Escaping the maze

In recent days I have chosen to write about my experiences when leaving an abusive marriage of sixteen years; which was part of a relationship that spanned nearly nineteen years.

Current events have stirred angst around the topic of domestic violence and questions abound. There is challenge in the air about existing attitudes, existing systems in place which are failing us and existing obstacles stemming very much from ignorance of the very nature of domestic abuse. That has pushed women like me to pop up from our ‘safe place’ and speak. I am still here to be heard. Hannah Clarke and others we have lost are not.

Choosing to be visible is an unsettling position. Anonymity and blending in are somewhat pivotal when you leave abuse. I am a silent voter, I do not give out my address, sometimes I do not even give out my real name. It becomes a reflex of self preservation. I have no locations visible on my social media and never post images that signpost my home suburb. Before my ex spouse was incarcerated, I never posted I had been at a social event until I had left it and was away from the location. Every house move is done quietly. I note my vulnerability when I work in a visible, publicised way in public places. Tragically, I am almost at an advantage because my ex husband has a criminal conviction. At least I have a carrying card that illustrates his lack of character. Without that, I have strong suspicions my requests for consideration surrounding the above steps would be met with a lot less acceptance.

The challenge at this time is to fathom what can be done in realistic terms to help women who are being abused. I would like to offer here that NSW Police were helpful when I went to them for assistance, but there was only so much they could do. I had tangible proof of my circumstances. I was recognised as at risk, but that provided no power for them to remove me and my pets or take any definitive action. I believe if they could have, the officers I dealt with would have. But I had to do that for myself. The old offering to Dial 000 if the worst was happening was part of the plan. In most cases you may never get to make that call, or only after terrible tragedy has struck.

‘Why wouldn’t you just leave?’. The eternal question.

Hope.
That is what holds us where we are. Hope it will change. Hope this is the last time we will be mistreated. Hope this time he will understand what he’s done and loves us enough to stop. Hope that those windows when it hasn’t been so bad and you have felt loved will become the permanent view.

Fear.
Fear that our tormentor is right and we are fatally flawed. Fear his emphatic claims he acts as he does because of our appearance/personality/failings are valid excuses. Fear of change. Fear of not being believed. Fear of the consequences of speaking. Fear that leaving will be the thing that will take it all from misery to complete tragedy.

Understandably people close to those being abused become frustrated when they hear the victim defend their partner. How can someone who is in a bad circumstance be holding his hand, smiling and praising his achievements. How can they say, ‘It’s fine, no I’m fine’, when signs are there that they are not. How are they talking about future plans with someone who is breaking their mind , their spirit and determinedly reducing them to an obedient shadow.

Some women leave after a number of weeks, some after a number of decades, some never leave. It is worth putting forward strongly that a woman who tells you she is being mistreated is rolling a very significant dice. The average number of times a woman decides or attempts to leave before succeeding is seven. People watched my circumstances for years but I held them at bay for a myriad of reasons. The ones I have listed above and more. I would reach breaking point and then be lulled back by a promise, a kind gesture, a threat, massive self doubt. I concealed a lot even when consulting with professionals, because I feared the consequences of revealing complete truth. Complete truth would mean no turning back and I was not ready.

As we search for solutions I would like to offer this to anyone who has a female friend, loved one or colleague they either suspect or know is experiencing DV. If the woman you care about speaks with you or is willing to, it does not mean there’s a green light that she’ll be automatically packing her bags and going.

That conversation may be her embryonic attempt at finding support or a point of view that supports that what she is living through is not right. She will very possibly be torn by feelings of ‘betraying’ her partner. Whatever heinous actions he has undertaken the wirings of human attachment are extremely complex. Offer her a confidential ear and do not push her to offer more than she is able to. However angry you may be with the perpetrator, please do not criticise the fact she is still there or take matters into your own hands and challenge him yourself. My own tale contains chapters of people (well meaning and otherwise) approaching my ex husband about public displays of belittlement and puzzling aggression. I paid the price of those observations being made once we were behind closed doors.

In conversation with friends since my marriage ended I have asked them if they knew. Many have said they often felt uncomfortable seeing us as a couple. Something was ‘off’. I would sometimes show a flash of distress and then it would disappear. I walked on ‘egg shells’ and seemed wooden. I deflected awkward questions. Several have said they looked surreptitiously for bruises but none were visible so they dismissed it as their imagination. I mustn’t have really minded being spoken to as they had occasionally witnessed. Or heard when it was supposed to be out of ear shot.

Many people simply saw a successful, white collar, middle class couple who had the surface trappings of happiness.

After a public separation in 2010 when things couldn’t be as hidden the playing field changed for a time. Yet after reconciliation the theatre of concealment simply became more complex.

It stayed that way until I was ready to go.

From one who has been there I hold the view we need short term and long term plans of change. My articles concentrate on DV in a heterosexual partnership with the man as the aggressor. I am not nearly so limited as to suggest that is the only playing field of abuse within relationships in our society. Coming from the place of my own experiences and reading ….. it is obvious that we need to alter the building blocks of our young men and boys in future generations. We need to understand what is driving these behaviours of coercive control, anger and violence. Like all else, there is depressing complexity but those resources must be found for us to make any major inroads.

Jess Hill’s excellent book “See What You Made Me Do” 2019 blackincbooks.com is an outstanding starting point for anyone trying to grasp the concepts of DV. I find myself hoping it is a land mark publication as we look further into what is going on in our society. For anyone knowing someone who is in an abuse situation or has extricated themselves from one, I would strongly suggest you read it. To anyone who has lived DV I make the suggestion you read it with the disclaimer it holds a lot that will comfort you and a lot that may trigger you.

