“How I got my life back after leaving my abusive husband”

Written by Elita Nusrat

Elita Nusrat thought she had found her happy ending when she got married. This is how she rebuilt her life after her husband became violent, and her advice for other abused partners on how to get out, heal, and get on.

Trigger warning: this article contains references to and some description of domestic violence. 

Every morning, I remind myself what I am grateful for. It puts me in a positive mindset, helps me connect with my desires and sets me up for success. And it helps me appreciate how far I have come.

Growing up in Bangladesh, my progressive-minded parents had given me all the love, support, and resources I needed. After I graduated from university, I joined a multi-national bank and was on my way towards achieving my childhood dream of becoming a ‘big boss’. When, aged 28, I met the man who would become my husband, we quickly became friends.

From the beginning, something wasn’t quite right. He was constantly demanding my attention, calling me few times a day ‘just to check in’, picking me up from work in the evening and so on. He told me I was the only good thing in his life, and that he would do anything to be with me and make me happy. Slowly but surely, my heart melted and when he proposed, I accepted. 

My parents were against the relationship because he was a divorcee with two kids, and they thought I was taking on too much. I thought they would come around when they saw how happy I was. Blinded by love, I decided to elope. On the second day of our honeymoon in the Maldives, we got into an argument because I had a meal without him. He was extremely angry and asked, “You ate without me?” Taken aback, I said, “Why didn’t you eat if you were hungry too?” He slapped me so hard that he punctured my eardrum. He didn’t like that I had a comeback.

I remember feeling stunned but aware enough to realise that I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. The next day, despite him trying to stop me, I called my family and told them what had happened. My father asked me to come back home and said he would take care of things when I returned.My husband said repeatedly that it would never happen again. It’s a story you hear over and over again – the hope that things will get better; that it was a one-off. And like so many women I decided to believe that this was a one-off. The alternative was a broken marriage and the prospect of that was too scary, and too stigmatised. 

Despite having a very supportive immediate family, the wider culture had ingrained in me the idea that it’s a woman’s responsibility to make her marriage work. Divorced women were often labelled as ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘bad’ women and criticised or gossiped about. When my father requested that I divorce my husband, I said I wanted to give my marriage another chance.

I walked on eggshells every day trying to appease my husband so he wouldn’t hit me. He watched my every move: who I was talking to, what I was talking about and where I was going. I wasn’t allowed to meet friends without clearing it with him first, and he approved which of them were welcome in our home. He had the passcode to my phone and would constantly check my messages, then get frustrated because there was nothing incriminating. I even hid my bank statements so he wouldn’t find out that I was earning more than him.

I stopped taking care of myself.I wouldn’t look in the mirror for too long as my sad eyes made me feel even worse. Despite the physical signs, I worked hard to hide everything from my family. I didn’t want to worry them, and I also didn’t want them to think less of my husband. Those who cared for me sensed something was wrong, but no one ever just asked me outright. I was doing everything I could to meet societal expectation. 

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I stayed in my marriage for a year and a half, until one night in September 2014 I knew I had to leave, or he could kill me. We had been out for dinner, and he’d come home drunk and had started kicking me. I told him he had no respect for women and that angered him even more. He picked me up violently and threw me to the floor. I tried to call my father and brother, but it was so late that they were both asleep. Finally, I got hold of my sister who was living in the UK, and in a different time zone. She sent her best friend, who lived near me in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, to come and rescue me. At 1.30am, I left my home with one piece of clothing and never went back.

It took a year to get my divorce. I then had to rebuild myself. In September 2015, I moved from Bangladesh to the UK to study for an MBA. Achieving high grades and winning university competitions gave me a renewed sense of happiness and confidence, but I kept people at a distance. I didn’t want anyone to know what I had been through.

Two years later, I moved to Singapore to join a management consulting firm. While dealing with loneliness and long hours at work, I realised I had become a people-pleaser who was afraid to say no and that I needed help. You can uncover a lot about yourself and your conditioning through journaling. I realised that I blamed myself for choosing the wrong man to marry and, as I saw it, bringing suffering onto myself. Writing letters to the married Elita on her honeymoon and telling her that the violence was not her fault, helped me forgive and love myself again. Forgiving my ex-husband seemed daunting. But I took my time, and I managed to do that too. Forgiveness set me free. 

Elita Nusrat: “It is a long and fraught journey to find yourself again after trauma, but it is possible.”

My message to women in an abusive relationship

With counselling and coaching, I gradually started to feel stronger and, most importantly, was no longer ashamed to share my story. I recorded a TEDx Talk on combating domestic violence in a bid to reach as many people as possible. I could see that by being honest, I encouraged others to do the same: when I posted on Facebook that I was doing the talk, and why, I received a lot of messages from people sharing their own stories of abuse and resilience.

My message to 1.3 million women suffering domestic violence in the UK is that you deserve not only a better life but the best life. I want you to think of the dreams that you had, the ones that made you smile, and know that those dreams await you. All you need to do now is to take a step towards that. You no longer need to hide your pain and suffering. Please talk to a friend or a trusted family member about what you are going through. Please ask for help.

Make a decision to leave your abuser and create a plan along with your trusted friend or family member on your rehabilitation. Involve law enforcement if you need to. I know how paralysing your fear is, but you can escape. It is a long and fraught journey to find yourself again after trauma, but it is possible. When I look into the mirror now, I see a woman who has not only survived but thrived.

Now I am living an amazing life in Singapore, surrounded by supportive friends. My family’s love and support is with me every step of the way as I spread awareness on domestic violence and abuse. I live a life of gratitude and purpose every day. I want the same for you.

How to support someone in an abusive relationship

If you have a feeling that someone you care about is suffering, please do ask. They might deny there’s an issue but offer them a judgement-free safe space; offer your love and support and be patient. If they finally open up, listen and ask them what they need. Remember that abuse is terrifying, but the prospect of leaving can be too. Figures from Women’s Aid show that there is a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation. 41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a male partner/former partner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 had separated or taken steps to separate from them. Eleven of these 37 women were killed within the first month of separation and 24 were killed within the first year. It took me a year and a half. For some women, it takes decades.

Wherever you live and whoever you are, being a victim of domestic abuse is steeped in guilt. Narratives like “She should have seen it coming”; “She should have left earlier”, “She should have listened to her family” or “She should have stood up to him” – all place the onus on the victim. While researching my TEDx talk,I found out that two of my relatives were being abused by their husbands – both stayed in their marriages. This year, the British Government committed £81 million in a three-year plan to tackle perpetrators and support the survivors of domestic violence; but it’s the narratives that need to change too. There is too often a tendency to scrutinise the victim for reasons as to “why this happened to her”.

At the point when victims are trying to find the courage to rebuild their lives, they are made to question whether they did something to deserve their abuse; and whether they deserve a chance at happiness. They do. You can help them to achieve that happiness.

In the UK, the domestic violence helpline is 0808 2000 247. Alternatively, contact Women’s Aid or Refuge for advice and support. 

Images: NIN9 Studios, Vinod Rai Sharma

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