It was April 2008..
I had experienced a string of bad relationships and my Dad had recently been diagnosed with cancer. It was the most unimaginably difficult time. As a family we all tried to support each other as we went through this extremely challenging time.
In the midst of all this, I met James. I fell for him straight away. He was charismatic, attractive, caring, funny and very attentive. It felt right, exactly what I needed during this very difficult time.
After a six month battle, we lost my Dad, aged just 61. I did everything I could to hold the family together. I was signed off work by my GP. I was working in the most stressful job, working with high risk offenders. I had excruciatingly high case loads and there was no wellbeing or psychological support. It was an extremely challenging job. My caseload was mainly men and consisted of drug dealers, murderers, lifers, sex offenders, violent offenders and domestic abuse offenders.
Very soon into the relationship with James, cracks began to show. What I thought was a loving, kind and caring person dissolved into someone who became abusive. The first time it happened I was in complete shock. He apologised profusely afterward and promised it would never happen again.
But then it did happen again, and it became more regular. I didn’t even realise or see it at the time (sounds completely nuts now). There was a lot of control, manipulation, psychological and emotional abuse. When you are experiencing a vulnerable time in your life and the abuser is telling you everything is either your fault, or the fault of situational factors, over and over again, over time you begin to believe it. Whenever James would become violent, abusive or aggressive in any way, he would always blame his anger on anything but him.
It would build up gradually at first. Then after any outbursts there would be an immediate apology. I’m so sorry he would say, I really don’t know what came over me, I promise it will never happen again, we are both under a lot of pressure (he was trying to get a new business off the ground).
These outbursts would become more and more frequent. I was in a very vulnerable position emotionally and psychologically, having just lost my Dad. I also took on the role of trying to keep the family in the best place I could both mentally and emotionally. My mum struggled hugely, she had lost the man she had been with since a teenager.
As the abuse continued on a regular basis, my confidence got eroded away, I became so low. I was on edge and constantly treading on egg shells. It was often easier to stay quiet to keep the peace, to stop any outbursts erupting. James kept promising that things would change. When we had kids, when we got married, when the business did well. The list went on, but ‘when we got married’ seemed to be the golden nugget. I kept hoping things would actually change as he continually promised.
We soon got engaged. Inside I was hoping and praying with this commitment that things would now definitely change. He must really ‘love’ me as we have made this commitment to each other.
The following year we got married. There were constant dramas and outbursts leading up to the wedding. I kept this continual hope within me that things would change when we got married, after all thats what James kept promising. We were making this life commitment. Surely then, he also wouldn’t keep accusing me of having affairs and flirting with other men. Marriage would surely show our commitment to each other.
The wedding days itself was amazing. I organised it all, so it definitely was! We had a big white wedding in a huge church that my Dad used to go to. All our friends and family were there. It was the best day. James was on top form, he kept saying how amazing I looked and he was so happy and gregarious, loving being with all our friends and family on our special day. He gave the most amazing speech, gushing about me and how happy that I was now his wife. It felt so special. Yes! He has changed, things can only get better from here!
We then went to a very romantic Italy for our honeymoon. It was breathtaking, we were having the best time, I felt so happy, James really did seem like a different person, the one he had promised to be all along.
Three days into the honeymoon James started an argument. Before I knew it, he was calling me all the names under the sun, shouting and swearing at the top of his voice, accusing me of having an affair with one of my co-workers who had been at the wedding.
My stomach was in my mouth and I felt physically sick. We were straight back to square one. Nothing had changed.
Once we got back to the UK, things carried on the way they had been. I was hardly sleeping, I was constantly emotional, crying and upset and my energy levels would deteriorate to an all time low. I felt anxious all the time and my mood was so low. Any confidence I did have was being eroded away on a daily basis. At the age of 35, I felt and looked like a shadow of my former self. I looked worn out and old, about fifteen years older then I actually was.
Because I felt like a complete failure, I kept everything to myself. I didn’t want to share with others that I had failed, that my marriage was a sham and that I was being treated like something you would find on your shoe.
The irony of the situation was that although I worked with domestic abuse offenders within my client group, teaching them about different types of abuse, and how victims were affected, I couldn’t actually see that I was in this type of relationship. After yet another night without sleep, I dragged myself into work. I began to fill out one of the forms I used to give my domestic abuse offenders to help them come to terms with their offences. As I completed the form, I came to the dreaded realisation that this was actually happening to me.
