Life in the house of an emotional and psychological abuser is never comfortable, and summer holidays and Connor's birthday were no exceptions. The birthday day itself was ok if there was a party and an opportunity for William to 'show off' as a Dad. There were many times when I have heard other parents say how lucky Connor was to have such a parent. Little did they know the everyday truth or that I had done all the party preparations and food and house tidying, and William merely rocked up and took over once the guests arrived.
As the day was not about me (they never were), I got on with making sure that Connor had a great time with his friends and wasn't aware of the critical words and biting sarcasm of William.
As it was summer, every birthday was an excuse to enjoy outdoor activities, such as making water slides on a piece of plastic on the bank in the field. Connor loved his day, and I often felt that our life was normal on these occasions. It's amazing how the laughter and joy of the children kept me going and helped me convince myself I was doing the right thing for my family.
I tried to make sure we had a few days' holidays as well. When Connor was a baby, the first year was a learning experience, as William decided he had better things to do after three days (By better things, he meant a car or sheep sale). Off he went and left us. Connor and I finished our week in a caravan alone. Don't get me wrong, it was lovely and peaceful and abuse-free, but I remember feeling hurt that William put cars and sheep as more worthwhile than spending time with us.
The following year I decided to ask a friend and my daughters to come away with us instead. My friend was having a tough time and just separated from her husband. When the babies were in bed, much of the evening time was spent consoling her. She was terrified of being alone. I now realise that this did nothing for my feelings of insecurity and what might happen if I left William.
There had already been several arguments and instances when I had broached the subject of separation with William. He had pointed out that I would never do any good on my own and that I wasn't taking his son anywhere. Without realising, I had already become a victim of his manipulation and verbal abuse. I believed him rather than look to my inner strengths. There were also the good times when I felt that it must be that something was wrong with me. Why didn't I accept our situation and make the most of being a stay at home Mum and do as William told me? These minor niggles continued for many years more before I found the strength to make a move away.
Even today, when I see families celebrating a child's birthday or at the seaside on holiday, I wonder what is happening under the surface. I hope talking about abuse and raising awareness will empower more women to leave these situations much quicker than I did.