‘He gaslit me so much, I doubted my own mind.’: Domestic, sexual violence survivor details healing after extreme abuse

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic violence and sexual abuse which may be upsetting for some.

Growing Up

“I’ve never written my life down before; it feels strange to go back over and read it. To see it all there in black and white. To read back the heartbreaking moments that lead me to want to end my life. But to know when I was at rock bottom and couldn’t see or even believe there was something better for me, the beautiful things I didn’t believe I deserved, have happened — to look at them, hug them, and love them. I’m pleased I stayed.

I first felt there was something wrong with my body when I was about 8. I heard people saying things like, ‘Becky’s big for her age,’ and, ‘She’s a lot bigger than the other kids.’ Adults talking about me as if I wasn’t there, commenting on my appearance, shaming my body. At 8 years old I learned to feel ashamed of my body… something I didn’t unlearn until nearly 26 years later.

It was at 8 years old that my relationship with food started to become disordered. In my family’s attempts to help me lose weight, they gave me prawn salads and weight watchers meals. Treats would be hidden away. This planted the belief in good and bad foods. This in turn fueled my thinking that my body was wrong, and led to a lifelong obsession with dieting. 26 years of dieting, that’s a lot!

Thoughts toward my body got worse in elementary school when the bullying started. Girls would call me names and pull my hair. In high school, boys would make stomping noises when I ran. I’ve had bricks thrown at my head to make me run so they could laugh. I’d make myself sick and avoid food, or try to go as long as I could without eating, then I’d binge my way through anything I could get my hands on. I ate out-of-date pancakes out of the trash because I’d made myself so hungry. I had a huge fear of tucking my shirt in at the front because of my belly. I used to hold my bag or blazer over the front. I so longed to be accepted and look like the other girls. I just wanted to have the right body.

girl in school in uniform carrying a backpack
Courtesy of Rebekka Moore
young girl in school in uniform smiling
Courtesy of Rebekka Moore

Beauty magazines were my holy grail. I’d look at women’s bodies and long for their flawless skin and flat stomachs. I tried all the diet tips so I’d look slimmer. I wished I could wear clothes like they did, but wouldn’t because I was scared of looking fat and having people laugh at me. My high school prom was hell. I was so self-conscious of my dress, my belly, and the tops of my arms, I spent the night trying to hide them.

young girl dressed up for her prom
Courtesy of Rebekka
young girl at her prom wearing a black dress
Courtesy of Rebekka

Meeting Him

I turned 17, still ashamed of my body and living for the latest diet, but I was doing well. I was kind of happy, loved college, and had a part-time job. This was the most peaceful feeling I’d had in a long time and that’s when I met ‘him’. He kept walking past me at work, making eye contact then looking away. This carried on for a few weeks, then he asked one of my friends to drop a hint that he liked me. Someone was attracted to me?!

I liked him; he seemed a little older than me but was nice. Then one day he dropped his number in front of me. I was shocked. I really couldn’t understand how someone would want to give me their number! I messaged him and we talked for a while. I found out he was 9 years older than me and he said, ‘Oh, just get rid of my number if I’m too old.’ I instantly felt sorry for him. Age is just a number, and he seemed kind and caring which was better than most boys my age who just wanted to smoke weed and have sex. I didn’t want that. I wanted a real relationship. I wanted to feel loved.

Then I saw him with a little red-haired girl. She was so cute! He said she was his niece and he had another niece who was a year younger. Once we’d been dating a few months he told me, actually they were his daughters but he didn’t want to tell me because no one wants to date an older man with kids. He told me I could go and he wouldn’t be offended. I was shocked but understood why he didn’t say anything, I really felt for him. So, I told him I wasn’t going anywhere.

He told me to keep the girls a secret for now because he didn’t want my family coming between us. I agreed because I knew they would hit the roof. He told me he and his wife had split up and they got on well… until one day he called me. But it wasn’t him, it was his wife. She was screaming at me! I just heard words like sl*t and b*tch, then I heard him shouting in the background. His wife screamed and the line went dead.

What the heck just happened?! I called back and it went straight to voicemail. He called me back a few hours later in tears and explained his wife found our Myspace messages and was jealous; she couldn’t handle that he was trying to move on. He then told me they still lived together because she didn’t pay the rent on the apartment, so he had to stay and pay it otherwise his kids would be homeless.

I ate that story up! He said the only way we could be together was for me to keep us a secret until he paid the rent off and he could move out. So, I agreed. I felt for him; he was in such a terrible situation. How could his kids be homeless? Winter was coming and it would be freezing! What kind of person would I be if I left him like that or let that happen?!

In the end, he moved out or she kicked him out. I didn’t know which, but I know he made sure she hated me and I hated her. She was the wicked witch who used the kids against him and I was the person that stole him away.

Abusive Relationship

Things became very toxic at home with my family. They didn’t like him and knew something was off, but their bull in a China shop approach to handling the situation only played into his hands. Eventually I moved out into the place he was staying. We lived in a basement which was damp and full of old truck parts. But I was with him, with someone who loved me, so I didn’t care.

