My Long Walk to Freedom by Bridget Walker
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
I fell in love with my husband because we opened up a new world in each other. New hopes, new dreams, and a new future. I never imagined that domestic violence would end up being one of those things. My name is Bridget and I am a survivor of domestic violence. I hope that sharing my story will contribute to stopping the cycle of violence, and empower others to leave abusive circumstances.
Nick and I met when we were teenagers. We had mutual friends, but we didn’t really know each other. We reconnected through social media in our 30s and we really hit it off. Within a couple of months, we were living together. He was so positive to begin with. He would call me every day to work out with him. He had ambitions of becoming a personal trainer and I was wanting to lose weight and get fit. We exercised, talked endlessly and watched movies together. We were getting fit, healthy and happy. Life seemed perfect for a moment.
After a while, things started to change. The change was gradual. At first he’d would go on angry rants. Whether it was about the neighbours, his family or a woman who looked at him the wrong way at the shopping centre; he was convinced that everyone was always talking about him. There was no right way to respond to these outbursts. If I tried to reassure him I was labelled naive or he would say that I was accusing him of being paranoid.
It wasn't long before he began to focus his abusive energies on me. Nick would read into my actions to find ways of using them against me. When I tried to explain myself, he would just get angrier. He would launch into relentless tirades of verbal abuse. It was so shocking to me that something I considered such a small miscommunication could unleash a torrent of rage in another human being. Even when I left the room to try to put some physical distance between us, he would continue to scream at me and berate me. He couldn’t seem to stop himself. As a sensitive individual these moments were overwhelming and I didn’t know how to cope. As a result there were times when the relentless verbal attacks would drive me to self-harm and I would pull my hair out or scratch my face in desperation.
Afterwards he would explain that his behaviour was not his fault. He told me about how he had been bullied, verbally and physically abused as a child. I felt for him and thought I could help him change. Looking back, I can clearly recall the first instance of Nick controlling my access to my family. He had launched into another whirlwind of verbal abuse. It was too much for me to handle and I realised needed some space. I told him I needed time with my parents to cool off, to which he threatened me that if I walked out that door now - that was it. That was the first time I gave in. Over the next 5 years he nearly succeeded in cutting me off from my family entirely.
Nothing I did was ever good enough. When I did the chores around the house he would berate me for not doing them well or fast enough. I have ADHD so when I cook I like to have a recipe on hand, even if I have made that dish many times before. He would complain that referring to a recipe took too much time and I should know how to cook by now. When I made do without the recipe and left out an ingredient or missed a step, he would get angry, calling me horrible names. Eventually, cooking certain foods triggered such anxiety in me that I stopped making them. It escalated to a point where I would have a panic attack if I he asked me to cook rissoles.
After our son Rowan was born Nick took over the housework and cooking so that I could focus on caring for our baby. I felt bad about that and often told him so. He said he was happy to do it so that I could take the time to properly care for our son. Later he used that against me on a daily basis saying he had done it better and that I was purposefully slacking off. Nick blamed me for him not having a good relationship with our son Rowan. He never made an effort to do the things for our son than form a bond with a child. I did all the feeding, changing, and bathing. I was the one who comforted him in the night and got up with him in the mornings. Rowan was an early riser and it was my responsibility to get him up generally and keep him quiet until Nick rose many hours later. If I were silent there would be consequences.
Nick had issues sleeping which he held me responsible for. If I did or said something that upset him he would say that I had purposefully stolen his sleep so as punishment he would take away mine. If I tried to go to bed, he would turn on the lights and rip the covers off me. He would pull me out of the bed and kick me. He kept repeating this phrase "Time in, time out" which meant that if I upset him he would deduct any length of time it took for me to find the arbitrary magic words he wanted to hear from my allocated sleep allowance.
The abuse escalated dramatically late last year. Nick went through a personal identity crisis and I don’t want to get into specifics to protect his privacy. This experience incited deep shame within him and I didn’t know it yet but I was to be his human punching bag.
He started to abuse me sexually. He said that sex was his only stress relief and it was my duty to help him with that. If I said that I wasn't in the mood he would complain that I had ruined his mood and abuse me verbally for hours, not allowing me to go to sleep until he had calmed down. There were elements to the sexual abuse that fill me with so much shame that I am unable to bring myself to write about them here. I used to enjoy being intimate, now I shudder at the very idea of it.
The sexual abuse was the one element of domestic violence that he made an effort to keep away from our son. Other than that he didn’t think twice about the impact his behaviour had on Rowan. There was an incident late last year when I was feeding him in his highchair. I don’t remember what set him off this time as many incidents are just blank memories to me now. I’ve been told by my counsellor that this is a normal response to trauma. Nick was screaming at me with Rowan right there next to me. He started slapping himself hard across the face. A neighbour knocked on the door and came to see if I needed help. She asked if I was okay and tried to get me to come outside of the house so that she could speak to me face to face. I am ashamed of the way I spoke to her. She was only trying to help. I’m so ashamed that it brings me to tears writing about it.
