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Heathers Story

Diagnosed with breast cancer just a year after her separation from an abusive husband, Heather’s life has hardly been easy. However, her positive attitude and love for her two sons has brought her through a life’s worth of grief. Having faced two of the most extreme and difficult obstacles that a woman can face, she maintains that cancer was the more bearable of the two, saying “The cancer was nothing compared to the domestic violence.”

“You’re worn down, your confidence is worn down, your self worth is worn down, you believe everything the perpetrator says.”
Coming from a smartly dressed, well spoken woman, Heather immediately defies the stereotypes so often associated with domestic abuse. Having grown up in a loving and functional, middle-class family, Heather is well educated with years of experience working as a high-earning, high-powered business woman. Although noticeably wary, she is confident and warm.

“When I married, I was top of my game. I was college educated, I had two degrees and was very high up in in my profession. I had traveled widely was confident in myself.

“I went from there to being given money per week and if I overspent, there were questions as to what I was doing. Sometimes I would be left without much money at all and I would be forced to decide between nappies and formula, or food for myself, it was always nappies and formula.”

On the outside, Heather admits, it probably looked great. “We would go skiing in the winter and away in the summer and at weekends. I didn’t have to work when the children were born.” But for Heather and her family, things were never as they seemed.

“He didn’t want me to work, and really, because of the atmosphere I didn’t want to be away from the children.”

Heather’s experience is common in cases of domestic abuse. She describes the process as something which broke her down to little more than a shadow of her former self. The perpetrator, her ex-husband, took away her independence and made her feel silly and inadequate for questioning his actions, authority and their relationship. From being a strong, confident young woman, he forced her to live in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety, reducing her to little more than a shadow of her former self.

“When he hit me the first time, she recalls, “He hit me so hard on the side of my head that I fell and knocked the other side of my head on the banister and was knocked unconscious.” Shocked and upset by the incident, Heather called the Gardaí but by the time they came to the house, her husband had calmed down and managed to convince them that she was “making a mountain out of a molehill” and was exaggerating events. They took his word and did nothing. From that point on, Heather realised they could never help her.

Although scared and isolated by the situation, she was not surprised.
“He really was a street angel and house devil,” she remarks. “Why wouldn’t they believe him, he was a respectable looking, confident man. Beside him I didn’t look confident or sure of myself. Who would people rather believe?”

From that first episode, Heather knew she was alone and her sole aim was to protect her children and herself as best she could.

Although some close friends had suspicions that something was amiss, she explains, very few people realised the full extent of what she was going through. “My parents still don’t know everything that happened.” The unpredictability of his nature confused the situation and made Heather question her thoughts and feelings even more.

“There is a huge shame attached to it. You are embarrassed, you have no confidence, you’re confused. You think ‘Is it my fault?’, ‘Will people believe me?’, ‘What will people think?’ But it’s not my shame, it’s his”

When she eventually confided in friends she knew she would be safe once she left. “I kept the boys’ passports and my passport in a friends house with some money.

“After he hit me one time I decided to photograph the bruises, in case I needed proof, to show people if they didn’t believe me, but he found the pictures.

“After that I started to keep diaries and write down the things that he did and that happened. I kept them hidden at a friends house because our safety was always an issue. It still is.”

Heather has now been separated for four and a half years.
People often ask ‘Why didn’t you leave sooner?’, “I just want to respond ‘Why did he do it in the first place?’,”she says. In reality, leaving just was not an option during those early years. Heather’s priority was her children and with regular threats that they would be taken from her, Heather knew she needed to wait until the children could speak and explain themselves what had been said or what they had seen before she could leave. It was a brave and risky move but at the time it was her only option.

It was one last act of physical violence that made her take the leap. “You could say he nearly killed me. He did nearly kill me, and that’s when I left.” Having tried to shelter the children from his brutal behaviour over the years, it was this open act of violence that brought her to breaking point and made her leave. It was at this point that she sought the help of DVR.

“DVR were there the whole way through. They really carried me from that first phone call right through to the days in court. The days when you just needed somebody by your side.

Heather can’t emphasise enough the importance of the work that DVR carry out.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the support of DVR. It’s not like their your friends who will be sitting across form you in a coffee shop on Wednesday. They are just kind and helpful.”

Despite being almost five years out of the relationship, Heather says she is still struggling for her freedom and safety. With ongoing battles over access and child-maintenance, her abuser remains a part of her life. Although she has come to terms with the fact that he will always have some part in her life, Heather managed to get her own revenge, in the form of happiness.

“We’re happy, she smiles, “and my sister said to me ‘you’re greatest revenge is to be happy’, and it’s true! I am back, and I’m better!”

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