A Survival Story - Why I Stayed And Why I Left My Abusive Boyfriend
BY EDEN KAWANA-RENWICK
The world will pick you up and you will be surrounded with so much kindness that you forgot such a warmth ever existed, I promise.
18 OCT - 2021
“Hi, I’m Eden and I’m your friendly local survivor of domestic abuse who is here to chat about it.”
I always thought that I would never, I could never, be THAT woman. As a proud and educated feminist, I have always enjoyed spotting and taking down toxic masculinity like it's a mixture of blood sport and comedy. If a man ever had the nerve to speak to me cruelly, let alone physically lay a hand on me, I would run for the hills and try to ruin his life with glee, as payback.
Or at least I believed this, until I was having my head smashed through walls and across open pantry shelving with his hand against my face like he was gripping a basketball to slam dunk. I remember crying and begging him to take me to the hospital as the back of my head swelled up to at least a tennis ball size whilst under the ice. But with so much speed and sharpness, it was like whiplash.
Only a couple months earlier, I had been pushed out of a moving car. This is one of the moments that broke my heart the most – when he pushed me out of the car, we were about 200 metres from my grandmother's home and it was Christmas Eve. It's fucking crazy what you can endure and how your brain switches off when you're in true survival mode.
Love at First Sight
Let’s cycle back to the beginning. I moved to England 5 years ago, and as all young, flirty, and horny women do, I went on Tinder to find a genuine match. And boy, was he my match. He was exactly my type - a 6’3” beautiful beast that gave off sexy viking vibes. Little did I know he loved to rape and pillage women like a real viking.
He was lovely, at first - they always are. How else can they sucker you into a black hole of abuse and absolute despair? I loved that he wasn’t fluffy or flaky, but rather, was assertive. He’d ask me where I wanted to eat and no matter how hole-in-the-wall or fancy it was, he would just take me there.
It was the small yet extravagant gestures that got me. At the time, he lived in Germany, and he flew to London to see me during the very early days - like, third date, early. He worked at the Adidas headquarters and did well for himself. Looking back, who the fuck knows if that was even true.
He made me feel found, heard and seen. And he would always ask in wonderment how it could be that I was single, as if I were a true gem. And I never questioned why he was single because I thought he was committed to his job.
The most memorable moment of being swept away was when he came with me to pick my mum up from Heathrow without my asking. And for context, I have some pretty messy parents so I usually keep my romantic affairs separate from them. But I thought this one was different and I actually allowed for both of my worlds to collide.
Plus, he would dress so well - or so I thought. Until Sophie said that his sweat suit combo was a signature look of a right Manchester cock. If he’s not a football player training on the field, then he can fuck right off with that twatty get up.
Anyway, we had been seeing each other for a mere 7-8 months before he moved to New Zealand to be with me. My visa was up and he made a snap decision that I mistook for true Shakespearan romantic love.
The Rising Shitstorm
He had lived in so many parts of the world like South Africa, Spain and the USA. Apparently, he was a pro golfer but there’s nothing online about him. So again, who the fuck knows? But due to this, I thought he would be used to acclimatising to new environments but alas, things did not go easily for him in New Zealand.
He couldn’t find a job and it tore away at his roots of being an “alpha male.” He felt emasculated, humiliated and belittled because people weren’t buying into his false facade, which I obviously was still duped by.
The sky was falling and things were crumbling for him, and because I knew what it was like to be alone and struggling in a new country, my damned empathy kicked in and I gave him too long of a leash with his vicious behaviour when he lashed out at me.
The physical abuse started happening three months after being in New Zealand but in retrospect, I now understand that the psychological grooming started from the moment I met him. By the time the physical stuff happened, it had eroded so much of me that things like gut instincts had left me. I was a shell and his ragged little toy.
He controlled my entire life. From the food I ate to the clothes I donned and even my fucking hair.
The first time he hit me was four months after moving to New Zealand. I actually called the cops and moved back in with my parents. But as these violent psychopaths programmatically do, he put on a big performance full of tears, begging on knees, apologies and non-committal promises. And of course, I went back after two weeks because I truly believed he was remorseful and would do the work to be better. What a fucking idiot I was. As if a woman beater will stop beating women after two weeks. This was just a sneak preview of what’s to come.
From here, things escalated very quickly. He controlled my entire life. From the food I ate to the clothes I donned and even my fucking hair - I was convinced and ingrained on a daily basis that I wasn’t good enough and required fixing.
Shame On Me
Following the abuse after getting back together with him, this is when the shame kicked in and kept me with him. Because I chose to move back in with him despite my family and friends advising against it, I was completely shackled by my shame and couldn’t seek help from them again.
