“I am now putting my professional and personal experience to good use.”
I did the Freedom Programme about 6 months after I had left my abusive husband. Leaving him felt like the most frightening thing in the world, but the time after that was even harder. Doing the Freedom Programme at that stage gave me the strength and knowledge to create a new safe life for me and my children, to stay in my own safe home.
Before I started the Programme I was still very scared of my husband and was finding it hard to face his continued abuse and control when I was facilitating contact with our children. I struggled to come to terms with the past; with feeling responsible for having married him and having children with him. Above all I worried about what impact it was all having on my children, and the impact of the relationship model we had as parents provided for them.
I researched the support available and found the Freedom Programme. It’s widely available in England and Wales, but not so in Scotland, so I travelled to another region every week to do the Programme. I was not disappointed with what the Freedom Programme did for me and my family.
Having done the Freedom Programme I am less worried that I would be vulnerable to another abuser, and that my children will follow the same pattern. I come from generations of abused women and I am keen to break that cycle for my children. I found from getting to know the others on the course that whilst there were a few similarities between the victims of domestic abuse, the perpetrators shared many of the same traits. We spent a lot of time looking at the ‘red flags’ and common abuse tactics, and also the signs of a positive healthy relationship.
The abuse I experienced was something that I had hidden for years. In the group sessions I was able to talk about it with people who understood, who wouldn’t be horrified, and who might understand why I didn’t leave at the time. This was the first opportunity I had had to explore what happened, which was of great therapeutic benefit and helped enormously to prepare me emotionally for talking about this in the court process.
Doing the Freedom Programme was excellent for my self-esteem: I was feeling very stupid for having allowed the abuse to happen, having stayed so long, taking so long to tell anyone/ask for help. My trust in myself was through the floor (something an abusive partner will actively encourage). But sharing so much with the other women on the course, I could see how they had been reeled in – their self esteem was eroded, their perception of reality challenged so often and for so long that they doubted their reactions to even severe abuse. I recognised why they had held onto the hope that the charming man they had met would come back. Those other women were not stupid; they were smart and articulate, and realising this helped my self-esteem.
Since I was still seeing my abuser every week to bring the children to see him, I wanted to learn how to keep my children safe whilst having contact with my husband. I also needed to protect myself. I started the course having recently escaped. Some on the course were still in relationship, some were out for years, some had had a series of abusive relationships. Because of this the experience and peer advice was wide-ranging. I got valuable support from peers who are further down the road. By spotting the abusive tactics as they were happening I was able to create an emotional barrier around myself when I had to face my husband, and had help managing emotional manipulation of and via the children.
When I separated from my husband I had left the home we had together and moved into rented accommodation. I did not tell him my new address but he tracked me and had begun to threaten me. I was scared to go to the police again and enrage him further. I thought I would have to run again, leaving everything behind again: possessions and friends and support networks. The confidence, peer support and sensible advice I got from the Freedom Programme meant that I reported the threats to the police and stayed in my home.
Part of the abuse I suffered was isolation from friends and family and being forced to move away and give up my career. Prior to this I had good career in charge of a large department. I am now putting my professional and personal experience to good use volunteering for SAJE Scotland.
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The 12 week course is for any woman interested in learning more about the effects of domestic abuse and, in particular for women who experience/ have experienced domestic abuse.
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