We were not your typical South Asian couple. I met my husband through mutual friends. It was love at first sight. Everything was perfect at first. Like any couple in the first few years of marriage, we went through ups and downs. But that was normal right? But looking back now, there were some signs that I ignored that I really should’ve taken notice of. …..
We had our first child (my daughter) after two years of marriage. Things shifted slightly, I was no longer just his wife, I was now also a mother. The dynamics changed and my focus went from my husband to my daughter. During this period we would have arguments and I often felt pushed to leave because of them. I suddenly felt, though I was married, like a single mum, I felt alone. I did everything on my own, shopping, looking after our daughter, washing, cleaning, going to see our parents. We lived together but did everything separately.
Each time I left, I would soon go back because of my parents. They told me that I needed to make my marriage work. I married him on my own terms outside of the family. So I had no choice, I went back every time.
In the year 2000, we had a lot of changes happen, we moved into my husband's family's home. Sadly, he lost his dad during this period. I also fell pregnant with our second child (my son). Around this time, I found out that he was cheating on me. I had the courage to confront him but he denied it, he told me that they were just friends. I didn't believe him. I contacted the other woman and confronted her and she confirmed my fears, he had been lying. We started to argue again, but this time I didn’t leave. I was pregnant. I couldn’t leave. I kept thinking to myself once I had the baby he would change.
In 2017, he went to Morocco and I soon found out that he met another woman whilst he was there. When he came back, I noticed a lot of changes within him. He would hide his phone away from me, or if I walked into a room and he was on the phone he would quickly put it away. One night I decided to go through his phone and saw all the messages. I couldn’t take it, he needed to leave so I asked him to leave. He stayed out of our home for a month but I took him back again. I kept questioning myself ‘Why am I making all this effort and getting nothing in return?’ I did everything for him, cooking, cleaning the house, he didn’t even need to lift a finger because I was there. But I still took him back, because I wanted to show society and my family that we were a unit, a family (I didn't want to be embarrassed). I wanted to show everyone I could make it work.
Our family dynamics began to change. I slept in the lounge on the sofa, while he slept upstairs in our bedroom. There was no communication, I felt so alone and trapped. I thought to myself at times ‘what do I do? Do I ask him to leave again? Or do I just carry on with things?’ I had 1001 things going on in my head. To the outside world, everything was fine. It looked like we had a wonderful marriage. I would help out with his mum and still play my role as a doting wife.
On one occasion, my son came up to me and told me that his dad had said something horrible to him. I sent my husband a message immediately (whilst we were in the same household) and told him not to speak to my son in that way, it was upsetting him. As soon as this message was sent, I heard his footsteps coming up the stairs. He burst into the room and grabbed me and put a fist to my face and chest. I was so shocked. I froze. He released me and went downstairs, and started throwing things around, he broke our TV, broke our coffee tables. There were holes in the wall. I could hear all the smashing downstairs. I was scared. It was a summer's day, the windows were open so my neighbours heard it all, they called the police and so did I.
When the police arrived, he acted normal. As if nothing had happened. He told the police that I had attacked him. I could hear this from upstairs. At this point, I knew it was now or never, he had gone too far. I went downstairs and told the police he was lying. As soon as they noticed the smashed things in our living room and the bruise on my face, they took me to one side to interview me. When the police went to speak to him, he showed his true colours and pushed the police officer and he got arrested.
From that point onwards, I felt numb. I find it hard remembering things from that day.
Two days later the police got in contact with me and said they would get someone from a Domestic Abuse Charity to give me a call. I was soon enrolled in a programme with Aanchal Women’s Aid, a Talking Therapies Support Group. I remember walking into the office, there was a warmth from everyone in the team, they were all so friendly. Initially, I felt so embarrassed. I thought to myself “why am I here”? “I shouldn’t be here”. Yet I felt at ease and found comfort within the ladies.
