It's four years since I made the bravest decision of my life—to leave my mentally abusive relationship. Yet my ex-husband still thinks he can manipulate me—which is one of the reasons I want to share my story with Cosmo. I want to stop other women going through a horror that, even today, I'm still struggling with.
When we got together, I'd been in the same friendship group as Damian* for a few years. After I was brutally date-raped when I was 20, Damian was the first person I confided in. He acted as my rock: taking me to medical appointments, and to-and-from work.
I began to wonder how I'd get through it without his support. I quickly moved in with him, as I couldn't bear to stay in my childhood home where the rape took place. My parents were upset, but knew Damian and took his word that he'd protect and care for me.
We became a couple, and I felt safe—so much so that even though I wasn't really attracted to him, I thought if we separated I'd have no one. It was better to remain with my safety net than to have to go it alone—or so I thought.
Gradually I became stronger, and the "old me" began to blossom—which is when I noticed how badly Damian treated me. He'd insult me—calling me fat even though I was borderline underweight—and laugh at me when I was dressed ready to go out.
I needed to feel loved, but instead I was made to feel repulsive. When we went out with friends, he'd wait until I was tipsy and then argue with me to make me cry, so I'd look like a drama queen. Friends felt sorry for him having to "look after me."
Whenever I went out with girlfriends alone, Damian would constantly call and text to check when I'd be home. He made me feel guilty if I "dared" to have a drink after work with the girls, or even go to the movies with my mom. Friends began to notice I was always walking on eggshells, worrying about getting home in case he shouted at me for being late.
I'd always been ambitious—an accomplished singer/songwriter and violinist, with lots of other hobbies. But I stopped doing most of them because he always put down. I believed I was worthless.
Of course, he did whatever he wanted—while eventually, the only place I was allowed to go was the gym. My confidence plummeted. I felt unattractive, yet I craved Damian's approval. He had me exactly where he wanted me.
He only ever hit me once, but the brutality of his tongue was as cutting as a punch in the face, and no one saw the internal bruises he was causing. Our sex life, too, was clinical and cold, and Damian even used his knowledge of my rape as a weapon against me. I lost count of the amount of times he called me "a freak" in bed.
I knew I shouldn't have married him. But I was in too deep. The proposal, seven years after we got together, was a ring plonked on my lap with a casual, "Well, will ya?"— the precious words every girl dreams of from her Prince Charming...
I knew I was making a terrible mistake, but before I knew it the wedding had been organized and paid for—and I was scared. By now, I was so dependent on Damian, and so isolated from my friends and family, I thought if I didn't marry him I'd have no one.
The only control I felt I had came in the form of an eating disorder and self harm, which I inflicted on myself by cutting my arms. These things were mine—things he couldn't intervene in.
Eventually, 18 months into the marriage, I took an overdose. Damian stood over me, forcing pills more into my mouth, telling me to "do everyone a favor and just die." I'll never forget those words.
Even then, I didn't leave. But the last straw came when, one night, I dressed up in sexy lingerie to "make an effort," even though having sex with him disgusted me.
"Cover that fat up, it's a turn off," he snarled.
The next day, I was meant to meet my brother and his girlfriend in town—but Damian decided five minutes before we were due to leave that he couldn't be bothered to see my family. It was then that a felt a surge of strength—and told him I wanted a divorce.
It was such a relief to know I'd be free—although I knew he wouldn't make leaving easy. A court injunction meant he couldn't come near me, so instead he'd come into the house and steal my things when I was out.
I was left with barely anything—but I still had my sanity, which was the most precious thing of all. When we finally sold our house, 18 months after I'd asked for a divorce, I could finally close the door on the horrific years I'd been under his evil spell.
Today, I'm moving forward with my life—although Damian's still not completely out of it. I'm living my dreams, am slowly realizing my worth, and doing all the things I was unable to do when I was with him.
A few weeks ago, he called me, asking for money. I'm not sure he'll ever be completely gone. But having the strength to tell him "no" showed me he can no longer intimidate me, make me shake with fear, or have an ounce of control over me.
He no longer has any right to my life, dreams, ambitions or thoughts. This is the strongest I have ever felt in my life.
I'm sharing this story for those women who are currently in a relationship like the one I was trapped in for nine long years, and plead with them to confide in someone who'll help you to leave. You can do it—and believe me, you'll never look back and regret it.
You deserve the best in life—and should never let anyone tell you otherwise.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.