“I could forget about the time he threw a freshly boiled kettle at my back. Forget about the time he threw me through a sliding glass door. Forget about the time he dragged me out of bed by the hair in the middle of the night to cook him a new steak because the one I had left for him had gone cold. Forget the midnight phone calls from the police to pick him up because he had been caught drink driving. Forget having to check myself out of hospital”. Domestic violence survivor Rhonda.
Rhonda wrote her story to help others find their own freedom ♥️
He decided that he wanted me…
They say that a girl looks for a man just like her father when choosing a partner for themselves. My Dad was everything that was good about a man. Strong, Honest, hard-working, loyal and protective. My step-father on the other hand was not. Growing up in a house where there were issues with alcohol and violence, I was determined that was never going to be a part of my life again once I left home.
I met my husband when I was 20. I was new to the social circle that he was in and at first, I didn’t really like him and wanted nothing to do with him. He was rude, loud and obnoxious. But he was also persistent, and he had decided that he wanted me. Every day he would either call or stop by my house and we would spend hours talking. Before I knew it, we were a couple and didn’t spend another night apart.
We both seemed to have similar backgrounds and really bonded over our dysfunctional childhoods. I liked how he wanted to protect me. He made me feel safe. Loved. But there is a very big difference between protective and possessive. I just didn’t know it back then.
The physical abuse was a gradual thing…
Of course, the physical abuse didn’t start right away. It was a gradual thing, but the warning signs were all there. I just didn’t realise it at the time. When I look back now, they were blatantly obvious. He was constantly In and out of jobs, always being fired for being aggressive in the workplace. Drinking every day after work and then spending Friday and Saturday nights out with the boys only to come home drunk and angry because someone had looked at him the wrong way or said something he didn’t like. Not satisfied with brawling at the pub, he wanted to keep fighting when he got home. After a while I learnt that it was easier to pretend to be asleep then he came crashing through the door at all hours of the night. Sometimes it worked – most it didn’t.
The weekends always seemed to last forever. Being kept up all night trying not to fight with someone who wasn’t rational, telling him anything he wanted to hear to try and calm him down. Then the next day was the clean-up. Pot plants upended and strewn from one end of the house to the other. Holes in walls. Food thrown across the room. Even our wedding night turned into a violent rampage.
It’s amazing what you can forget in the name of love…
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an everyday thing. It wasn’t even every week, and he was always very remorseful after, promising that it would ever happen again. So I could easily forget about the last time. I could forget about the time he threw a freshly boiled kettle at my back. Forget about the time he threw me through a sliding glass door. Forget about the time he dragged me out of bed by the hair in the middle of the night to cook him a new steak because the one I had left for him had gone cold. Forget the midnight phone calls from the police to pick him up because he had been caught drink driving. Forget having to check myself out of hospital because he demanded I come home and sleep in our bed and the threats made to the Doctors and Nurses if they didn’t discharge me. Forget about the name calling.
As I said, my Father was a protective man and he loved his daughters. He knew about the physical abuse we had suffered as kids at the hand of out step-father and had made it very clear to my husband that it was totally unacceptable for anyone to raise a hand to his girls. After my Dad passed away, my husband really showed what he was capable of. Physically assaulting my sister who had been staying with us, nursing Dad through his Chemo. After getting my sister out of our house and to safety, I arrived home to find all her possessions in a smouldering heap on the driveway. She spent a long time in therapy dealing with depression and anxiety after that. And I have spent every day since feeling guilty.
Isolated from everyone I loved…
That was the start of the isolation. My family didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Friends stopped calling. Even his own family disowned him. Still, I was the loyal wife, accepting the fact that I had chosen him and it was my duty to stand behind him, even though I knew that he was wrong. I pulled away from everyone close to me. It was safer for them that way. I knew that I could endure whatever he could dish out as long as everyone else was safe. I couldn’t bear the thought that someone might be hurt because of me, and it wasn’t worth the arguments that would follow whenever I had contact with anyone close to me. As far as he was concerned, He was all I needed and made threats against anyone even remotely attached to me.
Then he stopped working. Around the same time I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that required me to have a mild form of chemo every week. So I had a mortgage, a chronic illness and a husband that wouldn’t work. What I did have was a high paying job. For the next five years, he stayed at home, sleeping all day and gaming all night. Spending whatever he wanted on whatever he wanted and not once asking about out finances and how I was keeping on top of it all. Which I wasn’t. We were drowning and I couldn’t see how we were going to pull ourselves out of the hole which was deeper and deeper. Every week I fell further and further behind all the while trying to keep up with my treatments.