In the short term I would like to see a system that no longer can only offer theoretical protections to women and their children (and pets). A system that does not need to wait until a woman is desperately dialing 000 or never gets to make that call. A system that recognises that when a woman walks into a police station or seeks professional help it is a step of enormity. Those few seconds when she takes that breath to say she is afraid and wants to leave are the seconds when she lays it all on the line. She is looking for something even bigger than the predator who dominates her life to take her to safety. We have nothing even close to that in place, and whilst we wait for the generational change that may come with a lack of denial of what the reality of DV is, that should be an utter priority.

NSW Police were there as much as they could be three years ago for me. I was and am grateful for vital advice I was given. Hannah Clarke’s family have expressed gratitude to the police who were assisting their daughter. But I was on my own and relying on my wits to get myself and my three beloved dogs away. Hannah was on her own as she put her three babies in the car that fateful morning. Authorities simply do not have the powers or resources to prevent disaster.

If something isn’t right with a friend, be there for when they may be ready to take that first step. Ask if they are okay. If you are rebuffed remember there may be circumstances on foot of which you have no comprehension. A simple “…… I am here if you need anything” ….. may mean more than you know. The isolation of DV is one of its most terrible components.

To those people who were there when I was ready. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and you know who you are. I wish for every woman out there who is still within the maze of domestic abuse to have soldiers exactly like you. xx

The final days

The topic of Domestic Violence is fraught with pitfalls. It is controversial, upsetting and opaque. It stirs emotions from exasperation to raw anger. DV is shrouded in confusion, ignorance and is a mine field of cultural misconceptions.  Each participant in any conversation sees the issue through the lens of their own experience. Perhaps they blessedly have none; dwelling in homes with no harm done and have friends in happy relationships. Perhaps they have someone close to them who was abused …or perhaps they have a friend who has been falsely accused of abuse. Perhaps they are a victim who has lived through horror themselves.

Perhaps they are an abuser who is doing harm or has impacted another’s life. 

One who steadfastly denies to look in a very ugly and possibly criminal mirror.

How does one make another understand the experiences of someone who has survived the trauma of domestic violence. Make them understand its layers and its massive consequences. To ‘get’ something we need to ‘see’ it. That will not be achieved through victim silence. Nor by howling down what others see through their own personal lens. If it is to be a time of change and progress, we must all try to listen and learn.

Only those who wilfully disrespect very real suffering should be silenced. Ignorance is one thing. Justifying destructive vitriol is entirely another.

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Despite having the means to do so, I will not be laying bare my ex husband’s specific actions. To do that gives him a certain oxygen he does not deserve. He has been judged by society on certain matters and is currently paying his dues for that. That stands alone as a reflection of character.

What I would like to share here is the experience of someone who chose to leave. It is a startling fact that whilst there are inevitably different circumstances in each case of DV, the basic patterns tend to conform. Different abusers have stronger leanings to certain techniques but it is much less varied than one might surmise. Predator and prey. The day it turns on a dime is the day the hunter realises the hunted is getting away from them. Those are the frames in the nature documentary of domestic violence where you stare frozen at the screen as the gazelle makes the final run for it. It only has one good chance at that desperate last sprint.

For me, there was a blinding moment of clarity after 16 years of marriage that things were never going to improve. There had been a previous separation where he had won me back and I was too broken to oppose him after months of relentless campaigning. I had become quite ill and had no reserves left financially, mentally or physically. There are incidents that took place in my home over 18 years that even now make my mind want to shatter if I replay them in detail. Major crises were routinely followed by a period of regret and periodic attempts to be a ‘better man’ through brief therapy. It always presented as a combination of his problems as a victim of his past; and how I also should change further to help him. I would convince myself I could soldier on. I would convince myself this time it would be different. This time I could support him selflessly, tie back together my smashed psyche and my husband would have that prayed for revelation. It is a very difficult thing to explain to an outsider. A broken mind is harder to see than a broken arm.

There would be a window of better times before the next chapter. I could never relax but I would be hopeful. Then it would all start again.

Did I love him? Yes. Did I fear him? Yes. Did he wilfully harm me through many forms of abuse? Yes. Did he control every aspect of my life, demand absolute loyalty and rob me of happiness? Yes. Did I want it all to stop? Yes.

Did I want to leave? No.

Last photo as a ‘family’ in 2016

I can understand anyone would ask, ‘How can that be?’. How can someone living in such horrible circumstances not tell their tormentor to shove it and march out the door. It doesn’t work like that, or very rarely.

You have to be ready to give everything up. Any hope of making it work. You have to be ready to face the gutting truth that you are merely a play thing to the person you once loved. That you made a terrible mistake in being with this person. You will lose your home, your financial security, your history, people who mattered, you will be judged. You will be lied about and blamed. You have to sign up for a future of absolute uncertainty. You have to be ready to face the fact your partner is a danger to you on a level you don’t wish to acknowledge.

Predator and prey.

First photo as a couple in 1998

From my watershed moment of knowing I would have to run to the day I left the family home took approximately nine weeks. Even knowing how perilous my situation was becoming, I still oscillated. I had built my dream home up from scratch. I had decorated it, cooked meals there, had friends there, grown up there in many ways. I had loved two beautiful pets there where their memories still echoed. I now had three more fur babies settled in who gazed upon me with utter trust. It was time to go, but I hesitated and rationalised for about a month. My ex spouse showed signs of cooperation after the abusive outburst that tipped the final scales in November 2016. Still I held my breath and went day by day.

The lion always knows seconds before the gazelle makes that final sprint. He knew.

I had changed passwords in my devices and accounts to which he had always demanded access. The downward spiral became faster. He wanted to know who I was talking to. Who was ‘in my ear and against him’. He informed me he knew I had plans to go. I had better confess because he had sources who were telling him exactly what I was planning. He demanded commitments to staying with him and evidence of future plans as a couple. Each day was a battle to make it to the finish line of my exit. Each day I did enough to divert disaster. Looking back, even I didn’t comprehend how close each day I flew to something even more dire.

