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This is Larissa’s Story

“Today I still carry the scars of the abuse, some visible, some not so obvious. These scars are a reminder of who I was and who I am now – a stronger woman, a police officer, a wife, a mother, the founder of the STAAR and YOUNGSTAAR programs and a survivor who wants to help other women to become survivors and not statistics”. – Domestic violence survivor Larissa.

Fitness fanatic Larissa is a police officer who helps domestic violence victims every day ♥️

Blindsided by narcissists and fear…

larissa-the-red-heart-campaignFrom the age of 18 I endured domestic violence over a six-year period. I suffered just about every form of abuse from my partners. I experienced the blame, the denials, the apologies and the promises that it would never happen again.

Without realising, I had become caught up in the vicious cycle of domestic violence over and over again. It was a distinct pattern, the honeymoon phase, the build up and before you knew it, the explosions came. Just as quickly as the explosion come, we were back to the honeymoon phase.

It was a roller coaster ride, a merry-go-round that you couldn’t quite find yourself to jump off because you were scared, fearful and didn’t want to be seen as a failure or the one who couldn’t hold down a relationship. During those years I became caught up in abusive relationships, I often asked myself “why me? Why do I keep attracting these type of men? Was it me? Was there something wrong with me?” But no, there was nothing wrong with me. These men were narcissists.

They would play the poor victim; make you feel guilty for anything that went wrong in the relationship. Made you feel like you were the one with the issues and that needed help. Often they relied on close relationships, particularly their mother, to validate that you were the problem. It got to the point where you questioned yourself and thought “am I crazy?” This is the clever work of a narcissist. I couldn’t see it at the time. I was blindsided. I was young and there was no way I would talk to anybody about it out of fear of what they thought of me, out of fear that I am the failure. I kept things to myself and tried to deal with them the best I knew how.

Why I stayed…

Throughout the years, many people would ask me the question, why did you stay and why didn’t you just leave? Well, it isn’t as simple as it sounds and only those who have been in a similar position really understand why it isn’t so simple as just packing up and leaving. The reality is, it is often safer to stay. The risks are greater when a woman leaves. There are also the unknowns. In my experience, ex partners would often re-surface when they had knowledge that you were in a new relationship.

One male perpetrator even tried to place a domestic violence out on me after learning I had become engaged to another man and had plan to pursue a career as a police officer. This was his way of regaining back control of my life and attempting to destroy any dreams and hopes I had of working within law enforcement. The tables quickly turned when I filed a domestic violence application outlining the physical abuse I endured during our relationship. Physical abuse that lead to ongoing health problems and the realisation that having children may not have been a possibility. For me, this was the one thing I wanted in life the most, to become a mother. His abuse very nearly took that away from me. Thankfully, I am now a mother of two young boys.

Movement became my medicine…

During this toxic relationship, I somehow found the strength to stand tall to attempt to break free of that cycle. I joined the local gym and took up boxing classes. I followed a physical fitness regime which allowed me to become stronger – mentally, emotionally and physically. I learned to recognise the signs of domestic violence and take steps to prevent being drawn back into it.

Movement became my medicine and I continued this practice throughout the years. I spent my time in the gym, two hours each day, six days a week, working on myself, building my inner strength, developing a strong body that could be intimidating to the male species. The regular fitness sessions is what kept me sane, kept me grounded and gave me the strength to keep moving forward.

Taking back control became my stength…

This strength that I developed did not go down too well with my then male narcissists partners I was in a relationship with at the time. They hated me going to the gym, often saying I spent more time there than I did with them. Making me feel guilty, wanting the focus to me more on them than me, trying to isolate me from networks and friends I had made.

They would constantly text or call to see when I would be finished, but really they were checking to make sure they could hear music in the background to validate I was in fact at the gym. It wasn’t because they loved me so much that they missed, it was about maintaining their power and control over me and my life. Then would come the questions all the time, “Who were you talking to down there?

Bet you weren’t even at the gym and met up with some bloke. Aren’t I good enough. Why don’t go you be with them then …” I was taking back the control in the relationship and they didn’t know how to cope with it. As the years rolled on, my relationships grew shorter and shorter in length as I had grown less tolerance for their attitude and behaviours and certainly wasn’t entertaining their egos.

No more abuse. No more Lies. No more pain…

My final abusive relationship lasted a short three months. I knew exactly what type of man I was dealing with. He played the game well. Presented well, had a good job, very smooth in his manner and polite. But there was another side to him. This side took a little bit to come out and it wasn’t until we moved in together that I got to experience it at its greatest. I was living with yet another narcissist.

