Monday, 14 January 2013

What It's Like To Be A Punchbag

I am a completely different person to the person I was even this time last year, when to all intents and purposes me and Steve were over. Thing was, this time last year, there was still a court case hanging over me - the vandalism/breaking the restraining order case that eventually sent him to prison. He was pleading not-guilty, which meant I had to give evidence, and it was my word against his - there were no other witnesses. But he was still stalking me. I still didn't sleep well - I was hyper-alert. Every little sound would have me wide awake, heart pounding, expecting the stones at the window. He didn't come around every night, but it was often enough that I never relaxed. To this day I still jump at sudden sounds. I am not comfortable around groups of men - walk into a pub full of men and I will want to leave (yes, this makes me a very annoying girl to go on a night out with). I don't know that I will ever have a proper relationship again. I can't see it. I like being single, being in charge of my own life, my own choices and my own TV remote.

Two years ago I was a mess. In November/December 2010 Steve attacked me seriously badly four times in two weeks, culminating in an attack on a sunday night, which actually wasn't as violent as some of them, but was notable because for the first time ever my Son witnessed something.

The lead up to this was well weird, and thinking back I strongly suspect that the person involved knew me, and possibly was set up to it by Steve. One Friday, I had a text from some number that obviously wasn't for me, was for some girl called Jen, and I texted back to say I wasn't Jen, but I hoped he found her. There then followed a short exchange of text messages that did puzzle me a little because the person seemed to remain interested even though I told him  I was 20 stone and Subo's uglier-looking sister. Then I completely forgot about it.

That evening Steve was here, and the bloke texted again, just 'hope you're having a good night x'. I had no intention of replying, cos thought it was a bit odd, but Steve said, 'who was that?' so I showed him - gave him my phone. In response to which, he phoned the bloke, left a vile and threatening message, completely destroyed my phone, then punched me so hard on the side of the head that I lost consciousness. Only for a few seconds, but one minute I was standing up, the next I was slumped half on the sofa with Steve leaning over me asking me if I was ok, whilst a Tom the Cat lump started forming on the side of my head.

I really didn't feel right at all, and took the line of least resistance when he said he was staying to take care of me. The next day (Saturday) I left early to go to my Dad's to see Mandy (my little sister) and her family, who were over from Germany. I felt terrible, had to stop on the way because I felt sick, and while I was stopped I phoned Heather to see if I could go to hers on the way home.

That's what I did. I stayed there a good few hours, most of the night. But on the Sunday Steve wouldn't believe that was where I had been, he thought I'd been out with someone else (??), and this ended up with him kicking off whilst we were in the kitchen. I said to please stop, my Son was in, I didn't want him to hear (his room is above the kitchen). So Steve grabbed my hair and dragged me into the living room, then threw me down onto the sofa. He held me down by the throat and kneeled over on top of me, he was strangling me and shouting, and I was terrified I would pass out - when he was strangling me that was always what I was afraid of, because I wasn't sure he would stop if I did pass out. I remember I got both hands free and was pushing up on his chin really hard, then I got a knee free and managed to kick him off me.

I ran into the hallway and managed to dial 999 before he got the phone away from me. But he only took the handset. I had the base, so he couldn't disconnect the call. I knew there was an alert set on the number, so I yelled as loud as I could 'HELP ME! PLEASE, HELP ME!' Then he got the base out my hand. But me shouting that had brought my son downstairs, because he thought I was calling to him. It was the most horrible moment of my life, but I was also so proud that he came to try to help me. And he did, because the minute Steve saw him, he let go of me, and started putting his shoes on.

'It's alright,' I said to Son, 'don't you worry, it'll all be alright now, you go upstairs, go on, you run up there now and I'll come and see you in a minute.'

And by that time the Police were there. That's how quick they were. Steve hadn't even got his shoes on. And stupid as it sounds, I was asking them not to arrest him, I just wanted him to go, and he was going. But the Policeman in charge wasn't having any of it. His colleague took Steve into the living room while he took me into the kitchen. He said he could see the marks on my neck, and so had his colleague, and he didn't need me to press charges, he was arresting Steve for assault. They took him away, and two other policemen came around and spent hours convincing me to press charges. As it turned out, I had various photographs form the four beatings in two weeks - including the black eye that my boss had reported to the police. He was charged with all of them and pleaded guilty.

