During these first fourteen years of victimisation I developed my own coping strategy. Within myself I was still justifying Sandra’s unacceptable behaviour by making excuses. I also decided that my only priority was trying to raise my own children in a way that, despite all that they witnessed, they would have a normal childhood and mature into well-balanced adults. The children also knew about Sandra’s bereavements and in childish manner recognised their mother’s behaviour as an expression of grief. Young children need their father present and children need a relationship with both parents. As far as I was concerned, the children needed me and so there were no other considerations. Whatever I now felt about Sandra, I was never going to walk out on my children.
By this time, any affection I held for Sandra had been eroded. There had been no sexual relationship for at least nine years. For appearances sake, we shared a bedroom but seldom a bed. Most nights, I would attempt to sleep on the floor in between the heating radiator and the bed. This was particularly uncomfortable during the winter months for I had no access to any blankets or duvets; I had to rely on the clothes I wore to keep me warm during the cold, frosty nights of winter. On the few times I was permitted to sleep in the bed, I hunched up right at edge of the bed.
I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as Sandra. I could sit and watch children’s television or a video with the children. As soon as the children went to bed and Sandra insisted on watching every imaginable soap opera, I left the room and turned to the computer. I found projects to engage in. I collected old Bibles and had purchased an antiquarian one printed in the 17th century with an interesting engraved title page. I spent three years researching every person remotely connected with its production. Once I exhausted all possible avenues on this project, I embarked on tracing my own family tree. I spent hours searching through census records and BMD (Birth, marriage, Death indexes making discoveries about my ancestry. Finding out just how tough life was for some of my forefathers seem to bring a little comfort to myself. The social conditions that they lived through didn't make much if any of their life pleasurable. At least, I had places of refuge I could mentally flee to.
In ‘The escape fantasy’ I mentioned how being away from home overnight studying brought me some form of temporary respite. I managed to negotiate occasional leave of home by travelling to a couple of football matches each season. This, however, was always expensive. Not just the cost of travel and entry to the game, but I also had to leave sizable monetary provision for Sandra to take the children out for a meal or shopping. I was so desperate to get away just for a few hours that I considered the cost worth it.
Although we had moved from town to town, I always tried to join one local community group independently of Sandra. This would give me the opportunity to spend an hour or so a week, away from Sandra and away from the church. As things got worst, the friendship I made at one group in particular sustained me and they helped me to re-establish myself when we finally separated.
I also discovered an online world I could escape into. I developed several internet personas and frequented internet chat rooms. I was under no illusion. At no time in these rooms did the real me appear. It was just mindless banter passing away the time. Whatever personality I was using would always stay in character and it was a harmless method of pretending I was somebody else.
I appeared to be coping because my own children were my only priority. I did not want to miss out on any aspect of their childhood. By now I had also formulated my exit plan. I would continue to play happy families to see the children through education. Once the children took their own steps into the adult world, I would leave their mother and face up to dealing with the stigma of domestic violence.
However, my coping strategies were not all as positive as they sound. Some people turn to alcohol or street drugs to blot out their pain. I started self-harming. The way I caused damage to myself was by comfort eating. In a small space of time, I gained excessive weight. Even then although there was a physical change to my appearance, very few people commented. Maybe they thought it was impolite to mention my increasing size. Once I heard my bishop (the same one who passed an inappropriate comment about abused husbands ) refer to overweight ministers as ‘lazy’. On reflection, a wiser approach would have been speaking to that minister in a pastoral setting and asking whether there was any reason or any stress factors that were causing weight gain. Even then, all pastoral interviews I had were also with my wife and I would be very guarded in what I said, knowing that Sandra would later make an issue over the least statement. For the majority of these interviews, I only said the minimal, allowing Sandra to monopolise the conversation.