As the spiral raged on I secured a pet friendly rental apartment and went step by step with the help of a trusted few. I had several false starts where I thought I had a window …and then it became impossible so I cancelled. The night before the truck came to take what I could, I packed furiously with the curtains drawn by the light of a small lamp. He had gone to stay with his brother but it would not hold long. The car was parked out the front of the house although he was sleeping in another suburb. He would be out the front in the street watching during that final night. I had changed the locks so he could not get in and that door needed to stay unopened for just a few more hours. He would be at work the next day and I would receive a message he had arrived. Everything was booked to be completed by the time he could get back and check on the house.

Oddly I did not feel the fear I should have. What I felt was gut wrenching grief. At about 2am I had done all I could and I needed to try and get a little bit of rest before the final day. My boy doggie needed a pee and I took him onto the back lawn before I went to sleeplessly lie in my big bedroom for the last time. In the morning I would swiftly walk my dogs to the vet for safekeeping whilst it all happened. As Bear snuffled happily on the grass looking for that perfect spot I did something I rarely do. I wept. I remember kneeling on the grass in the dark with him gazing up at me and sobbing hysterically because I would never do this again. I would leave everything I knew behind and it really was over. The familiar would all be gone and everything was an unknown. There would be no going back.

The chapters after my flight are complex. I did make it to my new apartment and I did begin a new life. I was ready and it was utterly the right call to make. There is very little left of the old life now and every prediction of loss did come to pass. Finances, career, security, history. Coming to learn who he absolutely was, minus the filter of wedded loyalty and his determined gaslighting, came at a surprisingly high emotional cost. I continue to live at an undisclosed location and glance in the essential rear view mirror every abused woman has.

In the chaos after I left there was immense speculation as to what was truth and what was not. A good friend contacted me about my welfare not knowing what had taken place and said words I shall never forget. “Women do not leave and live in hiding for no reason”. Indeed not. Leaving is in fact the most dangerous thing you may ever do. It is the ultimate choice when you have everything to lose; and will lose much when you close the door on what once was.




First Christmas in our little rental home, 2017

This is dedicated to every woman who finds the strength to start again. May you reclaim who you are and find safety. xxxxx

To everything there is a season

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 states, “To everything there is a season”. Within that text we are given…..

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate.
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Silence can be valuable thing. It can be a soothing balm amongst the jangle of the everyday. It can minimise self harm; preventing us expressing our innermost thoughts to those who would use them against us once revealed. Silence can be extremely wise.

It can also be a blanket that covers things that fester. Things that should be seen and spoken about. Silence is a double edged sword that should be wielded with wisdom. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. It is no longer the season of silence.

Australian woman Hannah Baxter and her three children lost their lives yesterday in an incident of graphic domestic violence. Her estranged husband, who took their lives and his own, did not act out of the blue. Theirs was a story that plays out over and over again behind closed doors. Control, dominance, abuse that led to her leaving with her children. Choosing to end the cycle of violence and running to a happier life. We know about Hannah and her babies because their story ended in homicide on a suburban street. Like Rosie Batty, a tale so horrible and so public it is front page news. There is outrage, grief, condemnation of events mixed with that odd cocktail of excuses for the perpetrator so unique to the landscape of domestic violence.

Nothing can bring Luke Batty or Hannah Baxter and her three little children back. This blog is dedicated to them and about them, even as I speak about my own path. In no way do I wish to detract from their stories and the mourning we all feel for them. Domestic violence is having a light shone upon it and people are listening. The pendulum is swinging a little.

A time to speak.


5.11.00

In November 2000 I married the only man I had ever been with. The only man I had ever loved. Details of his identity, his previous history and how I came to make that choice are not really necessary. I was a young, inexperienced woman who believed what he told me. I was a young woman who wanted to have a happy marriage. I was a girl who believed I could change the man who had already treated me badly before I walked down the aisle with vows and an open hearted commitment to be there for him. To make him a good man. I was a young woman who knew no better and hoped for the best. The best never came.

On February first 2017 I fled my family home with my three little dogs after eighteen years of domestic abuse. My husband came back to the house to find me, the pets and my personal effects gone. My abuse was known to others; but like most I kept the extent of it hidden. I spoke cautiously to others in times of crisis of helping my husband, of understanding his demons, of forgiving him. It was a merry-go-round that spanned nearly two decades. It cost me very dearly to stay. It would cost me very dearly to leave. That flight took weeks of planning and the aid of a few trusted friends. Three years on I have a new life, but the shadow of my ex husband remains. He is not at liberty as I write this but that will change. The path of an abused woman is one that comes with a rear view mirror.

2009

My ex spouse and I lived a white collar, middle class life. It all looked rather lovely from the outside. Unless you knew. With the advent of social media that perception was allowed to flourish. Holidays. The showing of expensive gifts. Smiling photographs with friends. Loving references in facebook posts. When things were quieter and he was doing better I convinced myself it was as it appeared. My greatest loves were my two dogs whom I adored. One in particular was to become collateral damage at his hands, and I dug into my circumstances to shield them. They lived the cycle of abuse by my side. That is one of my greatest sources of grief.

July 2016

When those two fur babies passed there were three more. They were not in the marriage for long and we all made it out on February first 2017. I was never leaving without them.

2016

As I was planning my flight I was advised to seek the assistance of a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer. Police have officers who are dedicated to helping victims of DV leave safely. How many of us know that? I certainly did not. The day I walked into that station I was shaking. Was I doing the right thing? Could he still change? My circumstances had spiralled so far I was perched on a chair in the office of a Senior Constable being told what I was about to do was highly dangerous. There was a report taken, I had numbers to call, an officer looking after my welfare. It took three attempts to leave before I got it right because I was being watched so carefully. It was the first time in my marriage I had actively lied. When my ex spouse twigged I may be thinking about leaving he upped his surveillance of me through my electronic devices; inclusive of telling me he had consulted with a private investigator to see all activity on my phone and computer. Looking back at those few weeks is like looking into a prism of fear, anxiety and mysterious calm that this was my moment to save myself and I was going to take it.

