Ian Wright, the footballer, recently made a powerful documentary for the BBC about abuse at home. He started with his own experiences as a child.
It’s neither a simple or easy subject.
As any refuge worker will tell you, sometimes, having left them, people go back to abusive partners. It is their choice. And sometimes they literally go back to die.
Others never leave the relationship. It’s a big step, after all.
Perhaps there are money fears – ‘I can’t afford to go it alone’; or they want the kids to have ‘a proper family, a mum and a dad.’
Or perhaps it’s simply all that they know, which is a sort-of security. ‘It’s like daddy behaved or mummy behaved. It’s familiar.’
And so a relationship with this person seems a sensible decision – though it’s the last thing on earth that they need.
Sometimes the abuse only becomes apparent when the children have left home and the two just have each other.
‘I had never thought of it as an abusive relationship,’ someone once said to me. But their wife had been an alcoholic for years, lied to them constantly, created huge uncertainty in the home and worked their way through any savings they might have had for a home.
They never knew what they were coming home to.
‘No matter how nice the day was, going out, seeing a friend,’ he said. ‘I knew I was always going back to that, which did take the edge off any happiness. But I never thought of it as abusive.’
Ian Wright, in the documentary, spoke about his mother often saying to him she wished she’d had ‘a termination’.
‘I learned that word early,’ he said.
‘That’s an emotionally abusive relationship,’ said the therapist with kind clarity. This truth hadn’t crossed Ian’s mind. Abuse was what happened to other people. To him, it was just normal.
Everyone’s childhood seems normal, until they discover that it isn’t. Normal doesn’t exist. There is just our experience, still lived out today through our body, through our feelings.
The clues are there.
Physical, emotional, sexual – there is a wide variety of abuse, perpetrated against children and adults.
It will reveal itself in many different feelings – fear, anxiety, depression, denial, anger, suicidal thoughts, dependency and sadness.
And it will leave our life as a matter of survival rather than a path of joy. Abusers don’t create joy.
The first step to freedom is to name it for what it is: abuse.
This may be a shock, for often we frame this relationship differently in our minds; perhaps we say, ‘That’s just the way they are. But I don’t know what they’d do if I left them. Or what I’d do.’
Perhaps we feel we should forgive them so avoid the term ‘abuser’ all together. ‘They can be nice sometimes.’
But such acknowledgment is also a relief, for the truth is always the best place to start from, for our growth; for our freedom.
The second step to freedom will vary because our lives do; but we will need outside help in the dissolution of the abuser’s power.
(And this will be outside help. The abuser and their occasional apologies cannot help us.)
‘What will give me life here?’ This is the only question to ask, whether the abuse is historic or present.
And through the mist, a way will appear.
There’s always a way.