This is N.L.’s story

[Trigger warning: Domestic violence]

There was a night where I banked upon everything that my ex partner would not have the capacity to take our son’s life in the moments I could run bleeding, beaten beyond words and naked into the street at 5am screaming for help. I was lucky that I banked with the right bank that evening.

He ran and our son was spared, but what if i was wrong? I have lived with that thought for 10 years. How would I have handled it if he didn’t run? I would have begged him to plunge the knife that had spent 30 minutes against my throat moments before into my heart.
When people think of domestic violence they think of women and children covered in bruises, often in a drunken rage. It is not like that, well not always and it doesn’t just begin with a slap here or there. It starts subtly. The insults, the silence that leaves you questioning every word and action to discover where you went wrong.
The self doubt and insecurity eats into you like acid but not as fast. It’s like living on a good behavior bond. It affects your work, your social groups and even the friendships that you thought were rock solid are shaken. The violence hasn’t even begun and you are a shell of who you were. No self esteem, anything that once bought you joy has been subtly and not so subtly criticized. You feel empty and like living on auto pilot beckoning to the whims of someone who has ownership over you rather than a relationship. And will honestly stop at nothing to show other men as much, even when it leaves you humiliated and bordering on violated in public. These situations are often more belittling than the insults or backhanded compliments.
And he is probably so charming people can not understand why he is with a woman with no spark, they don’t for a minute consider that he stripped it away.
This all happens before you even see what affect he has on your child or children. You don’t see that they are terrified, he doesn’t even have to hit them at this point because they see the power he has over you. They have been living on the same good behavior contract. Conditional love with out the love. Because there is no love.
By the time that first slap or punch comes it is almost in preference to the mental and emotional abuse because at least you know it’s wrong and can feel the burning and pain on your skin. I guess I was lucky, it was the first hit that I packed his bags. I was probably hoping for an excuse. In the previous months I had recognised that I no longer recognised myself. I had seen how our son no longer wanted to be around him.
I was sick of smelling other women on him and the lies. I also had all the excuses in the world because I knew how his childhood had affected him and that he was mentally not in the greatest place but he never had been. When it became physical it was time for him to leave. When I say physical he fractured both of my wrists so I could not massage men. It was part of my job. I couldn’t even drive but i sure as hell packed those bags. It was New years eve.
He was particularly nasty the first week. Threatening emails. Then one night at 4am he drunkenly broke into my house, I say broken into because although he had a key he was not welcome. And when I say drunken I suspect a cocktail of drugs and alcohol.
I asked him to leave, he started ranting so I threw my glass of water over him, not the glass, just the water. I just wanted him to shut up. He could well have blamed me for every ill in the world he was writhing with such hate. After the water hit him it was like a switch. He rammed me into a wall and punched solidly for what seemed like 15 minutes, i was sure there wasn’t a part of my head that was swollen. He threw my body from here to there, i collected a glass bowl shattered and embedded into my back at some point. I could feel the blood pouring down my back.
All of a sudden he had me pinned against the wall with a knife, in the stomach at first with fist in throat, then the knife moved to my heart and later throat. I imagined everything about how that knife would feel, how would I keep myself alive for our son. I talked to him with the little voice he left me with.
All the while I had hoped he wouldn’t think about the very child I was scared to not be there to raise.I heard that little voice and crumbled. He knew how much more it would hurt me to threaten that boy than it would to do just about anything else in the world and he did. He stood over the terrified 5 year old with the knife in his face. That was when the banking, the bidding with what ever god there might be that he wouldn’t hurt him and I ran. I felt every second as I screamed throughout the street for someone to call the police. when I knew someone had I ran back inside and thank god he was gone.

It didn’t stop. The police took my phone at the hospital because he was threatening to come back for us or kill himself. I sat in the hospital to be told I was pregnant. I think I knew already. But I also knew nothing could survive that beating.

I went to court bruised and battered and he got a good behaviour bond. He represented himself and blamed me, i blamed me.He would break into my house, even tried to run me over. I was never safe, eventually I had to move cities. He never left evidence. So as far as the police were concerned he wasn’t breaking the order. I even got to a point where I thought I was better off with him.

I didn’t think I was a victim. It would be years before I really recognised the damage and it really only happened when his mental health got to the point that he couldn’t manage and he took his own life. All those years and suddenly it felt like a relief.

He has been dead for 6 years soon and It’s been 10 years since that night and I am still fractured. The mental and emotional bruises far from healed. I am too afraid to even try to have another relationship and he keeps winning even in death. That is that nature of it. Its so ingrained. We don’t mean it to be.

It happens in every demographic. It is not always like a steam train coming at you and even when its over it takes a long time to realise just how bad it was. It takes twice as long to heal if you ever do. I do not have to stand in front of people and have them talk about my son and ex partner. I get to be grateful that I banked on the right choice.

We can blame and judge people in these situations all we like, just as the judge did when he handed down a good behaviour bond instead of the penalty he deserved. But it is never black and white. It is never simple and when you are in it you are looking at the world through muddy windows. These are not thugs and stupid men. The more intelligent the more subtle and damaging.

When the mental health issue is thrown into the mix or drugs and alcohol it makes it even harder to know because we are still in love with the potential, with the man in his Sunday best we met in a friends back garden or at work and so on. They are not beasts all the time either, those glimpses of what we knew we cling to in the hope it will all be as it was. And our mental health is so fractured itself we do not know if we are coming or going or we have donned the mask so well its painted on even for ourselves.