I’m often told that the way my partner and I got together is like something out of a Fairy Tale or Hollywood movie, and as today is Tell a Fairy Tale Day I thought I’d share some of our story with you.
We first met 23 years ago in 1998, it wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, my first thoughts were; he was rude, arrogant and I wouldn’t want to bump into him alone on a dark night! I was out with some girlfriends for my birthday, we’d bumped into some mutual acquaintances, one of whom was the person I really fancied, and we’d all started enjoying the evening together, drinking, chatting, laughing, this rude, arrogant man seemed to tag along and we just couldn’t shake him off.
At the end of the evening we were all jumping into taxis and I discovered to my horror that he lived at the other end of the village I was in. So we had to share a taxi. I got out at his street so that we split the taxi bill and he invited me in for coffee. Bizarrely, I agreed. We sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee and talking. We talked all night. I recall sitting at the table seeing the sun come up and realising I still wasn’t home.
This was a revelation to me, a man who invites you in for coffee and a chat and genuinely wants coffee and a chat. My interest was piqued.
He called me a couple of weeks later and we went on our first date – to the local Rugby 7’s tournament! We actually dated for a year before going our separate ways; I went to live and work in London (I was living in South Wales at the time) and he went to Nottingham University as a mature student. These were the days long before mobile phones were common-place and we just couldn’t maintain a long-distance relationship.
Not a day passed without me thinking about him. In the years that followed I got married, had a baby, got divorced, went through business failure, bankruptcy and more before I started to put myself first and started following my dream to become an actor.
I recall receiving the call that told me me I was cast in a play that was due to tour the South West of England. I said to the partner I was with at the time “I have no idea how, but I know that this play is going to change my life”.
It did change my life.
Whilst I was in rehearsal and chosen as the ‘poster girl’ for the play, that man I’d met all those years ago had headed into his local theatre to book tickets for a production. Looking at the posters advertising forthcoming productions, he thought he recognised the woman in the poster for ‘Ward 7’, the play I was in. Asking the box office manager if he knew who I was, and mentioning me by my maiden name, the box office manager also recognised me as I had been in a children’s theatre group with his daughters when I was a child.
A few telephone calls later and they had ascertained that ‘Yes’ I was the woman they thought I was. At that point all I knew is that someone who thought they knew me had booked tickets for opening night. I had no name, it could have been anyone.
A week before opening night I received a Facebook message request. It’s fair to say my heart skipped a beat when I saw who it was from. But I was sceptical. I hadn’t heard from him for 15 years at that point and the last I’d heard he was living and working in Canada with his girlfriend. I agreed to meet him for a coffee.
Within minutes of meeting I knew I was in trouble. All of those old feelings came rushing back and the conversation we had that day over coffee just reinforced the message that he really was the love of my life.
He turned up on Opening Night and within 3 weeks I had left my partner and moved in with him to his bachelor pad in a seaside town in the South West of England. That was 8 years ago and I’ve never been happier.
I’ve often said ‘when you ‘know’, you ‘know”. I always knew he was the love of my life, it took him a while to realise I was the love of his life. That day we met for coffee we talked openly and honestly to each other for hours. We had both felt the same way, he just hadn’t felt he deserved to be loved.
The past 8 years haven’t been easy. We’ve dealt with stuff that would have broken a less strong, healthy or robust relationship. But we have continually felt more and more in love with each other.
Can we look back and say we would have done things differently? Of course we can. But there is nothing in either of our pasts that we’re ashamed of, nothing that either of us doesn’t know about the other, and nothing that we know we can’t overcome in the future.
What we have, is what our relationship was based on from that very first night we met when I didn’t like him at all – we have communication, honesty and trust. We have shared values.
Yes, the way we reconnected is something of a Fairy Tale but there’s truth in the adage that ‘life is stranger than art’.
I’d love to know your Fairy Tale moments.
I have a problem with the term ‘domestic abuse survivor’.
Bear with me on this. I’m saying this from the point of view of a survivor of domestic abuse. Most of my adult relationships have been abusive. I’ve been through physical, sexual, psychological and economical abuse so I tick the boxes.
