Friday, 13 June 2014

#yesallwomen Fear Is....

"Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it. That is what it is to be a slave" (Bladerunner) 

The #yesallwomen campaign recently has brought up conversations about women living in fear of abusive men. I spent 16 years living in fear, but the thing is, it was only when I was free of that fear that it really dawned on me how much hold fear had on my life, for the time I was living like that I just thought it was normal.

When we imagine someone living in fear we picture the timid scared woman, curled in a corner of her home, trembling, worrying from one moment to the next about her safety, her future. We imagine her heart constantly beating, her breath heavy as she cowers scared of what he might do. We heavily associate fear with panic and we don’t often associate it with strong feisty women who argue back.

But it’s not like that, or at least it wasn’t for me. I didn’t even think about being scared, I just got on with life. And life had happy moments. It was just that those moments were punctuated by the worry about my husband and his behaviour.

I was worried a lot about his health because he took drugs, was grossly overweight, had loads of medical issues he wouldn’t get treatment for and lived a terribly unhealthy lifestyle. His many suicide attempts made me fear he’d kill himself. Becoming a widow was always something I feared.  I spent so much time worrying about my husband’s wellbeing I rarely thought of much else except how I could help him. As well as this I ‘walked on eggshells.’ in fear of his reactions, and this affected my thinking and my behaviour. Before I spoke, even to say “hi honey how was your day?” I had to stop and weigh up how he would react to it. He’d also send me texts and I’d be scared of missing them, because if I didn’t reply straight away he’d go into a mood; over a year later I still find myself needlessly checking my phone. I didn’t spend my days consciously scared for my own wellbeing, thinking I was going to get hurt (even though I did get hurt.) I just constantly worried about upsetting him because in my mind he was very sensitive. This informed everything I thought, said and did- which in turn eventually affected my relationships with others, my health and my ability to function normally.

I also worried about the children. I knew he was overly harsh with them (I didn’t call it abuse) I knew they saw him treating me badly too, I knew they heard him swearing. I worried about how I’d teach them right from wrong with their father not modelling good behaviour and I worried about the emotional and psychological impact of his behaviour.

But I never identified any of this as ‘living in fear’ I just considered that because my husband was mentally ill I had a stressful life with lots to worry about. It was only when I left him and began to not have to worry about these things that I realised what a massive impact fear had had on my life.

I used to have a patch of brambles at the back of my garden, I never really gave them much thought, in fact I barely noticed them after I’d lived in the house a while. But my dad did. He made it his mission to cut them down. It was only when he started to cut them back that I saw how huge they were, how they were intertwined with so many other plants and bushes and were beginning to trail their way down the sides of the garden. I am sure had he not cut them back they’d have taken over the whole garden. But when he did cut them back we found some beautiful yellow flowers growing underneath. With hard work and a lot of scratches my dad was able to cut the brambles away and a few weeks later those flowers had grown taller and brighter. Where once I had a patch of unsightly and painful brambles I now had a bright array of the yellowest flowers.

And that’s how I've found fear to be, it’s insidious. For me it’s not some giant sharp toothed noisy beast waiting in the shadows under the bed, to all at once pounce on you. If it were I’d see it, I’d spot it and I’d find ways to escape from it. No it’s more like bindweed that slowly, in the shadows, creeps up from my ankles stealthily wrapping itself around everything that is me, until it grips my soul and yet I still don’t necessarily notice it’s there; I just sit, strangled and choked by it’s hold, unable to grow, unable to blossom, unable to be who I was designed to be until eventually any light I once had is completely smothered. It is only when something changes, when I am no longer smothered by fear that I'm able to take a step back and see clearly it’s debilitating effects. It’s only at that point I am once again able to grow and flower and fulfil my potential and purpose. 

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