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[Content warning: abuse, suicide]

When people look at me, they probably see a confident, strong and independent woman. People tell me I’m a kind, positive and loving person who takes no crap and doesn’t stand for anything less than she deserves. This might be true now, but it wasn’t eight years ago.

I got into a relationship with a man — despite being warned by several people that he with was dangerous, not to be trusted and a bully. He reassured me it was just gossip from jealous people who didn’t like him. But I quickly realised that he had been lying and they had been right to warn me. By then, I was in too deep and felt like there was no escape. I was struggling financially and had already moved in with him.

My ex was never physically abusive but he knew how to control, manipulate and blackmail me emotionally. He would often throw punches at the wall behind me rather than at me. He was a bully. He was aggressive and mean.

Early in our relationship, things got bad after a night out with friends. He was drunk and paranoid. He sat up all night in our hotel threatening to burn the curtains with his lighter. When he sobered up the next morning, he didn’t remember any of it. Later that day he turned on me for bringing up the previous evening — somehow the whole thing became my fault.

Another evening at a pub with friends, he asked if I could loan him some money. I said I didn’t have enough in my account to give him what he’d asked for. He became verbally abusive and my friends became embarrassed. I left, not wanting a scene. He followed me home and started to throw my belongings out of the door. He smashed other things, including the vacuum cleaner and door frame. He snatched my phone from me and locked himself in the living room so I wouldn’t be able to phone anyone for help. When I finally got into the room the next morning, my phone was covered in blood because he had taken a razor blade to his wrists.

Related: 7 Early Warning Signs You’re In An Abusive Relationship

I made the decision to leave many times, but going through with it was hard. He never left me alone. He threatened my family. He said he would burn my father’s house to the ground. At the time, I believed if I stayed with him I would be protecting other people — even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness.

The day my mother remarried, I was on edge at her wedding reception because of his behaviour. He was convinced that one of the other guests had stolen some of his money and was ready for a fight. I spent all evening trying to calm him down and convince him that he had not been robbed. In the end, I called a cab and we left the wedding reception early so he wouldn’t ruin my mother’s wedding day.

I nearly lost my job because he would lock me out of the house at midnight, leaving me to sit on the doorstep all night. I would call in sick because I was too exhausted to work.

I used to lay awake at night planning how I could leave and where I would go. When he drove recklessly, I would pray that he would get caught so he would face imprisonment. Then I could slip away without him being there to prevent me. I was desperate to be free.

And then I unexpectedly fell pregnant — with triplets. He blamed me for the pregnancy. He would say I’d ruined his life because he would be stuck with three children. He played mind games, telling me he didn’t want to be involved and then changing his mind. When I was 10 weeks pregnant he flew across the room at me and tried to break my laptop at 2 a.m. because I told him to keep his music down. A friend who was there had to wrestle him away from me.

In January 2010, I went into premature labor and spent a week in the hospital. That whole week he made threats against me and the nurses. When I lost the triplets at 22 weeks, he blamed me. When I returned to the house, I found he had trashed it in anger.

Related: Do I Really Want Children After My Miscarriage?

On my birthday, the police arrived in the early hours of the morning. The neighbors had called them because of my boyfriend’s shouting, loud music and attempts to kick the door from its frame. Looking back, I should have escaped that night. I should have told the police exactly what was going on.

But I was still afraid that if I left, my family would be in danger. I was worried about how I would go to work the next morning if I had to make a statement to the police. I was worried people would find out what was happening. I was worried about where I would live and how I would get my belongings from the house. So I kept quiet.

Only one or two people knew the full extent of what I was going through. I didn’t want to involve other people because I didn’t want to put them in danger. I also didn’t want to feel like a failure. I was embarrassed to be in the relationship. I had lost my confidence, strength and identity. I was ashamed that he’d made me a fearful, nervous wreck.

When my granddad died in October 2010, I told my boyfriend, seeking kindness and support. Instead, he flew off the handle. He hurled abuse at me, smashed up the bathroom and trashed the apartment we were renting from a friend. He ripped the bathroom cabinet from the wall.

That was the “enough is enough” moment for me. His blatant disrespect for my grandad was the final straw. I locked myself in the bedroom and decided that there would be no more. I was full of anger and rage. Those feelings brought back the strength I’d forgotten I had.

With the help of friends, I moved out that weekend. I changed my mobile number. Only those who helped me move knew where I was staying.

It took many years to become the woman I am now. I have suffered flashbacks, anxiety and self-doubt. Today, I will do anything I can to fight bullying and domestic violence. If I am able to prevent just one person from going through what I did, then it wasn’t all in vain.

There is still a stigma attached to emotional, mental and physical abuse. It is still often brushed under the carpet or treated as taboo. This needs to change. Victims are far too common, and they need our help.

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