August 24, 2020
Alma’s domestic abuse story
‘I don’t want you to think bad of him. It’s hard to be judged’.
Alma’s* own words about the man who has abused her for almost half a century. Someone who she confesses has made her feel completely inadequate, unloved and unworthy of affection. But from the same eyes Alma sees this man as an incredible father to her four children, someone who taught her all she knows about relationships and life and a person who is so deeply sorry for all he has subjected her to. This is the reality of domestic abuse. No two situations are the same, this is someone’s truth and often all they have ever known. However difficult it may seem to understand a person’s decision to stay in this relationship, we must do our best to understand them and, above all, support them to stay safe in whatever way works for them.
Our Ruby @ Turnaround service supports victims of domestic abuse in Merseyside, offering completely open-minded support to victims whatever their decision is. Our teams understand that people need to make their own choices, everyone’s life is their own. So, whether a person chooses to leave their partner or stay in an abusive relationship accessing support when they need it, our expert team of domestic abuse practitioners and counsellors offer person-shaped support. Our team never judge, they never dictate, instead they listen and advise. They support people to reach conclusions that suit them, offering practical advice on things like housing as well as therapy to respond to the emotional impact of domestic abuse. Unfortunately, Alma’s situation is not unusual. Many victims of domestic abuse find themselves trapped in this situation for many years, unable to find the strength to leave or even to defend themselves. Our Ruby @ Turnaround service have supported Alma to do what would have been unthinkable years ago. They have given her the confidence to approach her abuse face on and look at ways to rebuild her life and feel happier in her own skin. Alma calls Ruby @ Turnaround her ‘lifeline at my time of need’, and at almost 70 years old she now feels ready to make a fresh start…
For many years which Alma stresses including lots of happy memories, Alma buried the abuse she was experiencing at the hands of her husband. She dedicated her life to being the best mother she possibly could be, pushing her emotions to the bottom of her priority list. Alma’s husband Terry was, on the surface, the perfect father; he doted on his children and did everything for them. He also still always managed to make Alma laugh despite all their hardships. As is often the case with domestic abuse, the violence was so sporadic that Alma let it wash over her. She also understood that Terry clearly had lots of his own issues that he needed to address and resolve. Today she realises that no amount of violence, no matter what the person has been through is ok. One single instance of the abuse she felt over 40 plus years should not be tolerated as acceptable. In recent years she felt so strongly about this that she finally snapped and fought the abuse she had faced. Just a few months ago she violently confronted her husband and abuser Terry*, telling him just what she had endured before reaching for some tablets and taking an overdose. ‘The abused became the abuser,’ says Alma. Alma could no longer cope with the life she had been dealt.
Alma’s reaction was a recipe of complex post-traumatic stress and her increasing feelings of depression and anxiety. She had just faced an extremely turbulent chapter in her life. She was very sick and in and out of hospital and her sister had sadly passed away. Alma felt completely helpless and in her ‘misery’ and complete loss of hope in the world, she began to think back on her life. It was at this point she realised that she had never really been happy, not for a very long time. She remembered situations of violence to the very minute detail, she remembered conversations verbatim, ‘even a sideways glance from Terry’, began to trigger her, leading her to time-travel back to situations of extreme abuse in her past. Unpacking this reality took a great toll on Alma and she felt completely overwhelmed by everything, she couldn’t suppress it.
‘Once I opened that box, I couldn’t put anything back in; I couldn’t even close the lid, it was just all out there.’
This is how Alma felt at this point in her life and it didn’t seem like life was worth living anymore. She wanted Terry to see just what he had done to her and to get her the help she needed. Terry called an ambulance and police were informed of the incident because Alma had been violent. Alma couldn’t believe she was now the person being questioned about her actions. She had suffered abuse for so many years and done nothing about it and this showed just how simple it could have been to get support. But simple is not a common reaction to domestic abuse. There are so many mixed emotions at play when someone is being physically and emotionally abused. It is easy to tell someone to seek support but when we see things from their perspective we begin the understand why this step is so difficult. That’s what our Ruby @ Turnaround team do, they understand. They introduce people to therapies that delve deep into what they have been through and explore ways to support that person in a way that makes sense for them.
