Learning to thrive. A story of survival

O.K. Here is my story …I’ve procrastinated publishing this long enough. I believe that life is a series of lessons and experiences, the purpose of which is to teach us and progress us spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. This cannot be done without a time set aside for reflection and honest appraisal of what has gone before. I truly believe we attract certain people, experiences and events to ourselves so that we can learn and grow in wisdom, compassion and understanding. For me, real change began when I finally stopped to look back, with curiosity, compassion and non-judgement at why I had allowed certain experiences to happen to me. 

As it happens, I am a survivor of domestic violence.

This happened over 10 years ago and while I have dealt with the trauma and grief a long time ago I have never had the courage to write about it. However, recent events in my life have caused me to reflect on my relationships and past as a whole. I have also recently remarried and while my new husband is not perfect I consider myself blessed and grateful to have found someone so beautiful, supportive and loving to share the rest of my life with. 

Another reason I am sharing this today is that I see the tragedy of violence in my work as a counsellor every day. I see the perpetrators as victims too in a way but women clearly bear the burden of violence in a way that men simply do not. If you are experiencing violence or are simply in an unhealthy relationship at best I hope my story helps you in some way. (See end of post for links to support services in Australia.)

O.K. Here goes. I firstly must point out that often there is an assumption that women who end up in domestic violent situations have a history of bad relationships. It was certainly not true in my case. My father was not an expressive man, emotionally distant yes, but not prone to violence. My first husband was kind and thoughtful. My childhood was largely, thankfully, uneventful. 

I fell in love with my ex pretty much straight away. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen but he also had a very sweet innocence about him which was very endearing and so at odds with the monster he would sometimes become. See, that is the paradox and tragedy of violent relationships. The person you fell in love with is still there somewhere…and it is hard to reconcile that the monster and the man are housed within the same person. 

Within six months we had moved in together. During those early days, there were signs of his potential for violence. We had a few blow-ups, usually over minor things and one time he did get very angry with me simply because I got a parking fine. He followed me around the house, yelling nonsensical abuse at me. I remember nervously laughing at first saying, “Why are you getting so worked up. It’s not like you have to pay the fine!” That just made him angrier. To this day I still don’t know what it was about it that made him so angry. I went to the bathroom in a misguided attempt at removing myself from his anger and to create some space between us, hoping to give him a chance to calm down. When the door was thrust open, narrowly missing slamming into my head, the shock on my face must have finally reached him because he was immediately contrite and he apologised as he helped me up. I had fallen to the floor as I jumped out of the way.

I was shaken at the time but we talked at length about it and he ‘explained’ to me that he just felt that it was ‘unfair’ that I got the fine when we had been working so hard to get ahead. A funny way of expressing sympathy it seemed to me at the time, but I expressed emphatically how inappropriate his behaviour had been and he, of course, apologised profusely and promised that it would never happen again.

Of course it did, but by then we were married. And by the time the realization dawned on me that I had become involved with someone who had serious anger management issues, someone who was unable to control their temper, someone who would lash out at me for seemingly the most trivial things, someone who could go from sweet and loving to uncontrollably violent, seemingly from one moment to the next, I must admit I felt well and truly trapped. Trapped by my own stupidity more than anything else. In a way I did blame myself for the situation I found myself in. It wasn’t that I blamed myself for his behaviour. It was not that I felt that it was something I was doing. I always knew it wasn’t. I knew it was his inability to control his anger that was affecting me and our relationship. That much I understood. But I blamed myself for getting involved in the first place. For not knowing better, for not being able to read the signs or walking away earlier (like life had prepared me for this somehow when I had never experienced anything like it before). I thought this was my bed, my mess and I had to deal with it.

The one aspect of victim blaming that needs to be addressed is blaming yourself for someone else’s reprehensible behaviour. To those who may be going through similar feelings I have one thing to say: It’s not your fault…

Pride, I admit, was a big factor in keeping my worsening situation to myself. People had always thought of me as a smart, independent woman. I had always thought of myself as such. I could scarcely believe that I had ended up in such a shameful, ridiculous situation. This. This is what I left my first husband for? A man who loved me and would do anything for me?? I used to constantly berate myself about it. I began to hate the person I had become.  

I must clarify, I didn’t leave my first husband for this man but I had left my first husband because I wasn’t happy in that marriage, it was less to do with him than it was with me and where I was at.  I wanted to find myself I suppose …that I found myself instead in an intolerable, horrific situation was a source of constant astonishment, pain and finally shame to me. My first husband was a gentle and loving man who did not act in such a violent, seemingly “out of control” manner. I had never met any man like my abuser before. It took me a while to adapt to this new reality. 

The shock of violence is numbing and creates a form of inertia which takes time to recover from.

One trait of some violent men who seem to lack “control” of their emotions is that most of them only seem to lose control at home alone with you, behind closed doors. That is why when the truth finally comes out, people are usually shocked because to most people, “He seemed like such a nice man.” At work or in public, they would never erupt in a fit of rage at their boss or colleagues. They might be an angel around your family and friends which makes it all the more difficult to reconcile how and why this Dr Hyde only shows his Mr Jekyll side to you. For some reason you want to protect the facade of a ‘happy family’, for as long as you can hoping often beyond reason or evidence showing otherwise that it might somehow become true. Because, the truth, the real truth is so horrific. For a while you believe the fairy-tale, deep down in your heart you are hoping will come true. You cling to the hope that the last time, will be, the last time. That “I’m sorry” will really mean, “Never again” and that when things are going well you start to hope and believe that yes, maybe things are finally different. That, it is going to be o.k. …until it happens again.

