Waking up to find you are a victim of coercive control

Verity Bramwell considers herself to be a well-educated, grounded and confident person. By bravely sharing her very personal story of enduring coercive control and mental cruelty in her marriage, she aims to shed light on this very real and prevalent form of domestic abuse. And highlight the reality that this can happen to anyone.

"At 18 I was fully in love, I thought I had found the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I have had M.E since I was 15, which has always made relationships difficult. But I’d found someone who loved me anyway. Someone who knew I was ill and still wanted to be with me. He would tell me he’d always support me, whether I was relatively well, or significantly ill. He was proud of me, showing me off to all his friends whenever we went out and even missed the Spurs – Arsenal Derby to look at the stars with me. I was over the moon I’d found the kind of love people dreamed of and at a young age.

At 19 I found out my father had terminal cancer, something that makes you re-evaluate your life. When my partner proposed, I was delighted, it seemed a logical progression to get engaged.  I thought I had everything I’d ever wanted, but it wasn’t long until cracks started to appear. After appointments with the oncologist we found out my father didn’t have much time, so we moved the wedding forward a year.

As my father’s health deteriorated, so did our relationship. My husband started drinking more and was always looking for an argument. I put it down to the stress I had brought into his life.

I started to dread the weekends, knowing he would be going to the pub. He would come home and continuously try to start an argument. He would shout and call me names, if I tried to leave he would block the doorway and force me into confrontation. One Thursday I had my first ever panic attack, caused simply by knowing the next day was Friday, the weekend was looming.

Before I knew it, I was having frequent panic attacks leading up to the weekends. His behaviour towards me worsened, and suddenly I found myself sitting on my own doorstep at three o’clock in the morning waiting for him to fall asleep, so I could go back inside. The only way to escape the confrontation was to leave the house, but he would frequently try to stop me by blocking the way.

I carried on blaming myself, saying that until I came into his life, he’d lived relatively stress free. That it was my fault he was stressed, and he just didn’t know how to deal with it. That things would get better. I protected him, hiding his behaviour from my friends and family. Every time, after a flare up, the next morning he would apologise and tell me loved me. He would say he knew he was in the wrong, that he didn’t mean all the things he’d said the night before and that he was just struggling with all the feelings he had about my father dying. I believed him, before I came along he’d experienced few traumatic events. It was my fault he was struggling, so I accepted his apologies and started a new day.

At our engagement party, I spent the majority of the night alone. I even got asked if I could take some guest’s present to the table for the bride and groom. For the last dance, we had arranged for the song for our first dance at the wedding to play. The DJ announced it and called us both to the floor. Except it wasn’t the dance I had imagined. It took two members of his family to get him to put down his beloved beer, so he could dance with me. I was humiliated. I felt so alone, the person I was supposed to share things with was more concerned with his drink than his wife to be.

After this, I finally listened to my gut. I called off the engagement and made it public to friends and family that the wedding was off. But the backlash I received was enormous. I still wasn’t completely honest about what had been going on behind closed doors. Therefore, I blamed the behaviour at the engagement party as the reason for my decision. The behaviour, as an isolated incident seemed out of proportion to be calling off the wedding, so I was persuaded to go back.

He promised he would change, even attend AA meetings. Though he also made it very clear how all his friends thought I was being ridiculous. He was just a young man having fun and I was trying to stop him.

My dad died three months before our wedding, but we had agreed that if it was three months or more, we would go ahead. In January 2013 I became estranged from my mum because of her coping methods with my dad’s death. We moved out, into rented accommodation. Isolated and alone, things just got worse. Financially he controlled everything. If I wanted to socialise I had to do so with him and his friends. I saw less and less of mine. I would invite friends round, but soon that became a problem. It got to the point where I’d invite them over and they would ask if he was out, or if he was in a good mood. Looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t see it for what it was. His behaviour was really controlling and wrong.

By October 2013 I felt I had nowhere else to turn.  I tried to end my own life. The one positive to come from this, was it formed the foundations on which I rebuilt my relationship with my mum. I moved back to her house for a week after I was discharged to recuperate, but I still didn’t disclose exactly what my marriage was like.

Although my closest cousin had an indication of how he could be, no one knew the full extent of what was happening behind closed doors. Somehow, I battled on. I was adamant I wouldn’t fail as a wife. He worked so hard, so we had money as I couldn’t work. After my suicide attempt I relapsed badly with my M.E and was bed bound inside and wheelchair bound outside. But he would tell me I didn’t need a wheelchair and that I should think about getting a job as he paid for everything and I just took all the time. This added to my lack of self-esteem and self-blame.

I stopped feeling. I was beaten. I no longer had panic attacks as I didn’t feel anything. I’d stopped crying myself to sleep and was just numb. I believed I just had to accept it and this was how things were. I suspected he’d cheated on me but I didn’t care.

But in November 2016, I woke up. I realised that I was experiencing coercive control and in the midst of an abusive relationship. That year I volunteered in a secondary school, as a student mentor. It gave me a purpose and some confidence in myself again. I realised that this didn’t have to be how things were and that I deserved more. I moved back to my mums, on the basis of a month’s trial separation. After three days I knew I wasn’t going back. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.

But I still didn’t talk about what I’d been through and how it had and still made me feel. In August 2016 I tried to end my own life again. This time I nearly lost my life. With support, I came to understand that I couldn’t just carry on as I had been. I started counselling to begin working through all the issues I faced. Now, I’m a long way on the road to recovery. I work for a suicide prevention charity and am passionate about educating people about controlling, non-physical domestic abuse.

I want readers to know that the most educated, strong and independent people can end up in an abusive relationship before they know how they got there.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Support is out there, and honesty is key. People that abuse you don’t deserve your protection, and you deserve to be able to speak out if things aren’t as they should be."

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