“If I said I was a bit sad, I was told I had postnatal depression and needed medication and this is why he hurt us. If I said I felt tired, I was told I was depressed and needed medication and this is why he hurt us. I was told if I would just not say or do the things I did or look the way I looked, then he wouldn’t hurt us”. Domestic violence survivor Keelie.
Beneath our perfect life was pure violent chaos…
It is very difficult to set the scene when trying to describe the intricacies of a domestic violent relationship so I have decided to start in the middle where it was really at its worst.
Our abuser is the father of my four children. My children and I know the wheel of abuse, unfortunately better than most and our story is not that different from any other survivor of domestic violence, only by varying degrees.
We have been punched, slapped, kicked, spat on, choked unconscious, threatened, name called, intimidated, put down, lost a child to domestic violence and made to feel guilty for it all.
I never felt what we were going through was dangerous at the time. I was far too busy governing the situation, micro-managing everyone’s movements and remaining hyper-vigilant at all times for of missing something that could trigger an episode.
I did know the behaviour was bad, wrong and damaging us all but after a while I did this weird thing where I normalised it and at the same time desperately tried to hide it. The shame and embarrassment were overwhelming.
I was very good at deception, avoiding people, creating a fantasy world. I felt that as a woman, mother and on/off partner to the abuser, that it was imperative I maintain a persona that I had it all together, that I was coping and that life in general was perfect.
I had set a ridiculous benchmark for myself and it was completely unachievable, given the circumstances. I persisted in vacuuming the house twice a day, keeping the children impeccably dressed and under control (mostly out of fear that they may say something to someone). I cleaned relentlessly, made sure we had the best of everything, smiled when family and friends arrived, even if a few seconds before the abuser had been raging or violent.
I would play the perfect host. I tried hard to maintain work, study and present as one of you. I had divided things in two. It was you (being everything except me) and then me. I always felt alone, regardless of how many people were around and regardless of what I was told. I was disjointed, scattered and barely holding things together.
This is why he hurt us … because I was quite simply, me…
If I said I was a bit sad, I was told I had postnatal depression and needed medication and this is why he hurt us. If I said I felt tired, I was told I was depressed and needed medication and this is why he hurt us. I was told if I would just not say or do the things I did or look the way I looked, then he wouldn’t hurt us.
Everyone knew what was happening but it was never talked about and I was left to cope on my own because I was too ashamed to say anything and after a while I started to believe it was me, that I was unwell and that I needed medication. What I needed was not to be abused.
The rare moments of freedom, glorious freedom, disappeared as fast as they came…
I was the sole carer of the children. I never lived as a couple with the father of the children. i think the longest period he stayed for was about two weeks, but I allowed him to come and go as he pleased. He would show up for days at a time and then sometimes I would not see him for years at a time, but I knew he was watching always watching us. I was so exhausted. I had stopped caring and stopped taking care of myself.
When he was away from us we would start smiling again, slowly at first and then I would see my beautiful children after a while with big wide open mouths, laughing so hard they could barely breathe. We would start to feel safe, we would talk for hours, play board games in bed, make giant nests and sleep tangle with each other.
I would stay up late and wake off and on in the night, smelling their sweaty heads and sleepy breath and feel so happy, but a little sad at the same time. I knew he would show up and I would let him back into our lives. When he was around after these breaks we would withdraw from family and friends, talk secretively with each other when he thought he couldn’t hear, share secrets smiles from sad faces and sometimes just sit and cry together if he left us for a day or two.
My health suffered. I was extremely underweight. I was not confident enough to eat in front of him – my weight went from 55kg to 60kg to 46 kilos, fluctuating when he wasn’t around. He was constantly threatening to take the children off me and call the welfare. I was terrified of this.
It took me 17 years to realise that someone like me could be the victim of a domestic violent abuser…
I was pressured by his family, pressured to drop charges and to take him back. I can’t think of how many times they told me he had changed and how much he loved the kids and I. I only ever pressed charges once and that was the first time he was abusive. But by the time we got to court I had already had his family saying what a terrible mother I was for doing that to him, so I refused to say anything to the judge.
I do remember the judge taking me into the chambers, sitting me down and saying he had met girls like me before and that if I didn’t follow through now my life would become an unbearable cycle of abuse. I laughed and said “you don’t know anything, it’s not like that, I am not like that.”
I am white, not poor and I am educated. I never thought for a second that it could happen to me. Seventeen years later, a multitude of protection orders and DV orders, all applied for by the police (I could never press charges again, I was too ashamed) I realise it can happen to anyone. There is no type of person who gets abused. But I do believe there is a type that abuses.
The pain my children endured will be with me for the rest of my life…
I was expected to do it all by our abuser and I never questioned it. Instead I filled my own head with hateful self-talk and piled on more guilt for feeling exhausted and for not quite doing that day what was expected. I never challenged defined roles – when I think back it was male privilege at its best.
I had four children to the man that was slowly destroying every ounce of who we were and like most victims I have no recollection of who or what I was prior to meeting him. I can recall what I did, but nothing else. I don’t like to talk about how this affected my children. Obviously it was soul-destroying and the guilt and shame I have for subjecting them to this is immeasurable and almost like a punishment of its own for remaining and keeping them there as unwilling observers. This feeling will never leave me.
He made a multitude of excuses for his violent behaviour but he never blamed himself…
We were financially, emotionally and physically mishandled by someone who used alcohol, drugs, stress and mental illness as excuses for his actions. These are not the cause of violence that we suffered but an excuse for his learned and chosen behaviour. Our abuser was raised to feel self-entitled and to believe that his self-importance supersedes all others.
Why did I stay? No. Ask him why he abused us?
Before I really knew what was happening we were halfway through and completely immersed in the cycle of abuse. The first nine years, quite honestly don’t seem real and on recall, it is as if I am looking from the outside in. I continued to take back or return to our abuser for 17 years for various reasons. I struggle with the quintessential question “Why did I stay”.
Obviously this question has been thrown around for some time now without any real result. I think it is perhaps the worst question to ask any person in, or who has been in, an abusive relationship. It affirms the victim;s belief that they are in fact the one’s to blame or are in some way responsible. Maybe it is time to start asking the abuser “why did you do it?”.
In the end, it was the little things that pushed us out the door and into a world of our own making…
When I finally decided to end it, it wasn’t as a result of an episode of gigantic proportion, in fact of was one of the less severe. Something just changed in an instant. I had always known deep down that he had not quite broken me and that I had this tiny thing still there, but I also knew if I didn’t do it right there and then I would never get out. I had nothing, but I also had everything – I had my four babies, my freedom and I still had me.
It was harder than staying with him. I never expected it to be easy but it was unimaginably hard. I did think for some time after that I should have stayed, purely because of the lack of support. I absolutely do not think that anymore, but those first few years were hard to get through and it was often difficult to manage things with the limited resources that we had at the time.
My children and I have an absolute greed for a life…
I had no financial support and no government support as I am not a permanent resident, but I cannot go home because of the Hague Convention an the Queensland courts. I had no child support because he earns under $20,000 a year despite being a business owner. The government says he has no capacity to pay child support.
So now I work full-time, mum full-time, have studied to better my earning capacity and despite the constant struggle and the constant exhaustion, myself and my children embrace every second of our freedom. And we relish the fact that we can do this, I can do this on my own and we do it together. We have an absolute greed for life. ♥️
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 ♥️♥️♥️