Friday, November 18, 2011

I'm Speaking Out Against Domestic Violence

I don't often do serious posts but when I do they will always be about something that I feel passionate about, or something that I have first hand experience in.  When Kristin from Wanderlust contacted me to say that she was becoming an Ambassador for an International Domestic Violence Awareness Campaign and would I lend my support, I immediately said yes.

Today's post only slightly fits the bill, in that my experience is second hand, a witness, an innocent bystander if you will.  Touched by domestic violence but not slapped, beaten, kicked or punched by it. Made to watch, listen and dread on the sidelines, feeling helpless whilst it happened in the next room.  Using music to drown out the arguments and preferring to be out with my friends for short relief from the unrelenting tension in the house.

I'm not sure what made my Step-dad violent.  I know that he saw his father before him beat his mother. He talked often of his hatred for his father for that very reason, and yet here he was, doing the same thing.  It wasn't drink or inexplicable rage that set him off, on the surface he seemed a very amiable man (don't they all?) and indeed it only started once they'd got married, had a kid and moved into a new home.  Almost as if once he was the King of the Castle he was bloody well going to behave like one.

What I realise now, after much contemplation about writing this post, is that it was all about power and control.  Luckily for my Mum the violence was never so bad that she bore any scars or visible bruising, no bones were broken, no trips to the hospital.  He didn't need to go that far.  He had her right where he wanted without having to break into too much of a sweat; scared, panicked and under his control.

Never a person brimming with self confidence and carrying the burden of a very unhappy childhood she was probably an easy target, she wouldn't have taken much effort to break.  Her self-esteem was probably quite easy to kick into the gutter.

I feel that in writing this post I am breaking the one blogging rule that I have imposed upon myself—never to write about other people.  My immediate family don't know that I blog so are unlikely to ever read this post, however, I do feel the need to only tell things from my point of view.  I don't feel that it's right for me to speak for someone else, particularly not about something so deeply personal.  I'm not sure whether I will delete this post after a few weeks, I guess I'll see how I feel about it.

Whenever I speak about what happened I usually talk of one particular episode, mainly because it directly involved me, but also because it was the beginning of the end.

First a little background:  I was sixteen and had applied for an engineering apprenticeship with a large telecoms company, out of hundreds of applicants I had provisionally been offered a placement for that year's intake of 12.  The placement was dependent on my GCSE results, specifically that I got at least 5 Grade Cs or above and that they included English, Maths and Physics.

The night before my final Physics exam the familiar sound of him shouting came bounding through the walls of  the bedroom, I knew that he was slapping my mother around and I could hear the cries of my 1 year old baby brother who was still in their room at the time. He came crashing into the bedroom I shared with my sister and dragged me out of bed still shouting at my mother who was holding my brother at the time, trying to console him.  I was made to watch whilst he hit my mum a few more times and then he stormed out of the house.

I can't remember how long I stayed in the bedroom with my mum afterwards before she sent me back to bed, I don't actually remember much about the night at all, it all happened so fast. In the days following my mother took my brother and sister and went to stay at a battered wives refuge.  I didn't go, I couldn't, I was in the middle of my exams.  Extra guilt for me not going with my mum, I almost felt like I was siding with him by staying.  Oddly enough, I never felt in any personal danger from him, I think I knew he would never hit me and in fact he was perfectly pleasant to me the entire time my mum was away.

Life at the refuge centre wasn't exactly the safe haven she'd supposed it was and after a couple of nights of listening to life-hardened women fighting with each other and trying to steal her few possessions, she returned home.

Thankfully he never hit her again, as the next time the tell tale signs of shouting started late at night I darted out of bed and ran next door and asked them to phone the police.  I never saw him again.

I always wondered why he'd picked that night to drag me out of bed—it wasn't a coincidence as he knew how important getting my Physics grade was to me—but prior to the violence starting we'd always had a good step-father/step-daughter relationship.  My answer came a couple of years later as we were re-decorating the living room.  Having stripped the walls of the old wallpaper the answer was there, painted on pink plaster walls in white paint were the words 'Wendy thinks she's going to be an engineer, no fucking chance!'.

Wow, it struck me then, he was jealous.  Not only that but he hadn't been able to control or scare me as he had done my mum and younger sister.  Power and control—he hadn't managed it over us all.

Our experience of domestic violence was relatively short-lived, but the after-effects that it had on us all as a family and as individuals will last forever.  It took years for my Mum to rebuild her self-esteem and even now you could argue that her sense of self worth is extremely low.

As for me, well I got an E in the exam, unsurprisingly.  However, my employers still granted me the apprenticeship and allowed me to resit the exam the following year where I got the required C.  In the end I didn't go on to finish the apprenticeship so didn't end up an engineer, instead I switched jobs and had a decent management career in the Pub trade with a company car and expense allowance.

Grapevines whispered of my stepdad's subsequent marriages and more abandoned children, all I guess ending the same way until he went long-term unemployed to escape paying any maintenance for his brood.  He never saw my brother once after he left the family home and never paid one single penny towards his upkeep.

Some twenty-three years later my mum has never entered into another serious relationship, something that she deeply regrets.

Please go and visit the Wanderlust blog, read some of the other posts in the Linky and lend your support.