Aged 19 and 20 I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and I constantly lived in terror of the emotional abuse spilling over into physical abuse.
I am lucky that I managed to get out, more or less intact, but I found out recently that my ex is in prison for physically abusing and harming his current partner.
As I read the newspaper article I was transported back to that world of abuse, that relationship, that time of my life when I lived in constant fear.
You might think I'm stupid or an idiot for getting myself into that situation, and I totally understand you thinking that. But read on so I can help you to better understand abuse.
Prior to that relationship I was an incredibly strong woman. I took shit from no one.
I remember hearing about women who were hit by their partners and either left them and then went back, or stayed with them.
I clearly remember saying "well then they're idiots if they're staying with a man who hits them".
For me it was black and white.
If someone hit you or treated you badly, you walked.
Why on earth would you stay?
But it's much more complex than that.
Before getting together with my abusive boyfriend I was in the most wonderful relationship. With a guy who was gorgeous, and thought the world of me.
For some reason - who knows why. Boredom? Rebellion? Danger-seeking? - I decided to leave him, and shortly afterwards got together with this "bad boy".
It was a bit thrilling.
And I was convinced that I had the upper hand.
I knew he was domineering and it was a bit of a challenge - "let him try with me!" I laughed to myself.
The first time I went to his house he said to me "get me a beer!" as we arrived and he went and sat on the sofa.
"Get it yourself!" I replied and sat down.
He looked a bit surprised that I'd dared answer back, and I was a bit smug and proud of myself.
The change happened so gradually, it was almost invisible to the naked eye.
Little by little he would put pressure on me to cancel plans with my friends and to stay at his place, until one day I realised I had no one else in my life except him.
I no longer had a support network.
Don't get me wrong - I still had my parents, who loved me, and my university room-mates who were also friends, but I couldn't confide in any of them. None of them liked my ex and I was too mortified to go to any of them and tell them what was going on.
Once my safety net had disappeared it was easy for the abuse to start.
My ex was a heavy drinker (I rarely, possibly never, saw him totally sober) and his drinking led to angry outbursts.
I think he enjoyed watching my fear and seeing me flinch as his fist slammed into the wall next to my head, or his foot connected with the magazine rack at my feet.
In a short space of time I totally lost "Sophie". Everything in my life centred around making sure he didn't lose his temper.
When we got back to his parents' house after the pub in the evening, I would quickly get a drink to bring to him to try and keep his temper on an even keel.
Before we went out of an evening (with his friends - we never went out with mine) he would tell me what clothes to wear / not wear.
I remember one time I'd just bought a new pair of pleather trousers (oh how I loved them!), I put them on to go out and he yelled at me "take that off! You look like a f*cking whore!".
Another time, when I was beginning to show a spark of independence, and it looked like I might stand up to him he hurled at me "you're so f*cking ugly, you're lucky I'm with you as no other f*cker would have you!"
That put paid to any idea I might have had of leaving him.
Of course outside of our 4 walls he was mostly sweetness and light.
He was a charmer, the centre of attention in his group of friends, and had a great sense of humour.
It never even crossed my mind to tell any of his friends that this was who he really was.
And I was too embarrassed to tell my friends. I'd bragged about him being domineering and how he could try that on with me but wouldn't get far!
Recently a mutual friend shared with me the news article about my ex being sent to prison. When I told my friend it didn't surprise me as my ex emotionally abused me the friend was shocked.
He'd not seen any of it, because we'd both hidden our dirty secret.
So when you're hearing about domestic abuse cases (high profile or otherwise) maybe tell yourself "I was not there, I do not know and therefore cannot, and should not, judge".
The biggest and best charmer in public can be a monster in private.
So how did I get out of my situation?
I was incredibly lucky.
From the age of 11 I knew I wanted to go to university to study French.
I loved France and everything French.
About a year into our relationship I was due to go to Nice for 5 months as part of my French degree.
My ex tried to talk me out of it, even promising me marriage (maybe in the hope that the "M" word is what all women want). But luckily France was the one thing I held firmly to.
In true Stockholm syndrome style I cried when I left him to fly to Nice.
But slowly the physical separation helped me see clearly again. As did the mental and emotional distance, because communication living in a student residence in France was almost impossible back in 1996.
After nearly 3 months away I came back to the UK for Christmas a different person.
I was strong and I had remembered my worth, my self-love.
I ended our relationship with no regret, with no fear, with no doubt, with no worry for my future.
He couldn't and wouldn't accept it. He called me constantly. Turned up wherever I was. Cried and begged me to take him back.
A week later I flew back to Nice and I was out of his reach and his power.
But it shaped me.
I was able to understand why women stayed with physically and emotionally abusive men.
Many years later, as I did a lot of inner work on myself, I was able to work through all of this, to forgive my ex, to understand why he did what he did. And most importantly I was able to forgive myself.
then please contact me ([email protected]). There will always be a free space in my Life Reboot Camp programme and community for you*. And that way you can get constant support and help as you rebuild your strength, self-love and self-worth.
If you have never been in an abusive relationship please try not to judge those who find themselves in this situation. And please don't believe that you know what went on between two people unless you were a fly on the wall and you saw everything.
Be gentle with yourself, be gentle with others. You NEVER know what is going on behind closed doors, so assume everyone needs to be treated with love and kindness and you won't go far wrong.
(the main photo above is of me at the peak of my abusive relationship - I hid it from everyone I knew and loved as I was so mortified and ashamed of what I'd let happen to me)
* I apply a "buy 1, gift 1" strategy in my Life Reboot Camp - so every person who pays to join automatically gifts a free spot to a woman who needs it and can't afford it.