When I made it to my new accommodation and informed my ex husband I had gone, his first texted response was one of regret and conciliation. Yet the new me knew this would not last. This was a pattern I had lived for so many years. The abuse, the apology, the honeymoon phase, the build up of rage, the abuse. I have a pile of letters attesting to that. All apologetic and full of promises of therapy and change before the next chapter.

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He immediately wanted to see the pets, but I had lived that story many times and they were not his to see. The messages turned threatening fairly quickly with the tone changing within 48 hours. Within two weeks I had left for interstate for several months. But I was still glued to my rear view mirror.

Apart from once turning up somewhere he knew I was scheduled to be (where I was fortunately surrounded by others), I never spoke with my ex husband again. I have seen him in Family Court and on the stand in District Court. A mediator facilitated the eventual settlement of our finances and sale of our home. I was in a safe room for my own protection and he was at the other end of the premises. On that day, he demanded the ashes of one of my deceased dogs in exchange for agreeing to sell our home. The dog he had abused and freely admitted to abusing because of evidence I had retained.

It would be comforting to think that Hannah and Rosie and even myself are sad, horrible stories that are few and far between. But we know the statistics. Women are being killed at an alarming rate. Many like me get away but will forever be looking over our shoulders. Others are still waiting to run, knowing that when they do they will put everything on the line.

Hannah Baxter did, and she and her children paid the ultimate price of domestic abuse. They paid with their lives.

“To everything there is a season”. There is an unwarranted sense of shame that comes with saying you were an abused woman. Victim blaming is rife. A total lack of knowledge of the mechanics of domestic violence permeates our culture. Silence is the easy option.

A time to speak.

I hope Hannah Baxter is somewhere beautiful with her three little ones. For every woman who has lived this or is living it. Perhaps you will read this and know you are not alone. I felt utterly alone for most of those eighteen years. I would wish that for no-one. xxx

Out of control

After a hiatus of some weeks, I am back doing what I love. Writing.

Rest assured that despite blog silence and an element of personal crisis; my dogs, shoes and cocktail bar have remained a healthy focus. All is certainly not lost.

The personal angst to which I refer has left me with an interesting conundrum. It is now public and as is usual, there are supporters and detractors. I count myself as fortunate that the former seem to vastly outweigh the latter. I can use my skills as a writer to peddle my own barrow and reveal scandalous aspects of my situation to anyone who wishes to engage. Or I can remain ‘private’ and take the path of discussing, in a rational way, topics I see as relevant and important. Not just in regard to my circumstances but to our society in general. Let’s run with option two.

And so ….. on 10.11.19 I was the topic of a Fairfax media article which reveals some personal history and also the actions of my former employer. That article of course only contains a relatively small amount of detail for legal reasons (getting sued is a bummer) and the ever dreaded word count for the journalist. Below is the link to that article.
https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiy99n5i-jlAhWq7XMBHU_JA10QFjAAegQIAhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.smh.com.au%2Fnational%2Fmanifestly-unfair-opera-australia-sacks-singer-over-social-media-posts-20191107-p538e2.html&usg=AOvVaw1DTvVlKlw4D77zE4kCyQGV

Fairfax Media. Article by Andrew Taylor. image credit : Wolter Peters

I had a whopper of a zit the day they took the photo. It didn’t show and the journalist was extremely competent, so all in all things went pretty well.

There are a few facts to clarify before I get to the purpose of my own article. Firstly yes, my ex spouse is incarcerated for child sex abuse. I was a witness in the matter and became aware of the investigation after I left him in rather fraught circumstances.

The facebook posts in question were made in 2015 and 2016 to a ‘secret’ group of extremely diminutive size, administrated solely by my ex husband. I got out of the marriage with my three little dogs in February 2017, he was arrested and charged in July 2017 and pleaded guilty to child sexual assault in March 2018. David Edward Lewis admitted to domestic spousal abuse on the stand at his sentencing in November 2018 and was incarcerated in December 2018.

His victim in the specific criminal matter was a children’s chorister at Opera Australia. The company were alerted to the assaults at the time. I was not at OA when the crimes happened, nor was I married to David Lewis at the time of the child sexual abuse which took place on company premises.

There is clearly much more to the tale, but I will not be making any other contribution as it will be dealt with through official legal channels and again… getting sued is a bummer.

So what do I wish to write about if not juicy details of child sex scandals, the murky world of show business and what happened behind closed doors in my marriage?

I would like to discuss the topic of Digital Coercive Control. (‘DCC’ or ‘TFCC’). You will most likely say ‘what is that?’ and that is not a surprise. A brief summary can be seen below.

Taken from ‘Digital Coercive Control : Insights from Landmark Domestic Violence Studies’. Harris & Woodlock, 2018.

Domestic violence is nothing new. It does not just take place between husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends. It is a widespread plague that covers same sex couples, housemates, mothers and fathers against their children and even vice versa.

In my case it was a traditional husband and wife scenario, and it went on for many years. DV is insidious, debilitating and it leaves a train-wreck-like aftermath even when you manage to leave the perpetrator. Methods used by abusers are wide ranging and one coming into focus is Digital Coercive Control. Our world is now dominated by the internet, social media and we communicate on our electronic devices as a matter of course. That is all marvellous when you have autonomy over your life, your possessions and your own actions. It is not so marvellous when you do not.

When you first think about someone’s account being accessed or them being monitored by another, you think of hacking. Hacking is of course a huge problem in the digital age. In a domestically violent situation, that takes on a different complexion because there is physical fear of the person invading your digital world. They are in a position to obtain and demand passwords, use your devices and demand your loyalty without protest. They are in close physical proximity and are not just a distant threat or annoyance. They are next to you on the couch, in the car and you sleep beside them. The abuser’s aim is to control your life and keep you as a compliant and docile play thing . Your aim is to get through each day with safety.