He would power bomb me with love and affection, then in the next heartbeat he would stop and ignore me because I said, did, ate, or wore something wrong. I went to college less and less because he said boys would attack me. He was convinced I fancied other boys because on campus days we wore jeans, tops, and shoes instead of overalls. All the girls did just what we did. He would slam his fists, shout, and cry so I wouldn’t wear them again.

I couldn’t be away from him for too long before he would start texting me, telling me he missed me and couldn’t live without me, asking if I’d come home because he needed me. He told me if I went out, I’d be raped or attacked by other men. It wasn’t safe to go out without him. I was terrified of going out alone. Eventually, I was only allowed to my grandparents’ house for a few hours before he would call me back. I lost touch with so many friends, apart from one who knew what was happening. She knew she couldn’t tell me because I would have never believed her and that would be his ticket to stopping me seeing her. She always told me she was there and I could come stay at her house whenever I needed to. She stayed close, but not too close.

He was never violent when we slept together and always wore protection because I wasn’t on any contraception. The last pill I was on gave me migraines and I gained a lot of weight, so the doctor took me off it. Then one night, something was off. ‘STOP! I’ll get pregnant. You need to put protection on.’ He got angry. ‘Do you love me?!’ he asked. He pressured again and again. ‘It will be fine! I’ve done this before, you won’t get pregnant. I love you.’ I was crying; I didn’t want to split up. ‘I love you always. You’re mine, and I know you love me,’ he said as he continued. I was terrified the whole time. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stayed still. I didn’t know that was rape, that your boyfriend could rape you. This became the new normal.

Unwanted Pregnancy

Eventually, my luck ran out. I was sick in the mornings and was terrified. I went and told him. He didn’t talk to me, wouldn’t even look at me. I went and got a pregnancy test. It was negative, so I went to the local birth clinic because I was still sick. I was too scared to go to the doctor because some of my family’s friends worked there. The lady was so kind when the test showed up positive. She held my hand and asked if I was OK. ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I replied. She said, ‘You have options,’ and gave me some leaflets to take. Family support was on one, adoption was on another, and abortion was on the last one.

He told me if I kept it my family would hate me and wouldn’t help me, he couldn’t help me because he would lose his kids, and I wouldn’t be able to cope on my own. He said he knew someone who could do an abortion for me. Thank the lords I didn’t agree to this! I said, ‘If I have to have an abortion, I’ll go to the hospital.’ ‘What about your family?’ He said they couldn’t find out and it would cost a lot of money. I agreed and did all I could to keep it a secret. I felt trapped, alone, and scared. My bull in the China shop family unknowingly fed the fear they wouldn’t be there for me. He said I had to choose my baby over his. I felt so much love already for this little life inside me, someone I was meant to love and protect. I felt lost and ashamed.

I went ahead with the abortion. Not long ago I’d turned 18, so I didn’t need an adult present. I pleaded with the hospital, nurses, and doctors not to tell my family or contact my parents. I was given a date and a time which I thought was the abortion. He booked to go away on vacation with his kids and wife. I felt I deserved to be alone. I felt worthless until I called my friend who got the first train down to be with me. She came to the appointment and I would go back to her house for a few days, but it was a pre-op assessment!

I called and revealed I didn’t have to abort our baby without him and he was pissed off, to stay the least. He said he had to go because the kids were coming. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. A week went by and the date came through. I hugged my belly and sobbed. I apologized and told my unborn baby I loved him/her. I went alone to the hospital; he dropped me off and left. The nurses were really kind. I wished they would have been horrible to me; I truly felt I didn’t deserve any understanding or kindness.

Continued Manipulation & Abuse

Three nights after I aborted my baby, he wanted to have sex. This time I was protected by an injection the nurses gave me. He was so happy. I cried the whole time.

Three weeks later, he sat me down and told me his wife was pregnant with his baby and they were keeping it. He blamed me because he slept with her and said it was when I upset him. He wasn’t thinking properly and if I hadn’t have upset him this would never have happened.

I felt sick, lost. I felt nothing, like when you get the ringing in your ears… just nothing. I couldn’t go home, was too scared to leave, couldn’t cope on my own, and had no money and no job. He only let me eat take-out and fatty food because he said if I was fat no one would want me, so he could have me all to himself. This added to my body hate. I felt trapped and alone. I later got into the bath and tried to cut my wrists. The razor was blunt and rusty; I’d found it on the window sill. I had a complete mental breakdown. I called my friend who talked me out of it. I wanted to die because I didn’t see any other choice or way out. I spent weeks thinking how to do it and when to do it, but I never tried again. I cut myself to feel real and like I was allowing some of the hurt out. My mental health was through the floor and he didn’t care. I didn’t care that I wanted to die. I just wanted it all to stop.

