Surviving Abuse: Finding My Strength in Breaking My Silence

Josie Quinn, Mental Health, Surviving Abuse

A ‘Chronically Fabulous’ Post

By Josie Quinn

Content Warning: Domestic abuse, sexual assault

The more I spoke to people about it, the more I realised just how prevalent domestic abuse is in the UK. Most of the people I spoke to had some personal experience of violence, abuse or sexual assault in a previous relationship. According to the ONS, nearly 1 in 3 women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

My experiences of domestic abuse and sexual violence are something I never thought I would write about; for a long time it was something I didn’t think I would even speak about. After all, I was away from my abusive ex-partner (whom I will refer to simply as he/him from this point on for anonymity), so shouldn’t everything feel okay again now? Then, after a few years of denial, and probably one too many cocktails, I spilled the whole sordid story to a close friend. I’d been afraid that no-one would understand, that I would be judged for staying in such a toxic environment for such a long time, but she empathised completely, even sharing her own experiences of domestic abuse with me. Our conversation lasted for hours, and wasn’t the awful, shameful confession I’d been dreading; instead it felt like a catharsis. Suddenly, I was not alone.

The more I spoke to people about it, the more I realised just how prevalent domestic abuse is in the UK. Most of the people I spoke to had some personal experience of violence, abuse or sexual assault in a previous relationship. According to the ONS, nearly 1 in 3 women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

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Many years after the end of the abusive relationship, I was still suffering from flashbacks and night terrors, as well as having panic attacks when I saw anyone who resembled my ex-partner. When I finally spoke to a mental health professional about everything, and they told me I was suffering from PTSD, I nearly laughed! “Surely PTSD is only for serious trauma, like people who have served in the military or been violently attacked?” But when they broke it all down for me, the last fog of denial finally lifted: just because the sexual assaults happened within a relationship did not make them any less traumatic, nor any less a violation of consent. This was not something I would be able to just push through without help.

Suffolk Wellbeing were able to provide me with a course of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) and, being the science nerd that I am, I thoroughly researched the treatment first! As well as finding it fascinating, I also found it helped my understanding of PTSD. Basically sometimes, when trauma is experienced, the brain is unable to process this information properly into long-term memory. This means that when something triggers a memory of the traumatic incident, the brain responds as if it were happening now, rather than in the past. EMDR uses rapid eye movement to try to assist the brain in processing the trauma into long-term memory, emulating REM sleep where this would usually occur naturally.

Following on from that, I was enrolled in the Freedom Programme, a 12-week course for survivors of domestic abuse, which is run by Lighthouse Women’s Aid (a fantastic charity, and brilliant resource for people who are either currently in a domestic abuse situation or who have left but are still feeling affected). It taught me all the different, subtle ways in which an abusive partner exerts control, how they can make us feel like we are going insane, or that we have no choice but to stay with them. The programme also allowed me to speak openly with other survivors, and to realise that there is no weakness in not being able to cope alone, in needing help. 

At the time, I had somehow managed to convince myself it wasn’t really happening. After I finally left, I was disgusted with myself, ashamed that I had stayed so long, allowed these things to happen. Now I’m just angry; he manipulated me, gas-lighted me, controlled me. And the words I still can’t say aloud, even after a decade: he raped me and sexually assaulted me. I’ve been told by my current counsellor that my anger is a step in the right direction, as I’m now finally putting the blame where it belongs.

So I know I have a way left to go before I reach a stage of acceptance. Even saying or hearing the word ‘rape’ still makes me feel nauseous. But thanks to a lot of work, EMDR treatment, and the support of Lighthouse Women’s Aid, as well as my family and friends, I can finally say these words aloud: “I am not a victim; I am a survivor. And it was not my fault.” Perhaps most importantly, I now actually believe them.

Lighthouse Women’s Aid provides advice & support for women in Suffolk who are experiencing, or have experienced, domestic abuse: or call (01473) 228270

24hr Freephone National Domestic Abuse helpline: 0808 2000 247

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline 0800 999 5428

Josie Quinn (she/her) is in her early thirties. She is a proud bisexual, disabled wheelchair-user and self-professed total geek! She worked as a Legal Executive before becoming too ‘Chronically Fabulous’ to continue, having been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Osteoporosis, CFS, Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD. In her spare time she’s an avid reader (sci-fi, fantasy & graphic novels especially), amateur cosplayer and burgeoning tattoo addict. …

Read all of Josie’s Chronically Fabulous posts

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