I am a survivor

Date: January 1, 1970
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I never thought that I would be able to face the world again after the experiences I?ve had to deal with in my life. But sharing my story today does not hurt me as much as it once did because I have made peace with myself. I do not regard myself as a victim, but as a survivor.

I never thought that I would be able to face the world again after the experiences I’ve had to deal with in my life. But sharing my story today does not hurt me as much as it once did because I have made peace with myself. I do not regard myself as a victim, but as a survivor.

I reconciled with my ex-husband after seven years, and am empowered enough to handle this relationship. He is currently doing a course on street children who are in trouble with the law and hopes to become a child and youth care worker someday. I work as a social auxiliary worker with plans of becoming a social worker in the near future. My relationship is now two years old.

I am no longer burdened with the heartbreak of my experiences during my marriage. To me it is something of the past. I have moved on with my life. I am working for a positive life in the present and the future. I have been in the dark spaces of an abusive relationship and I am not ashamed to say so because I know that there is a way out.

I write because I want women to know that they are not alone and that they can break the silence that surrounds life in violently abusive relationships. I can say this now, openly and honestly.

Those who do not know my past think that I am the best in my job. What they see is a woman who is in control of her life, who is happy. But they don’t know about the emotional scars I bear, the evidence of a past life.

But writing this story is not so easy. I am remembering what happened almost 10 years ago…

We were madly in love and got married. That’s where most of our problems started as my husband became unemployed; began drinking heavily and became increasingly violent. As my problems compounded, I began working long hours – overtime and other extra work. My nursing job kept me away most of the time. That did the trick for a while, but I had to pick up all of the responsibilities of my family, financial and otherwise.

Despite this, I wanted to keep my marriage. And I used my salary to do that. I would pay the bills, see to the children and give my husband money. But my problems continued to worsen – he started drinking alcohol everyday; violently attacking me in front of my children, friends and family; calling me all sorts of degrading names.

I tried to be strong but the pain of it all was difficult to bear. Sometimes he would hide my handbag so that I could not go to work. When I was working nightshift he would call almost every half hour, demanding to speak to me, harassing the receptionist. After doing my best at work to make it seem that things were ok in my life, it was becoming clear to my colleagues that my marriage was far from ok.

After one of the most violent fights in which he knocked me down with a heavy jumbo-sized AMC pot, I called the police. But they could not do much because I asked them not to arrest him, only to speak to him. How could I get my husband, the man whom I loved arrested? But he did not show me the same mercy or the same love. He continued beating me until I finally moved out of our home.

Knowing my husband well, I felt that work was not a safe space for me and resigned. I was unemployed for four months before I found another job. It was at this point that I realised that I was not dealing with what had happened to me. During a consultation with a woman at the family planning clinic at which I worked, as she told me about her experiences, I saw my own life reflected in her story. She also told me about an organisation that had helped her – NISAA Institute for Women’s Development.

Up until this point, I blamed myself for not having lived up to what was required to keep my marriage. I could not face my family or my in-laws because I did not want to bring any embarrassment to them. So I kept it to myself; pretended that all was well. The situation removed me from my friends, from going to church, and even visiting my family. I was completely withdrawn. I avoided contact with other people as often as I could. I felt dirty; different from other women. I looked for faults in myself so that I could justify what had happened. How could this happen to me if I was normal? Surely there must be something wrong with me?

His words were ringing in my head and I could not think logically. All the things he said to me while we were together made me feel worthless. I begun believing that I was exactly what he said I was – hopeless; useless. Alone and with no one to talk to, frustration took its toll.

The situation became unbearable. I started losing my temper and having mood swings. No one wanted to be around me; which made me more depressed. I hated living and saw no point in life. But I loved my children and needed to look for strength to pull me through this. But I was empty inside. The violence in my relationship had cost me so much – my job, my happiness, my friends, my money, my studies, my womanhood.

I’m telling this story with the aim of telling you that you are not alone and that there are places you can go to for help. It is normal to be concerned about what people will say, but it’s your life, and you must fight for it. The only person who can change the situation is you. Tell someone you trust. I did and have no regrets. It did not have to cost me my life before I made that decision. I chose to live for my children. Just as I choose to tell you my story in the hope it will make a difference.

This article is part of a special series of articles produced for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information. 

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