- Date: 06/06/2023
Glow volunteer uses her lived experience to support others facing domestic abuse
This week we're sharing the powerful story of a volunteer at Glow, our domestic abuse charity, who is using her lived experience of abuse to give back to others.
Natasha, whose surname we’ve omitted to protect her identity, was with her ex-partner for 11 years. In that time she experienced emotional and physical abuse, with him alienating her from friends and bullying her out of her career.
She came to Glow last year after hearing about the charity's new Recovery Hub, which delivers unique support to women on their recovery journey after facing domestic abuse. This includes group support programmes, social and wellbeing activities and volunteer opportunities.
Natasha said that this kind of support would have been 'lifechanging' for her when she left her abusive relationship three years ago, but there was nothing like it where she lived. She knew that volunteering for the Hub would be the perfect way to give back and use her lived experience in a positive way.
She's opened up about her domestic abuse experience and shared show it led to her giving back others.
“In many cases, and in my personal experience, the abuse can start really slowly," explained Natasha.
“In the beginning my ex-partner was the stereotypical ‘knight in shining armour.’ He couldn’t do enough for me. He was sweet, loving and always there. He told me he always had my back.
“It started with outbursts over small things. The first time was when he wanted me to lie for him, and I said no. He shouted at me and stormed off. I remember we’d also argued over the dishes, so I decided to just wash up to hopefully solve the argument. I thought it would help, but I got screamed at for doing them ‘badly.’ I remember thinking that I probably didn’t do a good enough job, so I apologised.
“The next time was over food. He wanted to mix raw chicken with cous cous, which I said we couldn’t do because it would give us all food poisoning. I got screamed at, a proper in my face kind of thing, for being ‘too bossy.’
“Shortly after that he was asking me what I wanted to eat for tea one night. I asked him what he wanted, because I didn’t want to be bossy. I was taking his feedback on board. Then I just got screamed at for being ‘indecisive.’ Nothing I did or said was ever right. I’d always be thinking, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ I couldn’t figure it out.”
The arguments became more intense and more frequent over time, with Natasha comparing her ex-partner to ‘Jekyll and Hyde.’
“You didn’t know who you were going to get. Some days he could be really caring and would give me the impression of wanting to help. Others he was absolutely awful.
“The abuse built and built. I had my own business but he completely bullied me out of my job. My mental health really suffered.
“I was ultimately medically retired due to my physical health, and it was then that he wanted me to get back into work. He’d regularly shout at me for being unemployed.
“I decided to find something to keep myself busy and satisfy him, so I started up another business. It was the one thing I had control over in my life. He controlled everything else, like how I spoke. I had to speak the way he wanted me to speak. If I said something he didn’t like, for example I said the word ‘basically’ a lot, he’d scream at me until I tried not to say it.”
Natasha was also alienated from her friends, leaving her with no support system.
“I had approved friends and non-approved friends. If someone saw his true colours and found out what he was really like, they were non-approved and they had to go.
“I had a really good group of friends originally, but he turned me against them. He told me that they didn’t like me, and every time I went to see them he’d say really nasty things about them. I felt so uncomfortable and two-faced, so I just slowly stopped seeing them.”
In the last six months of the relationship, the abuse turned physical.
“I completely went, I was a shell of myself. He saw this as validation, like he was doing something right, so he got quite confident in himself. He started acting badly in front of people and they noticed and started saying things.
“He tripped me up because he thought it would be funny. It was the first time he’d ever been physically abuse and it was definitely a turning point. That, and a combination of other personal things, really pushed me to leave.”
After finding support from an organisation in Derby, Natasha began to build herself back up – emotionally, mentally and physically. She reconnected with old friends, found a good therapist and rebuilt her career. Natasha is also a keen writer and continues to use the written word to express herself and aid her recovery journey.
“After the relationship I treated myself awfully. I was so horrible to myself and there was a lot of self-blame. I have to forgive myself for that. I deserve forgiveness. I will never forgive him and I don’t need to. I don’t think anyone who has been abused needs to forgive them to move forwards.
“People might ask ‘how do you live like that?’ but you don’t have a choice. It becomes normalised very quickly, so you just carry on with it. You don’t know any better at the time. You survive because you have to.”
Natasha moved to Stoke-on-Trent and started working with Glow last year as a Recovery Hub volunteer.
“I’d say that 90% of abuse agencies focus on when you’re leaving and the immediate aftermath. It’s about those initial first steps, and then there’s nothing for recovery.
“Then I found out about the Recovery Hub. It focused on healing and building yourself back up after an abusive relationship, which is so important.
“What Glow are doing would have been lifechanging for me when I first left my ex-partner. I wanted to be involved because I wanted to make sure that other people have access to these things that I didn’t have.
“When I left, I took so much from services and professionals, because I needed it. Now it’s my turn to give back. If my story and my lived experience can make it a little bit easier for another woman and make her feel validated and realise she isn’t crazy, then that’s brilliant.
“I love volunteering for Glow. The training was brilliant and really helped me feel equipped to support others, but also to build myself up again. It helped put the last pieces of the jigsaw together again, in the sense of I felt like I could remember who I really was.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear stories from other people who have been through similar things, but there's also a sense of solidarity with them. You know you’re not alone. It’s such an incredible group of women and I feel so lucky to be a part of that.”