Falling Up

TW: References to domestic abuse

Nothing really changes. That’s the biggest surprise to me a year-and-a-bit after leaving my abusive relationship.

When I left, I was myself again. I went on holiday to Iceland and had a fling with a Sicilian. I moved house. I got an office job and went dancing at the weekends. I welcomed back all the friends who’d been shunned for realising what was going on; all the meddlers and troublemakers. My mother warned me there would be a crash and I should still take time to mourn the relationship.

I compromised by going to see a counsellor, but I had nothing to talk about. I read “Why does he do that? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men” in the bath with a glass of wine and underlined the sections in the case studies that applied to me but I didn’t connect with any of them. I read passages out to my best friend on the phone so she could say, “Oh my god, that’s so him.”

Then I met someone I really liked. I told him about what had happened to me and he was angry and protective and understanding. I moved in with him.

Around that time, my mental health started to deteriorate. I should have been happy and I was miserable. I developed an unhealthy obsession with a girl my boyfriend knew, convinced he wanted to leave me for her. I lay awake at night, scratching at my tummy, wishing I was thinner. I had trouble socialising; one night I hid in the pub toilet for half an hour because I was scared to talk to anyone. After having a panic attack in the shower one morning, I decided to give counselling another try.

All the lessons I’d learned and material I’d read had been about him. What he was thinking and why he’d acted the way he did. This counsellor just wanted to talk about me. I was told that I was trying to reprogram my brain. I was trying to unlearn something as basic as gravity. I’d been dropping things for six years and they’d hit the floor. I had to teach myself that when I drop something now, it falls up.

I had been away from my abuser for almost a year but I had taken his place. There was nobody keeping me in line or telling me to “get a grip of myself” when I applied for journalism jobs. Nobody mocked me when my pubic hair wasn’t shaved completely bald. When I didn’t want to have sex, I was listened to.

I was free but I hadn’t written anything for almost a year or even considered doing something with my journalism degree because I was scared of failing. I still shaved my pubic hair, leaving what the writer Caitlin Moran would call “a high-maintenance, itchy, cold-looking child’s fanny” because it didn’t occur to me my sexual partner would love my body just because it was mine.

Nothing really changes. I’m still living with a bully.

Well, I’m sick of living with bullies.

So I’m singing in the shower again, writing a screenplay just for the hell of it and playing the saxophone (badly). I can’t pretend it’s easy yet. Going to work is a struggle sometimes and I’m prone to the occasional crying jag over the most minor of insecurities. I still look for confrontation with my boyfriend when it’s not there, because it’s all I know. It’s a work in progress; I’m still teaching myself that when I drop something, it falls up.

Lauren Aitchison