Thank goodness I was switched on to this type of personality and made the decision to end the relationship sooner rather than later. But it didn’t end there. He continued to harass me, trying to have some form of power over my life. The only way he could do so was through my line of work. He made accusations that I was taking steroids, because I took supplements to assist with my training. He even went as far as bringing his mother into his lies.

Know the enemy and you will survive and thrive…

When I go back over the years I think to myself, why did I engage in such unhealthy relationships. Why did I not see the signs earlier? I came to realise that I actually didn’t attract these type of men, I almost went looking for them. These men often were broken, had issues or needing fixing to some degree. Me, being the helpful one and wanting to save everyone and the whole world, would look for those type of men who I could fix and help. Without realising it, I was the one that was actually being broken. These men were beyond being helped or fixed. It was who they were.

They were controlling, manipulative, over powering individuals we know as narcissists.   When I look back over the years and also my experience from working within the domestic violence domain, I have come to recognise a common denominator with male perpetrators. Majority of male perpetrators have a strong connection with their mothers, often still residing with them, calling upon them when things go wrong and including them in part of the relationships with their partners.

These mothers tend to be the interfering type, nothing is ever good enough for their son and are prepared to cook their meals, do their washing and practically wipe their …. These same mothers were condoning the behaviour and actions of their sons. Allowing the abuse to occur and sometimes even being apart it. It is no wonder these men were like they are. It comes from learnt behaviour.

Now I stand tall against abusive relationships…

Working within a profession that responds to domestic violence episodes on a daily basis, I wondered whether movement could be the answer and medicine for many other women and children. That’s when I developed the STAAR (Standing Tall Against Abusive Relationships) Program. STAAR officially commenced on the 16th May 2012. The program began with 3 women and has since seen well over 100 women participate in the program. STAAR is a physical fitness program for women who have been or currently are affected by domestic and family violence as well as those who were against domestic abuse and violence and wished to participate to support those who were.

The program is designed to empower women by building physical strength, emotional resilience, self-esteem and confidence.   The STAAR program is much more than a physical fitness program, it is a support network which allows women to come together, share their stories and develop friendships. No one is ever alone, we stick together and help one another out. We are all in it to end it, grow stronger, wiser and more independent. We are not afraid of challenges or what life may throw at us. We are survivors, we are fighters, we are friends for life.  In 2013, the STAAR program was recognised and awarded the Queensland Police Service Jim O’Sullivan award at the Brisbane International Women’s Day Luncheon.

During the month of May, being Domestic Violence Prevention Month, STAAR was presented with an award from Domestic Violence Prevention Centre recognising the program for their leadership, commitment and contribution to the “In It To End It” – fight against domestic violence within the local community. In September 2014, the program was suddenly terminated by the local club where it was operating from. As a result, one quarter of the women returned to their abusive partners and recommenced a relationship. This didn’t bring us down. I vowed the program would continue and in March 2015, we became a not for profit organisation.

Changing lives, inside and out…

Women who participate in the program have reported they have improved self-esteem, confidence, coping abilities to deal with everyday stresses a lot better and feel more empowered and independent than before. Further reports suggest that there have been improvements within the children, that they are better behaved and their schooling levels have improved. One particular mum of five children had made a remarkable transformation going from a size 18 to a size 8.

The scars will never fade but I will am stronger for them…

Today I still carry the scars of the abuse, some visible, some not so obvious. These scars are a reminder of who I was and who I am now – a stronger woman, a police officer, a wife, a mother, the founder of the STAAR and YOUNGSTAAR programs and a survivor who wants to help other women to become survivors and not statistics. I will continue to keep fighting the fight that is now a global epidemic. I will continue to be a voice for women. I will continue to stand tall and stay strong.  Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate.

It can happen to anyone and often people you least expect. It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, what postcode you reside, how much money you earn, your nationality or culture or who your family relations are. The reality is, domestic violence can happen to the best of us. No one really understands domestic violence and the impact it has on your life until you have breathed it, lived it and come out the other side, alive. You never fully recover from it, but boy don’t you become stronger from experiencing it. Use that strength to move forward in life and never let anything or anybody hold you back in pursuing your goals. Stand tall, stay strong. ♥️

Healing wounds through movement…

Larissa is the founder of Standing Tall Against Abusive Relationships (STAAR). She believes physical exercise can help heal wounds and change lives and has made a personal commitment to help other women take the first steps on their own personal journeys to recovery.  Women who may be interested in learning more about the program or who would like to be connected to STAAR or any other support service can contact Larissa Shaw at info@staar.org.au. STAAR can also be located on facebook at “Staar and Youngstaar Programs” or further information at our website click here>>

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.