Louisa Adjoa Parker
I was born to an English mother and Ghanaian father. The previous year my eldest
brother was born too soon and died soon afterwards. My mum believed this was due
to my dad being so violent towards her when she was pregnant.
I grew up watching my dad beat my mum in front of me. He disciplined me harshly
(although I understand this was normal in Ghanaian culture at the time) and I was
extremely frightened of him, as the whole family were. We were always on eggshells,
not knowing when he was going to ‘kick off.’ I remember him holding a fire poker over
my mum’s head, and being frozen in the face of his violence – I knew it was wrong,
but it was all I knew. My mum sometimes had bruises she’d try to cover with
foundation. My dad was often angry – if he didn’t get dinner on time he’d flip out.
He’d call my name and I’d have to jump up and go and do what he wanted. I still hate people calling my name even now.
It wasn’t all bad – I was a very sociable kid and made friends easily. I also escaped into reading (and writing) stories. I loved spending time at my English grandparents’ house in Devon. I have blocked out a lot of my childhood, and only remember the odd moment. It feels like a dream. I was a severe asthmatic, and spent a lot of time in hospital. I remember feeling ‘safe’ there. I felt from an early age that I had to figure things out for myself and was quite independent.
1985 - 13
This year was a real turning point as my parents split up and the rest of the family moved to Devon to be near my grandparents. I was relieved when I heard they were splitting up, and was happy when my dad moved out. My mum says they agreed to separate as they both believed he might kill her if they didn’t. My dad had threatened to kill all of us, including himself. I didn’t want to leave my friends and was upset about that. Soon after we arrived in Devon my granddad died of a heart attack. My mum didn’t cope well after all that she had been through, and felt she had to ‘take over’ the disciplining of me and my siblings. Life at home was still difficult, and although I was scared of my mum at times I was less scared of her than I had been of my dad.
I began smoking and getting obsessed with boys. I didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like so I fancied boys who were either not nice to me or not interested. I was desperate for male attention and had very low self-esteem – I thought I was fat and very ugly. I’ve always liked my food and started over-eating sweets and junk, and did put on weight (although I wasn’t as fat as I thought!) I let boys use me and treat me horribly – sometimes they called me racist names and tried to make me do stuff I didn’t want to do.
1987 – 15
I began drinking and smoking cannabis when I was 15. I’ve always had low tolerance to alcohol and would get really drunk and be sick or pass out. I smoked cannabis heavily and drank because it blocked out the pain of being me, and allowed me to escape. Sometimes I got really depressed and thought about killing myself and tried to cut myself with a razor but didn’t manage to do more than scratch my skin. I became obsessed with death and worried that I wouldn’t make it to 18, which I was desperate to do so I could leave home and be independent.
I went out with an older man who was nice to me but dumped me. Then I had a few flings.
1989 - 17
Things were really bad at home. I was drinking a lot, smoking hash and had started taking harder drugs like acid and speed. I left home after an argument with my mum, then went back. I met a man who told me he loved me, and we started seeing each other. After another argument with my mum (she told me to go home then or not at all) I left home and moved into a squat with my boyfriend. He was an alcoholic and drug user. He was unfaithful and became abusive and violent. I’d try to leave him but always got persuaded back again. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening, and he’d tell me it was my fault.
1992 - 20
I was homeless and living in a tent in the Forest of Dean with my boyfriend when I found out I was pregnant. I was very weak as we often didn’t eat much, and I rang my mum asking to go home. We went back to Paignton and I lived at my mum’s before getting a flat of my own. My boyfriend didn’t hit me while I was pregnant but was unfaithful and it broke my heart. He became violent again after the baby was born and I moved towns to get away from him. He never hurt me after that – it was as though the balance of power between us had shifted. We sometimes got back together but I was moving on with my life and didn’t need him.
1994 - 22
I had started going out with a man I’d met in the pub. I had heard he’d been violent to his ex-wife but thought he’d be different with me. He became controlling and we split up. I found out I was pregnant and he didn’t want anything to do with us.
My eldest daughter’s dad died when she was 2, of a heroin overdose. Things were very difficult for me that year, and I just tried to be a mum to my children and not to get too upset about things.
1997 - 25
I had continued to have relationships with men who were either abusive or didn’t want to settle down. I just wanted a family unit, with a dad – or step-dad – for my daughters, but I looked in the wrong places. I met a man who was similar to my first daughter’s dad. I knew he’d been violent to his ex but thought he’d be different to me. I was stuck in a pattern – I wanted to ‘save’ the men I chose to go out with, and thought I could fix them, that love would bring a happy ending. I got pregnant with my youngest daughter but my boyfriend had recently ended it with me and wasn’t involved much. He took his own life (or died by accident) a month before our daughter was born. So I was now a single mother to three children.
I decided I wanted to change my life and began studying. (I had been kicked out of sixth form). I took A-level Sociology, then carried on studying with the OU. I took driving lessons. There was a moment when I suddenly realised I could change my life. Before then, I’d always believed myself to be a victim; that bad things happened ‘to’ me. But I hadn’t broken the cycle of choosing abusive or unavailable or alcoholic boyfriends.
I began writing poetry about my childhood and the violence I’d experienced, and began to heal my relationship with myself. I began to like myself.
2004 - 32
I graduated from University. I had been really hard – I had three kids, my youngest was only 4 when I started, and all my family had moved away so I had no-one to help with childcare. The University was 35 miles away so I had to drive there or get the train. The house was always a mess and I was drinking too much. After graduating it was a real anti-climax – I couldn’t find a job and I was in debt. My eldest daughter was having serious problems and she felt out of control. I met a younger man, and started a relationship with him even though I was worried about what people would think. I wasn’t thinking straight – I was depressed and it felt as though I was having a breakdown. My boyfriend began trying to control me – telling me what to wear, not wanting me to go out even though he went out all the time, and being aggressive. I tried to end the relationship but he persuaded me to go back, and because I believed in this idea that ‘love would conquer all’ and we could get through the problems, I went back to him.
2007 - 35
I saw my nephew being born and somehow this changed my life. My sister was in a violent relationship with the baby’s dad and I was scared for them both. I got home to see all the cherry blossom trees blooming, and thought, Life is too precious to waste on abusive men. I decided I’d be single for the rest of my life if that was what it took – I was never going to let a man treat me badly again. I ended the relationship and although my ex stalked and harassed me I didn’t go back to him. I had broken the cycle of abusive relationships I’d been in for years. I felt independent and empowered.
2009 - 37
I met a man through a dating site and although I was worried about things going wrong, I trusted my judgement and we started going out. He was kind, loving and treated me with respect. I wished that I could have experienced this earlier on in life. He was prepared to be a step-dad to my children. We got engaged, and then got married in 2010.