It wasn’t until I was sitting beside my then husband in the counsellor’s office with a black eye in the latter stages of healing, (when it looks worse than ever) that I understood that it would never be “O.K.” ever again. Having her explain the cycle of violence made everything crystal clear to me. I finally understood that it have never been about me. It had never been in my control to curb his temper or his behaviour. It had never really mattered how nice I tried to be, how much I tippy-toed around him, how much I listened, how supportive I was, how much I tried to make him happy. He would always find a reason to explode in anger over something. And if the incidents between us had been fewer and farther between, so as to make me believe, falsely, that he was getting ‘better’, it was because I had learnt to minimize the triggers. I am by nature a very calm and easy going person. Yet I became really good at becoming smaller, quieter, softer. A more faded, greyer version of myself. If truth be told, the person I was before this relationship was quietly disappearing.

That realisation both terrified and mobilised me.

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I remember the moment I made the heart breaking decision to walk out of that marriage like it was yesterday. That was when I knew that there was no hope left, when I knew that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t ‘over reacting’ or ‘making a big deal out of nothing’ but that he was. I would get out somehow. And, I would somehow find a way to colour myself back in.

That moment was now many years ago. But it has taken me this long to find the courage to write about it, and to say – I am a survivor of domestic violence. I survived, luckily, but so many, too  many women do not. Every time I read a story about how another woman has been murdered by a partner or ex-partner, (one a week is the current statistic) I am still affected by a sense of relief (how easily I could have ended up another statistic) and by a deep, deep sadness at the lives that are destroyed by this particularly insidious brand of violence. Like former Australian of the Year and fellow domestic violence survivor, Rosie Batty, I too was lucky enough to have means to support myself so I was able to walk away, (albeit leaving behind a whole house full of possessions in the process) Actually, my exit from that relationship was more like a meticulously planned military operation. But I somehow found the strength to do it and I am so grateful that I did.

For many women, especially when children are involved I know that things can be much more complicated. However, there is help available if you are able to at first break free from the psychological bind that domestic violence creates. 

My story had a happy ending, but many don’t. We need more money for victims of domestic violence services, not less. More shelters, not less. More awareness and more support for both victims and perpetrators as they are victims too. However it is women, invariably, that tend to pay the ultimate price and that needs to change.

Www.whiteribbon.org.au
Domestic violence line (24 hours) 1800 65 64 63
List of domestic violence services and contacts are available here:
https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/domestic-violence/services-and-support/contacts/a-z



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Just another domestic violence statistic

It seems every time I go on Facebook, open my email or watch the news these days there’s another domestic violence story. This is triggering for me because, well, any of those stories could have been about me. I survived a violent and abusive relationship and while it is something I have dealt with emotionally, these news stories just keep reminding me of the chilling fact, how close I came to being another statistic.

Before I begin my own story, let me just throw some actual statistics  your way. According to the ABS personal safety survey (2005), one in four women will experience domestic violence of some degree in their lifetime. That’s a quarter of all Australian women, that’s 25%. (According to the latest ABS statistics that figure is now 1 in 3).  Here are some more:

  • Women are more likely to experience violence from someone they know, than from a stranger. For men the reverse is true.
  • For  women who have experienced violence since the age of 15, 36% was by someone they knew vs. 12% by a stranger.
  • For men, the statistics are 35% by a stranger, 26% by someone they know.
  • For men the someone they know is most likely to be an acquaintance or neighbour.  For women, it is most likely to be a partner or ex-partner.
  • Both women and men are more likely to experience violence by a male perpetrator.
  • One woman a week is murdered by an intimate male partner, or ex partner.
  • At the time of writing (March 3rd, 2015) 15 women have already been murdered at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.

I’ll just let those sobering facts sink in for a moment.

Unfortunately, facts alone are not enough to get government to take this terrible state of affairs seriously enough, although just recently there are signs that awareness is finally making some headway. The naming of domestic violence survivor Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year is a step in the right direction and recently Q & A did a special on domestic violence. These are all positive steps. Yet, the current government’s funding cuts to community services have meant that many front line services are struggling with to keep up with demand. This is not positive and counter-intuitive to say the least.

It is a very heartbreaking reality that little girls, such as myself, grow up dreaming of meeting their ‘prince charming’. We are fed a steady diet of fairy-tales, romantic notions, and mainstream TV depictions of perfect family life. The reality for many women however, is so different. No-one expects to end up in a relationship that is abusive and violent. Yet the statistics are such that someone you know, someone you work with or went to school with, someone in your apartment block is probably living a nightmare right now.

There has been a lot of media attention given to terrorism of late, however, this article Domestic violence deserves the same attention as terrorism, links intimate partner violence with terrorism and points out its similarities, of which there are a few.

We need to address the causes of all violence in society as whole and see that they are all linked and instead of asking women why they stay, it’s time to ask,

Why do men attack the women that love them?

Some articles for further reading and sources of statistics to do with domestic violence:

http://www.domesticviolence.com.au/pages/domestic-violence-statistics.php

http://www.adfvc.unsw.edu.au/PDF%20files/Statistics_final.pdf

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/sundayextra/intimate-brutality-the-epidemic-of-domestic-violence/6273516

http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/top-stories/why-are-sexual-assault-and-domestic-violence-on-the-rise/201502255362#.VPTIoPmUfWs

http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/stop-blaming-the-victim-rosie-batty-to-address-mps-20150302-13sx55.html

http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/tara-costigan-murder/

http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/domestic-violence-deaths-vs-terrorism-deaths/#yqAVLOjPiEAtkSol.99

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4906.0Contents2012?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4906.0&issue=2012&num=&view=