In September 2013 I got married in Las Vegas. I was already married .. but I’m certainly not a bigamist. My then husband and I wed in Sydney in November 2000. Thirteen years later he persuaded me it would be fabulous if we did it again. In fact, the Vegas adventure seemed to be the main focus of the American holiday he wanted so much. Since my subsequent divorce people have asked me why on earth I did such a thing. He did not possess the reputation of a good man or a good husband. I had already left him once some four years earlier when his abuse hit a climax that saw me physically and mentally decimated.
In truth, the relevant question is not why did I marry him again and smile through another ceremony. An occasion that had all the trappings of happiness and success. A kitschy vacation spectacle splashed across social media.
The relevant question is …why didn’t I refuse …
Rosie Batty famously once said, “I want to tell people that family violence happens to anybody, no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are”. She also said, “What I want people to take from this is that it isn’t simple. People judge you, people tell you what you should do. You do the best you can”. I was certainly judging myself on the morning of 9th September 2013 as I sat on the edge of a huge bed putting on silver stilettos in a luxury suite at the Bellagio. I had wondered if I was doing the right thing when I married him in 2000. I absolutely knew I was doing the wrong thing having this sparkly ceremony at a famous little chapel on the other side of the world thirteen years later. I had the nice house, I had the glamour career, I purportedly had intelligence and I had the jewelled shoes to wear with the cute rental dress. What I didn’t have was the freedom and safety to make my own choices and say no.
So, as Rosie Batty has imparted, I did the best I could and walked down the aisle to greet my abuser for a second time.
Memories of the occasion are quite bizarre some seven years later. I immersed myself in the fun aspects of that day. A ride in a limo, an Elvis impersonator, a tiara and veil, a ‘bridal lunch’, playing the slots in full garb, having well meaning hotel guests yell “CONGRATULATIONS!”. Just as it was in 2000 as a much younger woman, I ran a mental tape that this meant I was loved. This meant he was sorry. This meant he would do better. This made him happy by showing the world he was prosperous, desirable and I would now choose to marry him for a second time.
It was a test I passed by my willingness to participate. He was exuberant that day and raced back from the chapel before the bridal lunch to post images on Facebook. He was happy. I had made him happy. I was rewarded with smiles and laughter and declarations of affection. He seemed proud of me and I actually felt pretty that day as I walked around the casino capital of America on his arm. Living as I did, it was worth the charade to embrace the bubble of satisfaction this had caused in him. I was anxious but relieved. Bubbles burst of course and this one was fragile. It sparkled temporarily in the Nevada sun and then was gone.
One of the myths about domestic violence is that the circumstances can’t be too bad because things look fine. In many ways the shinier the facade the higher the odds the victim is in a prison with very high walls indeed. I look back at September 9th, 2013 as an occasion that encapsulates real helplessness. I have sometimes pondered what my fate might have been had I said I did not wish to remarry him that day. It doesn’t really bear thinking about. Refusal to be part of the mirage is a crime the perpetrator will make you pay for until you are on your knees begging their forgiveness. No matter how nice your house may be or how sparkling the intellect you possess; the world must be shown a flawless image whatever the cost. Your public acceptance and support of the person beside you gives them the shield to continue on their path and ensures that although they are beside you in the images, you are really standing completely alone.
During this pandemic with its isolation we know that the plight of all abused people is a grim one. I am sharing my second wedding day those seven Septembers ago to bring to the fore a very old adage. You cannot judge a book by its cover. People do what they must to keep themselves and those dependant on them as safe as they can. Those choices can seem unfathomable to others on the outside. Victims acquiesce to their abuser with monotonous regularity to buy themselves time and safety. It is a vicious cycle that is poorly understood by those who have not lived it. It is worth taking a moment to stand in those shoes and envisage an unhappy and frightening world where there is seemingly no exit and no free will of your own.
