I have been working on healing myself since I discovered the truth about my own situation, and I recently contacted Donna to offer my voice to the crusade against these abusers. Like so many of us, I have fought hard to make sense of what had happened, to regain my shattered confidence and ultimately to reclaim my life. It has been a difficult journey – and I am still learning and growing through the experience. Not long after my discovery I started writing a blog. Initially it was just for my own healing, but as time went on I made it public and it has gradually attracted readers from around the world, many of whom have told me that my stories have helped them in their own healing. I am delighted to have the opportunity to share some of my stories and musings here on this site – the very place that played such a major role in my own recovery.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I escaped, and I have come out the other side. Wiser, stronger and more determined than ever to help others do the same. I tell myself (and anyone who cares to listen) that if I can do it, then so can other people! I am an ordinary woman who was thrown in to an extraordinary set of circumstances. I will be sharing some of my blog posts on this site, together with specific accounts just for the Lovefraud audience. Thank you for having me here on this site – I am very excited to be part of the team and I hope that my experiences are useful to others.
For my first post I would like to share a little more about my history – starting with excerpts from a blog I wrote just a couple of months after finding out the truth about my husband. It was the start of my self-exploration as to how I had allowed myself to be duped and then betrayed on so many levels. At that time I did not yet know about sociopaths. Thank you again, and I hope you enjoy it.
I am an English woman who has lived in France since 2003. My home is an old stone farmhouse, nestled in the beautiful countryside next to the River Charente. It was June 2009, just a couple of months since ‘the discovery’ and I was sitting outside working on my laptop when I was visited by one of the village locals who had been kindly looking out for me over recent weeks. A weather-beaten farmer in his late sixties, he speaks no English (fine for me as my French is pretty good) and uses a broad local Charentais dialect. His family has been in the commune for countless generations, and they’ve dedicated their lives to tending the fields, planting and harvesting the crops, and organising the regular communal gatherings. He is well past retirement age and, as with so many of the locals, still works day and night on his beloved land.
Since being left alone with my young son, I had regularly returned home to find a gift on my table just by the kitchen door – a bucketful of freshly cut daffodils, bags of fresh cherries and vegetables picked from neighbouring gardens, and plants for my own garden wrapped in newspaper to keep the roots moist until they can be dug in to the ground.
The locals, of course, knew what had happened, and on this particular day, Berber shuffled up to sit at the table where I was working. He doesn’t speak very much, and often leaves awkward silences between the gruff and clumsy words he uses. It’s clear he struggles to say what he means, and he frequently resorts to grunts, harumphs, and the typical Charantaise shrugging of the shoulders peppered with regular outbursts of “bah, eh oui!” which is a great substitute for many words.
But this particular morning he sat down and asked me how I was getting on. He asked whether I’d found any work and how my son and I were settling in to the changes. I carried on typing and explained that I’d been throwing out new seeds everyday in to the field of employment, and that one day something must surely take root and bring the results I need. I kept the smile on my face, and the strength in my voice that I’d learned to perfect over so many tough times. But he must have noticed something. He stared at me with his deep brown soulful eyes, and wriggled in his seat, pulling himself up taller and clearing his throat. It clearly took a great deal of effort to find the words, but eventually he simply said “Je ne te laisserai pas tomber” which means “I will not let you fall”
I lost my composure at that point, and my mask of courage slipped. Despite myself, I felt my eyes welling up as tears of gratitude started trickling down my cheeks. I had no words. I just became aware of tiny cracks appearing in the brittle shield of strength that had been protecting my heart from pain. Berber said no more, asked me no more questions. He just nodded, got up from his seat, squeezed my shoulder and quietly wished me “bonne journee” or “good day”.
Since then I’ve thought about the power that a hand of friendship can have – and questioned whether, perhaps, on previous occasions I’ve been so concerned about staying strong (typical British ‘stiff upper lip’ and all that) that I’ve overlooked support that could have been available to me all along?
I’ve had to face a number of ‘challenges’ throughout my life (and realised how I’ve come to dislike the glib over-use of that word to describe problems or even traumas – under the ‘keep positive’ mantra of well-meaning but sometimes deluded modern-day motivators) so now is probably a good time to explain a few of them.
For me, it seems, change has been a constant in my life since my earliest memories. Not for me the slow, gentle undulating waves of change to which one can gently acclimatise, but instead a mighty tsunami that arrives without warning and washes away everything in it’s path in just a blink of an eye.
The first was the death of my father when I was just 4 years old.
I absolutely adored and worshipped my ‘Daddy’ in the way, I suppose, that only a daughter can. To me he was my hero, my saviour, and I knew that however much love and adoration I gave him, he returned it ten-fold. My mum was pregnant with my little sister at the time, so dad had taken it upon himself to be the ‘clown’ and ‘entertainer’ to me as mum was understandably less energetic than usual! He would frequently return home from work with special treats for me – small things, sometimes a paper airplane, other times bubble gum that he and I would sneak behind the sofa to eat, pretending to hide from mum because she didn’t approve of any kind of gum (all part of the game, of course!)
