MARITA Jamieson-Barr loves love.
Not only has she been happily married for two years but she’s also flourishing in her new sideline as a wedding celebrant.
However, her life has not always been so blissful and for many years, in a previous relationship, Marita was a victim of domestic abuse.
After finally fleeing, she rebuilt her life and now helps other women in the same position.
As well as running a regular toiletries collection for women’s refuges, she has just released a booklet, Brave, which outlines both her experiences and survivor’s journey.
She hopes that sharing her darkest days will raise awareness of domestic abuse, an issue which spiralled alarmingly during the covid lockdowns.
Marita, who lives in Lochmaben, said: “My hope is for Brave to help other survivors heal. After leaving, I experienced severe flashbacks which felt like re-living the abuse. I struggled to find forgiveness. I struggled to understand how love should be, as when you go from the extreme of daily abuse to a loving relationship, your expectations of love are unrealistic.
“As survivors we don’t know how to regulate our emotions and love ourselves, we were made to believe for so long we weren’t lovable, we were rejected, we were made to feel worthless – we don’t think we deserve to be loved.
“We are all worthy of love and every life is precious and brings value to the world.
“Brave is my encouragement to survivors, there is love, life and freedom after abuse.”
She is also keen for people who haven’t experienced domestic abuse to read it and gain an understanding of what can happen.
Speaking about her own situation, Marita revealed she suffered for several years, adding: “Domestic abuse takes all forms; physical, emotional, sexual, financial.
“When I reflect back to moments in the abuse, abuse is cyclical, I would experience horrendous abuse, then my abuser would apologise and promise this would never happen again. The abuse always happened again. You hold onto these small and rare apologetic moments in hope they have the potential to change.”
As time went on, she was ‘struggling to function’ and her reality became difficult to hide from others.
Despite family and friends urging her to leave that relationship, Marita said: “People can tell you to leave, they can be waiting outside your house hoping you will walk out the door, you can be bruised all over and not recognise yourself anymore, but you continue to stay as there are so many barriers to leaving.
“I stayed out of fear, I was broken and under control.”
She explained that it requires a feeling of empowerment to be able to make the decision to leave and that, on average, it takes a woman 11 times to finally leave their abuser.
“Being in a domestically abusive relationship is like being in a prison cell, no matter how many tunnels others dig to try and get you out, the escape route may seem available to everyone else but the abuser blocks the tunnels keeping the survivor trapped,” she said: “Abusers have this hold over you.”
For Marita, it got to the point where everything with any meaning to her had been smashed and broken and she was hiding important documents to keep them safe, including her Bible as her faith had also been restricted.
And then she had an epiphany: “A voice said to me, “this is not the end, this is just the beginning”, I believe this voice was God. It was a pivotal moment- suddenly I had this determination and supernatural strength to leave the abuse. All the chains which kept me there were broken,” she said.
Women’s Aid supported her and helped her to understand her options and she quietly made a plan.
Looking back now, and from her work with other affected women, Marita understands how it affected not just her: “Abuse takes it toll on your physical and mental health. I kept it hidden for years and years,” she said.
“My family and friends that were in the “know” became deeply concerned for my well-being.
“From being on the other side looking in, I can’t imagine the worry they must have gone through.
“I’m forever grateful to God, to Women’s Aid, family and close friends. I wouldn’t be here if I stayed any longer.”
Years of severe anxiety, and struggling to be around and trust men, lifted as soon as she left the relationship.
However, she then started to struggle with her own self worth, as she explained: “The narrative of my abuser was replaying over and over in my thoughts. The abuse and words spoken over you can become hard wired into your brain.
“There was so much I had buried deep within to allow me to function. The during and after of abuse have significant implications on your emotional and physical wellbeing.”
It has taken a lot of time and work to recover from and Marita has had to deal with some painful memories, but she said: “Brave offers a process for healing, a process which I go back and back to when I’m triggered and it brings me peace. My hope is it brings others healing and peace.
“Helping others has brought healing for me. There is comfort and strength in knowing you aren’t alone.”
Meeting Sandy, her now husband, was another huge step forward and she credits his kindness and love with a large part of her recovery, saying: “Our love is very special and he makes me laugh and smile every day.”
Picking up her faith again has also been enormous and she takes ‘huge delight’ in going to church every Sunday.
Despite all the positivity and empowerment, Marita can still suffer flashbacks but doesn’t allow them to hold her back now.
She has learned too about her own resilience and to be patient and loving to others.
Finding the strength to speak out has changed her and she said: “I made a vow to help other women, it’s been a calling in my life to speak out. From the moment I left, I started sharing my experience with others. When I did, I started to receive messages from other survivors who just wanted someone to hear them.
“I spent years in silence, hiding the abuse, being controlled, isolated, being told what I could/could not do. When I left my abuser I found my voice.”
She is passionate about raising awareness of the issue and added: “We all need to work towards protecting women and children from abuse. The more we speak up leads to survivors speaking out. It’s encouraging to see a survivor’s life restored.
“When I was leaving I would search forums to see after people left if they really could survive, as my abuser had led me to believe there was no life past him – but your life begins when you find your freedom.
“We all deserve to be free and have our voices heard.”
And in a message to others in a similar situation, she said: “I encourage you to leave the situation you are in- you deserve only kindness and love. Love shouldn’t hurt. You are worthy of so much love.
“To understand being in abuse is brave. Surviving abuse is brave. Spending time healing from abuse is brave.”
Proceeds from Brave will go to Women’s Aid, who she believes do an ‘amazing job’. She would like to see more Government funding for them, and similar organisations, as well as for long term support and counselling services for victims.
In addition, she wants better early education on the subject so young people understand all forms of abuse are unacceptable and says that is key to prevention.
As she now knows and embodies: “For relationships to be healthy and grow- love, kindness and respect are crucial.”