Opening up about my experience with domestic violence

Opening up about my experience with domestic violence

Trigger warning: Domestic violence.

I recently opened the news to find my esteemed university lecturer and mentor had stabbed his wife and mother of two children to death. This was a man I looked up to, who was loved by the university and had won many teaching awards. I shared a virtual coffee with him less than six months ago. The horrifying news shook me and many other students. I shouldn’t find it surprising though, considering I grew up in a house with domestic violence.

I think there is a misapprehension that domestic violence is almost one degree of separation from you or people you know. That perhaps it doesn’t happen often or only occurs in low socioeconomic households. This is far from true. Domestic violence is hiding everywhere and the trauma of it is often carried by seemingly “normal” people. I thought it was time I spoke about my experience, to break down stigma and get people talking.

I can vividly remember the first time I witnessed my father beating my mother. I remember being on the ground, banging my little eight year old fists on the old grey carpet and screaming for it to stop. I remember feeling terrified my mum wouldn’t be around anymore. I remember the sound of her body smashing into the pink dresser and hearing the photo frames crash to the ground at the hand of my father’s fist.

This was the first time I was old enough to comprehend what was happening. It was the first time my mum let me stand between the two of them. I remember pushing my father out the door with tears streaming down my face while it was still daylight outside. I remember him screaming and pointing at her over the top of me with pure rage in his eyes. I remember the fear and I remember the bruises. My dad was a 6”2 broad, strong man. My mum is a mere 5”2 small framed woman. She never stood a chance.

There were other incidents after this. Even when he had cancer, was weak and pumped full of morphine, he still managed to hit her. He even turned on me once, furiously chasing me around the house when I tried to stand up to him.

Do you know what’s messed up? My parents didn’t live in the same house. They weren’t together. My mum left when I was 15 months old. At least she tried to. He followed her everywhere we went.

People think leaving domestic violence is easy. They wonder why women stay. My mum fled cities, quit jobs and moved house countless times. She had 17 restraining orders out on my father. That isn’t a typo, seventeen restraining orders. Guess what they did? Absolutely nothing. The police didn’t believe her. They didn’t stop him. Nothing happened to him. He found us everywhere. It is not easy to leave and even if you do, it doesn’t mean it’s over. 

In chats with my mum as an adult, I’ve learned much more about the situation. She told me she could handle the physical abuse. The mental abuse was worse. At least she could see the bruises, she said. The mental abuse was more damaging and harder to prove.

Sometimes my mum would wake up to my dad standing at the end of her bed after breaking into the house, just to torment her. To show her he could. Another time he told her I was in the Intensive Care Unit after a horrible car accident. She raced to the hospital petrified, only to learn her daughter was perfectly safe at home. Could you imagine trying to escape a man who could be so cruel?

My mum is one hell of a woman, the strongest person I’ve ever met and there were things he said to her that are so unspeakable, she won’t tell me as she doesn’t want to repeat them. One can only imagine the kind of trauma that leaves a person with.

Picture of dog
An unrelated image of my dog to break up the text and make you (but mostly me) smile

My father died of skin cancer when I was 11. He was relentless and stalked my mum until the end. People tell me they’re sorry when they hear my father died. As I’ve gotten older and understood far more about what my mum went through, I’ve battled with my feelings about him passing. I don’t feel sad to not have him, I feel relief the terror ended for my mum. Don’t get me wrong, he did love me and loved me greatly, but I can’t help but look back on things as an adult and feel hatred for the man he was and what he could do to a woman. I also wonder what type of person I would have ended up being if the abuse continued into my adulthood.

Simply witnessing domestic violence and seeing the predominant male figure in my life do the things he did, has certainly impacted me as an adult. It is likely part of the reason I have anxiety and it affects the way I function in relationships. I can only imagine how people who are survivors, or worse, currently enduring domestic violence feel.

When a woman is being beaten or mentally abused, it is never her fault and it is horrifying how hard it can be to escape. It angers me when I hear people wondering why women stay. The question should never be why they stay. It should always be why do some men think it’s okay to treat women in such terrible ways to begin with.

I sometimes feel grief for the father I should have had, the father I deserved. The parent my mother should have shared me with and the support she should’ve had. But I didn’t write this for pity and I don’t want people to be sorry for what my mum or I went through. I have an amazing mother who doubled as an even better father.

I wrote it because I want things to change and I often feel like I’m not doing enough to help women in these awful situations. So, this is my tiny contribution to a huge problem. I wrote this so someone else might feel less alone. I also wrote it so we can begin to change the narrative about domestic violence and help others feel less afraid to speak out and seek help.

If you have friends who treat their partners badly, say something. If you have friends who you think could be in abusive relationships, say something. You could save a life. Maybe if someone knew what was happening to my university lecturer’s wife, she’d still be alive.

If domestic violence has affected you or someone you know, please try to talk about it. Please know it is never your fault. Please know there is support out there. If you think someone is going through this, be patient. Be supportive. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors and the fact we are still seeing these horrible things in the news is devastating. The fact there are countless more incidences like this not being called out is even more devastating.

I’ve included a great website for support below. I’m also here if anyone wants to chat or share this blog to help someone feel less alone.

P.S. There is a Netflix series called Maid about the true story of a woman battling mental abuse and trying to leave her ex partner with their three year old daughter. It’s pretty heavy, but is written beautifully. I cried in every episode as it felt so close to home, but it is a great series depicting the ways physical and mental abuse can unfold. It highlights how hard it can be to leave and how the system is often against women.

Yours in being vulnerable and sharing heavy stuff,

Helena x

Where to get support

The Department of Social Services in Australia has collated a great list of places you can get support in each state. It includes free counselling services and people who can help you try to leave. If you’re not in Australia, a quick Google will give you some options in your country. Again, if you want a kind ear to chat to, give me a shout!

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