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Jessica

I can’t believe I stayed with Jonathan for so long. Even more so than the physical violence, the mental element was the worst. Definitely. You get stripped apart by the mental torture. Having three kids by myself now is hard, but it’s easier than when I was with him. They are happy and safe, which is what they deserve. I have normal worries now, just the same as everyone else. I have a great life.

I was brought up to believe that the goal was to have a relationship, to get married and have kids, and if there were problems you were meant to just ride the storm out. I felt pity for him, felt that I could help. That I should help. All that time I was looking inside me for what had gone wrong. I’ve never been so unhappy. He was a black hole; devoid of compassion or sympathy. He was missing anything you’d need to be a good person. I spent five years trying to figure out why I was there...

I’d lost my previous partner to suicide and was a single mother when I first met Jonathan. We were both with friends on a night out and got chatting in a bar. He contacted me every few days after that, usually when he was going to visit his Mam. He seemed very normal, nice... very family oriented. He used to talk a lot about his son, about his ‘crazy’ ex. He came across like a good person who’d had a run of bad luck. He was so nice to me at the start, telling me I looked good, that I had my own sense of style. He had a good job and was very generous, wanting to pay for everything. By Christmas that year he was planning ahead for us, and I thought I’d met someone to have a family with. It felt like both of us had found a second chance - together.

I wore a contraceptive patch but he kept pulling it off, I’d find it on the floor beside the bed. I didn’t realise what he was doing at first, but when I confronted him, he said how much he wanted for us to have a baby. I fell pregnant soon afterwards. The first time he was abusive towards me was while I was pregnant. I sprained my foot and he said, ‘just because you’re pregnant I’m not going to hold your fucking hand.’ It went on from there. When he didn’t come home all night he called me paranoid and a ‘whack job’ for asking where he was. He told me I was a control freak. He assaulted me during a family holiday in Florida, and threw me out of our hotel. I was pregnant, had no money on me, and I’m diabetic. I rang my parents who wired me money and arranged for help through a family friend. I ended up staying with strangers and what was supposed to be the holiday of a lifetime for my child was over.

Shortly after our daughter was born he said he’d like another baby, that he wanted his kids to be close in age. When I was in labour, he told me not to draw attention to myself. I wasn’t to shout or cry out, because I’d be making a show of him.

He wanted us to go for counselling together. At the end of a session, after he’d abused me verbally and stormed off, the counsellor told me, ‘I can help you, but I can’t help him...  he needs psychotherapy’. He told everybody I was mad and made me keep going for counselling. When I think back now, from day one he was manipulating me into believing what he wanted. He knew every trick in the book. He had been the same with his two previous girlfriends, they contacted me later, after the court case.

I was only working part-time because of the kids, and he wouldn’t give me so much as €50 for bills, yet he’d be out in town buying drinks for all his friends. He’d ring me and say, ‘I’d hate to be you, stuck at home with three kids.’ He would offer to leave money for me at his work. I’d go to collect it but there’d be nothing. Then he’d text me: ha, ha, ha, ha.

I started to withdraw. I realised that I didn’t need him, I was doing everything myself, paying for everything myself. He was just causing misery. I stopped getting into arguments because he seemed to enjoy them. By May 2015 I was very unhappy but I wanted our split to be amicable for the kids. He’d start an argument so he could say, ‘this is all your fault’. One day he was pushing for a fight, I told him not to bother, to just leave if he wanted to. That was the first time he was sober hitting me. I fell back, the kids were hysterical. My eye was all swollen. That Sunday, he left the kids at his Mam’s and insisted on taking me out. He wanted to apologise. I didn’t want to go but I did: I used to let him make decisions so he wouldn’t start an argument. First, he stole a bottle of perfume and tried to give it to me. Then after our meal he told me to leave the restaurant first – I realised it was because he was planning to do a runner. I had sunglasses on the whole time because of my swollen eye, and all I could think was that I was in a relationship I didn’t want to be in… that I was being abused.

He met someone else, yet kept sending me flowers and I Love You balloons. It was like he was putting a stamp on me, because we weren’t even talking at that stage. He’d show up at my job, at the kids’ school, always trying to keep a foot in the door. He used to text me from different numbers, trying to trap me. He sent me a picture of himself with his wrist slit, saying he’d kill himself and asking how would I explain to the kids that I’d killed both him and my previous partner.

 There was a barring order against him but that December he begged to come home. He had applied to court for access. At first I didn’t want to go to court but then it just clicked in my head that I was doing the wrong thing… that it was way better to let the courts deal with it. He wanted the minimum access but I kept pushing for more, to call his bluff. I offered him week-on/week-off access knowing he wouldn’t take it. No agreement was reached in court and there was no court order.

Christmas is a dangerous time for lots of women and children because of the pressures that come with it and the drinking culture we’ve created in Ireland. Just after that court date he wanted me to visit Santa with him and the kids, and took offence when I refused. I was out with friends that night and when I got home he was hiding in the garden, waiting…. I lost consciousness after the first punch, and again later in the attack. My eyes, face and skull were fractured that night, and I have permanent scarring and nerve damage. It was merciless, I thought he was going to kill me. Any time he’d ever hit me, my head or face was always the first place he’d aim for. My daughter’s third birthday was the following day, and I discharged myself from hospital to help her blow out her candles. I was readmitted on Christmas Eve for reconstructive surgery on my face.

He got a three-and-a-half year prison sentence, with the last year suspended.

I had been speaking to a social worker in hospital and she advised me to contact Women’s Aid. I’d heard of Women’s Aid before, but I had the idea that it was only a helpline, a listening ear, and I had that from friends and family already. I’d always thought what could Women’s Aid do? Have a chat, give a bit of sympathy but then I’d be back on my again? Yet when I contacted them there was so much more to Women’s Aid that I hadn’t realised. Safety planning, court support, shelter… the extent of the services, the lengths they go to on your behalf, are incredible.

If only I’d known all along how much help was out there, I’d have accessed Women’s Aid sooner. To anyone in the position I once was, I’d say: be brave and take a chance of having a better life for yourself. You save yourself, no one else saves you. Every reason you can think of to stay is actually a reason to leave.

Never stay for your kids. Leave for your kids.