"I’m not a victim anymore. I am a survivor." Lubna’s* story *Names changed to protect identities My husband was extremely abusive, physically, mentally and sexually. He controlled every detail of my life – even what food I ate. When we lived in Tunisia, before we got married, he only showed me the good things about him. That changed when we moved to the UK. He used to assault me, and then cry and apologise. He would say things like: “I don’t want to hurt you; I just want what’s best for you.” He made it seem like he was the victim. He didn’t want me to work because he liked me to be dependent on him. I managed to get a job as a receptionist, but he would have to drop me off and pick me up. When he found out I had friends there, he was furious. He would say that wives should wear a hijab and that they shouldn’t have friends. He said women should obey their husbands and always say yes. Life was hell with him. I started getting depressed and having problems with my breathing. My doctor told me I should try swimming, but he had a problem with that too. I was so tired by it, I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. It got to the point where my nose would bleed when he would speak to me, because the pressure built up inside me so much. He treated me like a maid, not a human being. I would always have to make food for him but I just decided to stop obeying him, so one day, he came home and said: “Today, you’re not making the food. I am.” The next morning, I was seriously unwell. I couldn’t say a sentence without being sick. I truly thought I was going to die. I begged him to take me to the hospital. At first, he refused. I threatened to phone 999 and eventually he took me. At the hospital, he pretended to be distraught. I remember the nurse saying: “Your husband must love you very much.” I knew then that something had to change. Two days after we got home, he tried to force himself on me. Then I stopped talking to him which made him angry. Within three days, there was a knock at the door. It was the police. They said they needed to take me to the station because my husband had told them that I had slapped him while he was driving. I broke down and cried. At the station, they asked me what I was going through. I told them everything. They told me not to go home, but to go to my local council to get support. However, the council was closed because of the pandemic. I had no choice but to go home. That was when he raped me again and said: “See who makes decisions now. If you try to push me, I’ll call the police back for you. I told you a wife must obey her husband.” The abuse continued for a few more days, before I managed to phone a friend and she told me to come over while my husband wasn’t home. From there, they took me to the hospital and phoned the police, who were able to find me a B&B to stay in. He continued to try and phone me all evening, but that night, I slept so deeply. I never went back there again. After two months, I was able to find a refuge space with Hestia. The worry and stress was immense, but all I remember from that day is my support worker’s big smile coming towards me as I arrived at the refuge. That relaxed me. Over time, the staff at the refuge have become like family. They have made me feel like I’m home. My support worker always makes sure I have everything I need. We do sessions together where we set goals and look at how I can move forward in life. She reminds me that women can be strong. I recently started counselling and have been diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I still have nightmares that he will come and find me. The bad days come where l feel like a failure, but I try and remind myself that it is a bad day, not a bad life. This year, I want to focus on my mental health and start to heal. I want to get my own place and start my own life. I want to follow my career dream and become an interior designer. I used to love painting, but my husband forbid it. He threw all my painting equipment away. No one can take anything from me anymore. My support worker is looking at design courses for me, and I have designed the living room and garden at the refuge as they are hoping to redecorate. To anyone recovering from domestic abuse I would say: it’s about baby steps. Have faith and know that good days will come. I used to feel hopeless, but now there are days where I feel hope inside of me. I’m not a victim anymore. I am a survivor. Which film has impacted me the most? I’m a huge fan or Marvel movies. I just love superhero movies. Captain America: The First Avenger, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are my favourites. Superheroes don’t just exist in fantasy, they exist in real life. All the people who helped me – they are my superheroes. Which book has impacted me the most? One of my objectives is to read books again. I used to love reading, but right now, my mental health is stopping me as I can’t focus on the writing. I want to reach that day where I can read again. My favourite book is Call from an Angel by Guillaume Musso. Which song has impacted me the most? Who You Are by Jessie J. It’s my all-time favourite. It means everything to me. I was a huge fan of Jessie J since high school. I remember going to her concert. The lyrics are very deep: “Don’t lose who you are…dreaming is believing, it’s OK not to be OK…just be true to who you are”. They are saying ‘you can do it, don’t let anyone or society bring you down. You are going to succeed’.