So tonight I will share the story of how I met and started dating Andrew.
I first met Andrew in 1996 when he was dating my best friend,Nicky. Before I met him, he had been dating another friend of mine, Shaz (not her real name). I found out much later that he had been dating both of them at the same time but didn’t realise it at the time. I don’t think it would have made much difference though. I put a lot of Andrew’s teenage behaviour down to “just silly teenage behaviour” that some boys engage in before they mature. I didn’t realise that he would never mature out of silly teenage behaviour.
Nicky and I used to write each other notes all the time (I guess the equivalent of how school girls Sammie’s age constantly text their friends when not together) and she used to get him to write letters to her friends too so he and I conversed a lot. When she eventually dumped him, he was devastated. So for the next 6 months, he kept calling me and writing to me to help get them back together. I tried but she wasn’t interested (and quite understandably as I found out just before he and I separated, but I’ll get to that). In the middle of 1997 is when I started dating Dave. It was shortly after that Andrew lost interest in trying to get Nicky back and started asking me out instead.
At the time, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested. I was flattered but had no interest in him. He’d dropped out of uni, wasn’t working at the time, was a “former” drug addict and I didn’t believe in dating guys who had slept with a bunch of women. But most importantly, I was in a relationship. I should have seen a red flag then and there – if a person can’t respect that someone is in a relationship, it’s pretty clear they don’t respect being in a relationship. But I was young and naive back then.
In the next 6 months while I went out with Dave, Andrew stayed a friend. I thought he was a good friend. He seemed to understand the severe depressive episode I was going through because he was going through his own. He used to call nearly ever day, and even though I was so busy at the time, I used to end up talking to him. Especially after my parents cut off our internet so I couldn’t talk to the supportive friends I had online, and of my three best friends in school, one was too anxious to do phone calls, another was scared of my parents and wouldn’t call, and Nicky was always too busy with her own stuff to talk much. So Andrew and I became very close friends.
In the last few weeks I was going out with Dave, he kept repeatedly standing me up when we had dates, and every time I called, he was always too busy gaming and drinking with his friends. And during the last week in particular, Andrew was the one who was there for me, always saying and writing sweet things to cheer me up. It wasn’t until the night after I broke up with Dave (after I broke up with him), when Andrew asked me out yet again (this time by getting his best friend to ask me out for him) that I thought “hey maybe this guy isn’t what I’d normally look for in a guy but it’s not fair to judge a guy by his past, and he’s really been there for me, so okay”.
I didn’t say yes that night though. I wanted to make sure Dave understood we were really over before dating again. But after huge heart to heart with Dave the next day, I then told Andrew I would go out with him.
Those first few weeks we were going out were magically. He acted so sweet and attentive, he was always there for me. We spent nearly every day together. He had a casual job but told me rarely got any shifts and at the time, and I had just wrapped up my work (I had been working in retail up until christmas but after new years they informed us that anyone who couldn’t work full time when university/school went back, wouldn’t be offered an ongoing position and I was due to start uni in february 1998), so we went nearly all day every day together until I started uni.
Around the time I started uni, I asked him why he didn’t seem to have any shifts anymore and he told me he’d actually lost his job and was too scared to tell me in case I dumped him. At the time I felt so sorry for him. I could understand that fear of losing someone you loved and delaying telling them something so they don’t leave you. I realised much later that hiding it from me was another red flag that he thought it was ok to hide something so important from me. Some time after we got married, he eventually admitted the truth to me about why he lost his job – after we started going out, it’s not that he hadn’t been offered shifts because of the post christmas slow down, but rather his work had repeatedly offered him shifts and he’d said no because he wanted to hang out with me.
He was right about one thing – if he had told me that before we got married, I’d have broken up with him for being so irresponsible as to lose a job for not turning up to it just so he could hang out. But I didn’t know at the time.
Things were great for the first 6 weeks until I started university. Then he suddenly seemed to change. I thought it was just because I wasn’t able to hang out on weekdays, only the weekends because I had a big study load at uni. He still acted sweet and caring, but he seemed miserable and moody a lot. I really thought it was because he missed me and I knew how obsessed he gets with women after how he was with Nicky. But at the time I thought it was just being very loving, I didn’t see it as obsession.
Things went along like that for 6 months until my birthday. He had proposed to me very early in our relationship, but I had always said he needed to ask my parents for permission. I’m very traditional and family oriented despite the difficulties with my parents. So we decided he’d ask them on my birthday. Afterwards, Andrew, my friends and I all went out to celebrate my birthday and engagement. And that was when things first started going wrong. During the night, Andrew went and groped one of my friends. I know it was accidental because I was there, and from behind her and I looked very similar and we were both wearing our identical year 12 jerseys, but I was so confused because he’d only had two drinks and he shouldn’t have been so drunk he couldn’t tell us apart.
