I can remember the precise moment when it finally became too much: a normal evening, dinner cooking, the news on the TV…
My story will be all too familiar to many women – a shallow veneer of an enviable lifestyle hiding deep within its core a bullied, controlled, and increasingly empty woman.
On the rare occasions, a chink in the veneer’s surface revealed glimpses of a spousal regime of terror that I endured for more than 30 years, people had one of two reactions – silence or excuses:
‘He’s a great provider...he’s under pressure.’
‘He just has slip-ups…he is only human.’
Who makes excuses for unacceptable abuse? We all did: the counsellor we saw, friends, him, me… The effect was insidious, gradually impacting every aspect of my life. I became paralysed with fear withdrawing from life and unable to make even a simple journey to the supermarket.
The catalyst for my journey to self-worth was the one person who didn’t make excuses. On that normal evening, my husband’s target for threats and abuse switched to my youngest daughter. As he stormed out and I tried to comfort her, the look in her eyes reflected an expression I had seen in the mirror many times as she tried to reassure me that she was fine:
‘Don’t worry mum, he won’t change but it’s water off a duck’s back…’
I asked him to leave, we went for unsuccessful counselling, and suddenly after 30 years I was on my own living on unemployment benefit with no idea of how I was going to survive.
In April 2011, I was referred to Dress for Success and began attending their breakfast club. That statement about first impressions and that you never remember what a person says but you always remember how they make you feel is so true. The moment I met Geeta and the other women in the room that was the moment I knew I was not alone, I was not crazy, and that I had choices and options.
From the breakfast club meetings I moved forward, studying and getting a job. I was determined to become a member of Dress for Success’s PWG and in 2013 I achieved my goal.
Being in the room with the amazing PWG women, listening to the stories, and engaging in healthy, intelligent discussions have been a huge part of my healing and my ability to move forward. Every meeting is fun, sad, encouraging, motivating, challenging and thought provoking. I love the feeling when I get in my car and drive home. I feel worthwhile, I feel real and whole, and I believe that I can do anything I choose; I am not limited, I am encouraged.
That self-belief led me to the Community in Action Project. I wanted to tell people about Dress for Success and share my story to show women that there is support for the challenging journey to self-worth.
This year I will be honoured to represent Dress for Success at its international summit in Arizona. My future is bright and I want to share and continue to give back to the organisation that helped me to find that future to enable us to support futures for others.