It happened to me too.
My story of domestic abuse and rowing the Atlantic Ocean in support of Women’s Aid
Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of their background, their age, class, race or religion, and scarily, 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence during their lives.
Despite these numbers, recognising domestic violence is often difficult, particularly as there are still lots of myths and stigma around it.
I was in an abusive relationship for four years. When we met, I was a Physics PhD student at the University of Leeds. Abuse did not join us on our first or second date, but instead things evolved slowly as our relationship settled. From having a nice time as an early 20’s couple I found myself hearing things such as ‘you never put make up on when you are with me, it’s only when you are going out with your friends that you do so’ and ‘you never invite me to join you and your friends for a drink because I am sure you fancy one of them’.
Arguments started to be so regular I would feel anxiety when I knew I was going to see him. He sought confrontation continuously, and then accused me of having created those situations. There was this time when I had invited a friend to come home for dinner, and he turned up unannounced, drunk and demanded I let him in. Embarrassed, I asked him to leave and let me enjoy the time with my friend, but instead he accused me of sleeping with someone else, screaming outside and throwing things at the windows. I was truly terrified and I was incredibly relieved when my friend insisted she stayed with me that night. Excuses and apologies took a few days to come and, despite how scared I had been, I convinced myself that things could change as he assured me that ‘it won’t happen again.
To this day, I still do not fully understand why it took me years to end it. Despite the fact things didn’t feel right and I often wished I was elsewhere, I still hoped that things would go back to how they were when we met. This a common thread for those that suffer domestic abuse.
“I did not see that it was an abusive relationship and that it was happening to me.”
Also months of hearing things such as ‘no one else would ever love you’ and ‘even if you break up with me you’ll have to come back because you will need me’ had probably affected my mental health. A mix of guilt and embarrassment made me unable to share what I was going through with my friends, and I would often justify it to myself not doing it by thinking that they would not fully understand the situation. In this abusive relationship it was all peaks and troughs; every drama, argument or insult was followed by some empty excuse, some flowers or a dinner in a nice place (years later, I learnt this is another classic). I tried to leave on several occasions, and he would invariably turn the situation around and victimise himself, accusing me of being heartless, inconsiderate and of never having loved him. I often heard things like ‘you are the worst person I have ever met’ and ‘what would your parents think of you if they knew how you are treating me’.
“For years I felt trapped in this relationship, suppressed and unable to tidy up my own thoughts, and what is worse, I felt unable to tell anyone or seek help.”
Things changed when I found rowing, and through this, I was eventually able to leave that abusive relationship behind. Rowing turned out to be one the greatest things that have happened to me in my life as it gave me a sense of purpose and pushed me to leave the dark days behind. I became a member of a deeply committed, focused and determined team where I was a crucial building block. My own performance had an influence in the success of the team, and at the same time I had to rely on the other members of the team to train and push themselves as hard as I was pushing myself. Through rowing I became passionate about exercise and healthy lifestyle, and crucially, I developed a strong ‘can do’ attitude. Rowing also brought some of the best laughs and happy cries of my life, and simply some of the most precious and unique moments. Here the foundations were mutual support, understanding, acceptance and a fair amount of sass. I was happy and I felt I belonged here, and this helped me develop into a more independent and confident woman.
Rowing turned out to be one the greatest things that have happened to me in my life as it gave me a sense of purpose and pushed me to leave the dark days behind.
Rowing involved a lot of training and cold and wet weather, but I absolutely loved it (and still do!). We also spent lots of time carrying heavy things around and being told what to do by a short person (who’s also one of the loveliest I have ever met)! In the picture below, we are getting ready to boat at BUCS Head in Newcastle.
From lacking confidence and having an unhealthy lifestyle, I evolved to being extremely determined and fit. During my time rowing for Leeds uni I even won *some* races, such as the Yorkshire Indoor Championships. To commemorate the end of a rowing training camp in the north of France, we decided to jump in the lake we had spent a week rowing 6 hours per day. It was the end of April and the water was very cold indeed.
I am now embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, and I will be rowing the Atlantic Ocean in support of Women’s Aid with my team, Generation Gap.
Rowing changed me as a person and helped me to leave that abusive relationship behind, and it is incredible to think that I am able to take on this adventure because of who I became as a result of everything I experienced. The memories from those days still haunt me today, but I am now a better and stronger person, and I am safe and happy. I was able to leave, but for other women in abusive relationships, or experiencing domestic violence, it may be much more difficult to name what they are experiencing.
I am rowing the Atlantic for Women’s Aid because of those many other women out there, so that they can be listened to, supported and protected.
They are not alone, and they deserve to know it.
To support Victoria and Generation Gap’s fundraising you can donate here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/GenerationGap