He’d often scoop me up above his head, put me on his shoulders, and tell me “Boo” (my nickname) “just look at the world – it’s all there waiting for you!” and I truly believed I could do anything. We were all very excited about my sister’s imminent arrival, and would sit for hours discussing names and what games we were going to share with her. I remember his friendly easy smile, one that spread right across his face and lit up his eyes – a warmth that couldn’t fail to touch anyone else who was around him. I was so very proud of my Daddy.
That fateful day, he’d decided to return to his office in the evening to finish off some work. It was way after I’d gone up to bed, and I remember hearing the door shut behind him, as he shouted out “see you soon!” before the familiar sound of his car engine disappeared off down the lane. I snuggled deeper under my covers and settled down to a comfortable sleep. That was the very last time I’d know that feeling.
He died that evening in his office – a mixture of the prescription drugs he was taking to shake off a cold, together with the glass of wine he’d had at home with my mum had, apparently, left him slightly drowsy. The heater in his office was new and, unbeknown to anyone, was leaking lethal carbon monoxide fumes in to the air. My Daddy’s lifeless body, slumped across his desk with pen still in hand, was discovered by his brother when he arrived for work the next morning.
I wasn’t told about his death until after my sister was born, 10 days later. I can only now begin to imagine the torment my dear mother must have endured through this time – she was only 32 years old, facing life as a widow and about to give birth. All I remember from my point of view was that I was to go and stay with my best friend in the village ‘until after the baby arrives’. And I really don’t remember much else. Until I was home. I’d met my gorgeous new little sister, and then mum sat me gently next to her in her bed to tell me the news.
And from that moment on I knew that life would never be the same. The funeral had been and gone, I had a new sister to ‘look after’ (for that was how I saw my role at that point – because Daddy was no longer there to fulfill it) and a new school to start. We went down to the coast for a few months to stay with Nan and Gand, my mum’s parents, and I remember developing scarletina, eczema, and all manner of other minor ailments for which I was given gallons of potions and mixtures to combat. I remember playing in the park with my Nan, I remember long walks along the seafront, I remember sitting on a huge model elephant on the pier…. but I do not remember crying.
The next tsunami was to hit 12 years later.
Towards the end of 1980, not long before my 16th birthday, I had developed a nasty bout of pneumonia. Weeks and weeks at home meant that I had missed a great deal of schooling for my all-important O Levels the following summer. By the beginning of the New Year I had recovered sufficiently to return to school, and we all trotted along to the doctors to get a certificate proving that I had missed a chunk of last term through illness. It was to be sent in to the examining board in the hope they would view my papers with compassion when the time came.
It was a Monday, 12th January 1981, and after the doctor had signed the certificate, mum asked him if he wouldn’t mind just taking a look at something for her? So she laid down on the couch and the doctor bent over her. He touched her and then looked at my sister and me and asked us to go in to the waiting room. He didn’t need to say anything. There was something in his eyes that turned my blood to ice and I felt the familiar feeling of dread rising up through my body.
My heart was pumping as my little sister and I went through to the waiting room, and I just couldn’t keep the words inside me. I turned to her, and said as gently as I could “Mummy’s got cancer”. I didn’t understand where this “knowing” came from, I just knew with every nerve cell and fiber of my being that it was true.
We both waited anxiously, and watched for the doctor’s door to open. Like my dad, mum also had this most incredible energy about her – people have often said that she lit up a room. And as she came out of the surgery, she was still wearing her biggest smile, and gave a jolly laugh and nod to the doctor as she closed the door behind her. But it was no good. I wasn’t fooled. I knew there was something wrong.
We all got to the car, and strapped ourselves in – I was in the front seat next to mum, who was still wearing her famous “come along gals!” sort of smile I was so familiar with. I waited a few moments until we were out of the car park, then I turned to her and asked gently “Are you going to tell us then?” She faced my questioning stare, her smile not quite as convincing as she countered “Tell you what darling?” And I had to say it. “You’ve got cancer, haven’t you?”
And with that, with those five small words, the truth was out and I knew that life, once again, would never be the same.
The three of us spent that evening at our dining room table, talking, crying, hugging and trying to understand what it all meant. It turned out that she had found a lump in her breast a few months earlier, but had been told by her brother that it was nothing she should be worried about, so she had ignored it (and that’s another story for another time). Now it had spread and the doctor had told her that they had to operate immediately to find out just how bad it was.
She went in to hospital just over a week later, cheerily telling people she was going in for a hysterectomy. Why? Well, she explained that she wanted to keep strong within herself, and that this would help her so that she didn’t have to explain the scary truth to others. So we went along with it, and were forbidden to tell friends or family what was really happening.
