In this blog post, I’ve decided to open up about something deeply personal to me to mark the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls across the world.

Women who are abused mentally, sexually, violently are not weak. In fact, they are strong. They have the ability to suffer unspeakable horrors at home and then put on their ‘social mask’, go out and do what they need to do to hide their truth.

I know because I was one of those women.

To be honest, at the time, I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship. I was a strong girl who had fallen in love with a deeply troubled man. I was the only one strong enough to save him. The abuse I suffered was a mere side effect of him rebelling against the help I was trying to give him. Of course, I know differently now. I had indeed fallen for a deeply troubled man, but his issues were not mine to solve. He was on a path of self-destruction and determined to take me with him by whatever means.

I was so wrapped up in my love for him, on trying to create a perfect life for us, trying to be what he deemed to be a ‘perfect partner’, that I didn’t see I was in a pattern of abuse. Did I see it when he attacked me on a night out in front of a pub full of people? No. When he threatened to murder my dog? No. When he drunkenly kicked me across the living room? No. When he told me constantly that no-one else would ever want me as I was such an awful person, repeatedly listing all my flaws? No. When he trashed the house and tried to strangle me? No.

At the time these things were happening on a daily basis, I would break down, allow myself a few hours to fall apart. Then the strength would come again. The strength to go to work and be the one cracking jokes and spurring my team on to achieve their targets. The strength to go on a night out and entertain my friends. The strength to be the person people wanted to be around and never show what was going on inside my head. I was not a victim.

When the relationship ended, it was that strength that helped me start a brand-new life. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t leave him. He left me. But the important thing here is that it ended. It was time for me to rebuild, create a life I could live in rather than just exist in. Over time, I did just that. It was the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. At the start, every day was a fight just to get through it, I still had that voice, his voice, in my head telling me I would fail. But I fought on. Moment by moment, day by day. I became someone I could be truly proud of. You never leave abuse behind, but instead of a loud and frightening monster on your back, it becomes a silent shadow that’s always there but doesn’t rule your life anymore.

The purpose of me writing this is not to try and offer advice to anyone. Each survivor will have their own story of how they got through. It is a deeply personal journey and one you have to find your own way through. But, if you are reading this and are looking for a way out, please just know, I am silently standing with you. I, and many others are here, we didn’t know if we could do it, live without him, but we did and I promise you, it’s worth it. Life can be great again, with no fear of what you’re going home to, no self-loathing. We are waiting for you to use that strength you have to find every day. To take that strength and use it to move towards a new life instead of using it to keep you stuck in your old one.

Will it be easy? No. Will you be filled with self-doubt? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes. Can you live without him? Absofuckinglutely.