A big part of me couldn’t believe it, but deep down, I knew. In some strange way it was a sense of relief.
I knew I had to get out of this relationship. I couldn’t carry on like this, enough was enough.
I tried to leave on several occasions. However James would make it extremely difficult every time. He would beg me to stay, would get extremely upset and at times show glimmers of hope that he accepted some responsibility. He would say it would never happen again, profusely apologising, promising he would get help. He’d present as very vulnerable, like a little boy lost. I would fall for it every time, it was so convincing.
Several attempts later, I did finally manage to leave. Had I really left though? No, not really. I was 40 minutes down the road at my Mums house. James kept messaging, calling and turning up.
The most high risk time for someone to be abused is when they try to leave a domestic abuse relationship. This is when the abuser is loosing control. This and manipulation are integral parts to an abusive relationship.
Two women in the UK alone each week are killed as a result of domestic abuse relationships.
Throughout this time, I was managing to hold down the most demanding, stressful job. I would at times joke to a close friend saying I had a high case load of 70 offenders, add another to the mix when I got home, totalling 71.
What should have been my downtime after a long day in a very stressful environment was actually high chaotic and anxiety provoking. Most of the time I didn’t know what I would be walking into. Hoping that James had a good day, walking through the front door was often like walking in a big dark misty cloud of dread, fear, tension and anxiety.
So when I finally did manage to leave, there was a small sense of relief, but one that was short lived, given James was in constant contact, begging me to come back convincing me he had changed. He started to become very charming again, trying to get into my good books making all these suggestions about the grand ways in which he was changing his life and that he wanted to be a better person.
A friend who I confided in advised me to book in to see a highly recommended therapist. I was of the view I could cope on my own and I also felt like there was a lot of stigma around going to see a therapist. I’m an independent strong female, why do I need to go and see some bloke to talk about my problems? I was thinking, isn’t it only people with bad mental health problems that see therapists? Nevertheless my friend convinced me and even though I felt really scared and anxious, I booked an appointment.
The day of the session arrived. I had a typical manic and super stressful day in work dealing with very difficult cases. This included a paedophile I had very demanding hour long sessions with. I was feeling so stressed, everything was completely getting on top of me.
After days of being very charming and convincing me he had changed, James phoned me. He was shouting and screaming saying he was at my mums house and that he was going to take my dog. I went into a blind panic and ran into the toilets crying, my worst ever nightmare was coming true. My dog had been by my side through everything. I knew I had to call to the police, even though I didn’t want to. Just as I was about to, James messaged me to say that it was all an idle threat like usual like many previous times he had threatened me.
I was wholeheartedly exhausted. As I left work I looked at the building with thoughts running through my mind that I would never be able to face the place again.
I couldn’t face my life I couldn’t face anything. I didn’t know which way to turn.
I cried uncontrollably all the way to the therapists, amixture of dread and anxiety consumed me.
I didn’t want to go, I wanted to hide from the world.
As soon as I arrived and this gentle man greeted me with the most calming and friendly face, all my nerves started to dissipate. I felt immediately at ease and remembered what my friend had said. I knew instantly I could trust this man.
For the next two hours I poured my heart out and cried, a lot. By the end of the session I started to feel better.
What was to follow was a conversation we had that would completely change the direction of my life.
It was as if a light bulb had gone off in my head. I had this sudden realisation that none of this was my fault. Not one single thing. And that this all went back to old beliefs about myself around my own lack of confidence and self-worth. Deep down, I subconsciously didn’t think I deserved any better than this. However, consciously of course I knew I did. I needed to do was to do some work on myself to create the balance and alignment. To create self worth and confidence again. It was simply old garbage (beliefs) I had been holding onto. I suddenly felt this surge of inner strength that I hadn’t felt before, it was amazing. I couldn’t wait for the next session to make lots of changes and start a path of self discovery and learning that I had never experienced before.
A day later I went to my GP. I needed support. I was adamant I did not want any medication. And I needed to get as far away as I could, as soon as possible. My doctor signed me off work for four weeks. That very same day I booked a flight to Bangkok and two nights in a 5* hotel. I didn’t know where I was going from there. I just knew I needed to get away.
