To mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, we spoke to Lauren Derrett, author of Filter Free: Real Life Stories Of Real Women about her real life experience.
We had a great life. Both in our mid-thirties, I worked in accounts for an advertising agency and he worked in London as a graphic designer. We had a large house and plenty of friends; we were the popular couple who loved life.
My three kids from a previous marriage only lived with us half the week so we had plenty of time as a couple, we enjoyed plenty of nights out and weekends away.
It all looked perfect from the outside. But it was far from perfect on the inside.
On the inside it was chaotic, fragile, and often scary. We drank every day, he led the way and I felt the need to keep up. As the drinking went on, the abuse would creep in until the point where we were both so drunk it would become physical.
I joked that we were like Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder- Civil, just two really passionate people who enjoyed getting drunk together to hide our inner torments. I think maybe that was my way of playing down the desperately sad place we had found ourselves in and convincing myself that just like Amy and Blake, it was all done from a place of love.
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The emotional abuse began very early on in our relationship. I remember a couple of months of living together during a row, he shouted at me "who could love you? Even your own mother didn’t love you"; he knew about my loveless childhood and used it against me to weaken my resolve. The thing about emotional abuse is that you’ve grown up with ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ so you play them down as only words, no harm done, except a deep harm was being done, one that doesn’t heal as quickly as ones made with sticks and stones.
The emotional abuse soon moved on to pushing and shoving, grabbing of wrists and threatening stares. He was upping the ante, trying his luck, testing the waters, taking control.
I had left my first husband, a good man, a great dad. I had broken up our family and left our family home, out of guilt I handed my kids over for half the week. They had been through enough, we all had and I couldn’t - I wouldn’t - cause any more pain. I knew that I had to take whatever was coming for me, to protect the kids, and so I hid the abuse from all but my closest friend, not even letting anyone from my family in on our little secret - they liked him, they didn’t know him.
I remember feeling so much shame for ‘allowing’ it to happen to me. I was a strong independent woman who knew right from wrong, one who knew that his behaviour was unacceptable. I considered that I had become a victim of domestic abuse but looking at our lifestyle and who I was as a person, it just didn’t add up. I wasn’t a victim? I would never tell anyone, I don’t want to be a statistic and I didn’t want to be seen as a victim.
One night, while the kids were sleeping in their bed, he knocked me out on the kitchen floor. It was the wake-up call I needed. Things inside of our picture-perfect life had got dangerous. I knew that I had no choice but to report him.
He was charged with Assault By Beating. It was over yet I still didn’t feel I could share my shameful story, I feared the judgment of others and of his behaviour forever defining who I am.
The house was sold and I had to downgrade my life, but my secret was no longer eating me up and I was finally free from the abuse and the shame that had attached itself to it.
It took me eight years to share my story – I wrote a blog post about it. What I hadn’t realised was that shame grows in the dark and that the people who love me would never judge me. I received an outpouring of support from friends, family and strangers. Now I want to share my story as widely as possible so that no-one else should suffer the way I did.
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Lauren Derrett is the author of Filter Free: Real Life Stories Of Real Women, available on Amazon and via her website www.thisgirlisenough.co.uk.