Reclaiming my life

I was born and raised in an environment full of love and respect in a location called Naledi, Soweto. I am a mother of two children whom I love dearly. I fell in love with their father when I was 15 years old. We started dating. For the first three years the relationship was wonderful. He was the love of my life, so I thought.

One day things changed and the relationship turned sour. My boyfriend suddenly became jealous and stopped trusting me. He began asking me unusual questions like where I had spent the day; that I was with and what I had been doing throughout the day. I responded to his questions truthfully but he would not believe me. He also started slapping me and beating me up for no reason at all. I would explain everything to him over and over but he would not listen to me.

I never got to know the reason why he stopped trusting me. He also became unfaithful and started cheating with other women. When I confronted him about it he would lie and subsequently beat me up.

Because of this I started isolating myself from my friends hoping he would notice that I was always at home waiting for him to come. But he hardly showed up to witness this. I found excuses for his prolonged absence from home from time to time.

And the few times he decided to come back home to see me, he would ask me to forgive him and would give me lots of excuses.

I blindly believed and forgave him. Each time I felt he really meant it and would not do it again. I never stopped loving him and he never stopped beating me. Because I believed in him I stopped listening to my parents and tried to be the girlfriend he wanted me to be. Alas, he was never satisfied. Instead the situation became worse.

When I turned 21 years old I fell pregnant with his child. When I told him about it, he got upset and told me that he was not ready to be a father. He disappeared and only showed up after a week. He apologised for his disappearance. His excuse was that he had been shocked by the sudden news that he was now a father and I forgave him, again with no doubt in my mind that he was sorry.

My parents were very upset with me for not obeying their rules and for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. However because of the nature of mothers who quickly learn to accept and find a way to deal with difficult situations, my mother quickly forgave me and accepted what had happened. That was not the case with my father who did not talk to me for a long period until the day I went into labour. On that day he took me to the clinic and returned to fetch me the following day after I had given birth. We were all excited to have a baby in our house.

It was then that my boyfriend showed up from out of the blue, asking for permission to see the child. Again he said he was sorry for going away and was happy to see his child.

Our relationship changed for the better. I was excited. My parents did not want me to continue in a relationship with him but I disobeyed them until my father became very upset and chased me out of his house.

I was 24 years. I moved in with the father of my child and his mother. That was the worst mistake I had ever made. He became very abusive. He abused me physically, financially (since I was unemployed at that time), verbally (he used to call me names, telling me how useless I was), psychologically and mentally (as he was shifting the blame, telling me how I had ruined his life) and sexually (he forced me to have sex with him after beating me or when I simply did not feel up to it).

Three years later he asked me to marry him. Even though he was abusive I agreed. I had hoped this would change the situation but I was wrong. He became worse than before. On some days he did not return home and would fight about this almost every week. We separated for a year but we reconciled. Typically, he begged for my forgiveness and promised to change for the better. For the sake of my child and for the love I had for him I forgave him.

That year our relationship improved. I fell pregnant with my second child. After the birth of our son, my ex-husband was happy and supportive but this lasted for a short while. When the baby was about three months old, he started his old ways again.

However this time he did not beat me up but would push and shove me around, call me names. Eventually I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was hospitalised for seven days and when I came back the situation got worse, and ended up in hospital again.

One day as I was listening to the radio I heard about Teddy Bear Clinic, a shelter for abused children and I wrote down the contact details.

The next day I called and asked to volunteer my time with their organization. I went for training and started volunteering as a court supporter. While I was there I learnt about abuse and also got to know about the organisation, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA). I also got information about their training programmes.

The following year I went for domestic violence training at POWA. That is where I began to understand the situation I was in. After eight weeks of training, while waiting for my turn for mentoring I did some soul searching and I found what I really wanted to do with my life.

I had had enough of abuse so I filed for divorce and while waited for the court date I applied for a protection order. The court date was set for the 20 March 2006, seventeen days after my birthday. On that day I was declared a divorc’e. I thought to myself, “Finally I am free!”

I realised that I had been in love but I was never happy. When asked about whether I regret all the time I wasted in the relationship the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes because I lacked information about abuse and was not strong enough to say ‘no’ to domestic violence. No, because from the relationship I have learned to accept myself for whom I am. I have two beautiful children who bring a smile to my face every time I think about them. They are my source of strength and give me a reason to live.

It might have taken me years to let go off my ex-husband, but I have come to know the people who truly love me, stood by me and believed in me. I have lost my house and everything I worked for in my six years of marriage but I refuse to cry over spilt milk.

Today I am a proud poet, clinical counselor and a house mother at POWA shelter for abused women. My advice to you is, love yourself, believe in yourself, trust God and have faith. I hope and believe that by reading my story you will be able to gain something and be able to share it with others.

(This story is part of the I Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opini’n and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence).

December 2006
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