How to move on after abuse is a question on the minds of so many people. They might have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They have scars which may or may not be visible. Moving forwards positively often takes huge courage and a willingness to seek support. Vicky shares her story.
1. What is the striking story you have to share?
I have been a single mother since my daughter was 3 weeks old and her abusive father walked out on us. I was very lucky that my health visitor stepped in, and sent me to the Freedom Programme, which is group counselling for people who’ve been in abusive relationships. I was scared of my health visitor, convinced that if I didn’t do everything she told me, she would deem me an unfit mother and my baby would be taken away – so I went to the counselling, even though I felt like I was making a big fuss about nothing and just causing trouble.
It took me a while to realise that I had been in an abusive relationship, that I wasn’t just being deliberately difficult, that I wasn’t just difficult to live with and moody and selfish. It took me longer to recover from the realisation; for a long while afterwards I would have flashbacks and memories of things and a dawning realisation, “oh wait, that wasn’t my fault…” or “oh wait, that was probably a lie…”
Very early on, I had this feeling that “it’s fine for you to treat me like this, but you don’t get to do this to my daughter.” I was very protective over her and determined to keep her safe from the life I knew her father’s other children were living. I stopped all contact with him when my daughter was four months old, after he refused to have any counselling for his abusive behaviour. On the day I told him he could not see my daughter if he would not seek help, I didn’t realise he was recording our conversation – but I did wonder why he was speaking so strangely. He said, ” you and I both know that she is in no danger with me.” I said no, that’s not true. He went through his usual “box of tricks” that all abusers have, trying to find the one that would make me back down – I wasn’t a fit mother, I was mentally unstable, he would take me to court. When I said “ok great, take me to court – I’ll bring Social Services with me and see you there” he shut up. I walked away as he shouted at me down the street, “you’re not mentally or financialy capable of looking after my child!” For the first time I thought to myself, “yes, I am – because I know to keep her safe from you.” He has not set eyes on her since – and has barely attempted contact – usually an odd email here and there when he’s had a fight with his girlfriend, or turning up drunk at our door on his way home from somewhere. The last time we were in contact, my daughter was teething and I was studying for an Open University degree. He boasted to his friends, “she’s tired and stressed; she’s never had to deal with a teething baby before. She’ll give in soon and let me come in to babysit so she can study – and then I’m taking my child.” At that point, I stopped answering him or acknowledging his existence in any way. He and his other children still live around here, and he works two blocks from where we live – but the police are aware of our situation, and I refuse to be driven away from the city I grew up in, from all of my friends and family. I stand my ground because it’s the only choice I have.
People tell me I am “inspirational” as if I have done something outrageously brave or incredible by caring for my daughter alone – but for me, it was just what I had to do. I was alone with a tiny baby relying on me for everything – what else was I going to do, but keep her safe and protect her?
2. What were the joys that this experience brought your way?
Being a single mother means that I am not being second-guessed or belittled by my daughter’s father. I am immensely proud of my daughter and the amazing person she is growing to be. No matter how bad my day is, I get into bed at night next to my gorgeous daughter (yes, we still share a bed!) and everything is ok. Being a single mother is not a bed of roses, but it brings me immense joy and pride to know I’m capable of doing this alone
3. What challenges did this situation bring your way?
Every day is a challenge, to a certain extent. Teething wasn’t much fun, and night feeds were tiring – but I find that when I’m feeling stressed and “challenged” as if I just can’t cope any more, the best thing is to call it a day and accept that my work/blog/housework/whatever just won’t get done today. Once I remove the pressures of trying to get something done, and just accept the situation, it just gets easier.
4. How do you ensure you get time to yourself and what do you do with that time?
I am self employed and work from home – so “time to myself” is generally translated as “time working on the business or the blog” – luckily I enjoy both!
My daughter goes to nursery four days a week, which gives me time to do my work and get basic housework done. She also has a bed time that is kept to all of the time, unless she is ill or it’s a special occasion. Sticking to our routine means that things run more smoothly for both of us. At the moment she is in the process of dropping daytime naps. She naps at nursery, and then goes to bed at her usual time, but when she’s home with me she doesn’t nap and goes to bed earlier – which works out well for me, in terms of having time to myself!
5. Have you ever redisovered or reinvented yourself? How?
When I met my daughter’s father, I was recovering from a massive nervous breakdown. When I became pregnant I had to come off my medication, and took the decision that I would never go back to it. Once she was born, I think something just clicked inside of my head and I was so incredibly lucky. I am painfully aware that there is no backup – if I fail, my daughter has nobody else. So I do not fail. Becoming a mother has reinvented me; I have a confidence I never had before because I know I’m doing a damn good job, and that I have no choice but to do so. I’m self employed now, something I never thought I could do before – and I am prepared to argue my point if I believe I’m right. A large part of this was setting up the blog.
6. Describe at least one physical feature you have that you consider to be beautiful
This is such a difficult question! I’ve never considered myself to be beautiful but actually, when my Timehop throws up selfies of myself and my daughter, I think my smile can be quite beautiful, given the right light – and the right gorgeous baby to smile at!
7. What makes you stand out?
I’d like to think I stand out because of my strength. I don’t feel particularly strong from day to day, but I know if someone else told me this story as their own, I would think them quite strong.
8. Is it important to you to support other mums?
Absolutely. I feel like new mums are bullied into all sorts of everything: you must do this, go there, your baby must wear this, sleep this way. A lot of the time we’re told this by self proclaimed “experts” who half the time don’t even have experience with their own children! I think we should all support mums to trust their own instincts with regard to their children and what is best for them. The best thing any of us can learn to say is “thanks for your input, but I’m going to do it my way.”
9. Which mum inspires you?
All mums do – we all have our own battles, our own struggles. When my daughter was first born I thought all mums with a husband at home had it easy but a close friend with a husband also suffered terribly with postnatal depression – something I was lucky enough to avoid. Another struggled with a partner who was physically present but didn’t help with nappy changing or night feeds – and I know from experience it’s easier to just know there’s no help and get on with it yourself, than to have someone there who’s not helping. Babies get colic and reflux and constipation and they teethe and they cry for no discernible reason; we worry they’re too hot or too cold or not feeding enough or their head doesn’t look quite right or they’re sleeping too much or we’ve put the wrong colour babygro on. All mums have that; all mums are inspiring in their ability to care for a small, screaming creature that can’t tell us what to do to make it better.
10. What would you like the next government to do to improve the lives of mums?
I am lucky in that being a single parent, I had a genuine choice as to whether I returned to work at the end of my maternity leave, or claimed Income Support and stayed home with my daughter until she started school. Other mums do not have that choice; some stay home and care for the children out of choice; others do it because they can’t afford to pay for childcare but would rather be at work. Some go to work because they’re desperate to have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around nappies or CBeebies; others do it because they can’t afford the rent if they don’t. All mums should have a genuine choice and government funding should be used to level the playing field in terms of Tax Credits, subsidised nursery placements and general assistance.
What I love about Vicky’s story is that she recognises her own qualities. Her story if presented in her own words and if you would like to know more about Vicky, please visit her blog.
Vicky shows us how to move on after abuse but every individual will do it in their way and if you have a story to share, please leave a comment.