So close to freedom and yet so far…
Drink driving again, he wrote off a brand new $40,000 car which of course was not covered by insurance, and there was a very real possibility that he was going to be sent to jail. I saw it as a way out. He would be locked up and I would just pack up, put his things in storage and I would be out. It didn’t quite work out that way though. He contacted a local Alcoholics Anonymous group, went to one meeting and his ‘sponsor’ spoke for him in court and he was released. I wasn’t allowed in the courtroom that day, but sat outside waiting. Hoping. When he walked back out of that courtroom my heart sank. I was never going to be free. He never attending another meeting and never spoke to the sponsor again. They had served their purpose and he didn’t need them anymore and I had to pay out the loan for the car.
Finally the bank contacted us saying that they were going to foreclose if we didn’t fix the arrears on the mortgage. And in all honesty, I was at the point where I no longer cared. I was tired of trying to make ends meet week after week. My auto-immune disease if a bone and joint condition that is degenerative, Getting served with default papers send him into a rage and he beat me around the back with a Kendo, or Japanese fighting stick. He then proceeded to chase me around the house with the axe that he kept under his side of the bed demanding “you fix this and fix it now because if you put a black mark on my credit rating I will cut you up and feed you to the crabs.”
No one ever heard my screams…
That was a light bulb moment for me. I knew that I was trapped in a violent marriage, but no one else did. I had never told anyone, although I am sure people suspected. No one ever said anything though. No one ever asked. Even when I was screaming in the middle of the night, no one ever came. Or even called the police. I knew at that point he could very easily kill me and no one would know. That I would just disappear and it could be weeks or months until someone realised. I knew in that moment that I had to tell someone. The next morning, I didn’t go to work – but instead I went to Police. I needed to tell someone. Needed there to at least be a record somewhere.
Of course I followed the pattern and didn’t leave straight away like Police advised me to. But, I had taken the first step and I had a plan. I had made myself known. Made him known. I saw a DV councillor and had an exit strategy in place. Encouraged by the police, I finally told my family what was happening. I don’t know why, but admitting that you are a victim of domestic violence to a stranger is a lot easier than telling your shameful secret to your loved ones. I had no doubt that they would be there for me however I needed them to be – I just didn’t know how to say the words. I didn’t know how to ask for help.
The night I ran and never looked back…
He knew that the end was close and within a matter of days he had a car, a job and a new bank account and was saying everything he thought that I wanted to hear to make me stay. When he realised that it wasn’t working, the violence reared again. Only this time I was ready. I had a bag packed, spare keys and a phone hidden in my car, which I always kept unlocked. I had a place to go and had been slowly removing my personal papers like birth certificates and passports from the house. I had emergency contacts and blank text S.O.S signals in place. That night as he came at me again, I ran, and I never looked back.
In the days and weeks that followed, I slept. Really deep soul healing sleep. Mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted from years of constantly keeping my guard up. From filtering every word that came out of my mouth so that they couldn’t be turned around and thrown back at me. Even the most innocent of conversations would be spun and made into something else completely.
To the point that I started to question my own sanity. ‘Surely someone couldn’t be that nasty and vindictive, it had to be me!’ He would play on my deepest fears using them as a weapon against me. Knowing exactly what to say that would cut the deepest. “Your father would be so ashamed”. I learnt how to mask every emotion so that I didn’t reveal anything that I was feeling, that anything that he said or did affected me in any way. The minute he saw any weakness at all, saw any sign that something might have hurt, he was like a dog with a bone and he gnawed away at it.
I had been in self-preservation mode for so long, silently enduring day after day that it got to the point that I just stopped speaking. Then that was used against me as well “You don’t even know how to communicate with people, you will be on your own forever”.
Why I stayed…
Until someone has been in an abusive relationship, they will never understand why it is you stay, and it’s not something you can ever really explain. I don’t think that I will ever understand it myself. I lived it – but I don’t understand it. It’s hard to accept that it’s happening, but it’s harder still to admit it to someone. It was humiliating, embarrassing and shameful. How could I tell anyone that I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for myself? The sense of loneliness and helplessness I felt was consuming, but it was the fear that kept me trapped. Fear of the consequences and what he would do to me for leaving, but also fear of the unknown. Where would I go? How will I live? What will happen to me? I had not been on my own for over 20 years, so It was also a case of ‘better the devil you know’ as well.
When your internal walls are painted with so much ugliness, it’s hard to imagine that there is anything good out there and you wonder if you will ever feel joy and happiness again. But finally walking away has brought me such a feeling of peace and serenity. I look at every day is now a new beginning as I take the time to get to know myself again. To learn about who I now am. Of course I am affected by what I have been through, a person can’t survive something like that and not be affected by it – But I won’t let it define me either. I refuse to let it rule me.
I will never be silenced again…
I will no longer be silent. Every day I feel stronger, the world around me gets a little brighter and my voice gets louder. I am here, just like every other survivor to tell my story in the hope that it helps just one woman find the strength she needs to reach out and ask for help. To find the courage that lives within her to make the move to change her life. To save her life. To go from victim to survivor as well. ♥️
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.