“…….. is focussed on the form of domestic violence we refer to as technology – facilitated coercive control (TFCC). TFCC is violence and abuse by current or former intimate partners, facilitated by information and communication technologies (ICTs) or digital media, acknowledging technological aspects of abuse in the context of coercive and controlling intimate relationships (Dragiewicz et al., 2018; Harris 2018; Harris and Woodlock., 2018). TFCC includes behaviours such as monitoring via social media, stalking using GPS, video and audio recording, making threats via email, phone or other technological medium, surveillance of partner’s email, accessing accounts without permission, impersonation, and publishing private information or images without consent (Dragiewicz et al., 2018, Harris and Woodlock, 2018; Southworth, Finn, Dawson, Fraser, & Tucker, 2007; Woodlock 2017). These behaviours may be overt or clandestine. Unauthorised access may be achieved using force, coercion, deception or stealth. TFCC affects survivors’ mental health and causes or contributes to trauma manifesting in psychological and physical symptoms”. (Domestic Violence and Communication Technology. accent.org.au)

There are many questions often asked of DV survivors and although they are triggering, they are understandable. Why didn’t you just leave? Why did you let him/her do that? Why didn’t you tell someone? Why did you seem to agree with him and not speak up? What about all those photos of you together looking happy?

Reasonable questions which have long, detailed answers and one all encompassing one. It’s not that simple. Abusers are manipulative, frightening and more often than not warp your daily reality (also known as gas lighting). Your focus is to stay safe and appease them. You may be protecting others under the same roof as yourself from harm. You may be protecting those you care about from harm by not drawing them into an already dangerous scenario. You often watch your tormentor hurt others and are overwhelmed with powerlessness because to survive you cannot act. It’s just….. not that simple.

My 19 year story ended with escape and the ability to speak up. That escape has had costly ramifications; one of which seems to be the end of my (until now) unblemished career as an opera singer. This country has only one full time employer for experts in my field. It is a high price, a manifestly unfair price and the circumstances are extremely questionable.

I’ll never really know exactly what is out there in digital world penned under my name until I managed to change my locks and change my passwords in the January of 2017. All I can do is know my own truth and be grateful for the life I have now, with all of its hurdles.

Thank you for reading. If you know of someone or a relevant organisation who would benefit from the information on DCC as outlined in this blog, do feel free to share it with them. They say knowledge is power. I go onward with the knowledge I will not give someone who once had power over me that satisfaction any longer.

Life’s too short. Like me. 🙂


Digital Coercive Control : Insights from Landmark Domestic Violence Studies (Harris, Woodlock). 2018
<https://academic.oup.com>bcc<article-abstract&gt;

Technology as a Weapon in Domestic Violence : Responding to Digital Coercive Control (Woodlock, McKenzie, Western, Harris). 2018
<https://www.tandfonline.com>doi>full&gt;

Domestic Violence and Communication Technology
<https://accan.org.au&gt;



A novel idea

It is often said that everyone has at least one book in their head. It is also said that truth is stranger than fiction. If you take these quips on board, every one of us has the capacity to write a book. It logically follows that said book should be about events we have traversed on our life journey.

The ensuing question is, how skilfully would that book be written? Who would read it? (Aside from your mum and some close friends). Life events that are riveting to ourselves and our inner circle are possibly not the fodder for a best seller. If we haven’t had an exciting life, do we all still have a novel fermenting away? How do you even start the process?

It is something I have thought on lately as I have begun a few projects. My beloved high school English teacher sent me out into the world expecting a book would appear at some juncture. Since those school days life has handed me a certain plethora of material, much of which I am informed is ‘novel worthy’. Presuming that is the case (with the naive arrogance of the beginner), it raises questions of how a first book comes into being for any writer.

How did our favourite authors kick start that first successful novel? In certain cases that book becoming their only real success; yet stupendous enough a tome to make an enduring name for themselves. For me, unless the book is a fantasy/sci-fi affair, the key factor seems to be a connection to a certain human truth from the writer. Character detail that I relate to, empathise with, that makes real emotional sense. Certain authors trigger something in your gut that is hard to outwardly express. You ‘know’ them through their words.

That has made me re-examine some of the books I have loved for many years. Books of course come in many, many forms. Writing any book takes dedication and usually a hefty amount of research. Yet, I was interested to discover that many of my favourite books stem tangibly from the lives of the authors. In some cases a direct narrative of their experiences and in most, stories drawn from places and people they have known intimately. Interspersed with facets of their own personality and soul.

A short cook’s tour of some greatest hits then.

A childhood favourite. I’ve adored Gerald Durrell since I was not even quite in my teens. The book that put him on the map was “My Family and Other Animals”. As the title suggests, it is autobiographical. The writing is exquisite, funny and poignant. The world as seen through his eyes as a young boy living in Corfu directly prior to the Second World War. Durrell became a prolific author, writing a stream of books about his life as a zoologist. I have many of them on my shelves and some no longer in physical print have made their way onto my Kindle.

Bryce Courtenay wrote his incredible novel “April Fool’s Day” in 1993, telling the story of his haemophiliac son who had died of AIDS related complications in 1991, (having contracted the virus via a blood transfusion). Courtenay was born in South Africa and emigrated to Australia in 1958, his South African years subsequently producing “The Power of One”.

