“When I hear a couple arguing or hear a raised male voice, I freeze. I wait for the violence to start. I become almost catatonic, stressed out and very anxious”. Domestic violence survivor Karen.
Karen dedicates her life to helping others ♥️
He closed the blinds, locked the doors and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget…
I was very young and a runaway. My boyfriend said that I needed to come and live with him or he would get a new girlfriend. I should have known better but I was 15 at the time. I remember the first incident like it was yesterday. I was pregnant and we were at his friend’s house – I wanted to go home. He ignored me. So I left and walked the two to three kilometres or so home.
When he realised what I had done – which was embarrass him in front of his friends, he came home and very deliberately and obviously pulled the blinds down, locked the doors and proceeded to teach me a lesson. At one point I needed the toilet; I had to beg him to get off of me so I could go to the toilet – he had me pinned to the bed and I couldn’t move, so he let me up, and I discovered I was bleeding. Off to the hospital. No visible injuries except for a miscarriage which may or may not have been connected to the first lesson. At that point it was restraining me, slapping me and verbal. It got worse.
I spent my days and nights walking on eggshells…
When I think back to that incident, it was probably the least terrifying of them all as I wasn’t scared yet. I came to learn that the fear, for me, was the worst. The trepidation, the anticipation and the threat were always the worse. Especially when I wasn’t being considerate to his needs.
Living on eggshells became the norm. Like the time I had just cooked myself something to eat, and he came in and asked me to cook him something to eat and I told him that I would when I had finished eating – there was probably some teenage attitude in there too – but that earned me a belting with a fry pan. Another one I remember all too clearly. When he wasn’t angry, he was OK. When he wasn’t hungry, he was OK. But hunger quickly led to anger. And my cooking was inedible, so he told me. “Disgusting”. So I stopped trying.
Why did I stay? Because I wanted what we all want…
Why did I stay? I thought I loved him. I wanted to have a family. I wanted a baby. I wanted the dream of a happy family. That was at first. But eventually, as my self-confidence ebbed away and my self-worth disintegrated, I stayed because I had nowhere else to go. I didn’t want to lose him. I thought I loved him. If I could just learn to cook better or not make him angry.
He told me it was my fault that he got angry – so if I controlled my mouth and didn’t backchat him or made sure that he had an edible dinner when he got home from work, then he wouldn’t lose his temper anymore. So, it was really up to me, is the way I saw it. The way he wanted me to see it.
As a runaway I was isolated from my family – a good decent family that I had run away from because I wanted to be an adult and do my own thing. I got pregnant again and have many DV memories with the pregnancy, mainly of running out of the house and hiding in the backyard to escape the wrath. To protect my baby. If I bolted and hid then I could go back in when he was calm again and everything would be OK.
If I was dressed or there was clothes on the line, I could go for a walk around the block or down to the local park and sit. If I wasn’t dressed, as was often the case, I would just run out the back door and hide in the bushes. For a few hours at a time. Pregnant, often cold and barely dressed and terrified. Why did I stay?
That fear… That debilitating fear… It’s something you never forget…
When I look back I can honestly only think that I must have still loved him. I thought I had nowhere else to go. Because even now I don’t know why I stayed. But I don’t think it occurred to me to leave until I was back in touch with my family again and then thought I had options.
They would take me in and look after me, forgive me for the worry, angst and trauma I had caused them because they loved me. For those that do not have loving families – where do they go? I recall a time after my eldest daughter was born when the anger raised its ugly head, while he was eating – something must not have been done properly and I picked my daughter up out of her high-chair and quickly and as unobtrusively as I could, walked to the front door to leave to safety.
I did not want her there once he started on me. As he saw me heading to the front door, he threw his bowl of food at me. That fear. Debilitating fear – paralysing and terrifying.
I wanted better for my little girl so decided to leave…
The day I decided to leave was when I was changing my daughter’s nappy on the change table in her room and he came in to berate me about something I had done or not done and he threatened to hit me by raising his hand at me. While my baby lay there watching. That was it.
He could mistreat me because I didn’t value my worth, clearly, but he could not teach my daughter that that was an acceptable way to be treated. I wanted better for her. No one should be treated like that. No-one should live in fear. Like I was. That decided it for me – but it would still be some time before I found the courage to actually leave.
And of course upon reflection, how much of that fear, anxiety and pent up frustration did I take out on my daughter? Did she really deserve a smack for spilling her drink? I now cringe at those behaviours of mine as a parent. Was I really transferring my fear of him onto her to be afraid of me? How could I do that? Being a young mother is no excuse. Knowing no better is no excuse either – it might be the reality but it is just not good enough.
I stood above him with a knife in my hand – so close, yet so far from freedom…
I recall the time he was cutting up chicken squatting down on the kitchen floor, and I had the big chopper in my hand and the only thing that really stopped me from killing him was the fear that I might only injure him and then he would come after me and kill me.
I hated him by that stage. Love was gone and only hate left, and I left not long after that. Why did I wait so long to leave? Why did I subject my daughter to several years of that environment? Why did I go back several years later?
That happy family fantasy has a strong pull.
You stay for so many reasons – love, fear, that 80% of the time that he’s great…
You stay because you think it is the right thing to do. You stay sometimes because your family expects you to – of course they don’t know what is happening behind closed doors. They don’t get the fear because you don’t tell them about the violence and threats mostly.
Too much shame involved in speaking it out loud. You stay because of the shame. How can you tell anyone else what is really happening? You stay because you love them. You want the violence to stop but still want to be with them – because they are good the other 80% of the time, or you think they are a good Dad, or a good provider. You stay because no one else will ever love you – he tells you that. You are not worthy or lovable or even that important.
You stay because you have nowhere else to go and you can’t do it on your own either – he tells you that too. You stay because you eventually believe the lies he has been telling you every day – you are ugly or fat or both, you are worthless, you are no good, you smell, you snore, you can’t cook. You believe you are unlovable, so you deserve whatever shit he doles out to you.
You leave because finally you have the courage to start rebuilding your life…
When you do finally find the courage to leave, or he goes too far and you decide that you better get out or he will kill you, you have to start rebuilding yourself all over again. Some women never manage to do that. Some women, like me, do although it takes years and years to do so.
And there is always collateral damage – the kids and their psychological issues. Us and our psychological issues. For some there is the courts and custody matters to deal with and/or even more violence once they leave. I was fortunate in that after I left, most of the violence stopped.
Not all the power games and control, but some of it. But the fear is still there, even today. When I hear a couple arguing, or hear a raised male voice, I freeze. I wait for the violence to start – I become almost catatonic – stressed out and very anxious. Call the police or not? Go and ask her if she is OK or not? Should I say something? Will he then turn on me?
I will never allow another person to make me doubt myself – you shouldn’t either…
Aside from that, I am doing really well. I have a good job, my own circles of friends and networks, my own hobbies that give me pleasure. I know myself for a valuable, contributing and important member of society. I give much to those that I love – support, love and care, financial assistance if needed, advice if asked (and sometimes if not asked ☺). I am OK. I am enough. I am lovable. I am worthy of love and respect.
I can achieve anything I want in life. I believe in myself. I will never allow another human being to cause me to doubt myself. Never. You shouldn’t either. ♥️
If you are in domestic violence crisis help is available from the Australia-wide telephone hotline 1800RESPECT. If you want to take part in the “Why I Stayed” project click here ♥️♥️♥️
Photograph by Sherele Moody © 2016.