by Anj Handa
It was 16th November 2014 when I first met Ashley. November is the month of Scorpios, a month with a sting in its tail. Shady places abound. I first met her in a shady place, in the upstairs room of bar local to me. There was an open mic night and she was on the bill.
Ashley wasn’t her name then. She’s left that old self behind. She bounded over, having heard about me from a mutual friend. I was struck not by her waist-length hair, but by her fine features.
We chatted until she was called to take the mic and I was mesmerised by her lyrics. She had an ethereal quality that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
A Relationship in Pieces
I didn’t know it at the time, but Ashley was in a dark place. Her music, which I describe as spiritual rap, was her way of transmuting the physical and mental pain of an abusive marriage into something more positive.
Indeed, three years into her ten-year marriage, she penned her song, Jekyll and Hyde. When we met, I didn’t know the significance of the date we met… her ex-husband’s birthday.
Throughout her marriage, a part of her knew that the abuse wasn’t right. She wrote it off as two messed up people who loved each other. As many domestic abuse survivors do, she blamed herself, even though she’d done nothing wrong. She believed that she was in control when he was simply letting her think that she’d made the decisions.
A week after I met Ashley, she cut all her long hair off for The Little Princess Charity. I now know that it was more than a charitable gesture. It was her way of starting to shed an aspect of herself that she no longer connected with.
She began to attend counselling sessions with support charity Behind Closed Doors in Leeds. At a point when I felt she was ready, we embarked on our mentoring relationship. It’s now become a close friendship.
Some months later, Ashley asked me to be a referee for her application to do a Masters at Leeds College of Music, which I wholeheartedly supported. She was accepted and started her Masters in Music Performance and Composition as a mature student in September 2015. Her course built her confidence and technical skill, even while her personal life was in chaos.
The Impact of Abuse
Ashley was even featured on the front of the College’s prospectus for Madhouse, her wonderfully creative whole house art and installation. The installation took place on my birthday and I was honoured that it featured some of my artwork. I was so proud of what she’d achieved creatively, but I was worried…
Ashley’s therapy with Behind Closed Doors, whilst incredibly valuable since it led her out of the cycle of abuse, wasn’t clearing everything that needed to be cleared. I observed her slip into fantasy and didn’t know what I could do, apart from being there for her.
In August 2016, the singer, Nas was due to play at Leeds Fest. She felt that she couldn’t miss marking the occasion in some way and believed that would find his way to her Madhouse.
This belief was a result of psychosis, which arose from PTSD following the end of her marriage. Ashley explains that she went to a different plane to escape her traumatic memories, continuously de-coding her subconscious because she disliked what her conscious mind showed her.
Ashley’s lyrics during this phase described the ‘beautiful little lies’ she was telling herself, even though she believed her construct at the time. The archetype was inspired by one of her favourite films, ‘Looking for Eric’ by Ken Loach. In the film, the main character Eric Bishop is a football fanatic postman whose life is descending into crisis.
At his lowest moments he considered suicide. But after a short meditation session and smoking cannabis, his hallucinations manifested Eric Cantona, who gave him advice. In Ashley’s mind, Eric was replaced by Nas and Amy Winehouse.
She understands now that instead of seeing the terrible qualities of her former husband, she ‘moved the mirror’ to reflect a man whom she admires – Nas.
Thankfully, beautiful soul Ashley has emerged from this period and is ready to share her story to help others understand domestic abuse and mental ill health. The end of her cognitive dissonance came thanks to IDAS, where she undertook a seven-week ‘Moving on from Domestic Abuse’ course. She describes the clarity she experienced as wipers cleaning a windscreen.
Ashley is starting a new chapter, free and in a new home, with the support of friends and family. I look forward with all my heart to see how she thrives in this this next period of her life.
Domestic abuse is not just about a person being violent towards or threatening their partner. It can include put-downs, criticism, ‘gaslighting’, isolating someone from their friends and family, sexual abuse and financial control. It’s not just about spouses or partners either. Abuse can take place in all sorts of relationships, including with close family members and can continues after a relationship has ended.
If you or someone you know is a victim or survivor of domestic abuse, please contact your local support organisation or contact Victim Support.