“Family violence is an entrenched epidemic that we’ve lived with since time began, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I do believe the tide is turned. It’s no longer a subject that only occurs behind closed doors”. Rosie Batty
I last stood in the shoes of my old relationship in early February 2017. I most certainly wore them in Las Vegas on 9th September, 2013. Those ones did have some pretty fabulous glitter. xx
I am not unique in having encountered grief in my life. Although I’ve had my share of it, I am acutely aware that many people have experienced heart break I cannot even attempt to envisage. Grief is something difficult to understand and a state of being we dread. For good reason. It carries with it a pain that even the best writer struggles to convey.
One constant that seems to be partnered with grief is love. The more love we feel, the more grief we seem to encounter as we move through life. It is said that love can be an exquisite pain. Perhaps that pain translates to the agony that comes with love lost or love betrayed. Indeed, those incapable of love are transparently incapable of grief.
In May 2020 I lost a little dog I loved very, very much. ‘Bunny’ was with me for less than five years (adopted as she turned seven), and losing her was yet another journey into the dreaded darkness of loss and grief. I had of course signed up for the inevitable catastrophe of losing her when I took her on. I did not expect her to pass away so soon. I also did not expect the revisitation of other griefs her passing mysteriously let back in. That was an unexpected trip I did not enjoy. Yet I am oddly grateful for it.
My little Bunny suddenly became ill and passed away on 16.5.20 less than 48 hours after becoming unwell. She was aged 11 years and 8 months. There really wasn’t time to prepare and the whole thing passed in a state of surreal numbness. For me, my pets are the centre of my world. I am divorced and childless .. not complaining about that state of being .. my daily company and maternal drive are all focussed on my fur companions. I have loved animals my entire life. For some people it is difficult to comprehend that bond. Others reading this are nodding with enthusiastic understanding. This could be where this screed inevitably moves on to examine how important animals are. That it’s not ‘just’ a dog or a cat, but a fur baby and adored family member. I could write endlessly on what an animal can mean but it’s not the focus of this article. We shall take that as a given.
Grief is an unpredictable process that takes a mental and often physical toll. In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross established and analysed the now widely accepted five (5) stages of grief.
She was later to write that these were not neat phases everyone who is grieving passes through. Some may pass through them quickly, some slowly, some may not experience all five. They can occur in a different order. Some people cycle back several times and re experience certain stages repetitively. Life events can re trigger the process at varying levels of intensity. A state of complicated grief can arise when acceptance is never reached and the person becomes depressed and unwell as an extended state of being. One may not just grieve the loss of a loved one. People grieve broken relationships, divorce, lost careers or shattered health.
Heart break is no fun.
After Bunny died, on the surface I appeared my usual calm self. I did a goodly amount of crying in the privacy of my own home and I also did some emotional cutting in the form of self torture. A delightful extension of the bargaining phase. Could I have done something to prevent Bunny’s death? What did I miss? Did I let her down? Did she know how much I loved her as I handed her to the vet at Emergency? Did she want me as she rapidly declined and I couldn’t go back where she was being treated because of COVID? Had she been in pain or felt sick and I wasn’t really a good fur mama because I didn’t notice? Academically I know the answers to these questions. However, 3.00am isn’t a fan of academic reasoning when the mind ruminates on things we can’t control.
To move through that phase, I used techniques I was taught by a psychologist I consulted when my first Pomeranian died in 2014. That Pom was named ‘Delilah’ and she was the sweetest little soul. Delilah faithfully stayed alongside me for 15 years and 8 months. Her death was expected but no less gutting. Due to the constraints of the married life I led at that time, I could not really indulge my grief when she died. It was very difficult to process. My showing distress was inconvenient to the person with whom I then shared my home. I would get up at 3.00am when he was asleep, hold Delilah’s bed and sob with a hanky shoved in my mouth so I would not be discovered. There were so many regrets. So many things that pained me about her life in that house. It was overwhelming. I eventually managed the grief to a point when Diva, Bunny and Bear entered my existence and the sun shone again. Bunny had similarities to my Delilah and I took enormous pleasure after I left my marriage in getting it ‘right’ for her and the others. I was Queen of my Domain and no-one was ever going to make these fur babies fearful from the moment we walked away from that marriage in February 2017.