During the session with Aanchal, I met a gentleman, a counsellor and they went through a list of initial questions. They didn’t ask me about my story but were more concerned about how I felt. The gentleman that ran the programme was amazing, he made me understand my feelings and my emotions. I still use techniques from back then, as he showed us how to change negative thoughts to positive ones. He was the first male that I had met who had compassion for women. Initially, I was concerned about dealing with a male, I thought to myself “what is he going to know”? “He will not understand what a woman goes through”. I had already experienced this with police officers, the female officers understood me more, were more empathetic but for any males, I just didn’t think that they were going to understand.
During this process, I took my husband back again. I didn't tell Aanchal Women’s Aid as I felt embarrassed. I took him back for around two weeks or so. I felt pressure from the family, to keep the peace. They kept telling me he was mentally unwell, that I needed to help him. He had lost his mum during this period, so I felt a sense of guilt too. But there were no feelings there. In the end, I had to get him removed by the police again because he was constantly aggressive and verbally abusive. He even took all the gold that my parents had given me. (I thankfully got these back after 7 - 8 months).
When I came to Aanchal I was very reclusive, I turned myself away from the world, I just wanted to come home and sit on the sofa and do nothing. I hardly spoke. After my husband left, the letters began to pile up, I didn’t want to face them. In our Talking Therapy Session, I was asked how long I would ignore these letters and I was encouraged to face my problems and begin to rebuild my life. I finally opened them after 4 months of separation. I was lucky enough to have saved a little bit of money that helped me for a couple of months. It was hard applying for benefits, they ask so many questions. It is so overwhelming, to begin with, but you get through it. I was blessed to have an amazing housing officer who helped me. The housing officer came in to check on me when they changed my locks that I needed support and she came to check on me. She was so supportive.
I was able to change my mindset. I began to think to myself, I can do this. This is when I started opening up to the women in the Aanchal Women’s Aid groups.
When I would come to Aanchal the environment was just different. The staff would make all the women feel so welcome. We would have a laugh altogether, allowing us just for that period to feel normal again. I was introduced to the Jasmine Project, at first I would break down and cry because I just felt so alone. I did the program twice which was so helpful. I found the money management tool useful. They explained how to go back to education and DIY the house. The Jasmine Project allowed me to be amongst women who have been through similar situations as myself.
I faced so many challenges through the process, which predominately were family challenges. As my family has taken so long to adjust to the fact that I am no longer married. Even to this day, they find it hard to accept. They use the fact that he has mental health issues, so it almost makes what he did acceptable. I worry about my children and worry about what have I put them through. I feel if I had the courage to leave a lot earlier they would not have grown up with this. My daughter has a perception of men in a negative light now as a result. She constantly says she never wants to get married, because she doesn't want to be treated badly. I look at her and wish I was as strong as her when I was her age. My son had a breakdown, he told me he was aware of everything, he could see what was happening and how his father treated me.
Looking back at my situation, I would encourage the police force to train the police so they are better equipped to deal with domestic abuse cases. If I could give any woman advice who is currently going through Domestic Abuse I would say contact an organisation like Aanchal Women’s Aid. There are ways OUT, you do not have to suffer in silence. Some women are afraid to leave because they are afraid of what it will be like being a single parent. That is something we need to address and help women to get through this fear. I wish during the whole process that Aanchal Women’s Aid was one of the first people I spoke to when the police first got called out, I don’t think I would’ve stayed all those years. I feel as though we get referred to services such as Aanchal too late in the process.
Today… looking back, I am living the best life that I know. I am happy, I have my health, my children, and my peace. I can go to sleep at night without fearing what tomorrow holds. I am FREE. Don’t get me wrong, I do have days where I feel alone. But I have learned how to change my mindset from what I learned in my therapy session with Aanchal. I am in a much better place than where I was.
If any woman came to me today and said she was going through domestic abuse, I would say ‘why are you still here, sometimes we think we are doing the best for our children but we are not. The children do get damaged if we stay. You can not spend your life in fear for someone else who is not willing to change.