So often here at ONEOFTHE8 we talk about the power of human connection and how we can find so much inspiration and so much positivity by surrounding ourselves with the right kinds of people. What happens though when reality bites and it transpires that not everybody within our vicinity - or maybe even further afield - is capable of having such an empowering impact on us? What happens when the human connection glitches and it causes malfunction in our mental health, our outlook and our ability to fulfil our true identity?
In the latest ONEOFTHE8 instalment, we share the story of Anna Marie Lopes - domestic abuse survivor, fearless fighter and the kind of person who restores your faith in humanity when things have turned sour. Anna tells us about her journey through a traumatic period of abuse and how she now uses her story as a tool to help those who now find themselves in the tragic and terrifying situation that she once was.
“Hurt people hurt others, so that’s where I feel it really all roots from”
Anna was introduced to us by Anand Kapoor, who recently appeared on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast and blog, and how grateful we are that our paths happened to cross. Today, Anna is a strong, happily married woman with a job, her own bank account, access to her passport and a sense of personal freedom and basic safety - all things many of us take for granted and never really expect to have compromised. Things weren’t always quite so simple and ordinary for Anna though.
In 2005, Anna met her now ex-husband at a conference, encouraged by her friends to meet this man who was so admired and respected by those who knew him. He was a spiritual leader in the Christian circle and a charming, charismatic character who was an upstanding pillar within the community. Meetings turned into more intimate moments and before long, Anna found herself in a romantic relationship that she hadn’t seen coming, at a time when she really wasn’t looking for one at all. That’s how it’s supposed to work though, right? Like a fresh hail storm on a sunny day, the love of your life comes along when you least expect it. Sadly though, the storms were much harder to weather for Anna.
“This entire experience didn’t actively effect my perception of men but it did effect my perception of people in authority”
Around a month into the new relationship red flags started to show that had, until now, been completely disguised by allure and charisma. Manipulation turned into control, which eventually escalated into mental, physical, verbal, emotional, financial and sexual abuse. Anna’s then-boyfriend isolated her from her friends, forced her to change the way she dressed, set her up with a new SIM card and email address, installed spyware software on her laptop and even kept her passport under lock & key at his parents’ house.
Around eight months in, Anna was forced to marry him due to pressures around his devout Christian religion - a matrimony which she described to us as “a tragedy”, rather than ‘the happiest day of her life’ or some other sweet-nothing you’d normally expect to hear from a newly-wed. “There was a part of me that was afraid to say no and didn’t know how to say no”, Anna tells us but how even through the multi-pronged abuse and death threats for if she ever tried to leave, marriage to this monster still somehow seemed more appealing than life at home.
“Sharing my story changed my perspective and really gave purpose to everything I had been through”
Anna’s parents emigrated to the UAE from India more than 30 years ago and throughout her childhood, she recalls being a “quiet, introverted kid” dealing with the struggles of an alcoholic father who was regularly abusive towards her mother under the influence. Anna describes her upbringing as “traumatic” and “a tough start to life”, and how living with her parents “felt like [they] were three people under one roof living three separate lives”. In fact, her turbulent family life eventually caused Anna to withdraw from her bachelors in mass communication and led her to becoming a teenager craving love, attention and an escape from her “unhealthy home environment”.
For Anna, the marriage - as undesirable as it might have been - was the lesser of two evils, so to speak. Having spent her childhood and young adult life repressing the issues she had at home for fear of social marginalisation, she had become an expert in bottling things up. Even in her adult life, voicing her problems was virtually impossible as her ex-partner had all of her movements tracked. The only person Anna really had to confide in was a mother who knew what was happening but, as Anna describes it, “to her abuse was the norm” and she encouraged Anna to “stick and push through to make the marriage work”.
Eventually Anna was married and as the years passed by she became increasingly helpless. She was left with no key to the apartment, no job, no passport, no family support network and had “lost all of [her] identity at that point”. She was “imprisoned” in a dangerous and abusive marriage, battling the subsequent depression and mental health that came as a repercussion. Her light at the end of the tunnel came in the shape of a confidant at church who was a domestic violence survivor and “the first person who really understood what [Anna] was going through”.
“I think what has inspired me most in life is seeing and experiencing kindness in people that you least expect it from”
Anna confided in this beacon of human kindness who was able to connect her with a non-profit organisation in New Delhi who could offer Anna the legal and structural support she would need. The only one condition: Anna had to make her own way to New Delhi. With her passport guarded, this seemed like a lost cause but ahead of a scheduled trip to USA, Anna’s then-partner handed her her passport with a request to book herself a visa interview. Acting fast, Anna informed her confidante to book her a flight, organised for friends to pick her up outside church once her captor was distracted in conversation and then drove to the airport to catch the flight with nothing but a small bag of essential belongings.
The “journey of the unknown” as Anna describes it was terrifying but “the pain and the trauma of the abuse was so much that it gave [her] the courage to just leave”. A year later, Anna finally started to feel that she was beginning to find her identity once again and eventually ended up working for the organisation who helped her escape, campaigning in the fight against violence towards women. Now, Anna views herself as “truly blessed” which for somebody who has been through as much as she has, is a glowing testament to her fighting spirit and admirable character. Today, she has uncorked the bottle of emotions, speaking openly about her experiences in a bid to provide the “soothing balm” to “the wounds” that she recognises all too intimately.
When we asked Anna, as we do with all ONEOFTHE8 guests, what her greatest inspiration is, she said: “I think what has inspired me most in life is seeing and experiencing kindness in people that you least expect it from”. Having been shown such unkindness and hostility for most of her life, it’s astounding and amazing to me that Anna can still maintain such a warm hearted outlook of humanity. We expect love and support from our blood relatives and close acquaintances - be that right or wrong - but when it comes from a stranger or a place where you least expect it to come from, to Anna that is “out of this world”. It is these types of good deeds that she sees as at the real “catalyst for change” against things like inequality, injustice and suffering and you know what, she might just be right.
To hear more about Anna’s harrowing but empowering story, make sure to catch up with her episode over on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.
If you find yourself dealing with a situation of domestic violence or abuse, or know somebody who is, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.