Seize a survival by Caren Duhig

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Some individuals may find the topic covered in this blog post distressing. Should you require support please contact:

Brunel Students: Student support and welfare team

Non-Emergency NHS Helpline: 111

Samaritans: 116 123 (open 24 hours)

If I could give my younger self one bit of advice, it would be to run away, as far and as fast as I could the minute my partner started to show an inkling of abusive behaviour towards me. I wonder how different my life would have been if I had made that decision back then.

You see, it was February the 27th 2004. I was 20 years old. Studying my degree at Brunel University and enjoying being young. But I was dating a guy who had seen a bit more life than I had. Twelve years older, he took advantage of the fact I was young and naïve. Used me as his sexual plaything whenever he felt like it. Slapped me whenever I disagreed or questioned him.

I’d had enough and wanted to be young and enjoy my partying years. Having only started Uni a few months earlier, I saw that there was a lot more to life and I wanted to live it. Sitting with him in a bar in the City that night, sipping my vodka and orange, I saw him for who he was in his drunken state. He’d already had several drinks at an Old Bailey event where he worked as a Head Chef and was full of himself, righteous and arrogant. I remember engaging in an activity which I didn’t want in the pub toilets. I don’t remember much more of that night after that. Only what I was told.

He told the police we were arguing. I tried to run away. I had bruises on my shoulders where he must have grabbed me. We were on a dark, disused road. He said he put his foot out and I tripped. Landed on the side of my head. He said that, from my fall, I gave myself a blood clot in between my brain and my skull. An extradural haematoma. I would have lost consciousness temporarily. He would have had to wait for me to come back round. Regained consciousness. He was walking me to St. Paul’s Station, on the Central Line, so that I could get back home to my mums in Stratford. A 20-minute journey. If I had got on a train by myself as he’d intended, I wouldn’t be writing this now. Somehow, a random police car must have driven by and saw me behaving erratically. I would have had a lump on my head where the blood clot was developing. I was told that the police took me to Snow Hill Police Station in St. Pauls. I don’t understand why they let him go if they could see that I was upset and hurt, possibly by him. The police told me that I started to make a statement but then I passed out. Unconscious. They must have realised that something was very wrong because I was taken to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel immediately. I was dying.

When I woke up from the chemical-induced coma 4 weeks later, I didn’t have a clue who I was or where I was. All I could remember was flashbacks of the dreams I had while I was sleeping. That thing they say about the tunnel is true. Wearing my white gown, I was alone on a train, cascading at high speed through the Channel Tunnel to France. The train must have crashed and suddenly my mum was there, and we were washed up on a beach. I can still vividly remember that dream now.

I must have looked horrific. Half of my permed hair was missing on the left side of my head where the surgeons had shaved my head to perform the craniotomy. I had a huge scar from the front of my ear, which circled round to the top of my temple. I had staples in my head where my skull had been put back together. I’ve learnt that surgeons use a bit of titanium to replace the bone flap, which was why my head set off metal detectors in the courts and at airports years later. My skull has a deep indent in it which I can still feel to this day. I’ve suffered with epilepsy for the past 15 years as a result of the head trauma

The case went to Southwark Crown Court on the 4th of December 2004. The charge was dropped from attempted murder to GBH. He did a plea bargain of guilty to ABH. He was sentenced to 200 hours community service. For the injury to have been that severe, I either must have hit a very blunt object when I fell, which he didn’t mention to the police or, while I was on the ground, he must have inflicted an injury upon me. That’s even if I fell. There was only me and him there that night, the 27th of February 2004 and I’ve heard through social media that he took his life 3 years ago. I’ll never actually know what happened.

So, if I could give my younger self, or anyone who is in an abusive relationship one bit of advice, it would be to get out as soon as you can. Seek advice. Seek support. Confide in someone. You don’t deserve to be hurt. You don’t deserve to be hit. You don’t deserve to be bullied. Abused. Made to think you’re nothing. It’s not your fault. There’s something wrong with the person who’s abusing you.

I was lucky to survive something so traumatic. I want to use my experience, my scars, and my unanswered questions, to help anyone who has been in, or is in a relationship that involves domestic violence. My message to you is please don’t let them try to destroy you.

© Caren Duhig, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘Seize a Survival’ was first published in the Brunel anthology series Letters To My Younger Self, and was inspired by Wally Ward, Fit for Anything (2:798), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, Special Collections, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

Reading Fit for Anything by Wally Ward in the Burnett Archive felt close to home for me because, like the narrator, I also suffer from epilepsy. Wally Ward inherited the condition from his parent, whereas I developed the disorder from an assault I suffered fifteen years ago when I was involved in an abusive relationship. Fit for Anything inspired me to not only write about my medical condition and the improvements in neurological treatments since the early 20th Century, but also to raise awareness of domestic violence. Through ‘Seize a Survival’ I wanted to use my scars to empower other sufferers or survivors of domestic abuse, and to educate my readership on what defines an unhealthy relationship. Writing the piece helped me confront the memories that have haunted me for many years, and I hope it will encourage others to do the same.

Caren Duhig was born in Forest Gate, London, in December 1983. Caren graduated  in English and Film and TV Studies at Brunel University London in 2010 and is currently studying a master’s degree in Creative Writing. In 2016 Caren created the Fixit Harrow Network, a social media organisation with over 3.4k members, to raise awareness of, and seek improvements towards the environmental, economic, and social issues in the London Borough of Harrow, in order to make it a happier, cleaner, and safer place for her community. Caren Duhig was nominated for a Harrow Heroes Award in 2017 and 2018, and Fixit Harrow has had a featured exhibition at Headstone Manor and Museum in 2018.


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