This is the beginning of a series called, "After." If you have seen any of my recent posts, you're familiar with the death and crimes of my late husband, Chris Goode.
After my experiences dealing with various institutions, resources, and my own emotions/journey relating to a number of kinds of abuse, I wanted to put together a limited series of reflections.
These are not intended to be any kind of complete guide or watertight safeguarding document. Instead, there will be a video for each topic and a blog post. The video will walk through some (hopefully) useful bits of info and my experience regarding:
1) understanding and identifying abuse
2) what the process of reporting/addressing it looks and feels like
3) thoughts on recovery and seeking support
The blog post will be a bit more personal and meandering and sort of reflective - it's more of a companion piece to the video.
There won't be any personal details or more news or info about Chris or anything he did. There's no reason or expectation to read this, really, unless you're curious about some of the nuances of these forms of abuse or know someone who is/might be going through it...or you just want to, I suppose.
I mention Chris a few times by name, but only in service of not saying "my partner" repeatedly.
There won't be anything graphic, but if you want support after reading, resources will be at the bottom of the page.
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There are a number of definitions for domestic violence. Some that conflate it with abuse or domestic abuse, some that use it as an umbrella term, some that give it a very specific/limited definition. As with most definitions, it's going to be used differently in different places, so I'm not going to point you to a specific one. And I'll probably use "violence" and "abuse" interchangeably here.
There's a bit of the definition that the organisation Refuge (see more below) gives that I think is always pretty key to these terms. And that is, "Anyone forced to alter their behaviour because of their partner's reaction is being abused."
As with any definition, there are a lot of ways to stretch and play with words within it; ways to lighten the weight of the most load-bearing words; ways to slightly change words in your head when you take your eyes off the page or step away from a conversation.
It's especially easy to do that when fear is involved. And it's tricky, isn't it, because we're all afraid to some degree. Being alone is scary and being in a relationship is scary, and truly loving someone can be terrifying at times. I might get proven wrong on this, but I think if you love someone for long enough, you're going to be terrified. Maybe not of them. Maybe because you hear there is a car wreck and they are late home from work. Maybe because they're very depressed or anxious or physically ill and you can't help them. Maybe because you have to leave, temporarily or permanently, and you worry about what will happen to them, or what they will do to themself, when you're gone..
For a long time, I thought that so long as I consented to something, it couldn't be abuse. That's a tricky needle to thread, made much trickier if you are with someone who doesn't believe in consent. Even after I was removed from my flat, I didn't consider it abuse - and I told my domestic violence caseworker as much. I recognised everything that happened. I wasn't in denial about what had occurred. I just trusted it wouldn't be that extreme again. Not if I handled it. Not if I set the right boundaries.
And then eventually, I realised, I was even told directly, that this was always waiting. Whenever I would have asked for respect and justice, it would have been waiting. There were always going to be reasons or triggers that my partner loved much more than me, could immediately open a gate somewhere inside and suddenly, absolutely hate me, in order to protect those bits of his life/himself.
And it wasn't, I don't think, that I was in denial about anything before. Like finding a new word for my identity, like coming out, I just suddenly had language that shed light on the last six years. That helped me connect things I had not connected or I'd taken complete responsibility for, even if I was not the one who had done them.
And when I realised that, I wasn't scared of being alone anymore. Or of what my partner was going to do to me or himself.
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Again, much like coming out, there really isn't one kind of "reporting." I think I keep likening domestic violence to coming out not, of course, because I believe queerness to be inherently violent in any cruel or neglectful kind of way. But because the acts of coming out, of being queer openly, are always about resisting violence that erases, that is cruel, that is neglectful. We are in a relationship with society in which we are forced to change our behaviour, hide ourselves, avoid or self-shame our instincts, end or prevent caring/loving relationships with others, because of society's reactions. It is an abusive relationship with an entire culture; to an extent, an entire world.
That's a big simplification but, I think, a useful comparison. I'm sure there are few skilled academics who's written pages on this much more eloquently than I have.
Anyway. I told some friends what happened when the police took me away. I was so tired, I told the police. I told the hospital staff. I texted a couple friends from a hotel, before I went to the hospital.
I notice, as I write these words, that I feel, in the back of my head, Chris in the study or the bedroom. Before it is a fully-formed, conscious thought, I wonder when he will read this, where I will be in the house when he does, what I need to prepare for.
But, he is not here and he is dead. Well, right now, some of him is in a small wooden box in the hallway. But, y'know. It's not him.
And...that's going to take a while to go away. When I came back from hospital there was a conversation where he kept insisting I tell him what I had said. One of the few friends I had talked to had stepped away from a conversation with him about working together. I insisted I hadn't said anything about abuse. I repeated myself, "I just told them what happened. I promise. I just told them what happened. I told them what I did, too. I just told them everything. They said it was abuse. I didn't say abuse."
