In 1978 when disco was king; a woman brought out a hit which has gone on to be an anthem for so many of us who are starting out afresh.
“At first I was afraid I was petrified
Keep thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
and I grew strong
And I learned how to get along…”
Gloria Gaynor sang her heart out under a mirror ball and 42 years later we still do our housework and put on our lipstick with that blaring on the stereo. I know I have. If it’s good enough for the girls driving ‘Priscilla’ it’s good enough for me. (I’ve also had a brief dalliance with “Shout Out To my Ex” by ‘Little Minx’, but in the end we all revert to the original and the best).
People have asked in the last few days if discussing some of my journey is productive or counter productive. The answer is both. We should not spend all of our future stuck in the past, yet our past irretrievably shapes who we are. If my past can bring a sense of support or understanding to another who is struggling, then that adds to the purpose of what I have lived and learned so far.
It makes me ponder the eternal question. What would older me tell younger me if I had that chance today?
By the time I turned thirty I had been in my relationship with my ex husband for a few months. That short time had been a jumble of confusion, happiness and fear. I felt very isolated and I could not quite fathom what each day would bring. I had never been ‘part of a couple’ before and I recall my 30th birthday party as quite a defining moment. He had already spoken about marriage. I was on my future path and not nearly evolved enough to see where I was headed.
By the time I walked down the aisle two birthdays later I knew I was not in a good situation, but I had no idea how to change the circumstance. What I didn’t comprehend was that no amount of accommodating my ex husband’s needs, demands and outbursts was ever going to diffuse a molotov cocktail that was to last nearly two decades. He was a man with a cache of secrets I did not as yet know ..and I am in fact still discovering to this day. If I could go back 20 years and give myself advice, what would it be?
I don’t actually have an answer to that. I’m not even sure I would listen to older me.
In a hypothetical world, what I would wish is for my youthful self to have had some way of recognising the abusive pattern I was living. That I could have seen, read or heard something tangible that could have given me a key. And I fervently wish there had been efficient systems in place to help when moments of clarity came. Some infallible resource to pick me up when I was repeatedly broken and lock me securely away from even more harm.
By the time I had reached my fortieth birthday I had been in the relationship a decade and married for over seven years. My identity was so enmeshed with my ex husband’s that I could not remotely see myself beyond the quicksand of coercive control that was holding me like glue. He was at every place I went within and without my homelife. In every room, every device, every decision, every thought. My 40th birthday gift was an eternity ring that matched my diamond wedder. In my warped world it was the sign (as had been reiterated so many times by him) that I had finally earned this gift. I was a worthy wife. He had turned a corner. A sign that the better times could outweigh the frightening ones after this reward.
I was about to enter a very dark and desperate phase of my life. Within eighteen months of that diamond gift on my finger I was lying in a hospital bed in a state of complete physical and nervous collapse. I had nothing left to give. His need for control had driven him to places I could not have imagined on the night of my birthday party, however unhappy I already was. I remember being admitted, weighed, asked many questions and a kind nurse putting me in a room with a little bed and a locker. My need for medical care had meant my ex husband had regained access to our home and my pets after a desperate attempt I had made at separation. The only thing that was keeping me alive was a determination to be there for my animals …. and an instinctive knowledge that I was worth something.
“Do you think I’d crumble
Do you think I’d lay down and die?…..”
On my second day in hospital I was taken to see a psychiatrist and I made the decision to divulge my circumstances. Not all of them. That was not to happen for another ten years. But enough to have that doctor commence giving me tools to not be utterly consumed by the abuse. The specialist designed a plan where I could be an outpatient with him whilst my physical health was carefully monitored externally. I discharged myself that afternoon and returned to be with my pets who were my absolute lifeline. It was the starting point of my last seven years as a wife.
Within months of my hospitalisation I reconciled with my ex husband. There were no practical means of escape I could access. I was not nearly ready to face the dangers of final flight.
In 2013 we holidayed to America and visited Las Vegas where I agreed to remarry him. It had no legal significance, but was a message to all who knew us that he was forgiven for the past and we were successful and happy. It was a the oddest day because I was his wife, there had been some surface changes but nothing was really different. The only real change was within myself. I had commenced the unstoppable process of not accepting his domestically violent ways. The gaslighting, although still effective, was losing its hold. The stronger I became the more I thought of moments of freedom I occasionally got to embrace when he was not present. We continued onto New York and having just walked down another bridal aisle, I spent two weeks in a city I had always longed to visit. I was with my life partner. Yet I fervently wished I was there alone. I pushed those emotions under the surface and battled through as best I could.
I lasted another three years until I finally made it out.
By my fiftieth birthday I was awaiting my divorce and the financial settlement that would set me free. My ex husband was awaiting sentencing for crimes unrelated directly to his DV; but for a case in which I had become a witness after I left the marriage and was a protected person.
What would I say to youthful me and to any woman who is walking in the shoes I once wore?
You are worthy.
This is not your doing.
Go one step at a time.
“I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give.
I WILL SURVIVE”. xxx Gloria Gaynor, 1978.