I realize now that this was just about the worst thing any of us could have done, as we had to keep up the pretense that everything was ok, while struggling with the inner turmoil and fear of the truth. But my sister and I stayed true to mum’s wishes. We stayed strong, and during the first few days I only told one very close friend what was really happening – and felt wracked with guilt in the process. The truth came out pretty quickly, though, as it became clear just how far the cancer had spread, and mum simply couldn’t hide it anymore.
The illness didn’t last very long. My sister and I visited her no more than 4 times in hospital. By Wednesday 4th February, we were told she was too ill for us to see her – and she died at 21.50 on Friday 6th February less than a month after we had first discovered she was ill.
I didn’t go to her funeral. Mum always said she didn’t want a funeral – too much fuss, too much sadness and such a waste of flowers she used to tell me. So, again, I followed her wishes and opted instead to go to school that morning – utter craziness as I look back on those times, but I honestly thought I was doing the best thing, and that she’d have been proud.
We went to live with our guardians – an old friend of the family, his wife and their young son, and another baby on the way. And we did our best to fit in, to be ‘good girls’ and to help out and stay happy – we were conscious to not become a burden, and although our entire existence had changed, we did a pretty good job at keeping up the façade.
The next tsunami happened on Sunday 9th January 1983.
Just a couple of weeks earlier we’d celebrated my 18th birthday with a huge party at the house. I was in my final year of A Levels and things were pretty good. My sister and I had arrived home late from a weekend visit with our paternal grandparents in Lincolnshire. We had made the five-hour coach ride down from Peterborough to Eastburne, and then took a taxi home just before midnight. We’d been laughing together the entire journey, and giggling at some of the things our grandparent had been saying and doing over the weekend. The house was in darkness when we got home and everyone was already in bed. So we said good night to each other and crept quietly to our bedrooms. Mine was right at the top of the house, and directly above the bedroom of my guardians. I reached behind the door to turn the light on, and went in to my room.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, strewn across the floor and my bed, were my mother’s clothes…! I stared in disbelief as two familiar demons, shock and horror, wrapped their icy arms around me. It could only have been my guardians who would have done this – but I reasoned that there was nothing I could do at that point. So I carefully picked up the clothes, folded them up, and got myself ready for bed. Once again, that well-known feeling of dread was gnawing away at the pit of my stomach. My heart pounded and my head swam with unanswerable questions that seemed to taunt me. I knew for certain that my life was once again about to change forever.
The following morning we got up and went down stairs for breakfast – I don’t remember whether or not I told my sister what had happened, but I do remember than neither of our guardians was at the breakfast table. Their small son toddled in, and we busied ourselves with getting him fed and watered, as was our usual routine. My guardian came down just a minute before we were due to leave, and I asked where his wife, Gilly was. He just brushed me off saying “she’s too tired this morning” and rushed us in to the car. The car stereo was at full blast, and nothing was said. So I steeled myself to ask that same question I had asked my mother when she came out from the doctor’s surgery “Well, are you going to tell us then?”
My inquiry was met with coldness. Not the love and concern that mum had shown when I had asked her the same question. No, this time it was a sneer. “You’re going to stay with your grandmother. You’re to pack your bags tonight and you’re leaving tomorrow morning. You’re not coming back.” And that was that.
I felt a failure. I hadn’t managed to safeguard our new home, or protect my little sister. Once again I pulled myself up to stay strong and ‘grown up’ in a situation where I was still not much more than a child myself.
Many years have passed since then, and there are many more stories to tell – but they are for another time.
For now, suffice it to say that the most recent tsunami hit on 21st April 2009 when I discovered the truth about my husband. And it’s been the most devastating shock I have yet had to deal with – it is also the one that has hit me the hardest. Because this time I was an adult. This time I had chosen my situation. And the betrayal crashed down on every single level of my heart, body and soul. Everything that I’d trusted, everything that I’d loved and put my faith in was suddenly swept away in a heartbeat.
Is it a coincidence that it happened on the very day when I officially outlived my mother – and, therefore both my parents? I don’t know – I’m still working on that one.
I’ve decided that I must have been born with a strong soul to endure such things – but I’m beginning to wonder just what lessons I’m meant to be learning. Lessons that perhaps I’ve just been too darned stubborn or stupid to learn!
This time, I decided that perhaps I’d stop being so strong. Perhaps I’ll stop believing that I have to be super human and carry the weight of responsibility on my own.
This time, perhaps I’ll be able to accept the healing waves of unconditional love and support that surround me – often showing themselves in the most unexpected of ways and from the most unexpected of people. Just like the innocent visit from Berber – a local farmer who knows nothing of my earlier past.
This time, perhaps I WILL let myself fall – and learn to trust that I’ll be caught, supported and carried to safety by the hands of friendship that are reaching out to me every day. Perhaps I’ll be the soft human being that I really am, and perhaps in the process I can also heal the little girl who, somewhere deep inside of me is still waiting for her hero to come home.
Since writing that particular post I have come a long way. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing stories with you about the things I learned along the way, together with some of the methods I used that helped me to survive and ultimately reclaim my life. I hope you will find them useful!