Once Alma had been admitted to hospital and the police were alerted to the situation, the Ruby @ Turnaround team were contacted to offer specialist domestic abuse support. Alma arrived home from hospital on Thursday at midnight. She says she didn’t know what she was doing, she couldn’t even look at Terry. This was followed by a sleepless night, tossing and turning and wondering what to do next. The following morning at 9.00am sharp Shelley, one of our specialist domestic abuse practitioners, called Alma. At this point Alma describes a feeling of complete ‘physical relaxation’. ‘My shoulders went from under my ears, my back straightened…I couldn’t believe how down-to-earth and practical she was.’ It was at this moment that Alma began to see things more clearly. She felt listened to, she felt calmer and she felt like she had solid steps to take. Shelley suggested some tangible solutions for her; talking therapies over the phone because of COVID-19 restrictions, calling her GP and letting them know and following up to check that Alma had done this. These were things that Alma wouldn’t have even thought of and she was so relieved to have plans in place and a feeling of hope for the first time in years. Alma had never spoken to anyone about what Terry had done to her before. She felt such great shame and after years of accepting it, she didn’t know where to start. At this point, the process of moving on with her life was started by one single phone call.
Following this phone call, Alma began to access talking therapies with Kim, a Ruby @ Turnaround domestic abuse counsellor, over the phone. She was able to go back into her many years of experience of domestic abuse, remembering in great detail the physical and emotional abuse she felt as well as the feelings of guilt, shame and regret that she still carries. Alma came from an era in which domestic abuse services were even more difficult to access and there was a worrying lack of awareness in the issue. Having entered a relationship with someone who had been married before, Alma could never tell her strict catholic parents about the abuse she was enduring. They had always disapproved of her relationship and her pride wouldn’t allow her to seek their support. She never told any friends of the emotional torment she experienced, feeling isolated from those around her as Terry would stay out for hours on end drinking and Alma was forced to stay at home with their four children. Alma simply chose to suppress her feelings of inadequacy and the depression that she only truly acknowledges so many years on. She still feels sympathy towards Terry, understanding that his behaviour was often a reaction to his own feelings of depression and his substance misuse. When Alma first met Terry he had recently separated from his wife who had left him for another man and took their two sons with him, making it very difficult for Terry to see them again. This took its toll on Terry and drinking became his defence mechanism. Unfortunately for Alma she always felt in the shadow of his ex-wife, like she could never compare and like whenever his sadness took control of him he lashed out on the one person who loved him most. After one extremely serious incident of domestic violence Alma was forced to move into a women’s refuge where she said she felt completely lost and further isolated from her friends and family. For so many years Alma has hidden these emotions and experiences and only showed one part of herself to others. These are all topics that Alma has been able to discuss in her talking therapies and understand better how to manage the emotions these memories bring. At all times, our teams have offered open-minded support, understanding that Alma wants to remain in her relationship but making plans that can allow her to live a happy, healthy life with Terry in it.
As a result of her introduction to Ruby @ Turnaround, Alma has been empowered to make positive steps in her life and with her relationship. Based on Alma’s understanding of the strain on domestic abuse services right now and the fact she has the finances to support paid-for therapy; she has decided to explore additional psychotherapy outside of Ruby @ Turnaround. She thanks the team for opening her eyes to the available options out there. She would never have considered this until the past few months. Terry is also accessing counselling to address his behaviour and understand how we can overcome his own depression and addiction and become a better person. Alma and Terry’s relationship is by no means perfect and during the past few months since Alma has began therapy there has been some difficult conversations and conflicting opinions. Terry still doesn’t fully understand the hurt he has brought to Alma’s life which only heightens Alma’s feelings of frustration with him. All this aside, Alma is rebuilding her life and making steps she never thought possible. Last week she signed a six–month lease on an apartment so that her and Terry can separate whilst they go through their individual therapies. Terry will miss her dearly but has accepted her decision. Apart they will be better able to focus on their lives and become the best version of themselves possible. And Alma is so positive about her future whatever this may hold. Whether her and Terry decide to reunite or remain apart, for the first time she has been honest with herself, faced her obstacles headfirst and sought to find a solution.
Alma advises anyone experiencing domestic abuse to speak out, ‘I was in danger and I was doing myself a lot of damage. Thankfully somebody was put in contact with me. It’s so important that we thank domestic abuse services that are out there doing this’.
For support with domestic abuse, in non-emergencies you can contact the National Domestic abuse helpline on: 0808 2000 247. Or in Merseyside, you can call our Ruby@Turnaround team on: 0800 688 9990 (Monday-Friday: 5.00pm – 10.00pm / Weekends: 11.00am – 5.00pm) or on 0151 702 5500 (Monday-Friday: 9.00am-5.00pm).