closed, so he’d basically locked me in the kitchen.
He was trying to get rid of her but she refused to leave until she saw me, I was panicking like mad. She was stood at the front door, which meant behind her were 15-20 concrete steps, I feared for her life, picturing him pushing her down the stairs. I took a step back and charged into the living room door and it burst open (my shoulder hurt for the next few days, but it had to be done). My best friend ran past ex and into my arms. She held me so tightly, I was crying and whispered to her that I was ok and she should go. Once she was sure he’d calmed down she left.
Ex and I sat there in silence for a few hours, until I finally left. I believe that for the first time he actually lost control and scared himself. If my friend hadn’t knocked on the door I’d be dead, and he knew that.
I wish that was the end, but he stayed living in the flat which was half a mile from my parents surrounded by my friends and family. He continued to hang out with my family and friends; it was still a secret how he’d treated me, so now everyone was feeling sorry for him. He was trying to show people he’d changed so they’d report back to me and I’d give him another chance.
I hung out with my friends a lot less because he was there too. So I carried on biking and soon had a completely new life with friends that never even knew him. Biking and my biking friends became my new life, my escape, my light.
For the next 6 months ex continued to stay in the flat we’d rented in my home village, stalking me, harassing me with minimum of 40 texts a day changing from ‘missing you’ texts to life threatening texts. He still had control over me, I was still trapped. He’d come up to my parents’ house in the middle of the night to try and see me through my window or to see if my car was there. I received phone calls in the middle of the night with just heavy breathing on the other end. When I finished a day of college I’d come to my car and find a bunch of flowers on the windscreen, I never felt safe, he could be anywhere. It had become his life to stalk me and get me back. He threatened to kill himself so I’d talk to him. I still told no one, so still wasn’t free.
Then one afternoon I was using the family laptop to explain to one of ex’s friends via Facebook messenger why I wasn’t going back to him, ex told me this friend was the only person who knew the truth. I soon clocked that he knew nothing at all; so I told him. I went in to detail of how he treated me and why I was never going back to him. I left for a walk and came back to find that mum had used the laptop, she’d seen the message, mum was crying her eyes out and dived into my arms. The secret was out! I sent him one text saying “Mum knows” and he left and never came back to the flat again.
From here it was another long roller coaster, but mum was my rock. She approached her colleagues for advice; they immediately referred my case to the police as they were so worried about my safety. I was still scared of him and didn’t know how he’d react if I got the police involved, and also didn’t think they’d believe me or be able to help, so wanted as few people to know as possible, especially him.
The police supported me without him ever knowing, my case was heard by MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) a meeting which is held once a month in every area, MARAC assesses domestic abuse cases. I was put into high risk category, I couldn’t believe it, I still can’t. What I know now is MARAC is a meeting where professionals work together to share information, to support victims and to prevent murders!
I knew it wasn’t right what ex had done, but I’d learnt to live with it, spending years hiding the truth, sugar coating it, or simply blocking it from my memory, and almost convinced myself that what he’d done wasn’t that bad. MARAC was my saviour, I had daily and then weekly visits from the police, they made sure the house was secure and gave me a personal alarm.
After a few weeks the police asked how often ex was still contacting me. I replied with “Not that much anymore, it’s about 30 texts a day” somehow this absurd behaviour had become my reality.
I’d tried ignoring him, but that’s when his messages would become threatening, claiming he’d come up and show Dad a real man; which I knew all too well, meant he was threatening to beat up Dad. Now my Dad can certainly defend himself, but I knew it would’ve been an unfair fight with ex using some sort of weapon, like he’d done before. So next time he called I’d answer to keep him away from my family. The police said whatever you do, do not answer the phone. So I didn’t, ex didn’t ever carry out the threats, but continued to make them via text.
Another 2 weeks passed, and the police wanted to talk to him, it took two weeks for me to agree, (still terrified of ex’s reaction if he knew the police were involved) but I eventually said yes. They then said they didn’t want to talk to him, his actions were so unacceptable they wanted to arrest him, after another two weeks of harassment via text and dodgy phone calls I gave the green light, but first I had to go to the station to give a statement. I had no idea it would take 5 hours, they wanted every single detail on record, I’d already buried a lot of it, and after never telling anyone before, it felt traumatic, as if I was reliving it all over again.
Although the police couldn’t act on the physical abuse they wanted to have everything on record so when they read my statement out to ex, he knew, they knew what was up. They arrested him and released him on bail for a month, during his bail he wasn’t allowed to contact me or come anywhere near me. His bail was extended by another month and I have never seen him since.
I could finally live my life and that’s what I did. I have vowed to always be happy, I know exactly what I want in life and I go for it with all my heart and no regrets. I now travel the world with my amazing and completely devoted boyfriend, we explore the outdoors together, summiting as many mountains in as many countries in as many ways as possible.
Even though it was a horrible life I lived for 5 years, I don’t regret it. It has made me the woman I am now. I’m mentally and physically strong, determined and confident. I appreciate everyone and everything and never pass up on an opportunity. Being able to endure that relationship may have helped me to endure the endurance sports I love so much today.
I now compete alongside my brother in enduro mountain biking events at an international level. We spend most weekends together, racing all over the country representing Sealskinz, ONE Industries, 661 and Bird Cycleworks.
I would’ve never have imagined that just 6 years after escaping the relationship through the passion and persistence of cycling and the outdoors that I’d be where I am now. If I can do it, anyone can. Never give up, never lose faith in who you are, stay close to your friends and family, and never be ashamed or embarrassed. It’s never too late to turn things around. If you feel too weak to act then get outside, follow my steps and start cycling, running, climbing, hiking, kayaking or hula hooping. You’ll soon regain your strength. Don’t suffer alone and in silence, get outside and be happy.
I am forever thankful for the love and support from my family and friends and am closer with them than ever before, and could not be happier.