I support all of the campaigns that help victims of domestic abuse regardless of gender, creed, colour or sexual orientation.
But I see the domestic abuse charities, the legal profession and numerous other companies vying for money and funding in the name of supporting domestic abuse victims whilst spending thousands upon thousands in advertising and marketing, aimed at helping women primarily, escape the terror they’re living with, to become a domestic abuse survivor.
What they don’t seem to grasp, at least from my experience, is that the abuse continues long after the victim has walked away from the perpetrator. Thankfully, there are a number of domestic abuse campaigners starting to change this perception.
Abuse is abuse. End of. There’s no one-upmanship amongst abuse survivors, if anything there’s gratitude from those who didn’t end up in hospital beds that they didn’t suffer as badly, but no-one keeps score.
Survivors know that when the abuse ends, the torment starts. Physical scars heal and fade but the scars you can’t see, the scars that linger in the depths of your mind and reveal themselves when you’re least expecting, those are the scars that torment abuse survivors.
But doesn’t seem to be recognised.
In the throes of rebuilding your life, protecting your children and trying to understand what a normal adult relationship should be, you are at your most vulnerable. Prey to those who recognise your vulnerability and those who naively offer help thinking they are doing you a favour. What they don’t understand is that a misjudged word or phrase, a boost up the ladder, a public declaration of your status or even just a paint colour in a room or office can send you back to a dark place in your mind, that forces you to relive painful memories as if they were actually happening again.
And when you mention it, when you react, you’re seen as being sensitive, irrational, unstable and incapable. And the very people who think they are helping you, layer on another coat of shame and lack of belief and low confidence until once again you start to believe that too and the helpers have become the unknowing perpetrators of a whole new cycle of abuse.
And the domestic abuse survivor gets stuck, not knowing who to trust, not knowing where to turn and when the legal profession and the domestic abuse industry turns them away because they’re not in immediate danger and don’t have physical injuries or scars to show the extent of their abuse, they feel lost, alone, abandoned.
This is when the abuse does the worst damage.
This is when the survivor gives up and believes that’s all they deserve. So they’re grateful for the unsuitable suitor who shows a little bit of compassion, they’re grateful for the employer who offers them a job that makes them feel a little bit worthy but pays them a pittance and treats them like dirt, and they’re grateful for every day they wake up without being attacked.
Eventually, if they’re lucky, they reach a point where they start to recognise that they really do deserve more than just settling and they start to question things around them.
But this means they have to put their head above the parapet, they have to have the audacity to suggest that yes, they deserve more, they deserve better and yes, there is more to life than this.
Gradually, they move through this phase, they reach forgiveness and acceptance and recognise that they can be anyone or anything they choose to be. They don’t have to rely on or depend upon a partner, they have a strength within them that they didn’t know they had, they have the strength to overcome any obstacle that gets in their way. They have the strength, the ability and the know how to create the life they want. Free from abuse, free from fear, fear from torment. Free from being labelled a domestic abuse survivor.
But the domestic abuse industry doesn’t grasp this. ‘Domestic Abuse Survivor’ has become a badge of honour to be worn with pride and used to justify behaviour and purpose.
Yes, I am a survivor of domestic abuse but to wear that as a badge or label that defines me just gives status to my perpetrators; as if I couldn’t have achieved a level of success without that badge, and it’s them who enabled me to win that badge.
So I’m going to stop calling myself a domestic abuse survivor. I’ll continue to share my story to help and inspire others but I’m so much more than a survivor of domestic abuse. It taught me so much more than how to define myself by a label bestowed upon me by a society that likes to label people and keep them in their boxes. The label isn’t fit for purpose anymore.
My experience of domestic abuse enabled me to have a greater understanding of human relationships. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Without the worst sorts of relationships I would never have been able to recognise a good relationship full of unconditional love. I would never have understood that abuse takes many forms, I would never have understood the power of the human mind, I would never have studied psychology.
But the best part of all, I would never have recognised how important it is to educate, coach and support people to create strong, healthy and robust relationships so that future generations can learn how to do the same from observing and learning from their parents and grandparents.
