They didn't judge me - 15 August 2016

My story begins like many people's, harmless enough with a friendship on Facebook.

He was one of those people that everyone seemed to like. Full of energy and life, charming and positive - like someone you'd known your whole life and could be comfortable with and trust.

I had recently come out of a long-term relationship, and it was not my plan to start a new one so soon when I was still healing from the last. But he swept in with his charisma and charm online, telling me all the things my broken soul needed to hear. ''You're so beautiful", "I loved you from the first moment I saw you", "I want to be with you".

At the time we were living in separate cities, but it only took about three weeks before out of the blue he messaged me and said he was coming to my town and would soon be living here.

I thought this was a little sudden, but assumed he was moving here for job opportunities, plus he had three kids in my town who he was estranged from, and he told me he wanted to get back into their lives and be there for them growing up.

Within a very short time he was here and we were looking for flats together. Things were moving super fast, too fast in hindsight, but I was happy and oblivious.

I couldn't pinpoint exactly when things started to go wrong, as it was a gradual sliding - beginning in small controlling comments and gestures, and culminating in physical abuse and violence.

It started with him telling me I couldn't wear the types of clothes I always wear as they are too revealing and 'slutty'. This quickly escalated into who I could talk to (never males), both in Facebook and in the real world. If I sat next to or even smiled and said 'hi' to a male friend, it was fuel for a fight later.

The fights began as just verbal. Generally him yelling at me, telling me all the things I'd done wrong, and how I didn't listen to him and his wants and demands of me. That by doing the things that upset him, like talking to members of the opposite sex, I was provoking him into a rage.

Soon objects such as tools and weapons came into the arguments. He would throw things at me, break things. Like a guitar I purchased him as a present which he snapped in half to show his disappointment in me. It was heartbreaking. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why I was such a bad person that I couldn't do the simple things he wanted to make him happy.

By the time the violence turned physical I'd lost touch with a lot of close friends, people who knew and loved me and could see how he was draining me and isolating me. They just stopped calling around. They did not want to be in the presence of the man who was doing this to their friend.

A couple of close friends, however, I had kept in the loop. When he started hitting me, punching me, headbutting me, choking me - I messaged them for help and to vent, as I just didn't know who else to turn to. Without those close friends I can honestly say I don't know where I would be today and I love them for their support.

The best part was - they didn't judge me. They listened to me, they saw my pictures of the bruises and messages he sent me (and saved them for me, thankfully). They didn't turn their back on me when I kept taking him back because he told me he loved me, he was sorry, he'd never done this before.

They suggested time and again that I get in touch with women's refuge - and then when things got really physically violent - the police.

But no - I didn't want to bother them. I was sure a lot of women were worse off than me. Plus I thought he didn't mean to hurt me, it was my fault, I made him hit me.

Then one night something in my head switched. After a particularly violent episode where he had thrown me around the bedroom and taken my phone off me to stop me calling the police, and I lay shaking in bed, flinching from his touch and scared for my life, I knew this had to end and now.

I kicked him out, said I could not bear his touch and the look of rage on his face was burned into my brain. He left, packed his bags and for the first time was gone.

Unfortunately, a few days later he was back and for the first time assaulted me outside of the bedroom, on our driveway in public.

I was left shaking and huddled in the driveway, he'd never done this outside the house, where people might see (in fact, the neighbours did). I called my friend I'd been messaging and she came immediately to get me and take me to her place.

This time I did it, I called the police and also got in touch with women's refuge, and wow I wish I did it sooner.

The police were amazing to talk to, not scary at all. They were empathetic and understanding and took their time with me taking a comprehensive statement including all the pictures and messages I'd had the foresight to send to my friends earlier. This would be critical information if he went to trial.

I was scared when they told me they were going to arrest him - I warned them - he's charming, he'll be your best mate, you won't believe me and will think I'm crazy. But they knew - they have dealt with people like him for years. Narcissistic types who groom and charm their way into women's lives.

They believed me, not him, and it was an amazing thing to hear.

Regardless of the outcome, they believed me. I wasn't crazy. I didn't ask for it. I was the victim, and he, was the bad guy.

Soon after I went to visit with my local women's refuge who were nothing short of amazing. They helped me in so many ways. Not only did I get emotional support, but I got a protection order against him. They also sent around people to secure my house, with new locks, window fittings, security lights, and a panic alarm through their safe home programme that linked directly to the police.

I always thought of myself as a strong women, and after all that happened to me I was left doubting myself. How did this happen?

But women's refuge gave me the analogy of a frog - you pop a frog into a boiling pot of water and it will leap straight out. You pop it into a pot of cold water and slowly turn up the heat and the frog will gradually boil to death.

That is what my life had been like for the last eight months. I was the frog, slowly but surely boiling to death and unaware of the heat being slowly turned up underneath me.

I am forever thankful for friends who were there for me and helped me to be strong and get out. As well as the agencies of women's refuge and the police who came through in ways I did not expect.

Please if you find yourself or suspect you may be in this relationship - reach out and get help. Talk to someone, as you are not alone.

Read more about the women's refuge home safety service here: https://womensrefuge.org.nz/what-we-do/whanau-protect/

 

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