Tess is a survivor of domestic abuse.

Here she bravely and honestly shares her story, in the hope that it will help others to speak out and to remember their worth.

Growing up, I regularly witnessed my dad physically abusing my mum. Sometimes he would beat us too. I began to fight back during my teenage years and was thrown out of the house on my 16th birthday.

I became a mum at 17 and by the age of 20 I was a mother of two. The cycle of abuse followed me into my own relationships in adulthood. I associated love with violence – it was all I ever knew. Aged 24, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent aggressive treatment for a number of months. I was told that I was infertile following my treatment, so imagine my surprise when I conceived my youngest daughter. Initially, her dad was not supportive of me continuing with the pregnancy and neither was my oncologist due to the risk of cancer recurring, but I knew I had been given a second chance, a gift. I wanted and needed a clean break and so I moved with my three children to a new area.

Some years later, during a difficult time with my eldest son, a guy I had briefly dated some years previously appeared on the scene again. I was vulnerable at the time and I can see that now. We had initially met a year before I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and had dated a little before going our separate ways. But now he was sending me messages again. His Facebook profile looked like he’d completely turned his life around and I got sucked back in. I was visiting his family and before I knew it we were spending all of our time talking to each other. He ticked all the boxes and told me that he was going to rehab as he wanted to get help for his drug use and addiction. He explained that he had slipped up once and needed to get away. FaceTime chats took over my life and we constantly wrote letters to each other. Six months later he was ready to come home. We planned to get married and he really wanted to have a child with me. Already being a mother to three, I wasn’t sure I wanted to have another baby but he said it was ultimately my choice and we agreed to explore it further after we were married.

From the very first day that he returned from rehab he was constantly in my home. He began pushing me for sex, which was something that I wasn’t comfortable with. Once I gave in, I felt that he had a hold on me. He didn’t like me working and tried to talk me out of continuing my studies because there were single men on the course. He became very jealous and controlling, monitoring my phone and who I would communicate with. Over a short space of time I had become isolated and conditioned to his ways of thinking. He became increasingly keen on wanting me to get pregnant and would regularly come into the bathroom and check the tissue to see if I’d had my period or not. He became more and more emotionally abusive, not wanting me to see my friends and needing to have my entire attention at all times.

The night before I found out that I was pregnant with J, he became physically abusive. He spat in my face and ripped off my engagement ring. The day after I found out I was pregnant he spun my car off the motorway and screamed in my face. I thought I was going to die. That evening, he strangled me five times and locked me in my house with him for almost 12 hours, taking away my keys and phone. The next day he threatened to kick the baby out of me. I eventually managed to contact a friend who called the police. I was given five minutes to collect my things and leave my home. He was finally arrested and remanded for a number of weeks. During this time, he still had a hold on me. We would email each other via the prison’s ‘Email a Prisoner’ scheme, I visited him in prison and he even had me write a letter to the judge stating that I wanted the relationship to continue. He was released without a restraining order and to my home address.

Thanks to a ‘Clare’s Law’ disclosure, offered to me by the police, I found out about his previous offences – he had been abusive in previous relationships too. It wasn’t long after this that he grabbed me by the neck again. I managed to escape him and vowed that this was the end. I packed up his stuff and had a friend return it to him. He didn’t give up without a fight. He threatened to kill himself and blamed me for his heroin use. He broke bail conditions and harassed me further.

I was determined to get my life back. I accessed support from my local Women’s Aid and was advised to apply for emergency housing. My children and I left our home and I changed my car, phone numbers and my name on social media. I began attending the Freedom Program and spent much time educating myself. I needed to understand why I would always tolerate abuse. I attended several months of therapy and started to rebuild my life. I wrote a letter to a Crown Court judge and got the case reopened. I was finally awarded a five-year restraining order with a power of arrest attached to it, which gives me and my children an extra layer of protection.

There is a lot of judgment and questions asked about why people don’t leave abusive relationships. The truth is that it’s not that easy. You believe your abuser over everything and everyone. You hang on to the hope that it will be OK and after being abused, it’s hard to find the strength to overcome the many barriers to leaving. But leaving is so important and it’s just the beginning of rebuilding your life and discovering new things about yourself.

For me, it was so helpful to have people, personal friends and professionals alike, who reminded me of who I am. That this is not my fault and that I’ve done nothing to deserve it. To anyone who finds themselves in an abusive relationship, I would want you to know that this is not the end. You don’t have to settle for this. You can’t rebuild yourself alongside the person who tore you down. Support is available and there is hope. You can do this.

All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

If you’ve been affected by Tess’s story and are concerned for your safety or someone else’s, you can find helpful information and signposting by clicking on the button.

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