Katie's Story of Surviving and Thriving following Domestic Abuse

Katie wanted to share her story to encourage those currently in refuge. 
Katie came to the TDAS refuge with her 6 year old son ten years ago.  Since then she’s set about achieving many of her life’s ambitions.

I was 17 when I met my ex-partner, he was 24.  It was a volatile relationship; he had a past and had been in prison before I met him.  I was very young and naive.  I became pregnant at 19.  He was very controlling and took away from my dreams, for example I was at college when I met him but then I stopped attending.

After nine years of putting up with incidents that I should not have put up with, for example him cheating on me, hitting me, stopping me from seeing my friends and things like that, I decided I was going to leave. 

I just wanted to be loved and was happy that he loved me.  I felt that he loved me but if I did something wrong, I thought it was ‘normal’ that he would lash out at me!  But I knew it wasn’t right really, I remember the first time he gave me two black eyes I cried my eyes out.  The next day though he was so apologetic, he was so sorry, he was really guilty and kept giving me hugs.  I was just happy that he was sorry.  It’s just a very strange feeling.  I had been very naïve about domestic abuse because I met him when I was very young. 

When I look back at my life then, I never had any money or any nice clothes.  I always put his wants and needs first, including things like tobacco.  If he didn’t have what he wanted then he would argue with me and get angry.  I used to just leave my hair, I wouldn’t do anything nice for myself at all.

I was the type of person that if you have something going on in your private life then I thought you should do it behind closed doors and not for everyone to see, but he was really loud.  I remember walking through the supermarket one day and he was walking behind me and screaming at me ‘feffing and jeffing’.  I felt so embarrassed.  I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

I never told people the extent of his behaviours.  My Mum and Dad were aware that he wasn’t a nice person.  They advised me, but he also had a very charming side to him and he put on a good act.  My Mum didn’t think I was lying about it but she didn’t realise it was as bad as it had become.  I suppose it was down to me in the end.  You have to make the decision for yourself.  People can only advise you, My Mum did and it was really helpful.  She obviously knew that I was ready to leave. 

Towards the end of the relationship, I’d started fighting back and it was changing me as a person.  One day my Mum and Dad said something to me that really stuck with me.  I was screaming at my ex-partner and my parents said ‘You’ve changed, this is not what you were like years ago’.   So I’d started to be a bit like him, I felt I’d lost my values and morals.  I just didn’t care.  My mum would even say that I’d turned into a ‘chav’. 

In the October before I left, I’d already made the decision to go.  I spoke to my parents, they agreed that I could stay with them temporarily while I decided on my next move.  I started to find out about schools.  I decided that I’d wait till after Christmas, but when Christmas came I think he knew for some reason that something had changed.  For three days, he seemed completely different.  He was a completely different man; making effort, being nice, making me food and being lovely.  He even took me out!  I remember saying to myself ’I’m not going to leave, he’s going to change’.  But lo and behold, the day after I had thought that, he went out with his friends and when he came back he violated me in the most horrible way possible.  He did something disgustingly bad and he tormented me for about six hours.  He was saying that I’d had someone in the house while he was out, he searched through all of my clothes and did the most horrible things.  Then I thought ‘No, he is never going to change’.

When I decided to leave I had what I was going to do all planned out in my head.  I knew that my Mum would accommodate us for a little while, but longer wouldn’t be possible.  I knew that I needed to have a base.  I had to leave and I basically just left him.  When I left, I pretended I was going to work but I met up with my parents and we had a big chat about everything.  I’d packed a couple of bags but he must have found them by the time I came back.  He threw my bags at me but he kept my son.  It was nearly two weeks before he gave me my son back.  I think by then he had realised that he couldn’t cope with looking after him full-time, also with no money coming in what would he do with him?  I was really tough for me to be without my son.  I think he’d also tried to brainwash him, but the bond I had with my son was completely unbreakable.  He couldn’t break it, the bond we had was really strong.        

I moved to my Mum’s knowing it could only be temporary.  Then I started to ring around friends to see if anyone could help me, but nobody could.  So I went to the council, I explained my situation and that I was staying at my Mum’s but that she couldn’t accommodate me.  They were able to send me to a refuge in Tameside, it seemed miles away.  At this point I had my son back with me.  I found it very overwhelming.  The refuge was a communal one, with ten women and their families sharing one lounge.  I found all the paperwork overwhelming too, changing doctors, changing schools etc.

When I was in Tameside I wanted to go back to where I was from, local to my Mum but they said that there was too much risk.  I thought that the risk was limited as he lived in Salford and I wanted to go to Trafford so that I could be close to my parents.  I’d already been looking at schools in Trafford for my son, some of which I was able to do before I left with some help from my Mum.  So we got in touch with TDAS and fortunately there was a place in their refuge, so I was able to move in that day.   I was just very lucky to be able to get refuge in Trafford which was where I wanted to settle.  Then I was able to get a school place for my son.  Being able to come to Trafford was really helpful to me, especially as I don’t drive.  The living situation and not knowing anyone in Tameside also felt quite isolating.  If I’d have had to stay in Tameside, how would I have felt?  Of course, you can make new friends, but it’s not the same.  I imagine it’s a lot, lot harder for people who have to start somewhere entirely new.  Sometime people have to move out of an area entirely because of the abuse.  I know that this would be very difficult but I would say to those people ‘Just stick with it! It is worth it.’

