Domestic abuse can take many forms. An abuser might control another person’s emotions, their finances, their time, their hobbies, and their relationships with others. Often to the extent that the recipient of the abuse’s self-belief and confidence hits rock bottom.
Jo told us about her abusive marriage and the devastating impact domestic abuse had on her life and mental health.
“My husband and I were together for 13 years, but it was only the last three years of our relationship that I realised it was an emotionally and sexually abusive marriage.
He used drugs and alcohol and coerced me into taking things that I didn’t want to take. But he was my husband and I trusted him. Looking back, I didn’t realise how many drugs he was using until after we split up.
We lost lots of friends and his habit ended up bankrupting him. He left me with five children living in a big house, without him paying a penny. He wanted a dedicated wife and wouldn’t let me work, so when he left me, I didn’t have a job. I had no way of paying the bills, so I went into rent arrears and my mental health suffered considerably.
Even after a year, my husband continued to control me emotionally. He used the children against me and said I was an unfit mother. It was all lies, but my self-belief was so low it spiralled in my head. I was having very dark suicidal thoughts. I was open about this and was admitted to hospital. My husband tried to take me to court saying that I was an unfit mother. It was thrown out of court both times – the judge said the boys needed to be with their mother.
Whilst this did give me some new hope, I was still spiralling financially and mentally into a very dark place. But, as a mum I put a smile on my face and gave the children cuddles. I helped them with their homework, fed them, told them stories and tucked them into bed. Every day I got out of bed with a smile for them and take them to school. Then I would go home, get back into bed and hide from the world. Until three o’clock, when I would pick them up from school.
At the same time, I was struggling to keep food in the fridge. Eventually it got to a point where I couldn’t cope. I was evicted for rent arrears and put into a temporary council house. But the council decided I had made myself homeless and they no longer were obliged to help me. As a result I had to move out. So I found a room in a house, and the children went back to their dad.
I appealed and within two weeks the council agreed that I hadn’t made myself intentionally homeless. But now that I had homed myself, albeit without my children, they concluded that they didn’t need to support me. I had been fighting to breathe and exist, to then have to fight the system was devastating.
The room didn’t work out and I moved into a room in another house. However, the landlady fell into a massive bi-polar breakdown. She accused me of being the Devil and put Bibles around the house, salt on the carpet and screamed outside my door to intimidate me. As a result, I locked myself in the room for two weeks. I only went out to the toilet when she was out of the house. During this time, I didn’t sleep or eat as I was in fear of what would happen if I did.
I started to believe what she was saying and fell into a very dark place. One night in July last year I hit rock bottom. I left the house at 1am to find somewhere quiet to end my life. A friend called the police as he was concerned about me. When they found me at about 6am I was completely blue. They said I only had about two minutes left to live. I was in hospital for a week and was very poorly. I also knew that I was homeless once again.
When I was discharged I had nowhere to go. My friend let me sleep on his sofa. After a couple of days I got a lovely surprise phone call from Julian House. I hadn’t even heard of them, but they offered me a place in the women’s refuge.
Coming to the Julian House refuge was the best thing for me. I needed to be around women to let my guard down and feel safe – and to see that the other women were able to as well. Because, when you see somebody else feeling safe like that, you think I can trust now too.
The support here is amazing. The house is lovely, so comfortable and homely. Sam, the key worker who runs the house, is just the bundle of love that we all really need. She’s there and she understands. She’s like a friend, a mother, a doctor, a health assistant, a counsellor, a sister… You name it, she’s got it all. Her commitment to her job goes well beyond what’s written on her job description.
I’ve been at the Julian House refuge for five months and I’m now ready to move on. I’m happy, smiling, and interacting with life. I’m joining a choir and I’m thinking about work and about what the children need.
Being able to get up with a spring in my step is so precious to me. I can’t even describe it. Because I forgot what that feels like, and I never thought I’d be able to get it back. I am thankful every day – and I just know I’m going to make a good shot of things now. I want to get my own place, have my children living with me again and make the second half of my life the best.
Julian House is the single point of access for high quality refuge accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse which includes women or men, with or without their children. The accommodation is provided in partnership with B&NES Council and Curo. We have one large refuge and several smaller dispersed properties across Bath and North East Somerset.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and need support other than refuge, please contact Southside.
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