A variety of authors have told their own stories, but portrayed them through characters of fictitious name created as a mirror of themselves. Miles Franklin wrote “My Brilliant Career” in that format. An ill disguised attempt to relay her own story of struggle as an intelligent young woman living in rural Australia. She received acclaim for the book and scathing criticism from those who recognised themselves amongst her characters. In a previous article I have waxed lyrical about Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”. Indeed, Du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall and sourced much of her material from the places there she loved. The Estate of ‘Manderley’, so pivotal to the story of “Rebecca”, is modelled on ‘Menabilly’ in that same county. Daphne Du Maurier was so enamoured of the home, she was later to rent the property and live there for some years. Unattractive and controversial aspects of Rebecca’s personality she viewed as her own; whilst certain aspects of the narrator’s nameless persona she described as her own emotions and general confusion as a young girl.

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is an Australian icon and much has been said about whether it is based in truth. This is an interesting one to examine. Despite much conjecture, a party of school girls never met the fate of Miranda, Irma, Marion and Miss. McGraw at the Rock. What can be established is that Joan Lindsay knew the area very well; and in fact based Appleyard College on her own school, which was relocated to Mount Macedon some years after she had graduated. In 1962, Lindsay wrote a novel titled “A Time Without Clocks” which referenced an odd phenomenon she herself experienced where clocks and machinery would stop when she drew near. This factored into “Picnic at Hanging Rock” in 1967, where every watch stops at 12.00pm at the ill fated picnic. Joan Lindsay created the landmark book in a mere fortnight, writing tirelessly after a series of dreams gave her the storyline. Peter Weir fittingly opens his film of the same name with Miranda’s dialogue, “What we see and what we’ve seen are but a dream. A dream within a dream”. #cuepanpipes 😉

I finish this potted list of greatest hits with the legendary “Sherlock Holmes”. Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle was nearly driven mad by people asking if Holmes indeed existed. He became so consumed by the character he killed him off and had to resurrect him some time later. The acute public disappointment and pressure brought about by his creation’s death demanded he reappear. Holmes was of course fictional, but evolved through Conan Doyle’s own experiences. Conan Doyle studied under a physician named Joseph Bell, a brilliant man and acute reasoner. His form of inductive reasoning fascinated Conan Doyle, who went on to become his assistant for a time. From that relationship and close study of a colleague came Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson was subsequently a medical man and a reflection of Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle himself – assistant to a perceived genius. In 1892 Conan Doyle wrote to Joseph Bell declaring, “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes”. He did not receive a positive response. Bell did all he could to distance himself from any association with the infamous character, as talk of it detracted from his practice.

Now let me see…. I’ve made some notes….. what life event
shall I turn into my own version of “War and Peace”?????

In the end, I guess what one can take away from examining great books is a factor in great writing is personal truth. That cannot be manufactured, and many of the best stories are not pulled out of the air. Whether one’s own ‘test drive novel’ will fly is a leap of faith. It will be many months of work for any writer. A fairly raw bit of self sent out into the world like a cherished baby. Perhaps to blossom into a prize winner.. or very likely to come home from its adventure in a return envelope, destined to line the kitty litter tray.

The books I’ve examined today certainly support the theory of “write what you know”.

I did give Mrs. Woolford my word I’d write a book one day, as I stood before her in my atrociously yellow school uniform. She was one of those educators whose belief in you stays with you for life. Sadly she has now passed away and won’t ever read it.

One should never break ones word. However many years it takes to get there. ❤


Bryce CourtenayPenguin Books Australia
<https://www.penguin.au>authors&gt;

Sherlock Holmes – Website
<https://sherlockholmes.com>history&gt;

Joan Lindsay
https://en.m.wikipedia.org>wiki>Joan_Lindsay&gt;

The extraordinary story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock (Janelle McCulloch)
<https://www.smh.com.au&gt;



The child’s play of Enid Blyton

I recently did a bit of home beautifying and put up some floating shelves sourced at IKEA. I’d never been to IKEA. What a life changing day … there’s another blog for another time. ‘Stuff I didn’t know I absolutely had to own until I walked into an enormous, Swedish shop’.

I digress.

On my major shelf feature I placed some framed photographs, two super sized wine glasses and my Enid Blyton book collection. Where it once languished in a bookcase, it is now a home feature that greets visitors. The conversations thus far at the sight of all those titles have been most interesting. Not surprisingly, a lot of people have been quite excited when they spot them. Blyton’s books have sold 600 million copies around the world and are logically part of many a childhood memory. For me, the works of Enid Blyton were an absolute signpost of my formative years.



Blyton display courtesy of IKEA.

As my interest in writing continues to grow, it follows that I give thought to the kind of literary exploits I feel comfortable with. Journalistic articles, copywriting, advertising and communications work, short stories, extended stories, novels all get a potential nod. The one that makes me go wide eyed is children’s writing. How does one re-enter the mysterious world of childhood once one has left it, and create material for that audience? I view the work of JK Rowling as incredibly skilled. It struck me that I have a selection of titles from the most prolific and successful children’s author in the English speaking world in my living room; and I have never really looked into what made her tick.

Enid Blyton. Credit : The Daily Mail

Enid Blyton (I have subsequently discovered) was a most interesting and complex woman. She created over 700 titles and wrote up to 50 books a year at her most prolific. Those books have sold in the vicinity of 600 million copies, been translated into 90 languages and have been the subject of controversy and debate amongst children’s educators for decades. They were banned from libraries in the 1970’s and 1980’s and many still will not have them in their children’s sections. Her work has been labelled as racist, sexist, xenophobic, repetitive and of very poor literary merit. Of the titles that are still published today, many have undergone changes to try and combat those perceived faults. Particularly the aspects of racism and xenophobia. Some of this is clearly a product of the era in which she wrote. Some of it appears to be inherent in Blyton’s own psyche.

In a letter to psychologist Peter McKellar, Blyton wrote “I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind’s eye …. The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don’t have to think of it – I don’t have to think of anything” (Wikipedia).

