Back in 2006 when I held the questionnaire in my hands, I looked down and answered yes to almost every question on the piece of paper, it was only at that moment I realized how controlled I had been over the last 3 years.
From 2009, when I escaped the offender I existed with after he split my lip open as I held our ten-month-old daughter in my arms, I have dedicated my life to raising domestic abuse awareness for others. In May 2009 I set up SODA (Survivors of Domestic Abuse) to be the support I never had, an online support group, a safe haven for those who have or who are experiencing domestic abuse to come together without judgement. I didn’t know what domestic abuse was, until I held that piece of paper in my hands. I strongly believe if I had known what domestic abuse was, I might have left sooner rather than later. I am now passionate about raising awareness for others and have done so on a voluntary basis for many years.
We raise awareness and we support those in crisis but what about those who have found the strength and courage to escape an offender of domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence.
The number of police recorded domestic abuse related crimes in England and Wales rose 6% in the year ending March 2021 to 845,734; this follows increases seen in previous years and may reflect improved recording by the police alongside increased reporting by victims.
The Office for National Statistics figures show every year that one in three victims of domestic abuse are male equating to 757,000 and 1.561m women.
Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime that knows no boundaries and has a huge impact on those who have survived it.
For me, home was a place full of danger and darkness.
Let me give you a glimpse of what domestic abuse can look like behind closed doors.
For me, home was a place full of danger and darkness. Home for me was full of fear when I heard the key in the lock of the front door, wondering what would happen next. Home for me was where food was thrown up the kitchen wall if it wasn’t cooked to his standard. Home for me was where my mobile phone was thrown out of the window because I had called my mum. We lived on the 7th floor. Home for me was where I was locked in so I couldn’t go to work. Home for me was where I was strangled, punched and knocked out. Home for me was where I lay in bed at night planning my escape and wondering if I would wake up the next morning. For me, home was the place I was timed when I went to the toilet, the place I wasn’t allowed to make eye contact with others because if I did, I was accused of having an affair with them. Home was the place I was told I was fat, ugly and useless and the reason I got my job as a Legal Secretary was because I slept with my boss. Home was the place he came back drunk, he shouted, swore and spat at me, then told me he did it because he loved me. Home was the place I wasn’t allowed visitors; it was lonely and isolating. Home wasn’t where the heart lived, but where fear lived.
Life doesn’t go back to how it was before the trauma of domestic abuse.
What we don’t often do is talk about life after abuse and we really must because this is part of the cycle too. Life doesn’t go back to how it was before the trauma of domestic abuse. A victim of domestic abuse has been programmed for so long that they have to learn how to reprogramme themselves and that takes time.
Exposing the truth is a declaration of freedom and empowerment for survivors, and both are essential steps toward healing. When you expose abuse, it loses its power over you.
You are going to have good days and bad days, you will have days where you can think of nothing else other than the offender, you’ll love them, you’ll hate them, you’ll want to ask them why and other days you will wish they were dead.
There will be times when the noise of a banging door makes you jump out of your skin, when raised voices will be a trigger and a film will take you back to where you once were. It’s important to talk about these issues because these things are normal for our own healing journey.
I escaped the offender in November 2006 and the impact of what I survived still affects me today. I’m not ashamed to say that, it’s part of my journey. I still have to be on time and if I’m just one minute late I’m texting the person explaining why I’m late. My mind knows there is absolutely no need for me to do this anymore, but I was programmed that if I was late there were always consequences.
I have only just started to look in the mirror because I was programmed into believing that I was fat and ugly, that no one would look at someone like me. When you are told these things on a daily basis by the person you love, and who claims to love you, you start to believe them.
I don’t go clothes shopping because I was always accused of having affairs if I dressed up or dressed in my favourite outfit.
It takes time to unpick the hurt that they did, which is why we have to talk about life after domestic abuse because those who have experienced it don’t know how they should or shouldn’t be feeling.
There is no race, there is no deadline and there is no expiry date on your healing journey, just take one step at a time to get to where you want to be.
About the Author
Samantha Billingham is the founder of SODA. SODA raises awareness, reduces isolation and supports those who have, or who are experiencing domestic abuse. SODA provides an online safe haven for those who are experiencing domestic abuse, to come together without judgement. SODA educates employers to empower their employees to enhance their understanding and knowledge of domestic abuse. Samantha is part of Sounddelivery Media’s 2022 Spokesperson Programme.