Avril: One woman’s story of courage and survival

Well, we’re now into Christmas week folks, a glorious time for those long-awaited and forensically-planned family get-togethers, in fact, as the song says, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year,’ and it’s also a week when women all across Ireland work hard to make the home a fun and safe haven for everyone, especially their kiddies. It’s also a week when I thank my angels for sending me a caring, loving and protective husband and for my happy and healthy family.

  However, tragically, I know too well that in some homes, behind the glistening fairy lights, behind the carefully wrapped presents and the Santa stockings that have been lovingly, carefully hung on the mantelpiece and behind that expertly applied concealer make-up, it’s a sad fact that many Irish families, in particular, women and their kiddies are harbouring a dreadful, sickening secret. They don’t want you, me, the neighbours, their friends or other family members to know that, appallingly, they are struggling to make it through the holidays and desperately trying to cope with the effects of a mean, vicious and vile abuser, a jumped up, tin-pot dictator who’s appointed himself the family’s chief oppressor (you’ve guessed it folks, I don’t suffer thugs gladly, as one particular abuser I used to know found out to his peril) and some of those families are located right here in County Roscommon. Domestic violence knows no social class or culture nor does it know any boundaries; scarily, this means that none of us are immune. And so, it is with that thought in mind, this week, I’d like to shine a spotlight on one brave woman’s struggle and give you just a little, of what I hope, is a snapshot into her life. 

  Her name is Avril D’Arcy, she’s an educated professional working in the high octane world of finance and she comes from a rural area of County Meath. Avril has agreed to waive her anonymity for this interview in the hope that her situation helps others. This is her story.

  At age 26, Avril, who was still grieving following the death of her beloved father – whom she describes as “the strong male influence” – the previous year, took the decision to move back home to care for her mother, whom she says “was obviously not taking my dad’s passing well so I moved back home with her and I suppose I was looking for an outlet and that is when I met my boyfriend but unfortunately I just stepped from one smothering situation right into another one.”

  Avril’s abuse at the hands of her then-boyfriend, first manifested quite early into the relationship, however, even though she didn’t recognise it as abuse, she says she knew “something wasn’t right” when, bombarding her with text messages, her boyfriend would “get angry when I didn’t answer quickly enough then saying he wasn’t annoyed just concerned and worried about my safety when I didn’t get back to him. This worried me but people would say how lucky I was that he cared so much about me so I felt stupid, but I see now he was controlling me. He would also make plans way into the future that included me but he never consulted me, meaning all of my time was being tied up in these plans and in spending time with him and to complain to others about it seemed petty because they kept saying oh isn’t he a great guy” explains Avril.

  However, there was the issue of financial control. Avril’s abuser lost his job but somehow her entire financial situation became tied up in his, with her paying all of the household bills and him having control over the social aspect of the family funds. “He convinced me that this was a good way of divvying out the money and it was ‘our’ money when we had to pay bills but it was ‘his’ money when we went out socialising, meaning he held the cash, forcing me to ask him for money when I needed to buy myself something. I actually gave him the money to hold when we went out because he made me feel that I was stupid and that I’d lose the money if I held it and of course anyone watching just thought,oh he is so generous the way he gives you money, but it was my money, he wasn’t even working! He would even have control of my bank card and he’d take it and use it to pay his bar bills and he’d come back and announce that he’d covered the bar tab like he’d been the one to pay.”

  However, following an unhappy and abusive three years spent being controlled and manipulated by this bully and his psychological and financial torture, Avril became the victim of physical abuse. “He closed a door on top of me and he knocked me into a wall” she confides.  However, Avril didn’t hit back because, as is the case with most women who are abused, Avril says “my thoughts were not to resist but to minimise the physical hurt and I didn’t want to make the situation worse by hitting back. Besides it was never his fault it was always everyone else who was to blame. He was the Messiah who wouldn’t take responsibility for the negative things that happened in his life. He even blamed everyone else when he was sacked from his job, and living with him was a typical case of ‘gas lighting’ where he told everyone I was crazy” says Avril, whose situation is typical of most domestic abuse incidents. However, she is a little different and possibly more fortunate than a lot of women who live in violent, controlling environments in that she says luckily she wasn’t tied to this individual by marriage or children.

  “Thank God I’d no kids and could get away and completely cut the ties.”

  It was following a particularly violent second incident where her abuser knocked Avril into a wall that she decided enough was enough, that this was domestic abuse.“I forced myself into leaving; this was a line I had drawn…that if it happened again I was leaving. I wish I hadn’t felt like I’d needed an excuse, I wish I’d left earlier but that’s the way it was.”

  Despite losing her apartment and, as she says, losing her life, having to resort to living on people’s couches for a long time, two and a half years later she says she has “finally got my life back,” adding, “I was quite outspoken as a younger person and this is what he liked about me at first, but he then tried to break my confidence. I also suffered from depression and anxiety as a teenager and when you’re in a relationship with someone and you love them you tell them these things about you but you don’t expect them to use them against you but I see now that it was conditioning, it was programming and I never told anyone about what went on ‘till I left him.”

  Coming from a rural background, Avril says she understands what women living in isolation or in small communities who may be suffering at the hands of an abuser go through. “You can kind of get stuck in situations. I grew up in the countryside so I know there is an extra element to feeling isolated and sometimes you can’t even get out for a cup of coffee or a chat with a friend but Women’s Aid were fantastic and have given me so much support and I would urge anyone who is experiencing abuse to contact them. They helped me to become the survivor that I am and I wish I’d contacted them sooner.”

  Now, two and a half years later, Avril who is 32 and who remains single because, as she says, despite the fact she is feeling much better she wants to fully understand herself and get back to her old self, reveals she still doesn’t trust her own decisions when it comes to beginning a new relationship with another partner so wants to give herself time.

  “I was at the emotional level of a 17-year-old in that relationship because he’d really broken me down and it has taken a long time to reprogramme myself to understand that I am now a woman who is living my own life and making decisions for myself. I’m enjoying my independence and not having to worry about what someone else is thinking and doing. For the first time in a long time I’m looking forward to spending Christmas enjoying being myself.”

  At this time of year, in fact throughout the year but in particular during times when alcohol – which is not the sole cause of domestic violence but it doesn’t help matters – is plentiful; when finances are under strain and again, lack of money is not the cause nor is it a valid reason for someone acting like a common thug and battering or abusing his partner and family; but I would suggest to readers that we all have a duty to keep an eye out for each other. If know anyone that needs help, advice, is under stress or pressure and if there is any indication that they are about to become or are currently dealing with someone displaying a system of behaviours that is controlling their actions and/or feelings, then please, I would urge you to advise them to make that call, to take inspiration from Avril’s story, a story of survival, hope, bravery and courage and ring any of these numbers today:

* Women’s Aid Ph: 1800 341 900 (open 10 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week, except Christmas Day). It’s a Freephone helpline.

* Roscommon SAFE Link Ph: 071-9664200 (open Monday-Friday, 9 am to 5 pm).

* Also on www.roscommonsafeline.com click on the ‘useful links and services’ button for a comprehensive list of contact details of other agencies that may be of help to you.

* Dial 999 and call the Gardaí.