Netflix’s Maid Helped Me Come To Terms With My Own Emotional Abuse

Photo Courtesy Of Netflix
Warning: The following includes descriptions of domestic abuse which some readers may find upsetting.
It’s mid-afternoon and I have a packet of Marlboros in my jacket pocket. I’m not supposed to be smoking because my boyfriend’s mum doesn’t like it – but cigarettes remind me how to exhale properly. I make an excuse, walk out of their family home and navigate my way back to the brook behind his house. He’d shown me this spot a few days earlier when he was in one of his ‘good’ moods; he was now in one of his bad ones and it was the only place I could think of to snaffle some respite.   
Advertisement
When you’re attempting to secure refuge from an abuser – whether for a five-minute cigarette break or to make a break for a new life – there’s a primitive fear that takes over, causing the blood to feel like it’s pooling in your neck. Will my stilted breath betray me and signal to him that I’m leaving? Will my legs not move fast enough while I attempt to make it towards the front door undisturbed? 
Based on the book Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land, I watched the opening sequence of the pilot episode of new Netflix series Maid and felt a visceral pang of familiarity. In the middle of the night, single mother Alex (Margaret Qualley) and her infant daughter Maddy (Rylea Neveah Whittet) creep out of the trailer park home she shares with her abusive partner Sean (Nick Robinson). While watching it, I noticed I was no longer sat peacefully in my apartment in Denmark. I had travelled seven years back, where I was once again hurriedly explaining to my boyfriend’s mum that I had no phone signal – just so I could get to that small body of water in Wales without him noticing.
Advertisement

What Maid skillfully shows you, is that this form of abuse relies on cyclical patterns of behaviour to render you near-incapable of seeing straight.

Photo Courtesy Of Netflix
At 28, I’ve navigated two romantic situations with emotionally abusive men. What Maid skillfully shows you, is that this form of abuse relies on cyclical patterns of behaviour to render you near-incapable of seeing straight. With $18 to her name, Alex and Maddy quickly find that the limited number of people Alex knows are largely useless in providing support – so the pair end up sleeping in her car. Desperate to find a place to settle, Alex resorts to government-assisted help. “And say what? He didn’t hit me?” she replies, when the clerk asks if she’s filed a police report in response to the abuse she’s been subjected to. Evidently, Alex is unintentionally inclined to downplay his behaviour. 
The discourse surrounding domestic abuse often reverberates with the same sentiments: “If it was so bad, why didn’t she just leave?”; “He’s a nice guy though, I’ve never heard him say/do anything!” It took me five years post-break up to admit to anyone that my first boyfriend raped me. I still find it difficult to articulate to others how the last guy I was seeing brandished his new conquest in my face while I miscarried his child.
Over the course of the first few episodes, we watch Alex attempt to forge a new life for herself and Maddy in a world that she’s been vindictively isolated away from. In the episode Ponies, we witness her and Sean meet for the first time. She’s performing a poetry reading of her own work that depicts a childhood spent with her mother in Alaska, after escaping her abusive father — a detail we find out mere episodes later. From that point onwards, Sean starts affectionately referring to her as Alaska: it’s a mendacious meet-cute at best.
Advertisement

Abusers always find a way to make you feel seen — what’s a sentimental gesture on the surface, throbs with pernicious intent beneath.

Abusers always find a way to make you feel seen — what’s a sentimental gesture on the surface, throbs with pernicious intent beneath. I was “baban” one day and “bitch” the next. The situation went from “I’d never want to hurt you or upset you” to “If you didn’t want to feel disposable, you could’ve just said no to hanging out”. It’s as if you’re an unwitting player in a sadistic game of Snakes & Ladders. You’ll ascend as they love bomb you with compliments and tender touches, but before you know it, you’ll slide right back to square one. Except, it’s not as innocuous as sliding: your mind has forcibly been highjacked, addled by the effects of verbal putdowns, gaslighting and unashamed lies.
When it comes to emotional abuse, many are lucky to escape with their lives. The ramifications are so wholly damaging, that it seems a mystery to some, how an individual who’s escaped winds up back in the arms of their abuser. Previously, I referred to this strain of abuse as a cyclical pattern. A circle you’re enclosed in, that at one point feels like safety, and at another, a perilous trap – especially once they claim you’ve driven them round the bend. Throughout the series, we see Sean vacillate between lovesick family man and drunken, pugnacious adulterer. At the end of the episode String Cheese, Sean and Alex connect after he helps hospitalise Alex’s mother (Qualley’s real-life mum, Andie MacDowell) due to her having a psychotic break. They passionately kiss; he asks for consent before they have sex. To Alex, he’s seemingly returned to being the man she met at the very beginning – until he’s back to physically intimidating her in the next episode. 
Advertisement
I experienced similar fluctuations in my own life. After gently asking the person I was with to not flaunt the girl he was ending things with me for in my face while I miscarried, he initially seemed repentant and apologetic. “I’ve been bad to you, but you’ve always been good to me”, he said, his face soaked with tears while my underwear was soaked with clotting blood. At a time when I needed to be ensconced in empathy, I was the one who brought tissues to console him. It only took 24 hours for him to be back on the sofa with me, his head nestled on my now-empty womb, once again flagrantly messaging the same girl in front of me. In psychology terms, this Jekyll and Hyde effect is called intermittent reinforcement which leads to trauma bonding. An experience likened to cocaine withdrawal in terms of breaking free and recovering – due to surviving the highest highs and most destabilising lows. 

