I am spending lockdown hiding from my abusive partner

The World Health Organisation has warned that the stress and anxiety of lockdown has led to a rise in the number of women experiencing abuse at home – I am one of them. 

I’m useless, crazy, pathetic. I’m a bad mother, a piece of sh*t, a manipulative, twisted person. Nobody can stand to be around me. These are just a handful of the things I get called on a regular basis by the man who is meant to love me.

He also tells me that the only reason he sticks around is because he’s ‘kind’, and that I’m about as much use to him as a piece of cardboard. This man is meant to be my best friend – and there are rare moments when it feels like he is – but mostly, he is my abuser.

For most people, the word abuser conjures up images of a nasty, disagreeable, angry person who uses violence and physical intimidation to get what he or she wants. But most aren’t like that at all. They can be funny, charming, and kind, to the outside world. But it’s all an act to prevent their true selves emerging in front of closed doors. 

Not all abuse is physical either. Name calling, belittling, yelling, patronising, threatening, ridiculing, gaslighting – terms I’ve now sadly become all too familiar with – are all forms of emotional abuse. And they can be just as soul-destroying as a punch in the gut.

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It wasn’t always like this. When I first met my partner, *James, he was the last person I thought would ever hurt me.

He was sweet and incredibly attentive, and would do anything to make me happy. My friends all envied the ‘perfect’ relationship that we had. I realise now that it was all a big act, a ruse to win me over.

Perhaps he thought I had deliberately trapped him when I found out I was pregnant just over a year after we first met, and his anger and resentment gradually built up to the point where he could no longer contain it. But I hadn’t – I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have a baby with him, because I already had suspicions that there was a Mr. Hyde lurking behind his Dr. Jekyll.

There had been a couple of occasions when he’d got into a sulk over nothing, made fun of me in front of strangers with comments he labelled as ‘jokes’, or lost his temper and lashed out, calling me a ‘piece of sh*t’. That eventually became his favourite insult.

But he was still mostly loving throughout my pregnancy, so I reasoned that we would be okay, and we moved in together. After our daughter was born, I found out that he had been saying horrible things about me to his family and even some of my friends behind my back, including that I was a lazy mother – which wasn’t true.

I’d had a very tough labour and almost lost my life after an emergency C-section. I wasn’t lazy, I was recovering from major surgery. I was still breastfeeding, looking after our baby alone at home while juggling work as and when I could (because he still expected me to pay half of the rent and bills regardless) and I did all of the housework and cooking too. 

I was so upset by his comments that we broke up for a short time. He begged me to take him back and promised that he would never hurt me again. But of course, he did.

The abuse escalated after we moved into a new flat together. Our baby was only a few months old and the night we moved all of our belongings in, he told me that he’d had enough and was leaving. I was stunned. He had moved me miles away from all of my friends, to a place where I knew nobody and had no support, all so he could be nearer to his own family.

I remember begging him not to leave us. I look back on that memory with shame now – that I had gone from being a strong, independent woman to somebody who needed a man who clearly didn’t love her. I’m also certain he smirked when I pleaded with him.

The next day I turned up at my old flat to finish cleaning it for the new tenants to find him already there wiping the walls because he ‘wanted to help’. I now know that this is typical behaviour of an emotional abuser – changing the goal posts so you don’t know where you are with them, or who you are anymore.

I gradually lost my sense of identity as our daughter grew into a beautiful toddler. Everything I did at home was wrong. If I made us a meal, the meat wasn’t cooked well enough. If I turned a light on in a room, he’d immediately follow me in and turn it off. If I ran a bath, he would check that it was only half-full and monitor the taps to make sure.

I gave in to his demands to make my life easier, but I felt miserable and powerless.

I thought about leaving often, but had no place to go to, no family to stay with, and no money to survive on as all my wages from my part-time marketing job went on nursery fees.

Years of nasty comments from James had also affected my confidence, and I no longer had the courage to go out and make friends or meet anyone. I felt trapped, but at least when James was at work or playing sports, I got some respite – however, that all changed during lockdown.

I spent most of the time hiding in my bedroom. Coupled with the stress of worrying about coronavirus, being stuck indoors almost 24/7, and in a small space where we couldn’t escape each other, the abuse became unbearable.

James began losing his temper every few days. Normally I’d stay quiet, but now, with no escape, I began fighting back.

I told him that he was being abusive and asked him to stop, but it didn’t help. He started physically shoving me and cornering me against the door while spitting venom in my face. 

There were some good moments, like when he would try to be nice again and we’d sit and watch the news together, tutting at the tragedy of all the people who had lost their lives to Covid-19 while telling ourselves that we were the lucky ones. We laughed together, had lovely days out in the park, and danced around the kitchen singing songs.

In these moments, I told myself that maybe he would return to the old James he’d been when we’d first met. But the nice days would always pass.

They were replaced by a demeanour that made me convinced he hated me, and that made me hate myself, as I’d been so ground down by the abuse that I couldn’t help but see myself in the same disdainful way he did.

In lockdown, there has been no relief for me. When I look in the mirror, I see a shadow of the person I used to be – a weak, useless woman who has nothing to offer to anyone. I don’t recognise or like her.

The only thing that makes up for it is when my little girl puts her arms around my neck and tells me she loves me more than anything in the universe. That’s when I remind myself that I’m sacrificing my own happiness for hers – for now.

And that one day, maybe post-lockdown, I’ll be brave enough to leave. 

Names have been changed.

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