Sefton and Liverpool Women in Business

We Aren’t Family (Anymore)

One of the hardest things I have had to deal with as a consequence of my abusive marriage was the almost complete fracture of my extended family. Those of you with experience of domestic abuse will most likely relate to the slow yet determined alienation of your family and friends. To be honest, my experience so far talking to many women, is that no matter what our differences, be that our ages, races, educational, professional, financial and familial positions, the abuse we suffer, the threats and methods, they are almost from a textbook they are so similar.

So anyway, I used to be from a very close family. When I was a child, I lived in Canada for a brief spell, but once we returned, we settled straight back into the close family unit. So much so that I considered my cousins to be my brothers and sisters. I spent all my free time with them and life was good. Within a short space of time in the late 80’s, our family lost many members, notably my aunt, who died of cancer leaving two young daughters and a husband, followed by my 17 year old cousin who died in utterly horrific circumstances at Hillsborough.

So we were close, and we also learned to be strong as adversity had just given us a serious beating. We got through things together, as a family. Scraping by at times admittedly, but doing our best. If I’m honest, after Simon died, it was like living with zombies. The adults were there in body but not in mind most of the time. But us kids never missed a meal or bath, always had clean sheets and clothes, and we managed.

I was loved by my family, an important and cherished member, and I knew it and I felt it. The problem was that I believed it would always be the same. I hadn’t reckoned on my abuser poisoning the relationships I held most dear.

It took a few months after the actual marriage and then birth of our son for me to truly realise the trouble I was in. I had no real knowledge of domestic abuse. One of my mums friends had been a victim as long as I could remember, so I was told. But I had no idea what it really entailed. I had no concept of the intricacy of layers of abuse. I suppose if you had of asked me I would have said the woman gets beaten every night while the man is in a drunken rage. If I am really honest, I would have told you they were less well off, the woman likely a stay at home wife with little education. That’s how little I knew and how ignorant I was. And because of that I didn’t read situations correctly, I didn’t pick up on warning signs and I didn’t recognise behaviour that was a precursor to violence.

And one thing I didn’t pick up on at first was how I was being alienated from my extended family as well as my brother and parents and friends. By the time I did realise, I would say I was a year into the marriage. I was struggling so much with the abuse which had started by now, and two small children, one literally months old, and just generally making sense of what the hell was going on, that I just didn’t have the first clue what to do. I knew in my heart of hearts that what was going on was wrong, I knew my family would save me if I asked, but like so many women, I believed my abuser when he said it was my fault, and I felt ashamed. Maybe it was my fault too, I had had a lot of bad things happen to me and maybe they were finally manifesting in ways I didn’t realise. Maybe I was lucky that he loved me enough to want to help me, that he was willing to put up with the way my behaviour brought out such a rage in him, making him look like an animal. I just didn’t know, and I felt so ashamed that maybe this was my fault. Or worse, that yet another person I loved didn’t love me back, (I will get to my biological father one day – one of my abusers favourite ways to put me in my place!) and somehow this was my fault too. I just needed time to work through it all, and my family were always going to be there because I was a loved and cherished member of the family.

Time went on, years in fact. Things got worse as they usually do in abusive relationships and I became even more trapped. My family became more and more distant from me, and my abuser took every opportunity to remind me of the fact, putting the spin on that they no longer loved me. In time his indifference towards them was replaced with vitriol and venom. The more I defended them, the angrier and more hate filled he became. His own family, the ones who have spent the years since I left him perpetuating the myth that I am a liar and that I am the abuser, by comparison, were apparently wonderful church going people, of affluent means. A far better class of person in his opinion.

The odd thing was, he was always trying to be clever, witty and charming when my family were anywhere near him. Not that that happened often. The youngest daughter of the aunt that died, was in need of somewhere to live after her elder sister disposed of their flat and moved in with my mother. By now there father had died and my 17 year old cousin had been left essentially homeless as her sister could no longer be bothered with her welfare. I wanted to step in to help her, I loved her very much and had been close to her from she was born, and I offered her a home with us. It suited me too, as I knew it would help control my abusers outbursts as he would be under external scrutiny most of the time. He is an incredibly insecure and shallow person and for him, appearances are everything, what other people think is of paramount importance. It is all a bit theatrical really, but I do believe he is not unique in his beliefs or behaviour as an abuser.

It didn’t really have the desired effect, and some months later we all moved out to my brothers house, me, the cousin and the children. I began divorce proceedings etc but a few months later like a fool, I went back. I left her and the new “Del Boy” of a boyfriend renting out my brothers house. Sadly she went on to marry him (even after he had been conducting an affair with someone else) – but that is another story!