That was the start of my recovery.

The low point had been the end of November 2010. Up until then, I'd conned myself that I wasn't a victim of domestic violence, not really. I didn't act like a battered woman, I didn't look like a battered woman, I had never been to hospital or had to miss work because of it (though Steve was horrified when I chose to go to work with a black eye). Then that Sunday I got out of the bath, and unusually the bathroom door was open. It meant that I accidentally caught sight of myself in the hallway mirror - and for a split second I didn't recognise myself. In that split second I saw it, and I couldn't UNsee it. I had a black eye. My upper arms, upper legs, torso, buttocks and abdomen were covered in buises in various stages from red/purple right through brown to yellow. I had various sets of 'fingerprint' bruises, where he had grabbed my arm, my chest, my leg. I had scratches on my neck and chest where he had held me down. And I looked afraid. Because I was. I knew that when I got out of that bath I had to go into the living room where he was and try to act normal so as not to annoy him. What I didn't know at the time was that my scalp was tender and sore from the punches, head banging and hair pulling. It wasn't until a few weeks after he was arrested that I washed my hair without it hurting, and I was shocked that I had forgotten how that felt until I felt it again.

Because that's what happens. It slowly becomes normal to live your life as someone's punchbag. It becomes normal to devote your entire energy to trying to ensure that nothing upsets them. It's what is done so well on Corrie - the way Tyrone acts around Kirsty. I find that storyline so difficult, because it is so true. Oh, of course it all escalated way faster with them than with me, but the way you can feel the storm brewing; the way Tyrone tries to stop the violence from happening (even though you see in his eyes, he knows as well as I did, there's no escape, at some point you WILL cop it, it's just a matter of when); the way it still will somehow kick off when you least expect it; and the blessed relief when it is over. Even though by now they don't bother to apologise or cry or promise they won't do it again. At least the stormclouds have passed for now.

My sister asked me why I didn't just pack him in. 'I haven't got the energy' I said. 'What, so you are with him because you CAN'T BE BOTHERED?' she asked, incredulous.

'Yup, that's about the long and short of it.'

I couldn;t explain it then and I can't now. It is like you are in some sort of trance - like all your energy goes into getting through from day to day. There isn't any energy left over for properly thinking. I didn't think clearly for about a year after this time. I don't know where I had gone, but it was like this robot was going through the motions and I had gone away somewhere until it was safe to return.

One thing I never did. I never covered for him, never lied. When someone at work asked me, 'what happened to your eye?' I didn't hesitate.

'My boyfriend punched me.'

She laughed, it never occurred to her that I was telling the truth, until I assured her I was. Why would it? I'm so far from the stereotype.

And I believed this:

I'd been told so many times, by him and by his family, that it was 'six of one and half a dozen of another', that I really did believe that this was what happened when a tornado met a volcano. Except now I know I wasn't either. I was a little fluffy bunny who got swamped by the magma and caught up in the storm of his anger and his need to control.

I thought I understood the song - that we love to believe them when they say they love us and will change. But I didn't. The whole song is a lie and an excuse.

Three years ago, December 2009, we were happy.  We were having one of our periodic major reconciliations, where Steve was trying very hard to not drink too much, not do drugs. This was mostly because after being split up for three months, we had only got back together because his landlord had phoned me when he fell downstairs (out of it) and broke his arm, and he had no-one else to take him to hospital. He was still in plaster. I thought I was happy. I didn't really see my friends too much, because it was easier to not. Easier because when I did, even if I only went out for lunch, I'd be accused of all sorts. I certainly wouldn't talk to men in pubs. He phoned texted several times on my work night out, and phoned me when I was (luckily) on my way home. He'd wanted to go, but I said no.

'Why not?'

'Because I want to enjoy myself, not be your carer.'

'My arms ok in the plaster, I'll cope.'

'I wasn't talking about your arm.'