I was really hurting and confused until a few weeks later when we were visiting some of his friends and it became very obvious why he was so intoxicated that night. I was so exhausted from the combination of extra long hours at uni, volunteer work and being really unwell with my fibromyalgia and recurring tonsillitis that I would often sleep with my head on his lap if we were out visiting friends. This time though I was having trouble sleeping and was half awake and heard the conversation between him and his friends.
I was shocked when they started talking about him smoking marijuana. I knew he had used drugs in the past, but months before we started going out, he’d got clean to try and get his life back on track. I was too shocked to say anything, just lay there for what felt like hours and then he tried to wake me up and we left. I broke down in the car and confronted him about. Then it all came out. After I went back to uni, he’d started hanging out with his old friends again and claimed they had pressured him into using drugs and he knew they wouldn’t be his friends anymore if he didn’t so he’d given in. I should have dumped him then and there, but I loved him so much. I didn’t see yet another red flag.
I felt sorry for him because he had such low self esteem that he felt like he had to cling to friends that would bully him into using drugs to be “one of them”. I didn’t realise until much later that firstly, a man who is cowardly to say no to being pressured into something he knows is wrong is not the kind of man who is mature enough to marry, and secondly, that it was the start of being abused. He deliberately made me feel like it was my fault he started using drugs because I’d started uni and had “abandoned” him. Even though many other symptoms of his borderline personality disorder were obvious only in hindsight, if I had known back then about what borderline personality disorder was (I didn’t study it until the following year), the fact that he blamed me for his drug use and lying about it because of his ridiculous belief that I had abandoned him by going to uni on weekdays and could only spend weekends with him, I’d have realised he had it and quite severely.
But I didn’t know about it and my own self esteem was so low that I blamed myself for it. And that’s when I suffered my second depressive episode. I felt so guilty. I couldn’t leave uni – I had a scholarship I’d have to repay if I left part way through, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working part time casual at the local supermarket for minimum wage, and I knew if I was working instead of studying, it would still be “my fault” because I couldn’t spend the time with him anyway. I felt like I had ruined his life by not being able to be there for him when he needed it.
I didn’t realise at the time that this is exactly how domestic violence starts. The perpetrator does the wrong thing, but tricks the victim into thinking it’s all their fault. And I made the perfect victim. Growing up with abuse at home and bullying at school, I’d always been led my abusers to believe that it was somehow my fault that I was being abused. I knew with the abuse at home and school that it was abuse even though I blamed myself for 27 years. But with Andrew, at first I didn’t even see that it was abuse. It was so subtle to begin with that I thought he was just behaving normally for a man in a relationship and that his drug addiction was truly my fault for not being able to be there physically with him more often even though it was for our future I was working towards at uni.
After we talked about it, he swore he’d give up. And he did, for a while. But then he started hanging out with his druggie friends and they bullied him into using again, and again he was too cowardly to walk away from them. They didn’t care if they messed up his life. They didn’t care marijuana made him depressed and psychotic. They didn’t care he couldn’t hold down a job because of it. And they especially didn’t care if it had led to us breaking up because they hated me because I was against him using drugs. But he never could say no to his friends. I realised years later, that doing anything to keep the friendship of people who used and abused him mattered more to him than anything else in the world – more than his sanity, more than me, and in the end, more than his own children.
But again, I didn’t see it that way at the time. I just saw him as depressed and making silly decisions because he was so desperate to make people like him because of his depression. Being young and in love, and having grown up believing people treated me badly was my own fault meant that I had no better example to follow.
So that was basically the first 7 months of our relationship in a nutshell. Even as I wrote it tonight, I got new insight to just how early the abuse started. Sometimes it takes putting things into written words to truly understand the depths of indoctrination that goes on in domestic violence.
It starts off so slowly. Tricking the victim into things are her fault to lower her self esteem, making her feel bad for leaving the house (even for things like study and work) and causing problems with friends to isolate her (which I’ll go into more in future). Ultimately it builds up into beatings, but it starts out with the little things to trap the victim. I would never have stood for dating a man if he had hit me and would have dumped him on the spot, but domestic violence perpetrators don’t start out with hitting a woman. They build up to it so slowly that by the time the physical abuse starts, she feels so helpless that she doesn’t stand up to it and still feels sorry for him when he does it.
And that is the beginning of my story of being a SURVIVOR of domestic violence. I am no longer a victim. I am battered but not broken. I have survived and will continue to survive and hope that by sharing my story that other women can see the red flags before they become trapped like I used to be. If I can save even one woman from the hell I went through that followed, I will be happy.
Thanks for reading.