Finding myself again

Date: January 1, 1970
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I am back. I feel there is life in me again. When I look back, when my thoughts drift to the past, I don’t recognise who I was then, the person he made me wasn’t the independent energetic woman I knew. He changed me in a way I never thought was possible.

Once I had matriculated, aged 18, I decided to venture out into the world. I felt I wasn’t ready to study at university, which required choosing a career path for the rest of my life. It turned out, however, that I wasn’t ready for what was to come either.
In January 2004, I boarded a plane to the United Kingdom, which I made my home for the next year and eight months. Here I met a man who I fell desperately in love with and we moved in together soon after.
He became verbally abusive and controlling, and after being together for a year, he started physically abusing me.
He brought the worst out of me.  In love with him, I forgave him even as his fist made contact with my body and his words wormed their way into my head. He broke my bones, he blackened my eye, he scarred my body and broke my spirit.
Yet, I forgave him, because I loved him, and I still forgive him because in some ways I still love him.
I thought I could never leave him, because I loved him and because he would change. I thought no one else would ever love me, would ever accept my flaws and love me as he did. This is what I believed.
I remember the pain, the unending pain, not physical pain caused by his fists, but emotional pain. The hurt and anguish that I suffered because he was capable of hurting me, and because I was imperfect, though I tried so hard to be perfect. I continuously blamed myself, I believed it was me who had to change. I believed I was the one who was flawed.
I stayed with him for just over two years in total. Even when I left the United Kingdom to return to South Africa in October 2005 to study and pursue a degree, I remained in a relationship with him. Separated by an ocean and miles apart he fought to remain in control. He kept me in his grip with words that distorted my perspective.
Surrounded by the love of family and friends I was finally able to come to a realisation, an awakening. The flaw did not lie with me it lay with him. I realised that I am worth more. I freed myself from his grip and breathed life again. I filled my lungs with air that was not intoxicated by his poisonous words. I gained the strength to tear myself away from him and from the love I felt. I needed to love myself, respect myself.
Eventually I gained the courage to end the relationship on 4 June 2006. He retaliated by committing suicide, dying that same day. He tried to punish me when I broke free. He hoped he’d weaken me. I feel that he took his own life just to spite me, so he could haunt me, and cast a shadow over me for the rest of my life. I feel he selfishly did this with utter disregard for the hurt and pain he caused me and his family – mother, father, sister and half siblings who share in the loss and pain that I do.
I will not let him succeed. I will fight this battle and I will not submit as I did when I allowed him to abuse me by staying after the first time he hit me, a punch to the jaw, and after every hit and harsh word thereafter. It is an uphill battle that at times feels impossible.
I hurt and I struggle daily, consoling myself. My head swims with only the good memories of him, memories that idolise him and distort the truth. They swell the wound and magnify the pain that I feel for his loss. A flawed reflection of the past the memories burden me with regrets and longing.
I learnt that abuse has no preference it discriminates against no one, it happened to me regardless of my race, my education, or upbringing. The grip of his abuse was hard to release. Threats, mixed with acts of love and kindness, left me confused. I miss him, I always will, but it’s a cost I am willing to pay. It is far less than the cost I paid loving him, staying with him. That cost was my life and my dignity.
Now that I have my life back and now that I am stronger than before I am willing to miss him, I am willing to pay that price, which previously I feared far more than I feared him. He would be disappointed. I stand here, back again, full of life stronger than before.
This story is part of the I Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence

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