I left everything; a whole house with all the stuff.  Most of it was mine as I’d paid for it all.  I was actually working, when I left him.  I was in full time employment.  He’d allowed me to do that as he needed the money.  He didn’t want to work and wasn’t working.  If I was having a bad day one of my colleagues would say ‘What’s up with you?’.   When I told her what had happened, she would be completely disgusted and asked me why I was still with him, “Why aren’t you leaving?”, “Why are you putting up with that?”.  I would also see my colleagues with their wages.  I saw that they got to keep their money!  I had zero money for myself, sometimes he’d allow me to buy the odd top.  Mostly, I had to lie about what I was getting paid in order to keep any money.  I’d lie and say my Mum gave me things, just so I could have a new top!  I was able to save up a little bit of money without him knowing about it just before I left.    Through work I’d found a new lease of life and I think that’s what eventually gave me the push to leave.  I had a different mind-set as I was around these independent girls all day. 

My son was 6 when we went to refuge and at first it seemed like an adventure to him, something different and new.  However, then it became a little bit difficult because he had always had his Dad around.  Even though his Dad was awful to me, he was a good Dad to my son.  It seems strange to say that, as of course, he wasn’t a good person otherwise he wouldn’t have done what he did to me but he did always have a bond with my son.  I think the absence of his Dad did start to bother him.  Refuge was only meant to be short time, but we ended up needing to be there a bit longer than expected; there’s no guarantee of how long you’ll need to stay in refuge.

I’ve not had an easy ride.  It wasn’t easy and I had to use all my strength and willpower.  I knew it was a volatile, horrible relationship years before I left.  However, I could never get the strength and energy to leave knowing everything I’d be leaving behind; the house, my belongings, everything I knew. 

Leaving was the best thing I ever did.  Throughout the 6 months that I was in refuge my ex-partner did text and ring asking me to come back.  I did nearly cave in a couple of times as it can be a lonely place, but then I started speaking to the other women residents.  I remember some of the support I had was great.  I remember one lady in particular who did the nursery.  We talked about the idea of me becoming a support worker.  She actually gave me a leaflet for ‘home start’.  This got the ball rolling for me in my head, even though I knew it wasn’t the right time yet.

In the midst of all this I actually met a new partner, it was early days but he was supportive. I also had a support network with the other women at the refuge.  I had one-to-one sessions that were really helpful.  It was also really important to have the practical help for bidding (for housing places). The TDAS staff could see if I was struggling and they would talk to me about how I was feeling.  It’s not easy.  It was really difficult, I did nearly cave in and go back to him but I was lucky because I did have a support network where I was. 

My son is 16 now and he does remember our time in refuge and some of the friends we made.  In refuge, sometimes we’d do big games of hide and seek with all the residents.  It’s brilliant that he seems to remember just the fun times, so we’ve never needed to have any serious conversations about it.  He does know why we were there but his Dad has told him a completely different story about why I left.  Sometimes I see parallels between my ex-partner and my son, which is quite scary.  Sometimes I blame myself and wish I’d left earlier, but all I can say is that I left when I was ready.  I’ve tried ever since to put things right.

I used to think that all men were the same. However, the partner that I met around the time of moving into the refuge I’ve now been with for 10 years and we’ve just got married!  My new partner has been incredible and has stuck by me. I had a few issues with my son. His behaviours were a bit challenging.  I don’t know how much of it was due to our scenario, however afterwards we found out that he has ADHD.  Some of the behaviours were related to that, the first signs of ADHD.  For a long time it wasn’t diagnosed and was blamed on our scenario and ‘bad parenting’.  Of course, my son didn’t understand what he was going through at the time, but the signs were there of ADHD from the age of six.  

To help my son, my new partner and I did these ‘Incredible Years Parenting Courses’ together.  I went to every school meeting and got my son into such a good routine including doing extra-curricular activities; we just did everything we needed to do to help him.   We had been seeing specialists for my son for a few years.  They even discharged him several times saying always “It’s not ADHD, it’s just to do with the circumstances he’s lived through blah, blah”.  I persisted and when he was about nine years old they finally diagnosed him with the ADHD.

I do actually still speak to my ex-partner, it’s very strange.  I don’t know if he’s grown up at all, but I can still see that side of him, the abusive side.  He has got a partner and I feel sorry for her.  After a few years had passed I thought that it was right for us to be in touch.  He did stay part of my son’s life, he never did anything bad to my son although there were one or two occasions where he did abuse me in front of him.  I did keep him away from his Dad for a long time, but then I started off very slowly giving him the odd hour here and there and built it up from there. 

