Stina Sanders road to recovery following an abusive relationshipBBC3/Getty

How I learnt to date after my abusive relationship

Life after my abusive relationship was weird and challenging. Despite the relief I felt after leaving my ex, I was emotionally drained, insecure and, frankly, terrified of falling in love again.

When I first met him, he treated me like a princess, telling me how much he loved me and wanted to marry me. But, after a few months of pure bliss, he started to change.

One day he left me a to-do list, saying things like ‘clean the floor’ and ‘do my laundry’. I assumed it was a joke but when I mentioned it to him, he said it wasn’t. After the initial shock, I said to myself that it wasn’t a big deal and just did it.

A few weeks later he started making comments about my weight. He knew that being a model, keeping fit was an important part of my job, and he told me I’d lose my job if I didn’t watch what I ate. I was a size 6 at the time, but I ended up dieting.

He frequently told me I would never amount to anything and that I wasn’t smart enough to be a writer – a passion of mine. He stopped letting me see my guy friends – even a gay friend - and when we weren’t together, he demanded to see photos of every outfit I wore in case it was too revealing.

Stina SandersStina Sanders

One day it got physical. I’d taken on a lingerie modelling gig and when he found out, he went mad. He smashed my laptop, and then went for me. He dragged me by my hair and strangled me. I just couldn’t believe it was happening.

I eventually managed to escape and drove to my parents’ house. But by the time I got there, I had changed my mind. I decided it was my fault for not having asked him before taking the job. He loved me, and I couldn’t live without him. I drove back to him and asked for his forgiveness.

I started to believe that I was as worthless as he said I was, and if any of my friends questioned his behaviour, I pushed them away.

Stina Sanders

He never said sorry – he would just console me with sex. If I asked him why he’d done something, he’d say that I’d made him do it.

I started to believe that I was as worthless as he said I was, and if any of my friends questioned his behaviour, I pushed them away.

Deep down I knew it wasn’t right. But I was so in love with him, and so desperate to make it work that I was in total denial.

That all changed when I found out that he’d cheated on me. It was the final trigger – if he didn’t love me enough to stay loyal, why was I putting up with all the abuse?

I left him. My bruises slowly disappeared, but the mental scars did not. I was a shell of my former self. I felt lost, anxious, and struggled to get out of bed.

His words still played in my mind, and I had to consciously remind myself that I wasn’t “fat”, or “stupid”. I would often wake up in a cold sweat after having nightmares that I’d gone back to him. I didn’t even consider dating other people. My self-esteem was so low I assumed I’d be alone forever.

For a while, I drank to hide the pain. My two best friends, who I’d begun confiding in, told me they were worried and that I had to be careful. That was when I booked myself in for therapy.

Slowly, I peeled my self-esteem off the floor. I started rekindling relationships with people I’d pushed away, from my parents to all my male friends.

Stina on a night out with friends.Stina Sanders

The idea of going on a date terrified me, but I knew I had to dip my toe back in the water.

Stina Sanders

One night, an attractive guy approached me in a bar and asked for my number. It might not sound like much, but it was a pivotal moment. I’d become so insecure that I genuinely thought no one would ever fancy me again, and it was so nice to have attention again.

The idea of going on a date terrified me, but I knew I had to dip my toe back in the water. I turned up to the date with my guard well and truly up. I wanted to challenge this man and find out, could he abuse me too? I scrutinised his every word for signs of danger. I quizzed him: what were his past relationships like, did he ever get angry, was he the jealous type? He must have wondered what had happened to the friendly brunette he’d met the other night. I never heard from him again.

I realised I was clinging on to a lot of anger that I had to let go of. I started to go on more dates, and even though they didn’t end with romance, they were dramatically better than my previous attempts. One blind date even turned into something more.

Before I met Tom*, I’d panicked about my outfit; I was wearing the heels my ex had hated and the jeans that he said made me "look fat". I was about to change my outfit, but then I stopped. I stood in front of the mirror and reminded myself that my life no longer revolved around him. I could do and wear whatever I wanted. I took a deep breath, applied my favourite pink lipstick (which he also hated) and walked out the door.

It was better than I’d ever imagined. Tom was funny, he liked my warped jokes, and it felt like we’d known each other for years. He invited me to a gig with his friends and for the first time in months, I felt like I could be myself.

Stina began to feel more like herself again.Stina Sanders

We didn’t end up living happily after - it was just a few months - but in that time, I learnt a lot about myself. He was a great listener and I even opened up to him about my ex.

There was one night when we were in bed together and I woke up to just see the back of his head. For a split second, I thought it was my ex and screamed. It was mortifying to explain what had happened, but Tom was so kind about it that I stopped being so frightened of dating.

He showed me the importance of compromise and support and although we’re no longer together, I’m still grateful to him for helping me learn how to love again – and for reminding me that not every man is the same.

*name has been changed

Information and support on domestic abuse is available from these organisations.