Life seemed to all go to plan for Joanne - the perfect family, home, and career. But her world was shaken when that perfect vision fell apart, and she realised she’d endured years of emotional abuse
How did I get to this point in my life? How did a girl living her fairytale end up as a woman all alone at midnight, piles of books around her, laptop whirring away, and tears staining her face? How had a happily married mother of two, and outstanding teacher, end up on the verge of divorce, and on the brink of a mental breakdown brought on by stress?
I couldn’t go on much longer at this rate. I was making myself sick. I thought I had made it through the worst of times. I was strong, I thought. I’d healed. But what I’d been through suddenly surfaced in the light of a new trauma. And it forced me to look deep inside myself and start healing properly – for real this time. It was time to get to know myself for the first time in my life – to know what I stood for, what I wanted, what I didn’t want. It was time to stand up and forgo the fairytale, and instead be my own superhero.
Back in 2011, my whole world fell apart. I found out that my high-school sweetheart was having an affair. Together at 14, married by 23, two beautiful girls in my late 20s. I felt lucky, even a bit smug. I was proud of our story. So having entered into my 30s, feeling like I had made it in life, the discovery hit me like a ton of bricks.
I still had an unfaltering belief in my husband’s character. I thought it was a silly mistake. I stayed. I blamed myself, I gave him excuses. He said he’d chosen me. I thought we could make it work – we would be stronger than before.
I very quickly realised that this wasn’t the case at all. His ‘short fling’ story was a concocted one. His mistress was a work colleague, and was pregnant. His lies, his continued devious behaviour, and his lack of effort to make things right, meant I started to lose all respect for him. But I’d forgiven him. And it was hard to give up on my fairytale – it was my whole identity.
I spent two more years in that relationship, until I found more emails from the same woman. This time I left. I’d tried to end it a couple of times before, but this became the catalyst I needed to stick to my guns. He didn’t make it easy though. For 10 months, he wrote love letters and begged me to take him back. He used my daughters as a means of gaining access to the house, and a chance for more emotional manipulation.
Then, in 2014, my mum booked me an apartment for a girls’ holiday – a chance to recuperate. The only thing was that all my girlfriends had just had babies. So I took a male friend with me. He had suffered a bereavement at the same time that I had left my ex, and so we had become close, supporting each other.
On my return, my ex husband begged me to come back to him again, and I pushed for a divorce. Angry, and knowing I had gone away with our mutual friend, he lost his temper, picking up a kitchen stool and hurling it in my direction. I’d made a promise to a girlfriend of mine, who had never liked the sound of my ex’s behaviour, that I would phone the police if I felt threatened. I did just that. As I ran back to the kitchen with the phone in my hand, I saw my husband taking a knife out of the draw. My life flashed before my eyes.
The next few months gave me space. With bail conditions and an upcoming trial, I finally had time to heal without endless harassment. But I had to find the strength to be a prosecution witness.
It came easier than I expected. A domestic violence advisor asked me some questions, and it dawned on me that I had been in an emotionally abusive relationship for a very long time. I had suffered scare tactics and aggression in recent years, which had only been heightened by the guilt he felt about his affair. I found out about other affairs, and I realised I had been living with a stranger – far from the fairytale prince I had clung on to.
Don’t wait until a trauma or until you are lost to find yourself. Don’t remain trapped in a reality that you created when you didn’t know your true self
He was found guilty of assault and criminal damage in court, but appealed the decision. So I had to find the strength all over again, a year later. All the while I got closer and closer to my male friend, who became my rock. I survived. People said how strong I was.
I really thought I had made it through unscathed. I ploughed myself into teaching. Perhaps that stopped me from truly dealing with everything. There was no one at home to tell me to stop working, so I worked myself into the ground. And then an entirely new relationship made me experience my past trauma anew.
There was a change of management at my school. Both the headteacher and the deputy headteacher left. Both had valued me, and because of this my ridiculous workload felt manageable. I still had purpose and self-worth in my life, even though I felt I had failed as a wife and home-maker. Teaching became my whole identity and worth.
So when management was replaced, I was keen to make a big impression. I failed miserably. I was made to feel inadequate. I would go so far as to say I felt victimised, and the way I was treated went on to have a huge impact on my mental health.
I had thought the domestic abuse of my past was way behind me. But this situation took me right back to how I felt with my ex for all those years. I was a nervous wreck. I was second-guessing myself with every decision, and the way they talked to me had me shivering and queasy. I realised that I hadn’t healed and that I still had huge issues with confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness. And to make it all worse, I lost the only bit of my identity I had left – being a great teacher.
This new relationship trauma, this time in the workplace, brought it home that something had to change. In 2017, I realised teaching was part of the problem, and left.
Through a network marketing company called Arbonne, I found my biggest saviour – personal development. I devoured book after book, audio after audio. I was inspired by the stories of positivity and success. I learnt about myself and took responsibility for my own part in what had gone wrong. I started to rebuild my self-esteem, replacing old beliefs for new ones.
But after this period of recovery, I realised I was lost. I had been trapped in a life-long plan that I created when I was 14. It hadn’t worked out. So what now? I went on the biggest journey of my life – discovering my purpose, and setting about living it! All I knew was that I wanted to help women see and reach their full potential. And I didn’t want women to have to hit crisis point or personal trauma before they took the time to discover their purpose and brilliance.
My story has a happy ending. My trauma led to growth and happiness. It’s 2020 and I have a happy, healthy relationship, where I am not only ‘allowed’, but encouraged to grow and flourish. I am a role model for my two young daughters, doing what I love and making a difference. I coach women through a process of self-discovery and exploration, so that they can have happier, healthier relationships with themselves and others, too.
My business is called EMERGEncy, because I believe it is an emergency to discover who you are early in life. It is also what I encourage you to do today through my story. Take time to emerge. Don’t wait until a trauma or until you are lost to find yourself. Don’t remain trapped in a reality or expectation that you created when you didn’t know your true self or your true desires. Emerge and embrace the ‘whole woman’ that you are. And start today.
Nicola Vanlint | PG Dip Adv Dip MBACP (Accred), says:
Joanne’s courageous story bought a Groucho Marx quote to mind: “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” Her new trauma compelled her to reflect on how her past was still impacting her present. We can pick out a weed, but if we don’t dig down to the root, it has the potential to reappear. I believe we internalise expectations from society from a very early age. Joanne was an example of this, seeking the ‘fairytale’ life. Joanne now extends her experience of self-discovery by helping other women to pause, evaluate, and live their lives to their full potential.