He fooled me once, twice, thrice - the shame was fully on me and the severity of the abuse just kept on escalating day by day. On top of this, because I never thought I would be a domestic violence victim, I felt even more shame for allowing myself to be treated this way. It was like Cersei’s walk of shame but I was ringing the bell for me.
He wouldn’t hit me per se, at first, but he would use his size and his domineering appearance to lean over me so I would feel small and threatened. Then, it would be a strong grab that bruised me or he would twist my arm behind my back to immobilise me. That was particularly terrifying.
When his temper got the better of him, his blue eyes would turn black and I would have to make myself docile to appease him as he would be completely unreachable. In one of these rages, I cowered on the ground with my arms around my head whilst he emptied a water bottle over my head- whether it was through violence or otherwise, his point was to dehumanise me - and he succeeded.
At this point, he stopped apologising after his episodes. It was all my fucking fault. I ‘made’ him move to New Zealand for me and it wasn’t working out for him so it was my burden to carry. Because of this, I felt the need to show him around our beautiful country and so I organised a special Queenstown trip for our 1 year anniversary. On my dime, of course, because he also drained me financially by making me feel less than, and so, I would always be willing to prove I could pay for things.
The Rupture of the Achilles’ Heel
This is when the physical abuse peaked. We were having a couple of lakeside drinks talking about our future and he was being a real prick. Watching him wind himself up was a familiar process to me. He went back to the hotel in a huff and I thought he would calm down if I gave him space but by the time I got to the room, he had somehow worked himself up even more. That’s when I went out to the balcony with my phone to give him space so I wouldn’t engage. After an hour or so, I wanted to go back inside and it was evident he had locked me out.
In these kinds of situations where he holds all the control, he is calm and collected. After a while, he opened the door briefly and snatched my phone. I was locked out in the cold on the fourth floor without a means of communication in my bikini and was obviously getting progressively distressed.
Meanwhile, he’s fucking gaslighting me by making it seem like I’m the irrational one. The next time he opened the door, I stuck my arm in to keep it open. He kept pulling on the top of the door with his hand as I kept pushing my way through. By the time my body was through, the door slammed shut on my Achilles heel with his force and I fell to the ground screaming in pain in my pool of blood. It completely immobilised me.
His reaction to my injury was shockingly hurtful. He was completely blase and stepped outside of it, as if I was doing this all on my own. I should’ve gone to the hospital straight away but I didn’t know what to tell them, I guess. The day after, we went back home and 3-4 days later, my leg started to swell up. It was obviously infected and inflamed from the deep gash. It was only then that I went to the doctor and he gave me antibiotics and crutches.
At this point in our relationship, it was a fairly consistent cyclic pattern of beating me up and being nice for a few days while my wounds healed and then something would set him off again. These were the daily fires I was trying to keep under control. It was like managing a fucking nuclear power plant on my own. If I didn’t keep him happy, I was going to get nuked like Chernobyl.
The Final Straw
Two months later, he put my head through a wall (again). This time, I called the cops. I was broken with no family or friends. But, I was done.
He was put in a cell overnight for domestic violence and let out on bail the next day. The police were working with me to get all the information and I had a gut feeling that he would have booked a flight home so there was a block on his passport.
Lo and behold, he indeed tried to leave - an emphasis on the ‘try’ as he ended up getting arrested and thrown into a cell again. In order for him to no longer have the charge against him, he had to plead guilty. Once he left, I continued pressing charges so he could never come back to New Zealand.
I wish that I could have witnessed him getting what he deserved but at that point in time, all I wanted was for him to be gone. So, I made sure of that, at least. Plus, I told his best mate and dearest mother with photo evidence, what he did to me and what kind of man he was.
When I stayed with his family in Hertfordshire, his mum would make huge banquet meals for his dad and she would eat a side salad for dinner. In retrospect, I know that what my ex-boyfriend did to me was learned from his father. It’s true, you don’t come out of the womb as such an awful person, evil some might call it, you learn it as you grow.
Answering the age-old question, “Why did you stay?”
“Why did you stay?” - I want to explain to every person who has asked me this question, the brain goes into survival mode when it feels it HAS to. Being asked why I ‘stayed' is one of the most natural questions but it honestly feels like bees swimming in my stomach, making their way up my throat.
It’s a weird way of telling you that I have been diagnosed with PTSD. That question is a fine line between victim blaming and curiosity or wanting to learn. “Hi, I’m Eden and I’m your friendly local survivor of domestic abuse who is here to chat about it.”
Perhaps, instead of asking someone why they stayed, ask what did they survive? Who did they survive? It’s the same thing. Ask what made them feel like they were unable to leave.
Why didn’t they take opportunities to reach out, to ask for help?
