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Sarah* is a professional woman in her twenties who is now living safely and rebuilding her life after domestic abuse. She has shared her story with us in the hope that by raising awareness, we can help others to recognise that they are experiencing abuse and access support. 

“What does love mean to you?” I once asked my ex. Perhaps it was a rather intimate question to be asking over Skype but we were so comfortable with one another – it felt right. Also (to tell you the truth) I was keen on getting to know the intelligent, charming medic who had recently appeared in my life. He was based abroad so unless he flew out to visit, this was the closest I was to being with him and I wanted to know everything about him.

Despite his intelligence he wasn’t sure.

“I’ve not really thought about it much… love is love right? How about you? Maybe I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

Little did I know that give it two years and I’d know exactly what love and relationships were all about to him. Three words: power and control. The last thing I would have ever thought love could mean.

Emotional, financial and mental abuse was the mainstay of what I was to endure after moving in with him. Isolated already as I’d moved to a foreign country, he still felt the need to limit contact with my family and friends. He had an abundance of excuses as to why I should be careful about the information I shared and who could visit us. Some of the most outrageous were people using black magic to try and separate us and a relative of his who might try and kill us. Though I didn’t understand most of it, he was always “trying to protect me”, and it was his “love” for me driving him to behave this way, which somehow made it more acceptable.

Through all the confusion and lies about finances, family and our relationship I felt I was losing myself. I found myself anxiously juggling everything to try and ensure I was being the best I could be to resolve the difficulties our marriage was facing. I communicated this confusion to him, little did I know that the more questions I asked, the more his tactics would escalate. Ironically the more I did for our relationship, the more he expected and these expectations were always changing.

There came a point when I came to know that this man who had vowed to commit to me and build a future together, saw me as merely an object. I had no priority in his life and our future family would suffer the same fate. This shattered me from the inside however the day he admitted it, gave me an entirely new lease of life. Empowered; I took some time out to process his confession. Something I hadn’t considered was that I wasn’t going to be allowed to come home to him thereafter. I unintentionally escaped his control and because of this he decided to cut me out of his life. Since that day I haven’t stepped foot into our marital home again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him and we don’t talk. If you had told me this a few years ago I would have told you that I couldn’t live without him and that it would be impossible.  It was strangely painful, but it wasn’t impossible. Through all the pain; I have gained far more than I ever thought I would. My voice is finally heard again. My beliefs and choices are wholly my own. I have a career. I have friends. Through my healing I’m learning to love myself more each day. I’m free. 

If my story resonates with you the one thing I want you to take from this is that you’re not alone. There is help available and there is always someone who will listen. Also you must remember that if you are in an abusive relationship, the perpetrator’s behaviour isn’t a reflection of you, their actions are a reflection of them. You are not at fault in this. You are worthy and deserving of true love. A love that is kind, sincere and liberating.

*Name changed for safety

If you're worried about your relationship, feel scared of your partner or are concerned about a friend, help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge) 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247 – if you're in immediate danger always call 999 and ask for the police.