Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic violence and narcissistic abuse that may be upsetting to some.
“I am a survivor (or thriver) of domestic violence. I thought separation from my ex-partner would bring me relatively immediate freedom and peace. I was wrong. Separation occurred over 3 years ago, yet the past 3 years have been the most psychologically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually challenging of my life.
London, England. 2015.
Some six years ago, aged 22, I fell in love with a man who was, and still likely is, intelligent, charming, and witty. He was eccentric and had seemingly lived an unusual life, but he was different and exciting. Unsure of him at first, I was won over by his attentiveness, his devotion, his spontaneity, his charisma. I felt special and like life would never be boring. Boring it was not.
Yet, the fun faded, the laughter languished…somehow, I wound up in a relationship that saw me being controlled in many aspects of my life. I was financially controlled, locked out of the house, and my belongings were confiscated. I wasn’t allowed to finish my university studies at King’s College London. I was frequently put down and made to believe I would never be successful in life without him.
Such abuse was insidious. It caught me off guard. I made excuses for it. Maybe it was just the stress associated with moving to another country, or starting a new business, or having a baby…right? It was not. It was the de-masking of his true self, which had been carefully contained until I was sufficiently ‘his.’ Yet I did not know this until the words ‘narcissistic sociopath’ were mentioned to me by a psychiatrist I will never forget. The truth came crashing down and the battle only became harder.
Perth, Australia. 2018.
Despite my vulnerable position – a 7-month-old baby, a near-empty bank account, a jobless university student and on the other side of the world from my close family and friends – I left my partner. Thankfully, something inside me said I was worth more, I deserved more, and I would have a better life without him. But something else inside me, an inexplicable gut instinct or intuition if you like, also said: Be careful; there is a frightening darkness in him of which you have no idea. So, for some time, I appeased him. I complied. I dishonored myself out of fear. It bought me time, but it also bought me anxiety. My body’s own wakeup call that I was not okay, that the situation was not okay.
The inevitable came the day I challenged him about his abusive behavior: the battle. I reported an incident of verbal abuse and suspected stalking to the police, and he immediately filed in the Family Court of Western Australia for shared custody of our then-nearly 2-year-old son. This frightened me even more as I had witnessed him being impatient and neglectful with our baby, especially when drunk, which was a daily occurrence. I sank to new lows.
But my pain was softened by a blossoming love with David, an old friend from Switzerland who would later become my partner. It was hard to trust again. My hypervigilant mind told me to be cautious and my heart wanted to close, but a taste of true, honest and healing love kept it open. I had no choice but to show David my deepest fears and vulnerabilities at an early stage of our relationship, where one would typically show their best side. But this openness brought us closer, and David became my main support, even though coronavirus-induced border closures in Australia kept us physically apart.
So, over the next two years, one man was filling my heart, while another was hellbent on tearing it apart. My ex restlessly continued this stressful family battle full of dirty, malicious, and vindictive tactics worthy of a dark Netflix series. Without remorse, the man I had once sincerely loved, had reneged on all his promises, and trapped me 9,000 miles away from home; he accused me of abusing our son and refused to hand him back to me, necessitating court interventions.
On another occasion, he used an alias to pose as a criminal lawyer and publicly accused David, a known author, of pedophilia and extensive sexual abuse. The alias of his was someone who throughout our relationship I believed to be his best friend and business partner in California; little did I know at the time all those impressive stories about his past were fabrications of his fertile imagination. He relentlessly harassed my close family members with false allegations of assault and meritless legal suits. He attempted to isolate me from people I was close to, made endless derogatory remarks, threatened to sue my employer, and refused to comply with many court orders.
Every week there was a fresh blow. His desire to inflict pain was seemingly unyielding. At some point he ‘succeeded’ in forcing me to resign from my work and university studies; his barrage of costly and time-consuming legal actions and personal attacks against me and my loved ones made it impossible for me to care for our son while developing my new career as a high school teacher. I was desperately trying to build a brighter future for my son and me, which included financial security, because the day I officially reported my ex’s abuse, he reduced his child support from $350 to $8 per week. Even then, he did not pay it for 6 months.
I was losing hope and faith in justice while I was being told by my lawyer to be calm and patient, trust the process and keep the end goal in mind: to keep our son safe and get legal permission to move back to Europe. The road was a long one, which felt even longer owing to Australian border closures which meant I could not see David for 14 months. There were many emotional breakdowns and tens of hours of counselling. But fast forwarding to early 2021, the end goal was achieved. I was granted sole custody and parental responsibility of our child and permission to leave Australia.
Vevey, Switzerland. October 2021.
I am writing this article from the outdoor terrace of a local café. The sun is shining on my face and glittering gently on the blue waters of Lake Geneva opposite; a backdrop of majestic mountains lines the horizon. The dominant feelings are peace and gratitude. I am safe. My son is safe. We are healing. We are loved. We love.
I think of a line from Byron Katie that reads, in life, ‘Everything happens FOR you, not TO you.’ I battled this for so long, not understanding how and why I became entangled with such a dark character who was so intent on hurting me and those I love. Yet, over time and with therapy, love and self-compassion, I understood the growth opportunity it provided. I discovered and processed my pain; the buried internal pain that meant I could be exploited and manipulated.
I am stronger, wiser, and more self-aware than ever before. I am in a deeply fulfilling and healing relationship. I am even starting to see this whole story from another angle: The victim was not only me but this man whose heart had been hurt so deeply (I have no idea how and when, despite our long relationship) that he sadly lost all sense of empathy. I understand to heal totally I have to forgive him, to free both of us from any link, be it hate or love, and to give him a chance to start over. The same chance I am seizing today as I am filled with newfound purpose; that is, to share this story and all its lessons.
Through this forced introspection to the bottom of my fears and insecurities, and despite being frequently told I was worthless to the point I had little to no self-esteem left, I am learning to love myself. I am learning who I truly am and to be able to confidently assert that. I am a loving, trusting, empathic, courageous, intelligent, and resilient woman. I am an energetic people person and a competent communicator. I am worthy and my life has meaning.
As the old saying goes: ‘When one door closes, another opens.’ I could choose to focus on the closed door of my teaching career. Instead, I am looking at the open door in front of me: the opportunity to help others in similar situations and utilize the knowledge and skills these challenging few years have brought to light. I am writing a blog, launching a podcast called ‘Starting over with Shannon Jenkins,’ helping my partners’ bestselling books (written in French) to be published in English and, above all, I am writing my own book based on the lessons learned from this ordeal.
The situation I found myself in, the seemingly endless legal proceedings, the pain, the frustration, being attacked through my weakest point, our son, showed me what courage means. It means fighting with dignity and respect. Not retaliating, not escalating. It means to trust the process, to visit and accept my vulnerabilities. Above all it means opening wide open the exact place where I had been severely injured: my heart. But it is exactly where joy and love are found.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Jenkins of Vevey, Switzerland. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories like this here:
‘I married him at 21. There were red flags. After 11 years of marriage, we began couple’s counseling. The next day, he fell from a ladder at work. I knew he was going to die.’: Young widow gets second chance at love, ‘There is always reason to find hope’
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