Enid continued to write to McKellar, describing how in just five days she wrote a 60,000 word book using what she referred to as her “under mind”. Her daughter Gillian recalls in a newspaper article about her mother that …. “she never knew where her stories came from”, but that her mother used to talk about them “coming from her mind’s eye”. The amateur psychologist within me finds this rather fascinating. It appears Enid Blyton was able to regress subconsciously into a state where she could create fantasy as a child might, but using adult writing skills. That leads an amateur shrink with a writing focus such as myself to look at who her subconscious child actually was.

Some delightfully politically incorrect books from my collection.
(That fairy next to Mr. Pink-Whistle ‘interfering’ looks appropriately worried).

Enid Blyton was born in August 1897 and died in November 1968, after suffering from ‘dementia’ (most probably early onset Alzheimer’s) from her mid-sixties. She had built a writing empire. She had also managed to self market herself right down to her memorable signature, at a time when that was not common practice. Her juggernaut career came at a cost. Two marriages, and two daughters who are estranged from each other as adults. The women disagree on the level of parental neglect they suffered as children, but both agree theirs was a very abnormal childhood.

Enid Blyton was not a particularly happy person either as a child or as an adult. Her happiest years all came before her thirteenth birthday. The DIY analyst in me views this as significant.

Enid never got along with her mother from a very early age. She did however adore her father, and they spent hours together on nature walks, reading and playing. When she was thirteen her father suddenly left Enid and her mother and went to live with another woman. He subsequently had two children with his mistress and the relationship with his first child was abandoned. Enid’s descriptions of her mother are of someone who is cold, cruel and distant. She notably said her mother was scathing of her interest in writing and labelled it a “waste of time and money”. Enid got away from her family home as fast as was practical and completed a teaching certificate with distinctions in zoology and principles of education. She was first published in 1922.

The ‘Wishing Chair’ series, initially published in 1937, was Blyton’s first phenomenal success.

Enid’s first full length book was the ‘Adventures of the Wishing Chair’ in 1937, which became her first series. From there she went from strength to strength. In 1939 she created ‘The Enchanted Forest’ which was the first book of her ‘Faraway Tree’ series. When you mention Enid Blyton, these seem to be the titles people recall. Whatever your modern day opinion of her writing skill or social prejudices, they are amazing children’s books. The central child characters solve problems, have adventures and touch a world which is theirs alone. The child reader feels a part of that world.

As an only child who wasn’t having a high level of family fun in my own home….. these books were my friends. I was obsessed with them and they turned me into a child who was constantly reading. In an article by Alex Hannaford called ‘What Makes a Good Children’s Book?’ (literatibooks.com) he covers various aspects of successful formula in the genre. He quotes Dr. Mark West, who is head of the English department at the University of North Carolina and a children’s literature authority. West says a common thread seen running through excellent children’s books is child characters who make decisions that matter. Whilst they may have assistance or guidance from adult characters, they still act independently. When child characters have agency and face dangers, child readers are much more likely to care about the fate of the characters. “In an excellent children’s book, the child characters are able to solve problems on their own”.

Enid Blyton instinctively knew this and created the ‘Adventurous Four’, ‘Famous Five’ and ‘Secret Seven’. Unfortunately, she was unable to transfer her understanding of children to her own two girls. One daughter describes her mother as emotionally stunted, which makes sense looking back over what I’ve just expounded. Her daughters had nannies, were sent to boarding school and were somewhat exploited as an early form of marketing tool. Whilst they did not spend quality time with their mother, they were used in photographs for the papers and the impression was given they were a part of the magical story world their mother was infamously creating. Both women agree that was untrue; although one remains more faithful to her mother’s memory than the other.

Blyton with her daughters in a publicity photo. Credit : Daily Mail U.K..

Whatever we conclude about the person Enid Blyton was, her standard of writing or the political incorrectness of some of her content; you can only admire the joy she brought to so many children and her ability to create a world children love. I think being a children’s writer presents as many, if not more, hurdles than so many other kinds of content. I’m not sure if I’m really up for that. That being said, it turned out quite well for JK Rowling when she set her mind to it. Never say never.

Thank you Ms. Blyton. You gave me many happy hours reading your creations under the blankets with a torch after lights out when I was a little girl. The colourful little volumes on my IKEA shelf are a constant reminder of that happiness.

600 million copies sold and counting is a pretty good achievement. Particularly for a school governess with a portable typewriter, an active imagination and a determination to prove her mother wrong. 🙂


Enid Blyton
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enid_Blyton&gt;

Enid Blyton Society
<https://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk&gt;

What Makes a Good Children’s Book (Alex Hannaford)
<https://blog.lieratibooks.com&gt;

Mother Love

Two years ago I farewelled my mum. She was 85 years old and had suddenly been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She passed away about 6 weeks after they found the tumour. In hindsight the situation was hopeless; but she dutifully underwent chemotherapy and died four days after her second treatment. In many ways it was a merciful death. She did quite well and then suffered a horrible 48 hours before lapsing into unconsciousness and slipping away. I made it to the hospital before she passed (as I live in another capital city). Although she seemed deeply asleep, nurses told me they saw indications she was aware of my presence through her breathing. Having arrived mid afternoon, I sat by her side for a couple of hours and told her I would be back at 7.30pm to be with her through the night. I still had my suitcase with me from my hurriedly undertaken flight and also hadn’t eaten….. the nurses advised me to have some tea and return for what could be the first of several nights like this.

At 7.00pm, as I prepared to leave my hotel room and head the short distance to the hospital, my phone rang. It was a nurse telling me mum had suddenly begun to decline and I should probably get my skates on. I raced into the ward at 7.20pm to be greeted by a closed door with a kindly nurse standing next to it waiting for me. My mother had passed away at 7.10pm. I had the task of ringing my father to tell him she had now gone. The nursing staff were kind, respectful and expert. To them I am sure I was just another relative farewelling an elderly cancer patient. There are things you remember from life events such as this, and I will always remember their compassion. In particular the nurse who took my hand and said my mother had probably waited for my arrival and then happily let go knowing I was there. Romanticised theory or not, those are the things that are steadying at the time. Her tired, gentle face searching out mine as I ran down the corridor to my mother’s hospital room is forever etched in my memories of that night.