Shortly after that, Nick decided to kick me out. He tried to take my son from me and I involved the police to try and retrieve him. It was traumatising for both of us. After that first incident of police involvement there was a 24-hour Protection Order in place which he violated first thing next morning. He texted me and convinced me to come home so that we could work things out. I went back that day.
Things were worse after that. The control became more overt and we had crossed a line. He forbade me to have any contact with my family as he said they were trying to come between us. He threatened to kill me if I ever called the police again. He said if they ever came back he would shoot all of us. He took control of all the finances and I needed permission to leave the house. I was no longer allowed to see my therapist or family. He harassed my family incessantly, using things I told him in confidence as weapons to disarm and hurt them. Eventually it was too much for them and they distanced themselves from me and him, not understanding why I was looking to hurt them this way.
Once Nick had succeeding in dismantling my support network, the physical violence started. I remember the first time I felt his open palm slap me across the face with force. I was shocked and in a state of disbelief. This couldn’t possibly be happening to me. I didn’t realise the gravity of the situation and at this point I had normalised things to such an extent that the violence didn’t seem much worse than the personal anguish he was causing me. I now understand that this is called trauma bonding. Little did I know this was only the beginning.
Over the next couple of weeks the violence escalated and he would beat, choke or abuse me several times a day. He would force me to stand still to receive his abuse and said that if I flinched or tried to move away, he would hit me again but harder. The evenings after our son went to bed were the worst. I began to dread putting my son down in his cot knowing that closing the door his room opened one to terrifying violence.
At one point I couldn't stand the pain and humiliation of being dragged around the house by my hair that I ran to the bathroom with a pair of scissors and managed to cut most of it off before Nick could stop me. I was so relieved that he had one less way to hurt me.
According to Nick I made him behave this way. He told me I had a personality disorder and forced me to call helpline after helpline to try to find some assistance for my "lack of filter". During one of these phone calls I admitted that he had hit me once. Even though I had asked to remain anonymous at Nick's insistence the call resulted in a mandatory report to the police who came to our house. Usually Nick was careful not to leave any marks on me, but he had misjudged a slap and given me a black eye. The police saw my bruise and inquired about it but I said this was a one-off. I’m not sure they were convinced but they left. During this visit Nick put on the performance of his lifetime. He was on his knees crying telling the police he had been a victim of police abuse in the past and how afraid he was. The moment they closed the door behind them he miraculously recovered and looked at me saying: “I can put on a good show for the police when I need to.” I believed him. My last glimpse of being helped was fading.
Following this incident he became more paranoid we would escape, locking us in to the house. Initially he forgot about the tablet that we used for our son so I was able to use it to photograph my injuries and email them to a secret email account. I tried to find ways to email them to the police but couldn’t find any. Soon enough Nick remembered about the tablet and took that away too.
For the next ten days he threatened to kill me multiple times per day. He told me repeatedly that I was going to end up in a body bag buried in the back yard. If I had displeased him in any way imaginable he would threaten to make me sleep in the backyard without any blankets. Some of the death threats, slapping and shoving were done in front of our son and I struggle with the reality of that to this day. He threatened to hurt Rowan but never went through it. I am not sure whether he would have eventually or whether he only did it to hurt me.
On the tenth day Nick started singing a song about how he would murder me and get put in a mental hospital and then he would be happy. I was terrified and I knew if I didn't find a way out, I would soon be dead. Nick had left the tablet charging on the kitchen bench and gone to have a nap. I grabbed the tablet from the kitchen. I was so afraid that he would catch me, my heart was beating out of control. I used Facebook to message my sister and ask her to call 000 for me. I told her that Nick had beaten me and threatened to kill me. She called the police for me. The minutes went by and the police didn't come. In desperation I checked the front door and I couldn't believe my luck. Nick had left the keys in the door. I grabbed Rowan and ran. I was only wearing a tank top and bike shorts. I didn't even have any shoes. But I had my son. We ran to the neighbour who had tried to help us months before. It turns out that she is a police officer. She took us in and liaised with police. I was so relieved to be away from him.
After I escaped to my parents’ Nick showed up and the show of so-called remorse continued. Eventually my sister called the police who urged me to take action and to stay safe. I got a Family Violence Restraint Order (FVRO) out against him and I initially had every intention of giving a statement and pressing charges. He violated the police order within 2 hours sending my texts telling me he loved me and that we had made this mess for our son but assuring me we could make it right again. He made promises to start taking his medication again and to go to therapy. Eventually he wore me down. I believed him when he said he was getting therapy for his violent behaviour and returned after 10 days.
Things were great for a while. I didn't know it at the time but we were in what is described as "the honeymoon phase" of the domestic violence cycle. But soon enough the verbal abuse and the controlling behaviour started up again. I told him that if he ever hit me again, I would leave him so he took to destroying my property instead.
Nick said if I ever disrespected him, he would tie me up, rape me, slit my throat and watch me die slowly. His fantasies of killing me were getting more elaborate. Simultaneously he was also starting to believe in strange things. He thought that I was deliberately turning his rolls of toilet paper upside down to make him think he was going crazy.
