I was 17 when I first started dating Zak*. He was my first real relationship. He was older than me by around six or seven years. All my friends at the time were dating older men so it seemed to be the normal thing to do.

Being so young, I didn’t pick up on the abuse for a long time. I thought he was the kind of man that was just really protective over his girlfriend. The abuse was subtle to start with and he never hit me, so I didn’t realise what was going on. He’d constantly check my phone and accuse me of lying and cheating on him if I went to the shops or walked the dogs. In the end, I stopped going out completely because it was easier than arguing with him. I became a prisoner in my home.

As time went on he pushed me into cutting off my family and friends. He wouldn’t even let me tell them why I couldn’t talk to them anymore. He’d just say ‘you don’t need anyone apart from me’. His nature turned me into someone I didn’t know. It’s hard enough to know who you are in your teens and early 20’s anyway but when you’re living with an abuser, it becomes impossible to hold onto any part of who you think you are.

I had three lovely dogs when we first met, but he hated them. He knew that walking my dogs was my escape from him, so he forced me to get rid of them all. Losing my dogs was like losing members of my family. I felt so alone. I used to lay in bed at night thinking about how I could end things between us, but every option felt impossible, so I started to believe this was my life.

I hoped he might change when our daughter was born. Maybe he’d realise things were good, recognise his role in her life and mine and stop his abusive ways. But with my attention focused on our little girl, his jealously just spiralled out of control. I walked on egg shells every day, but my daughter gave me a reason to smile.

The police had been called a few times during our final year together but the last time they were called, the police woman who arrested Zak gave me Llamau’s contact number and explained they help women in my situation. The day she handed me that number, was the day she handed me a life line.

I felt nervous calling Llamau and had no idea what support would be available to me, but I’m so glad I called. My Support Worker, Tina, has been my rock since the day I met her. I know it’s her job to help women in my position, but she’s never made me feel like supporting me is ‘just her job’.

From the start, I felt so much safer thanks to Tina. She helped me put a safety plan in place and had fireproof letterboxes fitted on mine and my mum’s houses after Zak made threats to set our houses on fire. She contacted the local fire station to make them aware of his threats and had window and door alarms fitted on my home. She also gave me a personal alarm I could keep with me.

Even after everything that happened over our ten year relationship, I still wanted Zak to have access to our daughter. I felt it was important for her to see her dad and have a relationship with him, but he was so unreasonable with his requests. He’d demand time with her that was physically impossible for me to make happen and then blame me.

After one incident when my daughter didn’t want to stay with him and he accused me of poisoning her against him, I decided to go to court to request supervised access. Tina has stood by my side throughout the whole court proceedings. She’s attended all but one court appearance and kept me going through the times I’ve wanted to give up.

When we go to court, Tina makes sure there’s a divider up in the court room so I don’t have to see him when I’m there. During the breaks she’ll come with me to get food and sit with me throughout so I’m never alone or in danger if he was to approach me. We talk about our lives outside of all of this, like friends would. I’m so grateful for Tina and her support. If it wasn’t for Tina, I’d have given up on the courts by now, but she keeps me going and reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Tina’s support has been life changing for me. Even during lockdown she’s sent me links to activities I can do to support my little girl. Its things like that that make me feel like she really cares about me and my life.

The court proceedings will be finalised soon and life is very different for me now. I’ve met someone I’m very happy with and he’s a good role model for my daughter. He’s also come from an abusive relationship, so we both understand and support each other.

I’m looking forward to moving to a new city in the near future and starting afresh. I’m going to enrol in college and hopefully study something in animal care. I always wanted to be a vet when I was younger, but I wasn’t allowed to go to college back then. Now, I can do anything I want to.

During all of this, my relationship with my brother has broken down. He believes Zak over me, which is heart-breaking but also out of my control. I just have to remind myself that although I’ve lost him, with Tina’s kindness and support, I’ve made space in my life for people who’ll love and respect me for who I am.