Domestic Abuse - Katie's Story
Domestic Abuse - Katie's Story
‘Playful tiff’, ‘fleeting thing’ or ‘domestic abuse’, what is certain is that the photos of Nigella Lawson wide eyed while her husband Charles Saatchi held her by the throat made for uncomfortable viewing and have started a media frenzy.
Some columnists have expressed their shock that such a sad story could happen to such a famous, successful woman suggesting that such things only happen to a certain type of woman. There have even been demands for a parliamentary debate about whether the Government takes domestic violence seriously in light of comments made by Mr Clegg.
Whatever one’s stance on the subject, one thing is for sure - the best way to end abuse is to shine a light on it.
Mumazine’s Beverlie Summers interviews ‘Katie’ (not her real name), a mother who has recently left an abusive marriage. Her story provides some insight into this dark subject and is a moving testimony to a mother’s love.
B: Tell me about what drew you to your husband when you first met
K: Ironically it was his attention to detail and reliability that first attracted me. I was quite a ‘free spirit’ and I liked the way he took charge of things – I felt ‘looked after’. Little did I know then that this attention to detail and taking charge was the tip of a very large and dangerous iceberg.
B: How were the early years?
K: We got married and had children really quickly. Life became a whirlwind of nappies and nursery and trips to the park and bedtime stories. Peter (not his real name) persuaded me that there was little point me returning to my career as it would cost as much in child care as I could earn and the children really needed me. I had a career that I loved and had always intended to go back to. It was hard.
B: What made you back down?
K: It seemed to matter so much to Peter and he went on and on about the subject until I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to answer back with. I did really enjoy being with my babies and consoled myself with that.
B: Did that become a familiar pattern?
K: Absolutely – looking back I can see that now, but at the time it wasn’t so obvious. From having friends round, seeing my mum, going out….everything became a big deal and with every issue I relented. I was exhausted caring for the children, had no career, no money of my own and so the power balance shifted.
B: Was there one particular incident that rang alarm bells for you?
K: I am not sure there was a particular day or a moment. It was more of a steady drip, drip, drip that gradually robbed me of my confidence and any sense of self or of hope. When Peter’s watchfulness of my every movement became more overt, I began creating a ‘secret’ life for myself. He declared my friends to be boring and made them feel so uncomfortable that they stopped coming to the house, so I met them during the day when he was at work. I joined an art class to try and reconnect with my former life.
B: Was this helpful?
K: In some ways it was my salvation but I hated that I had to lead a double life. The alternative to my secretiveness though was Peter’s constant haranguing and I was desperate to spare my children the experience of watching their mummy and daddy arguing.
B: Do you think that your love for the children made you more vulnerable?
K: Peter knew very well that my love for our children was my ‘weakness’ in the dynamic. He would start arguments with me in front of them knowing that I would not fight back and that I would quickly back down to keep the peace. His shouting scared them and I would do anything to avoid it. I wanted them to have a lovely, safe and happy childhood. Financially Peter controlled everything and would threaten that if I left he would make sure the children and I were on the street. I had no finances or family to fall back on and that terror of losing the place the children knew as their home was overwhelming. In the end I was punch drunk from the emotional abuse and trying to keep the children safe and keep a roof over our heads.
B: Did you manage to confide in any of your friends – were they aware of what was going on?
K: I am not sure that at the time even I was aware what was happening, if that makes any sense. I think I was functioning on some sort of ‘auto pilot’. It was so hard to define what was actually going on and much harder still to share with anyone. There were times I wished he would black my eye so I had something tangible to show. Sounds mad, doesn’t it? But then I was living in madness.
B: They say that domestic abuse victims suffer on average 40 incidents before they feel it has reached crisis point – do you agree?