It has taken multiple generations to dilute the abuses that take place within the home, it will take multiple generations to replace that abuse by modelling strong, healthy and robust relationships across all social demographics but myself and countless others like me, carry on in the belief that one day, probably long after we’ve left this world, it will all have been worth it.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about International Women’s Day. Whilst I love that it’s a celebration of women and all we have achieved, I also recognise that it’s a time to reflect on what still needs to be done to create true equality.
And it’s this reflection that bothers me. I see so many women who appear to be blinkered to what I believe true equality to be – everyone having the chance to pursue the same opportunities regardless of age, gender, religion, race but at the same time acknowledging that we aren’t all equally capable of the same thing due to limits in our physiology, psychology and genetic make-up. To me, true equality is about celebrating the individual as they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses and enabling them to do whatever it is they wish to do whilst recognising their limitations.
Yes, there is a lot still to do to ensure equal rights and equal pay and I’m all for that but not at the expense of men and that is very much the tip of the iceberg.
I see too many champions of women’s rights creating forums for man-hating and that’s where the problem lies.
I’m a huge advocate in raising awareness of domestic violence and too many of the online communities I have entered are little more than platforms to belittle men. Yes, it is a fact that more women than men are the victims of domestic abuse but this doesn’t mean all men are abusers.
The instances of men being victims of domestic abuse are increasing. Some of the stories I have heard are awful and make me feel ashamed to be a woman.
So celebrating International Women’s Day has a bitter taste for me.
I’m also an advocate of supporting women who are or have been sex workers. Because the sex industry isn’t going away, it is first and foremost, a service industry and the majority of its workers are there through choice.
In my opinion, true equality will be created when we have developed a culture that respects the individual and his or her right to be who or what they please.
Do I have an issue with women who choose to flaunt their naked bodies in order to gain wealth and fame? NO – it’s their choice.
Do I have an issue with women who work in the sex industry because they choose to? NO – it’s their choice.
I do however, have a massive issue with other women who decide that these women need saving because they are being exploited by men. They don’t and they aren’t.
The women that need help are those who are forced into the sex industry as a result of abuse, those who are threatened with all sorts of horrors if they don’t pose for the camera, if they don’t ‘put on that red light, if they don’t put out but ironically, campaigning to help these women in the seedier side of the sex industry isn’t as sexy or headline grabbing as a scantily clad woman only too happy to flaunt her assets for the camera.
It’s those women, forced to do things that no-one should have to do without consent, that need to be helped and celebrated on International Women’s Day. Help them to understand they can change their lives, help them to understand that there is no shame in having gone through what they’ve gone through, help them to understand that it’s not their fault. But also let them celebrate the fact that they’re still here, they’re alive and they can get through this.
It’s time that we as smart, intelligent women of the world who have the means and ability to create change start to make change where it matters rather than trying to create headlines and jump on the bandwagon that the sexualisation of women is a bad thing. The sex industry isn’t going away, it’s nothing more than a service industry with an incredible business model – I know, I’ve worked in it and I’ve researched it extensively.
Change needs to start taking place in our homes and our schools, where we learn to challenge unacceptable language and behaviour and respect that we all have equal status despite our very real physical differences.
Only when we can create equality in the home, which then extends outward into our society will we be able to say we are truly equal. When we as women allow our men to be men, our sons and daughters to follow their own path regardless of whether they like blue or pink, football or dolls, regardless of whether they prefer girls or boys, regardless of their gender or sexuality without worrying about what the neighbours will say, only then will we be truly equal.
And then I’ll feel happy about properly celebrating International Women’s Day, knowing that as a society we can all truly celebrate the fact that we are all equal and have access to the same opportunities should we CHOOSE to take them and that we don’t judge those who make different choices tot hose we would make for ourselves.
Whatever your opinion of International Women’s Day, I applaud it. Without an opinion we would not be able to bring about change.
To all of the incredible women I know, and those I don’t, who are getting on with their lives in spite of or despite appalling adversity, I salute you. And to all the men I know who support those women – thank you.
Happy International Women’s Day