I had been back with him for 8 weeks when he assaulted me again. With our son in the room, he shoved me hard in the chest so that I staggered backward. I begged him to stop so that I wouldn't fall onto Rowan and hurt him. Rowan got between us and tried to push us apart which broke my heart. He was only just 2 years old and he was trying to protect me. After I put Rowan to bed that night, Nick continued his assault punching me repeatedly. By this point I felt worthless and insignificant. Being subject to continuous abuse meant I believed many of the things he said, including not being worthy of love. I think that’s why I didn't leave.
Soon after that he kicked me out for some arbitrary reason related to me apparently lying about meditating. This time he wouldn’t let me take Rowan and as he forced me to leave he said to our son "Mummy doesn't love you." I walked barefoot to the police through the back streets and was in a daze. Eventually it became an escalated incident and a protection order was put in place again. Next day I went to court the next day and was granted an FVRO with Rowan listed as a protected person too.
This time Nick waited for the exact minute the police order expired before he started texting me. He hadn't been served with the FVRO yet, so he wasn't bound by it legally. He messaged me non-stop, saying all the things I wanted to hear and rationalising why he was to be pitied and rescued. I now understand that this is a common technique used by abusive persons called love bombing. It took him a full 7 hours before he started making veiled threats about taking me to family court. The trauma bonding was too strong by now so that this time I only lasted 8 days before I succumbed to his pressure.
The honeymoon phase was also much shorter this time. When the court had granted my recovery order, they had also issued Parenting Orders giving me Sole Parental Responsibility stating that Rowan was to live with me. Nick was very angry that this had been done and was pressuring me to have the orders set aside. I had obtained legal advice as to how to have this done but had not gotten the letters typed up as quickly as Nick wanted.
His anger over this erupted 2 weeks after I had come home, and he assaulted me again. This time I thought he would succeed in killing me. He punched me in the head repeatedly. I tried to escape and he grabbed me, threw me onto the couch and said, "You're not f**king going anywhere." He went to the kitchen and got out a knife. I tried to get to the back door, but I wasn't quick enough. He continued to assault me and tried to strangle me. I continued to cry and to apologise. Eventually he stopped and I left the room to go to the bathroom. When I came back, he raped me. Our son woke up and he allowed me to tend to him in the other room.
Nick confiscated all my possessions and made me promise that I wouldn't try to leave. Then he went to bed. Once I was sure that he was sleeping I desperately tried to get someone to contact the police for me. I used the computer in the family room to email my parents and I used Facebook to send a message to my sister. Nobody was responding so I contacted 1800RESPECT via their 24/7 online web chat. I told them what was happening, and they called 000 for me and asked me to stay in the chat until the police arrived. I had to close down the chat suddenly when Nick got up. He went to have a shower and I got back online again. I was reconnected to the original operator and she kept me calm until the police arrived. They got Nick to unlock the door and arrested him. As he was being arrested, Nick said to me, "Bridget, are you really going to do this to me?" I was shaking with fear.
The police were wonderful. They took me into another room so he couldn't speak to me. They took a video statement straight away and suggested that I call someone to come and look after Rowan so that I had time to decompress. I felt so stupid for continuing to go back Nick so many times that I apologised to the police for taking up so much of their time. They were so kind and reassuring. One male officer told me that it takes many women 5 or 6 attempts to leave their abusive partners for good and that there was no reason to feel stupid. I can’t express how grateful I am to him for saying this. It is these acts of compassion that made a great difference to me.
My parents came to take Rowan while I was taken to hospital to be examined. While in hospital, I was visited by a social and a child protection worker. I suddenly felt so supported. The detective in charge of the case called to take a further statement over the phone so they could charge Nick and ensure my safety. The level of care was overwhelming. I'd spent so long hearing nobody cared about me that this obvious display of care seemed unreal. To this day I am so grateful to all the professionals involved.
Nick was charged with aggravated assault causing bodily harm, making threats to kill, depravation of liberty and aggravated sexual coercion. He was denied bail and remanded in prison. Child protective services have found that he caused significant emotional harm to Rowan and have stated that he poses an ongoing risk to his wellbeing. At our Family Court hearing, Nick told the magistrate that he was unsure why he was in prison as he acted in self-defence. He blamed our fights on my drinking and violent personality.
There is a trail of evidence the length of ‘War and Peace’ against him, yet I am still afraid that he will be granted bail or acquitted. Even though he is in prison I still get spikes of panic when I hear the someone at the gate after dark. My heart starts to race whenever someone says, "Did you hear that?". Even a simple act as seeing his signature on a court document creates irrational fear. He still has this strange hold over me. When I heard his voice over the phone link in Family Court, asking me why I was doing this to him I was overcome with anxiety. I am not used to feeling safe yet.
But unlike others I am alive today and so is my son. I am lucky to have a wonderful family who loves me and supports my recovery. I live in a country where I am supported to heal by a team of professionals and with each day passing I feel a little stronger. I found kinship through an online survivors community who understand what I have been through. Their care and experiences are helping me understand abuse and empower my healing. I consider them my friends and my heroes.
With time my goal is to assist others on their journey of recovery. And most importantly I look to teach my son how to maintain healthy boundaries in his relationships, and how to be a respectful human being. That is how I will turn this horrible nightmare in to something meaningful.