Tonight is my last night living in a refuge. I came here six months ago, running from a situation where I lived constantly in fear. It's been a safe house, its been in all senses of the form, a refuge. Initially I imagined refuges to be a horrible type of hostel, almost like a halfway house like the ones people go to when they leave prison. You don't come here unless you're desperate, you can't.
I know that some friends reading this will be surprised, as they didn't know that I've been living in one, it's very unassuming. Perhaps they imagine I've been gallivanting round West London drinking juice baby's and running poorly to Ken High St and back having all the fun in the world. The reality is very different.
I came here a shell of a person, worn down completely and exhausted. I'll be leaving tomorrow the complete opposite. The confidence I've gained through constant on call support has been indispensable. The greatest lessons I've learnt are that sometimes, people for no rational reason, are relentless. I've learnt that if you don't feel safe, you have to do everything in your power to change it. Lastly, and most importantly, that I have worth. I have so much worth. I am not everything I have been told and made to believe I am. I am strong, and I am courageous and I am valued not just by myself, but by others around me.
Learning to love yourself is something people harp on about all the time, but it's so important. I know myself again, I know what I want, I know how to get it, and I get it. I'm not perfect, nobody is, I am who I am and I will not apologise for it. I will never again in my life be made to feel like I'm worthless, and that everything I do is wrong, and that I'm not wanted, that I'm not loved.
I feel like this whole experience has been invaluable, it's also not been easy. Sharing a house with 11 other women and their children never would be. Not being able to tell anyone the road you live in, also not easy. Not having people round, never having company, that's very lonely. Not being able to have anything sent to you and living technically in a PO BOX is also somewhat undesireable but very much a first world problem. Seeing my daughter interact with children at all times has been great. She made a little friend and I made a friend for life with his mother. We always looked out for each other and it's been quite lonely since she moved on. She showed me traditional Morrocan music and I showed her Metallica, which I don't think was appreciated but you can't win them all.
I've also had so much support, and weekly meetings with a key worker and a specific domestic abuse health visitor. It's like on call counselling, its great. They also help you with moving on. Unfortunately in London, that's a terrifying prospect. If I had applied to the borough that I live in, I would have gone into sheltered housing for another 6 months and if I did get housed it probably wouldn't even be in London, and if it was, I wouldn't be able to afford the rent.
London has exhausted me. I've been here on and off the best part of nearly 10 years. When I was a single girl, working with no children it was great. The best place in the world. I was always skint but I was always having fun and experiencing things, but now it doesn't feel so safe. I fear Arabella's being exposed to too much. She's not even three yet and in the past six months shes witnessed the aftermath of someone being hit by a train, shes seen violence in the street and she witnessed myself and another girl on a bus being sexually harassed which for me was terrifying, let alone her.
They say home is where the heart is, and that's where I'm going. I'm going home. I'm going back to where I feel the most safe, where I can have a settled life and finally be truly happy. I have a support network of friends, family and extended family far greater than what I have here. Sure, I'm going to be bored out my tree within five minutes and the monotony of the place with be mind numbingly dull but maybe that's what I need, safety, security. Something I don't think I've ever actually had, but the place once you leave to a big city for a lengthy time, is so much more desirable. I want to be able to go on dog walks through the country, and look up at the sky and see the stars. I want to know my community, I'm so fed up of ill mannered people shoving past you and not even looking up to say sorry. I want to know my neighbors names and see my friends at the park who also have children on a daily basis. I want to sit in a field and listen to Bob Dylan, and write and just be free.
So now, I'll go and pack the rest of my things, (impossible when child is awake.) Tomorrow I'll drop her off to her paternal grandmothers, come back, load up the car and I'll be gone.
I really do urge anyone that thinks they are in an abusive relationship or thinks that they could be, to get in contact with Womens Aid and The National Domestic Abuse Hotline and if they tell you to go, fucking go. The sooner you do, the better. I kick myself for not going earlier, and it's given me more than I could have ever imagined. That's why I will never be silenced, I will never, ever stop fighting for other women who need help, I will never stop fighting to stop DV and mental health being stigmatised, and I will never stop fighting for myself. I am proud of myself because it is terrifying and it is unbelievably hard and its taken every single fiber of my being to get to where I am today. People that try and silence you or stop you, only prove further that you are right, and don't forget that.
So au revoir London, I love you, but I really have to leave you.