In situations like this, it’s very easy to feel alone – as if the person’s behaviour is a special brand of punishment, doled out only to you for being a dissatisfactory partner. Support is fundamental, not just in terms of escaping such a predicament but in unpacking the false beliefs ingrained in your psyche as a result.

Photo Courtesy Of Netflix
In situations like this, it’s very easy to feel alone – as if the person’s behaviour is a special brand of punishment, doled out only to you for being a dissatisfactory partner. Support is fundamental, not just in terms of escaping such a predicament but in unpacking the false beliefs ingrained in your psyche as a result. Alex’s mum Paula is a pivotal character throughout the series. An unfiltered artist who’s presented as a nonchalant hippie upon first introduction but is then gradually revealed to be someone with suspected undiagnosed bipolar disorder
Advertisement
In the episode String Cheese, Paula violently injures herself by smashing her arm through the window of her house that’s set to be repossessed. Distraught in response, Alex asks Sean if she’ll end up like her mother. She’s a woman we see go from harmlessly histrionic to vibrating with rage, routinely blaming Alex for every misfortune that befalls her. In her character, I saw echoes of my own mother. A hot-tempered woman who I was afraid to discuss my miscarriage with for fear of judgement. She was one of the last people I told. Her immediate response being: “Well, why weren’t you using condoms as well as the pill?” Alike Alex and Paula at the series’ end, despite her shortcomings, I will always love my mother and want what is best for her. For some of us (read: Alex), the responsibility comes earlier than others, but parents often eventually need parenting too. 
One of the most poignant elements of the series are the female friendships Alex strikes up along the way. In the episode Ponies, she’s referred to a domestic violence shelter where she meets Danielle (Aimee Carrero) – a fellow tenant who brings toys round for Maddy to help them both settle in. Danielle acts as a driving force, encouraging Alex to fight for custody of Maddy while she lays on her apartment carpet, hopeless. Following a more turbulent path, Alex eventually befriends Regina – an affluent lady whose house she cleans as her first job, who skips out on paying her due to being unfairly disgruntled with her service. 
Advertisement
Between Regina’s divorce and adjustment towards becoming a single mum and Alex’s desperate situation, the two women bond over their shared vulnerabilities. It’s part of the beauty of friendship amongst women – a tenderness and well of emotional availability that holds you up when you can barely stand. In the final episode, Alex chairs a session for the women at the domestic violence shelter. They offer anecdotes about their favourite day and click instead of clapping to show gratitude. It reminded me of how my friends – both near and far – crowded around me when I was at my lowest point. A FaceTime, a spare sofa, a warm bath; the women I am fortunate to know have all contributed to my most favourite days on this planet. 
Throughout the course of writing this, I purposefully didn’t differentiate between the two men I’ve been referring to and directly quoting. The reason being not to protect their anonymity but rather to no longer allow them to play a central role in my life. Through in-person therapy, amazing resources like The Baggage Reclaim Podcast and sensitively handled shows like Maid, I have healed tremendously in the last year. As Alex ascends the mountains in Missoula, Montana, with Maddy in the final episode Snaps, she positions her high on her shoulders and says: “That this whole new world is for her”. If I would’ve birthed the child I lost, I think my outlook would’ve been the exact same. For now, there’s just me — and though I may not have a mountain, I will always have a brook, that babbles away in my mind peacefully.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

More from TV