It’s very simple - they weren’t emotionally or physically safe to. Not a fun fact - most people are seriously harmed/killed either just before or right after leaving their partner.
Why didn’t I leave? For me, I was too busy trying to put out flames on a daily basis just to survive and keep a job (which I barely did) because he had eroded all that I was, including my ability to think fully. I was in pure survival mode emotionally as well as physically. I wasn't safe - clearly, but I felt I could protect my family at least and contain his rage to being taken out on me only. He had threatened to physically hurt those closest to me if I told them what was truly going on. He had threatened to kill them, to be frank.
I could not confront the fact that the only man who I had ever brought back to my grandma's or welcomed into a family addition could literally throw me out of a moving car. And then to keep face, because I was scared of being hit, we slept under the feathered duvets belonging to my great grandma. I don’t say this lightly, but in hindsight, this felt like emotional rape. The parallels are clear after having had him take my body violently and forcefully. I survived his physical rapes, and yet, the psychological and emotional violence felt worse. It was revolting and dehumanising.
The handbag thrown at me afterward didn’t hurt but added to the ultimate humiliation. It bruised my lips and I was getting ‘compliments’ on the new lipstick I wore for a week straight and it made my colleagues wonder if I had gotten my lips done. They were wondering why I wouldn’t just admit it – they looked great.
I looked great; always put together, slim but healthy; but my eyes were dead. That feisty confident girl now had the self-esteem of an atom, and not only did I not stay because he apologized and begged as the story usually goes - no, I was the one begging him to stay, convinced that it was all my fault.
I am now proud to say that I've found my passion and am back studying, this time with the intention of becoming a practicing psychologist. My own therapist said to me with this sense of knowing pain and truth, that you cannot know others' pain without knowing pain yourself. She did not try to make my pain go away, but in a sense, pass on that baton that can only flow through those who have followed a path that I was choosing for myself. It is absolutely true.
But as I was trying to make sense of the hellhole I had dug myself into, I couldn't fully see myself in any of the common stories. “He apologised, he begged, he swore he’d never do it again.” None of this was true in my case. I mean, he apologised that first time once, but never again. I felt so much shame, this deep-searing shame that I just could not turn into and confront.
It might be confusing and you may be raising an eyebrow.
Look, talks of domestic abuse tend to be long-winded, tragic, and powerful. Because DV is all of those.
One consistent thing that I was advised on was to go to my mother. That no matter what the state of our relationship is, she will welcome you into safety once you’re ‘out.’ Nah, not fucking here! It was apparent that I was birthed from one narcissist and fell deep into the arms of another. Fuck.
I expected warmth in return for my vulnerability but instead, I got a smack in the face for the attempt at redemption. It felt just as sharply devastating as I expected the same from him.
Honestly, it took a couple of years of intense psychotherapy to even understand this of myself let alone forgive myself for it. My therapist would say “you have to forgive yourself.” BUT HOW? What does that even mean?! Even in her safety, I found myself making excuses for everything and blaming myself. “But my gut was screaming at me,” “my mum and best friend tried to get me out,” “why didn’t I go to them when they tried?” The words “you didn’t feel safe to” were an ‘aha’ moment for me.
Domestic Violence is NEVER your fault - even if you’re a mess. When you feel like it's your fault for something that someone is doing to you, that right there is the red flag that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Are you merely dealing with the blows that life deals you badly? Nope, their actions aren't your fault. Did you fuck up? Did you sincerely apologise? Did you lean into that with vulnerability? Also, not your fault. Your brain has gone mushy convincing yourself you could change it. GTFO, it's called gaslighting, it's real and insidious.
This is the bit I'm most embarrassed by though - I begged him to stay. Many times, at that. He never groveled - getting an apology out of him was like drawing blood from a stone. And yet, I begged. I had been so manipulated, gaslit and abused, that my brain was truly fucked and had turned on itself entirely. I started to become the angry blaming-on-everyone-else person that he was. He infected my spirit.
There is help out there
Something I wish was more known is that if you have been sexually assaulted, you may very well be entitled to the complete ACC funded therapy that I’ve received. It's under sensitive claims and in my personal experience, they treat you with the kindness and patience that we all deserve. All that judgement you may have of yourself, they do not.
Shine was another brilliant service that sat with me while I hid and cried hot, heavy, puffy tears in the ‘marketing’ cupboard of my day job, as the girls I worked with made excuses and covered for me with such loyalty.
I want to say that I'm most sorry to myself. That’s the empowering summation to it all. To my family and friends also because I do not stand alone, but mostly, I am sorry to myself. You can have nothing and feel like that’s trapping you there, but once you get that ‘click,’ the world will pick you up and you will be surrounded with so much kindness that you forgot such a warmth ever existed, I promise.
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