The Freedom Programme
Domestic abuse was never a phrase I connected with myself, and my image of an abuse victim was certainly not the person I saw in the mirror.
Having stumbled across online information about the different types of domestic abuse I was equally horrified and relieved to recognise the descriptions as so close to what my ten year marriage had become. A friend who was unfortunately in a similar situation had just started The Freedom Programme and encouraged me to find one, but there were so many reasons not to go! It wasn’t for people like me, I surely didn’t need it and I certainly wasn’t in as bad a situation as most of the others probably already going...my shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear and massive self-doubt told me not to waste anyone else’s time, but when I finally got in touch my only wish was that I hadn’t waited.
The Freedom Programme became a lifeline for me: in understanding what types of abuse look like; in exploring all the subtle signs and controlling behaviours that were justified, dismissed or ignored; and in learning how to create healthy boundaries and make choices that were best for me.
Abuse can be insidious, subtle and controlling, and extremely difficult to identify. Because for many, being abused involves losing a sense of what is normal, acceptable, loving behaviour. When someone tells you they love you but then can treat you in ways that leave you scared, confused, feeling trapped, anxious of making a wrong decision or saying the wrong thing, it’s very difficult to know truth from lies. An abuser will rarely, if ever, accept or take responsibility, and so a huge challenge is finding the strength to see and to know when to trust your own gut, and your own experience again.
When you have been told countless times you are over-sensitive, or a version of a situation is twisted and flipped around so you are to blame; when you find yourself apologising for who you are and who you are not; when you find the courage to challenge a behaviour only to be told you are crazy and a liar. It is extremely difficult to figure out what is your actual truth and reality and you begin to listen to their louder, critical, twisted version of reality more than your own experience.
The saying ‘what goes on behind closed doors’ took on such a personal meaning, because no-one truly knew what our lives had become. And because he believed his own lies he was convinced that how he behaved was acceptable, normal, and justifiable. He almost had me fooled too. You develop ways of coping that then become routine, detaching yourself from how awful you actually feel, and trying to numb the pain with whatever distracts you the best. There are few things worse than feeling trapped and suffocated in your own life, and believing the lie that you are powerless.
The Freedom Programme taught me to trust my own internal navigation system again. I began to learn and see how much of our relationship was abusive, and things which I never even realised were controlling and harmful became so obvious. My sense of worth had become so confused as we developed unhealthy patterns of relating to each other. As I heard other women share their experiences I realised with a weird mix of alarm and relief how much we had in common; we could almost finish each other’s sentences because we began to realise we knew what was coming next! There will always be someone in a worse situation than you, so you will always be able to look around and think that because your abuser has never treated you like that maybe it’s not abuse. It is. Abuse takes many different forms and no two situations will ever be exactly the same.
I once described the Freedom Programme as the big, sweeping beam from a lighthouse, especially in the moments I had a wobble and looked back at only a small, less painful part of the picture. For a time I needed someone else to keep swinging that big, bright beam of truth into my darkness. To remind me why it was so crucial to find perspective, and strength and practical tools to know how to handle the manipulation and lies I had grown so used to.
Because it’s hard to face the truth, and even harder to take action to change your situation. Familiarity is more comfortable, even when the familiar behaviours are having such a brutal impact on you. The reason it’s so hard to make that cut and not go back time and again is because it’s rarely all bad. If it was it would make leaving so much easier. But the cycles of abuse are so sticky because of those sweet moments; just as I almost couldn’t take anymore he’d lighten up, throw a compliment my way, and ease my discomfort. He put on a charming show for family, friends and colleagues, which made it even harder to convince myself, let alone anyone else, what I was really dealing with.
Freedom Programme helped me to not only find my voice, but use it confidently and to recognise I have worth and value. I am now able to work, to see my friends, to travel, to have fun, and most importantly, to feel free in my own home for the first time in ten years. Leaving an abuser can be an exhausting, uphill battle and it was the support and encouragement from my FP group that kept me strong and motivated.
Three years later and with support from the Freedom Programme I have divorced my abusive ex, started a new career, have two loving and confident kids, and am proud of the life I was finally able to know how to change the direction of. I spent a few years too nervous to date, and wanting to pour my energy into building a new life for myself and my kids, but am now in a relationship with a man who I trust is kind, loving, fun, generous, warm and accepting of me as I am.
Freedom Programme is about looking at your own situation, your own experiences, your own truth and reality, and learning how to trust yourself again. It is about re-finding your sense of self, or maybe for the first time believing you are worth more than what your abuser has told you are.
The programme gave me the language to describe my experiences in a way I’d never been able to tell anyone before. I could look at my abuser and see what he was doing, I could predict what would come next, and I could create much healthier boundaries that worked for me. An abuser can use denial as a powerful tool, but there are more powerful tools out there which being involved in the Freedom Programme taught me how to confidently use.
I have learned that our lives work to the extent we take responsibility for them; I cannot change my abuser, or his behaviour, or the horrible experiences I have been through- the only thing I have control over is me. My choices, my responses, my life, my decisions, these are all my own responsibility and when I realised this I felt excited. As when I started to believe that, with the support from the course, I knew I was free.
L, No Feart course attendee
(name and identity has been withheld ).