Published online by The Star at 12:18 on Friday 25 November 2011
After every violent outburst I would feel relief. It was like a spot had burst. I’d feel guilty, then the anger would come back. I didn’t feel angry with myself - I felt angry with Alison for having ‘pushed me’.
“Are you violent or abusive? The ink was barely dry on the marriage certificate when Bill held a pillow over his wife’s face. They were in bed; an argument had started. He had flown into a rage and the pillow was just to shut her up; he would never have smothered her. That’s how he rationalised his actions at the time, to his wife of just two weeks. The glass he hurled across the room not long after? She had provoked him into it.
Some 25 years on, he no longer down-plays the aggressive outbursts, the violence and the intimidation. And he no longer thinks his long-suffering wife Alison is their root cause. He can’t afford to. “What’s the difference between the man who holds the pillow on for too long, and me?” he says. “When I threw that glass, it made my wife feel frightened and me feel powerful. “After every violent outburst I would feel relief. It was like a spot had burst. I’d feel guilty, then the anger would come back. I didn’t feel angry with myself, though – I felt angry with Alison for having “pushed me.”
“I can say all of that now because the counselling I’ve had from the Janus Project has made me realise I have to see the truth of it. “The truth is sickening, but if I allow myself excuses, I’m never going to change.” Change is what he wants desperately. He volunteered for therapy with Janus almost a year ago after a frank discussion with the three adult children he adores. They told him they wanted him to alter his behaviour and that they worried about their mother’s safety. He burned with shame and contacted Janus. “They sent me a leaflet which stopped me in my tracks. It asked how you had reacted when something that would usually trigger violence in you at home happened in another setting. If you were able to control your anger with other people, then you were making a choice not to at home. “That really shocked me. I realised I’d never been violent to anyone except my wife. I would never have lashed out verbally or physically to someone at work because I would have lost my job. “But I believed I could do what I liked at home because Alison would never leave me. She thought about it at times. But we’re both from backgrounds where you don’t walk away from a marriage, especially when you’ve got kids. She tried to make it work.”
He’s clearly searched his soul. Cupboard in his mind have been opened; corners of his childhood delved into. There may be clues in his upbringing; his parents were strict Catholics, his mum controlling, his dad emotionally distant. He was bullied at school, then became a bully. But Bill is loathe to lay any blame. “I never saw any violence growing up, he says. “I have brothers; we were all brought up the same and they never hit their partners,” he reasons. “Lots of people who have been bullied don’t hit their partners. “The real issue was me; as a child I always wanted my own way and I never wanted to accept responsibilities. I took that into adulthood. When my wife challenged me on some little thing, which might cause a row, perhaps, in a normal relationship, I would react with fury. “And I think I am a weak man. My wife is a strong, intelligent, highly capable woman. All that she is made me feel less. The one place I wanted to feel more powerful and in control was at home.”
He bitterly regrets the pain he has caused her. “She’s a loyal, loving and caring woman, a fantastic wife and mother; I took advantage of all of that; I used them to manipulate her,” he says. Quietly, he admits to a catalogue of cruelty and contempt to the woman he knows he doesn’t deserve to have:
“Over the years I have kicked her, punched her, threatened to kill her, threatened to break her arms,” he says. “I’ve yelled at her that she had ruined my life while I was dragging her downstairs. I’ve poured bottles of wine over her. “I was violent to her when she was pregnant. I hit her in front of the children. “And I justified all of it by saying she was the problem. If she hadn’t done this, or said that, or argued with me, it wouldn’t have happened. “I actually thought I was a good man.”
After over a decade of being the nice guy to the outside world and the tyrant in his own, fear-ruled domain, he began to realise what he was doing. He had been drinking heavily for years – he now thinks he used it as his “emotional anaesthetic”. He got help and stopped drinking. “Being drink-free made things better; I was less physically violent,” he reflects. “I haven’t hit Alison for five or six years, but I carried on abusing emotionally. I was still left with me.”
Then one day, Alison and the kids got together to try to make the family better. “They told me I was the cause of all the problems in the house. I realised the kids felt deeply protective of their mum and that shamed me. I wanted to find a way to stay in my life, the one with my wife and family, without being violent.” He went to Janus early this year. “When you join you commit to a life without violence and you examine your behaviour, past and present, so you can control it in the future,” he says. “In the one to one therapy sessions, Jozef the counsellor gets to know your mind games and your hiding places.
“In the men’s group we don’t give each other excuses,; it’s the exact opposite. We talk about what’s happened in our week and someone will say: Why did you react that way? Why did you shout, or why didn’t you listen. “My wife would say it’s very early days, but I think it’s making a difference.
I’m managing to stay calmer more often. I try not to cut in and to listen more. It is a very long, slow process.” Bill, 48, expects to analyse everything he says and does for the rest of his life. “I don’t think my violent nature will ever totally go away,” he says. “It’s like an alcohol or drug addiction; you can never fall asleep on it.” He urges any man who has ever been aggressive to his partner to get help: “If telling my story helps another man recognise himself and feel sickened, then that’s a good thing.” And although he is still with his wife, he urges women in abusive relationships to leave. “Create a situation where you feel safe,” he says. “Put yourself first. My wife stayed, but there’s no evidence to say that she did the right thing or the safe thing.”