Four years ago I discovered on Christmas Eve that Steve was back on heroin. We were due to host a massive Christmas lunch for my extended family the next day. I was as outraged as he would have expected me to be, but a part of me was thinking, 'that's why we have been so happy the last two months.' I have the horrible realisation that he is a nicer person when he is on heroin. Even so, he stops it and I am glad.

New Year's Eve 2008. We'd been out for lunch, intending to stay out for New Year itself, but Steve had got too drunk to fats, and had got angry because I bumped into a friend and chatted to her. We decided to go home, and at first things were fine, but he was still drinking Special Brew, and I could feel he was just looking for a fight. I don't even know what it ended up being about. He tried to punch me, I ducked, he punched the door instead and broke his metacarpal. It was horrible - his knuckle was way down his hand and the break was angling up against his skin. So we spent New Year in A and E. As you do.

Five years ago We were still really happy. Oh yes, I'd had a couple of quite severe beatings, and enough kerfuffles to make me wary whenever we went away for a holiday or a weekend, because that was when we tended to have problems, but on the whole things were still good most of the time. He was still moatly the man I had met, the excuses still held true, I still had no idea that the monster was real, and Jekyll the disguise.

Six years ago, December 2006, I met and completely fell in love with Steve. By the end of January 2007 I was completely and utterly in love. There's a saying that tries to explain why women stay with men who abuse them - 'if an abuser punched you on the first date, you'd never see him again.' That's not how they work. They come over as your perfect partner. They seem to want to do anything and everything to please you. They seem obsessed with you - on a good way, because they are so perfect you feel the same way. When they first hurt you, it seems like an aberration, you do anything to explain it - they tell you how much they love you, what a terrible mistake it was, and you believe them because you want to believe them. It's a repeating cycle, but it cycles faster, the good times become fewer and the bad times become the norm. To steal a Freedom Programme quote, I spent five years trying to get the first six months back.

In trying to get back that person who didn't exist, I lost myself. It's taken me this long to get me back. I won't ever give myself up again.

Seven years ago, on 21st of December, my brother died. Two years later, at my nephew's christening, my older sister said, 'don't you think it's odd that your brother was an alcoholic heroin addict called Steve, and now your boyfriend is an alcoholic heroin addict called Steve?'

Yeah. Funny how you can ignore your subconscious, even when it's jumping up and down in your face, waving a flag and fronting a marching band. But no more.

The last year has been a hard one because getting rid of Steve and the death of my Dad both forced me to confront some nasty stuff. You see, I'm not a victim of domestic violence. I suffered domestic violence because of my choices - because something inside of me was screwed up enough to value that relationship above all else - to put my need to 'save' Steve above the well-being of my son, and above even my own life (for however much I told myself and everyone else that 'it wasn't that bad', 'he never put me in hospital', 'he's never broken a bone' etc, the fact remains that this was often due to luck. If I hadn't ducked when he broke his hand.... If I hadn't caught the bannister when he pushed me downstairs..... If I hadn't beat him off those times he was strangling me.....If he hadn't passed out with drugs and drink the first time he held me captive at the B and B..... There were multiple times when things could have ended differently - but I only can see that in retrospect. I am more frightened of him now than I ever was then.).

Discovering what that screwed-up something is has been the work of the last year. It's been slow and it has been painful, it has involved dredging up all sorts of family crap and dysfunction.  But you need to drag the dirt into the open, otherwise your house is never clean. I am now a house so clean that Kim and Aggie would approve.

YAY ME! :-)


  1. Wow Karen, a really powerful Blog, such a maelstrom of emotion swirling inside me now - great writing and you are such a strong person. Take care x

  2. Thank you - and thanks for my first ever comment! :-)

    Strength is a funny old thing. I don't think I'm particularly strong, I think I am just older and lived through stuff now. It's like the Bible says, humans are like metal and we are strengthened by being tested in fire (something along those lines, can't remember the quote).

    Yeah, dunno about strong, but when lies started to really get me down, I decided the one thing I was going to try to be in future was *honest*. Hence my blog, and hence coming out of anonymity - I don't need it any more.

    That's not to get at anyone who has an anonymous blog, BTW, I totally see the value of those and why people do it (would have to, having done it myself!), but for me at this point in my life it is important now that if I wouldn't put my name to it, I'm not gonna say it.