I don’t know whether it was a phase my ex-partner was in but I certainly don’t blame myself and think ‘It was about me’.  Maybe a lightbulb went off in his head, I don’t know.  When I speak to him now we don’t sit in the same room.  We have conversations on the phone regarding my son.  It’s strictly civil and nice, we’ve even laughed once or twice.

I was in the refuge for 6 months then I got a property but I kept thinking about my time in refuge and especially about the lady who’d shared the ‘homestart’ leaflet.  I decided to get the ball rolling, so I got in touch with my local college.  I did my level 2 ‘health and social care’, then I did my level 3, which I did my maths alongside. Then I moved onto my level 4.  Once I’d completed that I decided ‘Let’s go to Uni!’  I’ve been doing a degree in Social Work and am in my final year, after six years of study. 

I really wanted to share my story with others because there were many times that I could have caved in and gone back to him.  But then I would have been in exactly the position that I was in before; of having no confidence, no self-esteem and hating myself. 

I would like to say to people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to be strong.   You’ve got to realise that you can’t go back to an abusive partner because they’ll never change.  They have to want to rehabilitate themselves or maybe go to anger management classes.  From my experience though, they are not going to change.  A lot of things that have happened in their life have affected how they are today, it’s not your fault.

Without TDAS, I wouldn’t be where I am today; without their persistence and them motivating me and empowering me.  They did everything they should do, including keeping me bidding on properties and bolstering my spirits.  For example, I used to love cheese on toast and the TDAS staff office was near to the kitchen.  One of the staff members came out to see me.  She said ‘You’re not having cheese on toast again, are you?  It’s really bad for you!’ She was right and was trying to help me.  It really was good.

I went on a course that was really helpful.  It was called ‘The Dominator’, we got a book all about it.  It helped me to understand what my partner had been doing.  If I’d not been in the refuge I wouldn’t have known about, or had the chance to do, that course.  A lot of the practical help the staff at the refuge gave to me was really important too.  The nursery lady who talked to me about becoming a support worker, gave me hope for the future.  That there could be a ‘life for me’ after this; it wasn’t all over, it didn’t all need to be doom and gloom.  The idea that when this was all over I could do something like this became my motivator.  Even at university on the first day, I said it to a group of students as my icebreaker!  It’s my story.  I’m here because I was in refuge, because I met a woman who helped me to see that I could support people, that conversation set me on this journey!  What I’d like to do now is to help rough sleepers and the homeless in Manchester, so I will definitely be coming across those who’ve experienced domestic abuse and others who need help with housing.  I actually did a placement helping young vulnerable women, so I have some experience now dealing with this issue as a professional.

I have a no tolerance for domestic abuse! I put up a massive guard, my husband has had to put up with me being quite insecure.  Domestic abuse has followed me a little bit, my self-worth can sometime be quite low.  If someone shouts at me, I will shout back!  It’s not really good and is something I need to work on, but I just have no tolerance at all for abuse.  I won’t put up with it.  I imagine though that other people would go back to that kind of relationship.  I can see why people do, it’s what they are used to and it’s all you know.  I knew I wouldn’t do that again.  To go through all that stress and fighting, I wouldn’t do that again.  I was lucky that I came from a good family, with good morals and good values.  My parents were both full-time workers with their own house.  I was very lucky, but if you’ve not had that example perhaps you won’t know how good things can be if that was never your norm.

I continued working until I went to refuge but then I had to leave my job.  It was quite difficult to leave work but I wouldn’t have been able to do my shifts and the travel as I had no-one able to pick my son up from school.  Also, as it’s supported housing the rent is very high, so my wages wouldn’t have covered it.  

I lot of the girls in refuge would have liked to work but with supported housing you can’t because it’s too expensive.  It would have been good for me to have had that continuity.  Keeping your mind active and focusing on your goals is really positive.  I did find it hard not to be working.  At refuge there was a no alcohol policy but I was tempted to sneak in a bottle just because the hours could feel so long and would drag.  I just wanted to make myself feel better because at that stage I had nothing, I’d had to give it all up.  It was lonely even though I had support.  There’s a lot of time to think on your own.  So keeping working and keeping active is something that I would have liked to have been able to do.

My advice to those currently in refuge is to take all the support you are offered.  You are lucky if you get a place in refuge, so take all the opportunities it gives you.

My confidence and self-esteem go from strength to strength.  I can still have bad days as I had 10 years of having my confidence knocked, but the more I achieve, the more I go from strength to strength.     

I never thought that I’d get married, never thought I’d go to university.  All my bucket list things are actually happening.  My next one is driving, which hopefully I’ll start this year!

Thanks so much for sharing your story Katie! 

Katie credits the support she received in the TDAS refuge as being pivotal in her life, please support our current new refuge appeal

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