Stories of SURVIVORS
Award-Winning Author of 'Black & White - A Survivor Story', Renee Matthews would like to share an exert from her book.. What an amazing story, and what an AMAZING woman...
Having left England, my place of birth for Nigeria at the tender age of five with my parents, I stayed there for 17 years, as my parents are both Nigerians. At 21, I met and fell in love with a handsome guy while we were both undergraduates. We were very happy together and he idolized me. In return, I loved him dearly and I was ready to give him my all. Life was good.
At that point in time, my mum and younger sister had already gone back to London and the plan was for me to join them there after my graduation. I was happy and I looked forward to joining them. However, I dreaded the thought of leaving my boyfriend behind. Full of guilt, I was devastated and heartbroken beyond imagination. I almost choked on my words when I informed him of my intentions, but surprisingly, he took it all in his stride.
One year later, just after my graduation, I returned to England, and almost immediately, I set out looking for employment. Any job, for the sake of quick cash! In no time, I secured a job and worked my fingers to the bone doing menial jobs including cleaning toilets, in order to send money for my heartthrob to join me. He came. I was beyond ecstatic, in seventh heaven and I was whole again. Before long, we got married. Life was sweet, but only for a short while.
Soon the cracks started to appear. After he had gotten his papers (which was the leave to remain in the country indefinitely), he thought the sky was his limit and he began to display his true colours. A cycle of two-timing, late nights out, shameless lies, abuse, violence, torment, drug abuse, drunkenness and suicidal tendencies all soon came in quick staccato.
On several occasions, he returned home late, drunk, high as a kite and reeked of marijuana, wakibaki or weed. The weed stench was ever so strong I could taste it and the smell was probably enough to conk out the whole neighbourhood. Nevertheless, I loved him very much. I pined for him in his absence and I would sometimes wait until he came home so we could eat dinner together, no matter how late. When he would not come home, I would cry myself to sleep. Unbeknownst to me, he was busy gallivanting with his mates and other women, and he had, most likely, already filled his belly and much more.
Little did I know that I was embarking upon the lonely dreaded journey of abuse and misery. My hopes and dreams of pure marital bliss were shattered and, even through rose-tinted glasses, I began to realise that our love was one-sided. Yours truly was only just waking up to reality. I became his natural punching bag, but when the narcotics wore off, he came to his senses and frequently apologised for his misbehaviour; blaming the devil, booze and wakibaki. I constantly forgave him, making up was great and I did not report his assaults to the authorities or anyone.
Ultimately, it all got too much. His physical, emotional and mental abuse graduated to another level. A higher one. Therefore, I decided not to bury my head in the sand any longer nor to wallow in self- pity, but snap out of whatever self-denial or self-doubt I imagined or thought I had.
On a fine sunny day, I took a stroll in the park to clear my head and to do a reality check. In the process, I asked myself a few questions, among which were: 'Does love really hurt? Is a 'black eye' truly an expression of love?' While pondering, I had an epiphany moment and every confusing thought seemed to click like puzzle pieces. I realised that although I loved him, I had to love me first and much more. I also did not have to put up with his abuse. Instantly, I reached a decision. I made up my mind that the next time he would lay a finger on me, I would do something about it.
One fateful day, while undergoing one of his brutal pounding sessions, for as a karate black belter, he was a very strong man who was quick with his fists and feet. I thought I was going to die and I could do nothing, for my body was already going limp. However, after my ordeal ended, I managed to drag myself across the living room floor, and with the last of my strength, I stretched to grab the telephone and finally summoned up the courage to call the police, before almost passing out. I was the colour purple. He was arrested overnight, although, I did not press charges because I still loved him. He got released the next day and returned home with his tail between his legs. He was very remorseful and almost cried me a river. Flooded with sympathy, I forgave him again. My epiphany or whatever moment I thought I had, flew out the window. He had learned his lesson, or so I thought. Things got better and I later became pregnant. That notwithstanding, he consistently went to town on me by sometimes beating me to a pulp and at some point, I thought I would lose my baby. It was indeed a miracle that I did not.
Due to all the emotional stress and physical abuse, my waters broke at 6 months; even before I was due to attend my first antenatal appointment. I was hospitalized throughout and my baby was born very prematurely at 7 months, which was exactly 13 weeks earlier than my due date.
Things got better. Our baby was fine, thank God, but as time went by, the devil in him resurfaced. I became more or less like a single parent since he was hardly ever at home, but when he was at home, the slightest argument would set him off and his anger was often explosive, whether he was under the influence of narcotics or not. I was forever walking on egg shells. Things were rough and tough, but I bore it all as I had resigned my fate to the kind of wife that got slapped and stayed put. My crime? Love.
One day, while we were arguing, he lashed out and one of his blows intended for me, landed on my son while I carried him. My son was terrified and was screaming non-stop. When I managed to console and calm him down, I called the police who notified the Social Services. He was arrested, and yet again, I foolishly refused to press charges against him. Deep down, I still loved him, I knew he loved our son too and I was certain that he would never deliberately or intentionally hurt him. Stupid was my middle name, since I was helplessly and hopelessly in love with being in love. My self-confidence was non-existent. Love had taken leave of my brain and senses. Can a Leopard change its spots? I would often think aloud now. He was such a violent man to the extent that he burst my left eardrum, which caused a blood clot. To this day, almost 17 years on, I cannot answer a phone using my left ear and I regularly feel pain and hear strange eerie sounds.
After all I've been through with him, I am lucky to be alive. To the world, he was my prince charming and at home, nothing but an incredible hulk. I had very few friends, but I hid it all from them and my family. I became an introvert for he loved being the center of my Universe when he was home. I had allowed myself to be deceived into believing that he was just jealous and possessive because he loved me.
Growing up in a polygamous home in Nigeria, my dad had beaten up my mum, step-mum, my siblings, and me, countless times and I thought that was the normal way of life. Domestic Violence is not a big deal in Nigeria. It is a common occurrence and it is the norm. Due to societal expectations within the Nigerian community, home or abroad, a woman is meant to keep her house in order. She is the glue that holds her family together and should anything go wrong, it is believed to be her fault and she is to blame. This perception made me feel very ashamed and it led me to believe that I was responsible for his behaviour. I was beginning to question my sanity. Perhaps I was a failure and there was something I should have done, but hadn't. I was constantly playing the blame game in my head, thinking that I may have failed my husband somewhere down the line. I was also certain I would be blamed if my nightmarish situation ever got out, hence I decided to endure my marriage rather than enjoy it; for better or worse. Although it all happened to me in the UK, this was the main reason I did not speak out or take action until it was almost too late.
Eventually, I broke the silence and informed my family. With their encouragement, I summoned up the courage to seek help. Fortunately, he made a few too many mistakes. By that time, I had reached my breaking point and decided that enough was enough, so, when I was presented with the opportunity to escape from him once and for all, I fled.
From my seemingly impossible situation, and from those darkest of days, it is incredible to think now that, with the combination of tremendous love, support, and a miraculous twist of fate in my favour, I have now been able to turn my life around.
Fortunately, I have found true love with Tom my amazing husband, and we have been extremely happy together for 15 years now. Loving a person, and having that person love you back is the most wonderful and amazing thing in the world. I am a successful Business Sales Executive, a Politician, and a member of the Women's Aid UK. Thankfully, I have now gained the strength, courage and the confidence to share my story in Book form, which also includes a self-help section.
I am Renee Matthews. I am proud to be a survivor, an overcomer and an Award-winning Author. My aim is to share my experiences, to help others turn their lives around and to break the cycle of domestic violence, which truly is an 'epidemic behind closed doors.'