A year or two later, my aunt phoned me one afternoon to invite us to her 70th birthday meal. My abuser came into the room halfway through the conversation and eavesdropped as per usual (they have this incessant need to know everything). He got the basic idea of the invite, but just at the end of the conversation she threw in a curve ball. Thing was they didn’t like my abuser and the invite wasn’t extended to him. And his face was about an inch away from mine and he heard everything. And he was mad as hell, because as I said, my family were beneath him and his.

I said as quickly and as politely as I could that if those were the conditions, no of us would be coming but thank you for the invite and hung up. I couldn’t allow her to talk to me anymore because I didn’t know what she might say and I was already in deep trouble. And I wanted the punishment to be over quickly.

I have never really spoken to my aunt since then. Not properly. She has never asked me since if I am alright. I never spoke to her in all the time we lived with my mother after we had to leave our home and belongings behind. She has been to my house twice in the past year with my mother, which was nice. She even came to my youngest daughters christening. But she used to really love me, and now she tolerates me, a bit to placate my mum and a bit out of a sense of duty. Her husband doesn’t even tolerate me. He won’t even look at me.

Then I found out that my younger cousin had excluded me from her wedding (to “Del Boy”) and that her and her sister had problems with me (much more to follow on this vile pair later!). So I went to my older cousin to ask her what was going on. The answer was that it might take some of them time to forgive me! No specifics or anything. So me, the victim, was to blame! And I think it was a combination of that phone call and the older of the two sisters (who is a deeply unpleasant human being at the best of times). But I can’t be sure.

Let me tell you what happened to me after I put the phone down that day. I got the living crap beaten out of me. Repeatedly. Body blows mainly (naturally, he had realised that hitting the face raised questions). He was so angry. He felt belittled, because someone he considered beneath him didn’t recognise his superiority. And that is never a good frame of mind for an abuser to be in. But me being me, and refusing to ever give in, I made matters worse. I couldn’t hear him slag off my family, I loved them dearly, so in between blows, I was answering him back telling him they were better than him, defending them. So the violence continued, with him getting me into the fetal position on the floor and really going for it with the kicking. But I knew that my family loved me and would be there in an instant if I needed them. I could take the blows for them, they were worth defending. And this wasn’t the first time he had kicked off about my family, it wouldn’t be the last either.

A year or so later my children and I left for the last time. Having spent the past two years sleeping with my children each night, the marriage was dead. Actually who am I trying to kid, it was void from the first time he hit me. Then I met someone I knew I wanted to be more than friends with. It was now or never or the opportunity would pass me by. We moved into my mums house and I began divorce proceedings. My mum and dad were there for me, eventually my brother James began talking to me. Not one other member of my family even bothered to pick up a phone to call and see if I was alright or if my children needed anything (including the biological father). As it turned out, they didn’t love me the way I loved them, they didn’t love me the way I had believed they did and they were uninterested in defending or helping me and I was alone.

And I was devastated, and shocked. Having left I now faced the toughest battle of my life, staying away, getting divorced, fighting against all the malicious lies his family were spreading, getting my children settled and rebuilding my life. And I had always believed that my family loved me unconditionally, and now I faced the reality that on top of everything else, they blamed me entirely (judging by my cousins comment) and no longer loved me. After all the losses our family had suffered, I couldn’t believe they would throw me away so readily, but they did. They had learned nothing from the previous losses.

My abuser was right about my family and that nearly broke me. It was a tough lesson, but I have learned a few valuable things. In the end, I had my mum and dads support, but it was me who did everything. I became very proactive very quickly in getting divorced, regaining control of my life and building my future. I had been let down at this point in my life by almost everyone I had put my faith and trust in over my lifetime, I had been disregarded by people in whom I had invested love and compassion, and had two choices. Sink or swim.

I soon realised that I had the most amazing future ahead of me. I was stronger and happier each day. I began my new relationship, very cautiously at first (although apparently not cautious enough as our daughter prooves) and I invested my time into my children and their recovery and our futures. I went through hell with the courts, with my sons school and various other things, and I learned to accept that the family I once had are no more. And that is actually ok, because I got myself to a good place without them. I don’t need them anymore, and they may not realise it, but that is far more sad for them than it is for me.

Ladies, have a little more faith in yourself than I first did. You are a lot stronger than you think, and all the answers actually lie in you. Be prepared for people you think will always be on your side to let you down, even family. It is no reflection on you, it is all about them. It might be down to ignorance, they may just be really mean people. But look at it like I do. At least now I will never teach my children to rely on them, so I suffered the pain but my children never will.

Lots of love to you all ladies, be strong and be true to yourselves.

Steph xx

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