A common element of domestic violence is social isolation – the perpetrator cuts the victim off from the people who know, care about and support them as a form of control and abuse. This means they are more reliant upon their partner and they have no outlet to share what is happening or seek help.
In my case, before I met my partner I was a “social butterfly” with regular visits from friends. Soon after we moved in together, my mates stopped calling by as they no longer felt welcome. He made it clear that he didn’t approve of my socialising. I became a “one-woman island” and this compounded my issues and made me feel very alone. It also meant I had no one to sense-check the situation, and I started to believe the abuse in our relationship was normal.
Luckily I retained one confidante, and I called her regularly on my way home from work. But even then, I would have to cut my conversations short as soon as I arrived home, as he would be standing on the veranda waiting for me, tapping his watch if I didn’t get out the car straight away.
When I eventually walked away, I felt excited but also nervous about reconnecting with my friends. None of them liked him, but they had no idea about the domestic violence I had encountered.
I moved in to a new home that was welcoming and perfect for entertaining. I was determined to rebuild my social life, however daunting it felt. At first I confined my catch ups to my inner circle – friends I knew well and trusted implicitly. I met up with each of them individually and shared the truth about the domestic violence and its impacts. Without exception, they were all very kind, understanding and relieved that I was away from the situation. That year I held a birthday party. I was amazed to see how many people came along and everyone’s support. It gave me a great boost and further momentum to rebuild my life.
There was one close friend I lost along the way, and this caused me great sadness. She distanced herself as she couldn’t bear to see what was happening in my life and I ignored her concerns. A couple of months after starting my new life, I bumped in to her in the local shopping centre. I told her she was right all along and that I had left him. She hugged me and said she was glad I was now safe. She is now my closest friend and we have weathered a few storms together since, now with a new resilience and comradeship.
If you have been socially isolated and are ready to rebuild your friendship groups, here is my advice:
- Be kind to yourself and consider your boundaries in relation to friendships – the people you want in your life, the things you are prepared to share and the time you can dedicate to friendships.
- You don’t have to become a party animal overnight – it may be better to re-establish your social circle slowly as you rebuild your confidence and outlook.
- Work out who you truly trust, organise one-on-one catch ups, and tell them the things you feel comfortable sharing. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need as this will enable them to provide the support you need for your situation.
- Consider your safety. Where possible, try and avoid those who have contact with the perpetrator so that you can cut ties and to prevent them from knowing your whereabouts and other details of your life.
- Don’t let anyone judge you for your choices – you made them for a reason and you know yourself better than anyone else.
- Be prepared to hear other people’s stories of domestic violence. When I came out and told people my story, I was amazed at how many others shared theirs, or those of people they knew. Whilst I felt sad to see others in a similar situation, it made me realise I was not alone.
Sometimes after experiencing DV, your old friendships may no longer fit, or your mates my be tied to your ex. Once you regain your confidence, it could be time to seek new members of your tribe. There are lots of ways to meet people – through hobbies, work, meet up groups etc.
Recovering from and rebuilding after DV takes time and head-space. Whilst it is important to re-establish your social connections, it is also healthy to spend time alone to take stock of your life, reflect on your journey, plan your future, and to enjoy your new-found independence.
“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.”