He told me his kids were cold and needed coats and he had no money because his wife had taken it, so he told me to steal for him. I was scared at first but it became easy after a while. He was so proud of me — he loved me, kissed me, wasn’t mean, and was so kind. I didn’t want that to change, so I carried on. Until I got caught. I was pulled aside by the store security. He was there at work and rushed over to hug me, and he said, ‘Lie! Or I’ll lose the kids.’ So, I never told them what he asked me to do; I told them I acted alone. The police searched my family’s home and I was charged with theft. He held my mum’s hand in court and told them he would look after me and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid again. I received a fine and 30 hours of community labor. I had a criminal record which has loomed over me for years. I didn’t go for jobs that required a background check. I felt so ashamed.

I later got a new job, but he would follow me to work, standing and watching me from afar. He would text me and tell me he could see me. I started to feel afraid so I didn’t mix with anyone. I kept my head down and kept to myself.

He later became violent toward me. He would always run to the main road and threaten to jump in front of a car unless I forgave him. It’s not confirmed, but he very likely drugged and assaulted me on several occasions. He had pictures of naked women on his phone, and would take naked pictures of me asleep. He would gaslight me so much I doubted my own mind. So, I learned it was safer to just do what he wanted; don’t argue but be good and do as I was told.

I later found out the basement we stayed in was actually a drug den and we were illegally squatting. The relationship went on for almost 2 and half years. It ended by a turn of events when the owner of the house told us we had to go because he was moving and we had to move quickly. He cut all ties with me and said he would come back for me when things settled. I later found this is because it was likely whatever he had his fingers in was going south so he had to lay low.

Finding Healing

I called my grandad to come get me. I packed up what I had and I left, feeling scared and alone. I felt like I had gone cold turkey, like I’d stopped a drug, a life support. I couldn’t sleep. I pined for him. I didn’t know how to decide for myself. I sobbed myself to sleep and didn’t know what or when to eat.

He sent me messages every now and then telling me he missed me and couldn’t wait to come get me, but little by little, I made my way back to my friends. I joined the gym and slimming world with my mum. Ironically, the slimming world added fuel to my eating disorders and negative body image and saved me because it gave me confidence to find myself again. I felt I could cope alone. I could make my own choices. I went on a little rampage of having tattoos and piercings because he wasn’t there to stop me. I dressed how I wanted to dress.

three girl friends on a night out
Courtesy of Rebekka

I met a few guys, many that resembled him. I was instantly attracted to them, but couldn’t understand why I would completely freak out when they touched me or wanted to be close to me. So, I would panic and end the relationship. I’d feel sick at the thought of sex and would panic I’d get pregnant again.

Some months later, I met this guy at a garden tent party who, 13 years later, is now my husband, father to our two gorgeous boys, and the reason I got help and support. I had a breakdown when I started to piece my life together. Why didn’t this guy make me do what he did? Why didn’t he mind if I ate this or wore that? Why didn’t he force me to do things I didn’t want to do? Why didn’t he message me 100’s of times a day? Why did he trust me? He’s been there ever since, helping me heal in my own way and in my own time. He sees me as equal and as my own person.

In the last two years, I’ve started to unlearn my body hate and work through my eating disorders. I’ve stopped dieting and am healing my relationship with food. This year I went to my doctor after I had a relapse in the first lock-down. I was diagnosed with PTSD which was caused by the trauma of domestic abuse and sexual violence; it’s likely I’ve had it the last 14 years.

I feel seen understanding the symptoms. I honestly thought I was going mad. I’m currently waiting for CBT. I’m aware of my triggers and what sets my anxiety off. My mental health isn’t there yet, but we’re doing alright. I’ve learned some coping techniques from phone counseling. I’ve rebuilt myself bit by bit. I’m brave, independent, and strong. I have forgiven myself for letting him hurt me. I don’t know if I can ever say I’ve forgiven myself for aborting my baby, but I understand my younger self and I’m at peace with her. My unborn baby is never far from my thoughts. I’m a mother to my two boys who I love endlessly. I didn’t let what happened to me make me bitter, I let it make me stronger and kinder. I made my own decision to move away from my hometown to the country where I have dropped the chains of my criminal record and got a job. 14 years later, I’m here and I’m healing.

woman holding job position printed out
Courtesy of Rebekka

If you’re reading this and you feel you relate to it, I want you to know you are never alone. There are people out there who want to help. You just need to reach out. When this was happening to me there wasn’t the internet or phones like there is now. Help and support are right in your hand. Remember, it’s never too late to heal, it’s never too late to speak up. No matter how low, broken, or alone you feel, I promise there’s good in the world and you deserve it. It will find you, you just have to grab it when it does. You deserve to heal.

The Roe v Wade overturn in America has deeply affected me and I’m angry for the women in America and the world. No one has the right to make a choice for your body. The right to a safe abortion is our right. It’s our choice and it’s been taken away. I’m hurting for you and I see you. We are all women and we need to stand together. I know what other option would have awaited me if I didn’t have the choice to safe abortion. I’m grateful I had that choice, even if I still hurt from it.”

domestic abuse survivor smiling
Courtesy of Rebekka

[If you need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org to live chat with someone 24/7. Help is out there and you are not alone.]

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rebekka. You can follow her journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos. 

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