Oxford and Everything After

Seeing as I opened Pandora’s box in my last post, I thought I might as well finish going through the rest of the contents before I put it all away again.

Here we go.

It was September 2011 – one year since I left Lincoln – that I moved to Oxford for a job with the church. That summer I had been doing some children’s work at a Christian festival.

The guy that ran the children’s programme was based in Oxford and he was the one that told me about the opportunity there.

I had a lot of different tasks, from more children’s and youth work to setting out tables and chairs, helping with meals for elderly people and audio-visual displays.

And I loved it. For the very first time in my life, I felt like I was doing something worthwhile. Making a difference.

From that September to December, I gave it my all and I got a lot of confidence and self-esteem in return.

Then I returned to Northern Ireland for Christmas. 

Spending time with my parents has never been easy for me. There were a ton of insidious comments that I won’t detail here, but the crux of it was that it shook my newfound feeling of self-worth. Once I had stopped for the break, a wave of exhaustion hit me from all of the extra efforts I’d been putting in. With these two things combined, I was a little less enthusiastic when I went back to Oxford.

I still loved my job – the whole life I was living there – but I was also tired, emotionally and physically. The holidays had been the exact opposite of restful.

Regardless, I got back to it. I soon got caught up in church life again.

This is the point where, if you read part one of my journey, you’ll probably be able to guess what happens next from the pattern of what went before.

There was a guy.

This person was a triple threat for grabbing my attention and taking me over. He came across all lovely and caring, he had a terrible sob story, and he was, as it turned out, controlling as f*ck.

…I’m debating here how much detail to go into. I guess the specifics don’t matter so much, now, so I will summarize by saying that I was manipulated, used, and abused. Though I didn’t really see it at the time.

I didn’t see a lot at the time.

I couldn’t think straight. The guy was an expert in not giving me enough time or space to process anything that was happening.

The people I worked with and for were worried about me, but I dismissed their concerns.

I would rationalize the guy’s behaviour because he had been a victim himself. It didn’t make what he was doing to me okay, but it explained it, and he could change. He kept promising me he would change.

He told me he loved me and wanted to marry me.

He kept pushing my boundaries. And pushing, and pushing.

Any time I pushed back, he would become this wounded puppy of a person, so filled with rejection that I ended up apologizing for just trying to keep myself safe.

After everything that happened in Lincoln, I did not want to go down certain roads again. I told this guy that and he said he understood, but the pushing did not stop.

Eventually, I gave in.

Under coercion, I let him have sex with me. And suddenly the guilt cycle of before started up again; my sense of shame made worse when he announced to some high up people in the church – my mentors and friends – what I had done.

The church people got together and had a meeting. I was asked to go back to Northern Ireland.

To say I was devastated doesn’t state my feelings strongly enough.

I wasn’t just leaving a job, but a whole life I’d built. I left without saying goodbye to anyone beyond the minister and the people I was staying with, taking a little bit of solace in the fact that it was ‘for my own safety’ and that they would ‘send him away instead’ if they could.

For about a month after I returned to N.I., I was still getting messages from the guy. He would rant about the injustice of what the church had done in keeping us apart. He vowed to show up on my doorstep.

He never once apologized.

I had nightmares of him breaking into my house, like he promised to do. By this point, what he had put me through had started to sink in. I was scared to leave the house in case I would run into him. Because I wouldn’t put it past him to actually follow me across the sea. He told me he’d do it a hundred times. He got angry when I told him to leave me alone.

Unlike the first controlling boyfriend I had, he didn’t just accept my decision to cut ties and fade away into that good night.

I mean, he did eventually. I don’t get emails or texts from him anymore, so I guess he moved on, but it took me a lot longer than that to get over it all. I still had all of the emotional scars from this guy when I was with the boyfriend who came after him.

I still have certain triggers and knee-jerk reactions to things even now, with my husband, but they’re not so bad any more.

Steve (said husband) has helped me so much. He’s been my rock as I have gone through counselling and came through the other side.

I think it was maybe a year after I left Oxford that I went back for a visit. I wanted closure. The chance to explain my sudden departure to some of my friends there, and to say goodbye properly.

On the train, I had my most severe panic attack to date. Heart pounding and head spinning, I thought I was going to be sick. All of the blood in my veins was screaming for me to run away as fast as I could. Because what would happen if I saw him again? What would he do to me, and would I be able to escape a second time?

Thank God, I never got to find out. For the few days I was in town, I didn’t see him. And I got the closure I wanted.

I don’t think I would go back again. I don’t want to and I no longer feel the need. There’s nothing in Oxford for me anymore.

I have my life in Belfast, now, and I’m happy with it.

I am safe and I am loved.

Finally.

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