K: For me, it was like I was in a thick fog: I guess partly I didn’t want to admit to myself the unbearable truth – which was that the children and I were no longer safe in our own home or with the person that was meant to be our ‘protector’. I think there was almost an element of ‘grooming’ that went on too. I was isolated from my friends, constantly being criticised and told that if I would only listen more and do things his way, everything would be ok. Peter’s parenting always took a dictatorial style but as the children became older and naturally less compliant he became more aggressive both verbally and physically. If I tried to intervene and defuse the situation he would shout me down in front of them telling me that this was proper parenting and that I would not know about that as I had grown up without a father (I lost my father when I was a baby). He told me if I was a better parent, if I would only do as I was told then none of this would be happening. And I began to believe it really was my fault. Were there 40 episodes like this? At least.
B: So what was your ‘crisis point’?
K: I think I had exhausted every avenue of help to try and patch things up. For that to happen, both sides have to want a change and I guess for Peter, the notion of relinquishing control was just not acceptable. He kept promising to come for counselling and then one day told me it was never going to happen. The realisation that nothing was going to change was a huge crisis and turning point in one. I knew there was no way we could carry on like this – I wanted my boys to grow up knowing that it was not ok to raise a hand to anyone in anger and I wanted my girls to know that it was not ok to live in fear.
B: Describe your life at this point
K: My life was just about ‘shushing’ the children to keep them from angering Peter and then ‘shushing’ Peter to keep him from hitting the children. Things would kick off over minor things like the milk being left out of the fridge. I became hyper vigilant, constantly trying to avoid ‘flashpoints’, fearful when I heard Peter’s key in the door and too scared to sleep at night. I knew the children were safe when they were asleep and would sometimes slip out the house in the middle of the night and drive off somewhere to get a couple of hours’ sleep in the car. There was no sense of peace or safety.
B: How did you get from that point to where you are now?
K: One day an envelope was hand delivered to my address. In it was a flyer for a local domestic abuse organisation and the fact that someone else could see what was going on gave me strength to confide in a couple of very close friends who were incredible. To be believed was hugely empowering. Two of my friends gave me their house keys and told me I could run there with the children day or night if I needed. That provided a much needed safety net. Another friend paid for me to meet with a Solicitor to go over my options – not that I really had any options left! . Slowly, invitations for family meals with friends started arriving – just to be around other people for a while and to forget what was going on at home was really lovely. It gave me hope and these simple acts of friendship and care became my lifeline. I filed for divorce. Peter became unhinged with fury and eventually was moved out of the family home by the police. The divorce was acrimonious and lengthy with Peter wanting to drag out every little point. What was clear was that Peter wanted the family home for himself, and the kids were going crazy with the uncertainty of what lay ahead, so I acquiesced on that point and several others just to bring things to a conclusion so the children and I could move on with our lives and start to heal.
B: Another example of your love for them being your ‘weakness’?
K: Absolutely! I couldn’t bear their fear and pain a day longer and backed away from the sense of getting a ‘fair’ settlement to getting a settlement that was enough to just buy our freedom. Our freedom came at a cost – but I was more than prepared to pay that for their sakes.
B: And how are you all now?
K: The children are remarkable and inspiring and my main motivation in life. We moved house and started all over again. Violence and aggression had been modelled by Peter and acted out by the children too. I have had to work incredibly hard to reframe that for them and help them see that it is not an acceptable currency in life. They have all had their own personal ‘wobble’ and that was really hard for me to witness and contain – but they have all made it safely to the other side and are hugely compassionate, mature and grounded individuals. I am beyond words proud of them all!! I struggle with night terrors and am at times overwhelmed by a sense of guilt about how my children’s lives once were. I am still stuck in that place of hyper vigilance and jump at the slightest sound – much to the amusement of the children (I am far happier that they laugh at the situation than be scared!). I am now receiving specialist counselling from a domestic abuse agency and I have hope. I have hope. Even just saying those words is enormous.
B: What would you say to anyone who suspects a friend is in a similar situation?
K: Being believed, accepted, supported and understood has been vital to the children and I in our escape and eventual recovery as a family. I have shared my story in the hope that if you ever have a suspicion that a friend or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse you will understand what can be so very helpful and be able to reach out in some way. Just knowing someone else ‘gets it’ is the key. The National Domestic Violence website has some really good advice too for women experiencing any form of domestic abuse and for anyone suspecting a friend is in trouble.