And it was really important I identified it as abuse. It took the patience of my friends. It took having to spend two extra days in hospital to wait for their DV team to talk with me. And it took...I mean it was sinking in through the month after I left hospital. And the final piece was being completely separated for two weeks, and the lightness and joy I hadn't felt in six years.
It was identifying it that lead me to go back to my DV advocate and have my case reopened. And to start to be more honest about details when talking with friends.
But it wasn't the name that made it abuse or not. As I say in the video, I was hurt and silenced again and again. I knew that felt wrong. And no one deserves that.
There's this question of whether, as Chris occasionally said (and then took back), I was abusing him. I don't know. My fear of that question lead me to sort of freeze my criticism of things he did. I mostly froze that until I felt I had searched every corner, tried to see everything from his perspective, to be sure I was 100% innocent.
And that was such an illogical and impossible ask of myself. And also it doesn't matter. Of course I wasn't innocent. And of course I would never be able to tell even if I was. And it didn't matter - what mattered was taking care of myself. In the end, I had to do that and Chris had to take of himself. Anything else is unsustainable.
And does that hurt? Yeah, it fucking hurt like nothing else. And loving someone is showing up knowing that one day doing the right thing for both of you might hurt beyond words.
The practicalities of dealing with everything are both pretty boring and private. The one thing I'll say is how important it was to have both a consistent professional advocate and a sort of personal support network formed by a few friends. They reminded me what unconditional care looks like. They were furious for me when I'd learned to be sorry instead of angry. They reminded me to take care of myself.
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In the video, I talk about recovery. I know what that word means in mental health and addiction work, in physical recoveries. I've done it before, been in the process of recovering from abuse, but never thought to call it that.
Recovery begins way before you call it abuse, or can do. It can also pop up in relationships or interactions months or years later.
I know what to say with my work hat on. I know what kinds of resources and therapy to recommend, what kinds of check-ins and support structures to help someone put in place.
I don't know what I did before, personally. I don't know that it worked all that well.
But I've been dancing a lot. I don't know how to dance. I've been told I'm not bad at it in a show, like, when given choreography, but I have no clue how to dance. So. I've been dancing. "Of course," my therapist said, "being free isn't just in the mind. When was the last time you had space where every part of you was free?"
So, that. I've been writing a lot. I've been reading books out loud to Foley, my deaf rabbit, because I want to/need to hear my voice, to know what it sounds like.
I've been watching new kinds of porn. I don't know why that is yet, exactly. Something about coming into a new relationship with what -my- sexuality is, what it is -now-, what it is when it isn't only focused on trying to get one person off.
I sit with the worry and the flashbacks. Chastise myself less for feeling them because it's done - the person is gone (which isn't the same as the harm being gone or in unreal). Hold on to each moment of joy or freedom I feel. Enjoy and remember each moment I do something simply out of care or love, and don't worry in the slightest about how someone will react. Sometimes these moments will be a bit extreme, off the mark. And that's fine. That's good, its crucial, actually. I'll find a balance. I am a cartographer. I am not conquering or observing, but I am mapping new lands.
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Note: LGBTQ+ relationships are known to have higher levels of unreported domestic violence incidents, due to fears of homophobic behaviour/abuse from doctors, police, and even support organisations. Also, as we know, abuse is cyclical, and LGBTQ+ children are far more likely to have been abused by peers and/or classmates.
Not much research has yet been done into the levels of abuse specifically present amongst the trans community. Fortunately, this is changing. What we know so far is that these levels seem to be far higher than levels of abuse experienced by our cis queer peers (try saying that three times fast). One reason might be internalised transphobia and expectations/acceptance of abuse from cis partners simply because one is trans. Another might be the way that an abusive partner can threaten to out a trans person and, in the UK, still has to sign on on their partner's official gender change if the two are married.
I spent much of my time in Ponyboy Curtis and, eventually, with Chris trying to explain that I believed the abuse I was enduring would not occur (or at least not in the same way) to a cisgender person. I only had cis people to tell, and none of them chose to listen.
If you would like to learn more about risk factors and patterns of domestic violence experienced by trans people, this joint report by Scottish Trans Alliance and the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project is a great place to start: report.
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Galop is a fantastic organisation that supports any LGBTQ+ person experiencing violence from a partner, family members or friends, at work or school, or anywhere else. They can be reached on 0800 999 5428 10am - 5pm Monday, Tuesday, and Friday and 10am - 8pm Wednesday and Thursday
Solace works with women (I believe this includes anyone who identifies as a woman or AFAB, but check with them if you contact them). They provide counselling services, accommodation, and a number of support options and wellbeing services. They work with adults and young people 4 - 18.
The three above websites all have emergency "exit site" buttons that will immediately take you to an innocuous site, such as the BBC front page or a search for "healthy recipes," etc.
The Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123 for free, for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or planning suicide - or to talk about anything else that might be difficult for you at the moment. You do not have to feel suicidal to call.