Mum aged sixteen.

What would be lovely to read after the description of how she left would be a narrative of a happy life filled with tales of joyful times. A deep mother daughter bond that concluded as I rushed to her side. Having a slight writing bent, I could probably drum that up from the memories I have in my head. There were happy family times in her life journey. Fact and fiction can mingle when we sit down to tap out a piece such as this. However, I would like to write something respectful to my mother that is based in reality. A reality that can be discussed still under the umbrella of filial love.

My mother had many grand qualities. She had physical beauty. Something of which I was aware, but has become more apparent to me now I have access to all the images of her life housed in photo albums in the family home. She was a head turner. The day my dad saw her at her first job interview at the radio station where he worked (and where she was subsequently to work) he watched her walk down the corridor and famously declared “I’m going to marry her”. He was punching above his weight, but he stuck with it with a determination surprising from one so timid. Neither of my parents sprang from particularly happy homes, so he probably couldn’t rationalise he may have been making an error in romantic judgement. It took nearly a decade for him get her down the aisle and the patience of Job. Dad had set his heart on being with her and they married in 1960. I didn’t come along for quite an extended period of time, seen as extraordinary for their generation. Since mum passed away dad has stated it was a “surprise” when I was born. That’s best left as a dormant story I think for everyone, including me……..

My mother was intelligent. She was also quite a competent comic actress. With a wisdom I seem only to have acquired since her death, I realise she was in fact extremely smart and the owner of a frustrated mind. As a modern woman, my mother would have had a university education and turned her frustration into a career befitting her IQ. Instead she did her leaver’s certificate, topped the state in short hand and subsequently worked in an office in an inferior position as suited to her gender. When I came along, she was a stay at home mother to one small child and bored out of her mind. She needed a career, and in the absence of any other mental or emotional stimulation her career became me.

My mother loved animals and abhorred animal cruelty. She grew up in a cat, Pomeranian and Pekingese laden house. Her own mother was obsessed with both breeds and had armies of them. Family photographs always had someone holding a dog or several cats perched on a table in the background. Oddly, my mother had a cat (gifted to her by her mother) when first married which was run over. She was so distraught she never had another pet and would allow me none. I begged and pleaded but she wouldn’t relent. She would never explain why. Near the end of her life she confessed she’d never go through that grief ever again. Something I can quite understand, solving the puzzle of her angry refusal to allow me any fur companions. She could also type fast, sew dresses, play the piano and be very, very funny when the mood took her. And there is the key word. Mood.

My rather beautiful, intelligent, animal loving, amateur theatrical, fast typing, piano playing mother was a terrifying individual because our home lived in fear of her mood. Of her displeasure. Of her irrationality. Of her anger. Of her inherent instability. Of her paranoia. She was my world and it was was not a safe world in which to live. My mother was very, very mentally unwell. In an era where to be so had stigma – and help was simply not there.

Mum and dad in 1985.

The precise history between mum and me is not fodder for this article. That would be inappropriate and is not its purpose. Suffice to say my childhood was not ideal, and young adult me was naturally shaped by childhood me who had a bit of a bumpy ride. Hence, young adult me was rather a hot mess and very vulnerable. I spent years unravelling what the hell actually happened. I was a guilt riddled woman child and a bit cheesed off at the family package I’d been delivered into. That took a while to work through.

Extricating myself from the family legacy came at a cost and I was estranged from my parents for some years. That estrangement ended unexpectedly, and whilst the relationship remained delicate and safely distant; some ten years after we reconnected I found myself at my mother’s bedside as she ebbed away. Nothing had ever been resolved. It was more a respectful truce offered on the grounds the past was not addressed. At the time it felt rather hypocritical. Two years after mum has gone I have come to a place where I understand a little more of who she was. The resentment I once carried is replaced with a certain empathy for her ….and a regret she was not a woman born into different times. I can see her positives as well as the overwhelming negatives that formed her persona.

They say to forgive for yourself and not for the person who has wronged you. I am undecided if ‘forgiveness’ is the correct word. Some of what my mother did along the way cannot be ‘forgiven’ – but it can be understood. My last words to my mother as I left her room on August 16, 2017 were that I would be back. That she had my promise I would care for my father and that I loved her. The last one was difficult because I couldn’t even tell if it was true. But I wanted her to have it, to take with her if she could hear me in her final hours. Love can be difficult to categorise.

My mother’s last trip to Sydney in October 2016 to see me in a stage production.

Before I left the hospital after she had died, I went into the room to say a last goodbye. It was a strange couple of minutes. The story seemed incomplete somehow without that final step. Ours had been such a tumultuous story and so painful. It was a chance to create an enduring, peaceful memory.

For many years I rejected any similarity between my mother and myself. I would emphatically declare I was only like my father. Unless I’m missing something, I appear to have dodged the mental demons that plagued mum her entire life; for that I am forever grateful. I am now the age she was when I begin to remember her the most vividly. Oddly enough, I begin to see little bits of her in my equivalent self. In a photograph, a quick flash in a mirror, a turn of phrase, a gesture. In my love for my little dogs. Instead of rejecting that I choose to embrace it. I will never have the equivalent of her physical beauty, but I am grateful for whatever of that she gifted me. Any of her intelligence and any of her positive qualities that wound up in my genetic cocktail. Our parents can never be erased. Accepting that seems to be a part of understanding myself.

In the hospital room on that final night I knew what I needed to say.

“You did the best with what you had, and I forgive you. Go in peace”.

Did her spirit hear me? I don’t know. I like to think it did.

Remembering my mother Geanette Benger. 13.2.32 – 16.8.17.