As part of our Women's Voices project, collecting and sharing women's testimonies of domestic violence, we're sharing Ellen's story today. Ellen has asked that her name is changed but that her story is told in the hope that it helps other women escape from a life of abuse.
"I was far safer with him gone. So my advice is to stop, think, find a way to escape. The longer it goes on the harder it will be to get out. Phone Women’s Aid. Let your family know how you are suffering and don’t put up with any of it. There is a good life waiting for you out there.
My sister and brother-in-law bought an apartment abroad and invited me over for a week, that’s how I met him. We were only seeing each other for a few days when he asked me to marry him. He was very handsome, very attentive. I was 38 years old at that time - he was a good bit younger - and I was smitten. Three months later I went back with my parents and family to get engaged, and the following May we got married there.
The day after our wedding he began to act strange; angry at the smallest thing. He was furious that he had to wait for his visa and we argued. He threw my passport at me and the watch I had bought him at the wall, then walked out of the hotel and was gone for hours. Back in Ireland, he got a job in a restaurant. He never came home before 5am. His behaviour became very controlling. He’d tell me what to wear, that I was fat. He was gambling, though I didn’t know it at the time. He remained an addicted gambler for the five years we were married. He said his addiction was making him violent and abusive. I brought him to Gamblers Anonymous and went every week myself to try and help. I brought him to other treatment centres for addiction.
We have a son, he’s 9 now. When he was four months old my ex lost his job in a large retail store because of an argument with his manager. That just made matters worse. One day, with our baby in the back, he put his fist through the front window of the car while I was driving because I had taken a wrong turn. Later, he chased me round our house, punching my chest. On another occasion my son was on his changing table while his father pulled my hair, crashed my head against the bath, slapped and punched me.
People didn’t realise. It’s a terrible thing, but those around you often just don’t understand what’s happening. I told my Dad, but he didn’t quite believe me. I told people at work, who tried to help. My sister too. But then he would apologise, and I would feel sorry for him and take him back.
He made a girl pregnant. I found that impossible to deal with. When I challenged him about it and said I would have to leave him, he took an overdose and locked himself in our room. The fire brigade came and I gave in again, was sorry for him and took him back.
I had a breakdown. I went to hospital for treatment, I was very depressed. By this time, I believed what he said about me; that I wasn’t attractive, that I was stopping him from enjoying his life. He would text me, saying that I was old, fat and used up. That I wasn’t able to take care of our son, and he could take him away from me. He constantly hacked away at my self-esteem. It gave me a hole in my stomach that I thought would never leave me. I was off work for four months and it took a lot of counselling to restore any sense of my self-esteem. I got so depressed after this violence that I found it hard to get out of bed, but how could I let my son down?
He brought me out for dinner, asked me to get a loan from the credit union so he could open a restaurant. I refused. In the car on the way home he said he could murder me and that I didn’t know what I was dealing with. He threatened to hit me so hard I would never forget it.
He apologised before we went to sleep and he said it must have been something to do with his terrible background, and the way he was brought up in his home country. But the next morning he hit then tried to strangle me. My son called for my father, whose house we were sharing at the time, and my father pulled him off me. Incredibly, my ex then hi-fived my son and took him out to a carnival! While they were gone I called the Guards and told them about the beating and the threats to murder me. The same day, the Guards told him to pack his stuff and to leave. During this time I was in touch with Women’s Aid by phone, and they assured me that I was doing the right thing.
He texted me a lot after I had escaped him, threatening me, telling me I was sick, that I didn’t know who I was dealing with. It made me so anxious. One time I was with my son at sports training - he was only five - and the texts just kept coming. I felt so alone. Guilty too, that my son didn’t have a dad there for him. I was frightened. Women’s Aid explained I had to go to court to get a domestic violence order to deal with the phone abuse. I also get maintenance, for which I have to thank Women’s Aid - they gave me details of a good solicitor. I was lucky, I kept my job and am able to pay for my son’s needs.
That was nearly five years ago. I did feel I was in a dark place for a while. I made friends with other women who went through similar experiences who were a great encouragement and always there to remind me that I was doing the right thing. My sister and friend soon got me to socialise again and meet new people. The world opened up. Now, I am happier than I have ever been. I am engaged to a wonderful man who nurtures me and our household is so good. I feel happy now, complete and loved. My hope for the future is to always be this way.
In parts of the world a wife or partner is murdered every 15 minutes, so it is dangerous not being abuse to escape. Keep yourself and your children safe. Always."
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence please phone the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900, 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week. We will listen, believe and support you.