A couple of days later as I walked up the airbridge to the plane, I blinked back teas as I felt the biggest sense of relief and freedom for the first time in years. I messaged a couple of friends to tell them I was on my way. As I was about to board the plane I messaged James to tell him I would be going away for a few weeks and that I would be in contact on my return (this was before smart phones)! I opened the phone, took the sim card out and put it somewhere safe out of sight. I felt so empowered for the first time in years!
What was to follow was a three week solo exploration of Vietnam. I’d never been before and didn’t even know where I was going.
It was the most liberating, freeing experience of my life.
After years of upset, sadness, anguish and feelings of utter worthlessness and despair, I had finally set myself free and was on my path to my new journey.
I met so many people during the life changing trip and told them my story.
A few days later I was looking at the most beautiful view on the veranda of my beach house. As I stood on the beach and felt the sand on my feet, the warmth of the sun on my face and could see the waves lapping against the shore, for the first time in years I felt totally free.
I walked back into my life there and then.
It was the best feeling ever, that and many other epic memories in Vietnam will never leave me.
I came home feeling like a changed person. I carried on my weekly sessions with my therapist. I lapped them up, it totally changed my mindset towards myself. I learnt so much about how I operated and why I was staying stuck in this pattern, attracting these types of relationships. It was so fascinating and I would spend many additional hours learning and reading about my passions, psychology and neuroscience. It allowed me to create such a different outlook, it was truly incredible.
I went back to my job, but knew things needed to change. I began to rebuild my life and I created a fresh start for myself in a new area. I kept learning and learning and knew one day that I wanted to teach what I was learning to others.
My undergraduate degree was in psychology and I had worked with the most demanding, severe and complex mental health cases over the years. I knew my background stood me in good stead. I began to retrain. During a session with my therapist he said that he could envisage me teaching workshops in the future. Me! From the man who had not only helped transform my life, but thousands of others over the years. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
That’s exactly what I did. I worked hard and dedicated myself in my pursuit to retrain to become a therapist. I loved every minute, I was learning so much and it felt so right.
A few years later I took the huge leap of faith to hand in my notice from my permanent, full time job. The one that had security, guaranteed hours, a pension, holidays and annual leave, all the usuals.
I decided to go travelling again, I explored Malaysia, Australia and South America for three months, it was totally amazing, such a special experience. I then returned back to the UK and set up my business.
I can honestly say I’ve never looked back. To now be in the position I am where I get to help amazing clients on a daily basis is an absolute privilege. Those who come to see me with long term anxiety, clinical depression, negative thoughts or stress or perhaps want help with self-esteem and confidence. Being able to work with organisations to help their staff manage and lower their stress levels to help them become more resilient and productive is truly so rewarding. I can honestly say it doesn’t even feel like work I love it that much. From a life of constant strain, stress and upset to a life where I get to choose how I work and operate and get to help and support amazing clients make the most phenomenal changes really is very special.
There are a couple of message I want to leave you with.
If I can do this, so can you. No matter how low you get you can always bounce back, trust me, you can.
If you resonate with anything you have read, always know there is support out there. Whether you are experiencing an abusive relationship, or your mental health is suffering. I urge you, whatever you do, please don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone. A friend, a family member, or professional. This is not your fault. Once you open up and speak to someone I can guarantee you will start to feel better, a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.
When I was in the midst of that abusive relationship, I thought it was all my fault. Thats what I kept being told and thats what I believed. It took me the time to do the work on myself to understand that none of this was my fault. Once I started seeing things in a new perspective, it was a game changer.
Know that you don’t need to suffer. You deserve more, you deserve the best. There is a life out there for you, you can do what it takes. If I can, you can.
I’m proud to say that Eamonn, my therapist is now my mentor, supervisor and friend. He has taught me so much over the years. He would say I changed my own life, but I owe so much to him. He is now in his 70’s and still runs a private practice in Liverpool. I’m eternally grateful that he’s in my life.
As I write this, a journal was delivered in the post today. In it is an article I wrote that got published this year.
Trust me, if I can make these changes, and turn my life around and go from complete depths of despair to a life of happiness, feeling in gratitude every day, so can you.
Janine is founder of Change for Success.
She is an experienced hypnotherapist, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and NLP practitioner. She holds a Masters degree in Psychology, is a researcher, published author and is the host of Success Mindset TV.
She is based in Manchester in the UK and works with clients both nationally and internationally in person and online. She delivers private sessions, workshops, training and consultancy in the areas of mental health, mindset, stress management and resilience.
Find out more details HERE where you can also get in contact.