I’m ashamed to admit that I was very judgmental about single mums. In fact, I was so determined to never become one that I stayed far longer in an abusive marriage than I should have.
If I’m being honest, I knew even on my wedding day that I was making a huge mistake. My father even begged me to reconsider in the wedding car. My husband told me he didn’t like my dress.
So desperate was I not to remain on the shelf that I married the first man who asked me, the first who’d wanted to commit to me, (although his idea of commitment was questionable), despite the monstrous red flags. Determined to make it work I stayed for ten years and had two utterly amazing children, despite barely having a sex life, or indeed any life. In fact I was incredibly lonely, whilst keeping up appearances of course.
I knew even on my wedding day that I was making a huge mistake. My husband told me he didn’t like my dress.
On the day I left him it was snowing.
I loaded the car and told him calmly I was never coming back. He laughed until I put in his pin code into his phone – he’d no idea I knew it. I’ll never forget the colour draining from his face. It was easier to tell people he’d been cheating with his office junior rather than I was leaving a man who’d asked me to weigh myself every day, stopped me eating, isolated me from friends, ignored my family, screamed in my face, smashed things when he didn’t get his way, threw away my clothes… the list goes on and on.
I remember filling up with diesel on the way to Newcastle to my sister’s, both children, tiny babies, were sleeping and I sobbed at the pump, having realised despite packing the whole world, that I had forgotten my coat.
My parents finally sought me out, but it would be years before I revealed the true picture of what marriage had been like for me.
When I was ready to return to the family home, when my husband had left, Dad drove my car home, (I say mine but of course I hadn’t been allowed a car in my name, let alone my own insurance), and I felt safe for the first time in a long time. When I returned home I wondered if it would be weird. If it would feel like he was still there with all the negative memories, but how wrong I was. A quick trip to John Lewis with mum helped me make the house my own, I bought pink throws, cushions and motivational posters, I filled every corner with colour. I was ultra-proud when I finally managed to remove him from the mortgage a few years ago and the deeds arrived in my name.
People also came to visit, both arranged and unannounced. My home became the home I’d always wanted but never had, a happy, sociable home where people were welcome. Mess was allowed, meals were eaten on laps, sleepovers were arranged. Friends rallied round for birthdays and special days like Valentines – they didn’t understand I’d never been spoilt before and I wasn’t missing anything. I remember telling a group of new school mum friends my sorry tale, (edited of course), and one bursting into tears at the thought of finding her husband cheating when she’d just given birth.
My home became the home I’d always wanted but never had, a happy, sociable home where people were welcome.
Life was so much better. I didn’t lie awake at night waiting for the key in the lock which may or may not come, wondering what sort of mood he’d be in. I didn’t wake up in the early hours with a smelly, drunk man on top of me, too intoxicated to rouse. Shopping for me became possible, not just following him around and watching him buy things for himself. I realised that people liked me and wanted to spend time with me, men found me attractive, my children were thriving and not asking daddy not to speak to mummy on drunken nights when he came home and screamed abuse in my face.
I found I developed closer friendships with my existing girlfriends and made many more. My colleagues looked after me, many friends confided they were deeply unhappy in their own relationships. My neighbours opened their doors to me, I asked for help and gave it happily in return. I bought a car and finally managed to get insurance and I drove it home beaming. I didn’t need him or indeed anyone, I set boundaries and stuck to them even if sometimes I spent time alone. I embraced this.
In 2017 I met someone very special- our dog Teddy. I decided to get us a puppy on a whim and he changed our lives. I’d never have been ‘allowed’ a dog before. Already happy in my own skin, I stopped partying, preferring to stay home with my dog. I renovated my home. Giving up drinking completely was the next step to bringing me peace of mind and finally the last piece of the puzzle came when I met my partner Steve two years ago.
Do I wish I’d met him sooner? Absolutely not, I have no regrets.
Names have been changed.
If you need support with an abusive relationship you can all the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk (access live chat Mon-Fri 3-10pm).