A chapter of my story
A thriver's story of domestic violence. Last year I attended a talk in my workplace from an impressive NZ Police Superintendent, and it inspired me to tell share my story of domestic violence – or DV, as my lawyer affectionally called it - in the hope of helping others. Here is that story. Some of us were talking after the presentation, and agreed that when it comes to family violence, the nature of it turns us away. We care, but it’s just too painful to dwell on. So, I thought I’d share my story because it has a happy ending. And because I may not look like the poster child for family violence, but that’s the point. This social cancer pervades all walks, and sadly there will be people in our organisation right now who are experiencing it. Here goes. I grew up in what people would describe as a ‘nice’ nuclear family. I was loved and had a good upbringing free of violence and any type of abuse. In my mid-20s, I was a successful young Wellington woman. I had a flat in Mt Vic, great friends, too many shoes, and had started a communications consultancy at the ripe old age of 26. Looking back, I had the world at my feet. Then I met the man I thought was the love of my life – actually, he was to become the lesson I needed to learn, but we’ll get to that. Just as Superintendent 'M' outlined is the family violence pattern, we started out madly in love. We moved to Sydney, partied like rock stars… and slowly my life fell apart. I interrupt this story to list the eight rungs of the Power & Control wheel: IntimidationIsolationEmotional abuseEconomic abuseUsing childrenUsing gender privilegeCoercion, threats Minimising If you read none of this, take in these eight factors. It is critical to my story – and to understanding this insidious issue. I’ve been asked many, many times, “how could this happen to you?” My answer directs people to the wheel. A senior policewoman told me I was very brave: she was thinking of the wheel. But why?The answer lies in its eight rungs. Physical violence is but one. It’s the physical abuse we typically focus on because it can be proven. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for it: the physical violence I suffered was, in the end, a key contributor to my freedom. Police had a record and like a true coward, my ex backed down in the face of being exposed.But I stayed through the physical episodes, after being choke-held when I was pregnant and when my six-month old son lay sleeping, or being hospitalized when my head was shoved through a car window. Understand why people stay in family violence – they’re stuckNow you’re thinking, why did that policewoman say I was brave? How can you be brave and live like that? Well, I had to - he had me trapped by the eight rungs of that wheel. Trapped by my ability to earn money being cut off, being isolated, having my children used as weapons, being gas-lighted so many times I thought I was going mad.This is what keeps you stuck. Because trust me, no one wants this. Remember that next time you hear of someone – anyone – who stays in family violence. They are stuck.The other key thing to know is that no one takes this lying down. It’s just that the fight back is usually forced underground, and you play the long game getting every duck in a row. It’s life or death. I bet someone is reading this right now who lies awake each night planning their escape. If you are, and you want to talk about it, email me. x How do we help one another?Go back to the wheel. To escape family violence, people need to break free of the controls (think: the eight rungs) that have been woven into their life. My suggestions are:Support people to have independent financial control – for example, The Warehouse has a brilliant policy where all employees must be paid into a bank account that has their name on it. Money = freedom (and lawyers are expensive!).Give someone a safe place to go – this is where our workplace can play a huge role!Help someone make a plan – or give them options so they feel empowered.Remind them they’re not alone in this – the loneliness of DV is indescribable.Remind them that they matter. The abuse makes you feel worthless and often suicidal. I credit my children and a nugget of self-love with keeping me alive. If you can help someone stay alive, keep a glimmer of hope, know their children are ok, know that they will come through this fire – then you are a hero. Getting outExcuse the dramatics, but getting out of DV really is like a phoenix rising from the ashes! What was a nightmare became a gift, because above all it taught me self-love. Real self-love. I had to put myself first or I couldn’t help my children. I had to look at my pain and understand why this had happened to me to move up and away from it.When I did this, I stopped being a victim and thrived. I stopped playing tug-o-war with a sociopath and left him in the gutter. Things worked out. He backed down. We were free.Does he trigger me now? No, he does not. Am I scared of him now? No, I am not – although I note he runs a mile if he has to see me.Family violence is a dark part of our society, but we all have the ability to light a match. And as you know, when the flame is bright, darkness retreats. Always, be the light.