Today I have the most precious things in the world; peace, freedom and hope. For a long time I thought I would never get there.
Things only changed when I joined the Sisterhood Choir. By then I’d gone through years of abuse. I’d left my marriage, taken my two young children, one with autism, and was living in temporary accommodation. My mental health was suffering, my ex-husband was bombarding me and I was in a very bad place.
When I came to the choir I met ladies who had been through what I had been through. It was like an arm round my shoulder. I made friends who talked to me and told me there was light at the end of the tunnel. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me.
I met my ex-husband when we were both at Bible College. We became good friends who loved God. We started dating and within a year we were married.
My ex-husband became a pastor and we began our ministry. Our first post was in a big church. He was charismatic, a good performer and everyone loved his teaching.
Early on things began to go wrong. My ex-husband couldn’t cope with the pressures of being a pastor. He started drinking and smoking. Then the violence started, accompanied by the most horrible words. He hit me and pulled my hair. I lost all my self-confidence and doubted anyone would believe me.
We had a child and my ex-husband became controlling, isolating me from my mother and friends, not allowing me much time outside the house. Once he threatened to kill me. I went to the police and made a statement. He was arrested but denied everything and I withdrew my statement. I felt worthless and didn’t know where I would go or how I would survive with a young child if I left him.
We had another child, a boy, and he was different to my little girl. He cried all the time and was very hard to soothe. When the community nurse visited she could see something was wrong between us. She said, ‘If you need anything, you can always call me’. I never did. She couldn’t reassure me that I’d be okay if I left.
The violence got worse. He crashed the car while drunk. As a result, he lost his job, we lost the house so we were homeless and moved back to Northern Ireland. We tried marriage counselling, but the drinking and the violence continued. Our marriage ended.
I moved to Kingston. My ex-husband accused me of kidnapping the kids. I was exhausted, but battled through court and got custody of the kids.
I was working, studying to become a teacher and looking after two young kids. We were in a hostel in one room with two beds and a tiny fridge. My son had undiagnosed autism. My mental health was getting so poor, I worried about myself. I begged the social worker for some respite; I begged the school for help. I received none.
The first time I felt that someone was listening to me was when I joined the choir. I’ve always loved singing. I could bring the kids, someone would look after them and I could be with the other ladies in the choir. I had support.
We got a two bedroomed flat, I had the choir and I began to feel I had stability. I started dating. It had taken five long years to reach that point. Then I got a text from my ex-husband saying he was getting married again, he was a Christian again and he was moving to London.
I was glad for him and hoped he would take some responsibility for the children and be more involved with them. He lived nearby and took the kids every other weekend but my daughter began to change, becoming angry with me and disengaged. I struggled during Covid Lockdown and asked him for help. He simply suggested he take the children if I couldn’t cope.
After the children had been with him a week, I had a text informing me that they had made an allegation against me and would not be returning. I felt my world collapsing! The allegations were bizarre – I’d been watching porn in front of the children, that I was drinking, that I was dating a Muslim and Muslims were bad people. I was horrified that the court believed him, (despite his criminal record and having a non-molestation order against him) and he gained custody. He was so charismatic and charming, people believed him.
He had the kids for ten weeks. I had them every Saturday. One Saturday, my son told me his dad said they were moving to the country. No warning. Social Services had told him he had to take the children back to school so now I could go to court and this time the judge was more suspicious.
He wasn’t completely honest with the court and for the first time his mask slipped. The judge saw through him and ordered the children returned to me immediately.
I will never forget that day. I remember going to the Sisterhood Choir. I was so happy I had someone to share the news with. I had people who understood what I had gone through, who knew about the journey and who were there for me.
Once I got the kids back they were a lot calmer. My daughter went back to her old self, and my son was calmer and slept for the first time all night in months. That is the moment I felt I was finally free.
I want to say to women who are going through the same things: There is hope! I cannot pretend it will be easy but you will finally be free. Believe that you can do it because you can. You can train, have a career, start to date again and your kids will be all right. There IS light at the end of the tunnel!
Peace, freedom and hope. They are the most precious things. Once you have those, you have everything.