Having attempted to process Bunny’s passing and having accepted as well as I was able that she was gone, I still really struggled some weeks after the event. Insomnia and a general feeling of malaise. I couldn’t study as my head held nothing and I had an all pervading sense of loneliness. Which was odd, as I have never really felt lonely in my home bustling with fur kiddies. Bunny’s missing presence was palpable yet I still had two other pooches relentlessly demanding my attention. It was as though something dark and hopeless was hanging over me I couldn’t identify. One morning I awoke with visual disturbances and an unnerving buzzing in my ears. I subsequently took myself to my ever competent GP who informed me I was experiencing a form of migraine. She took my blood pressure. It was impressive. I’m relieved my head didn’t blow off. I am now medicated for said blood pressure and am back on track. Bunny’s death had intensified what was probably already an issue and caused a hypertensive spike.
It was at that moment the blinkers came off and I realised what was at the root of the virtual and tangible pain in my chest. Unresolved grief. Heart break and memories left buried and unexamined that I had not been ready to see. The loss of something so loved as my Bun-Bun had let the genie out of the bottle and it was unwilling to go back in without having a say. My getting it ‘right’ for Bunny was releasing so much of what had gone wrong on my previous journey.
Much of the pain had to do with my first dog Jessie. A beautiful shepherd/labrador brought into my life by my ex as I entered that relationship. Jessie was a driving force behind many of the decisions I was subsequently to make. My helpless fur baby I had loved so desperately. A fur child I had not always been able to protect. To my surprise, pieces of jigsaw from that story still missing from my conscious memory forced their way forward whether I liked it or not.
What I remembered from Jessie’s final days is not the point of this article. Publicly revealing a perpetrator’s actions isn’t as cathartic as one might imagine and it gives their story an airing they don’t deserve. What I experienced in those days after Bunny’s death would doubtless be labelled as an episode of PTSD. Flashes of recall and memory like traumatic film. I am not too proud to say I have spoken to a professional about the process and gained understanding of how and why it all came back. The human brain is an incredible, self protective mechanism that shows us what we can cope with. One might surmise I am sorry I went through that. A horrible coda to an already sad event. I am not. It has helped me understand why I struggle with Jessie’s memory and the complexity of all she stood for.
Bunny was not only a key part of surviving Delilah’s death when she entered my life, she helped me understand untapped grief when she left it. Hers was a little soul that gave more than she ever could have comprehended. I know she understood she was adored and I choose to believe that happiness was with her until her final breath. In truth, hers is a loss easier to process than any other I have had. Because it is tinged with many less regrets and overwhelmingly happy memories.
Grief is a part of life and everyone goes through it differently. Things we think might cause us grief don’t always engender that response. Other losses are as overwhelming as a tsunami. Understanding how and why can be as mystifying as the riddle of mortality itself. Never be ashamed to reach out when grief creeps up on you. Horrible as it is, it appears to be a process with a purpose.
One thing I have learned is that our grief will be as powerful as the thing we lost meant to us. The loss is as great as the love.
It is safe to say we collectively have a touch of Coronavirusfatigue. It’s all over our television broadcasts, our social media, our print media. We are texting about it, chatting on the phone about it, FaceTiming about it, Zooming about it. It has impacted every facet of life from work to shopping. Socialising to exercising. It would be nigh on impossible to find a single person on our planet who is not impacted by this little protein wrapped killer.
It is quite easy to feel sorry for oneself when the world tips upside-down and you can’t even buy toilet paper unless the planets align. I’ll preface my upcoming blurb by clarifying I am not remotely a hippie, although I respect that way of thinking amongst various others. What I’m about to say isn’t revolutionary. But I find the thought process below helpful if things feel fraught. Particularly as isolation becomes the new norm.
Be grateful for everything that has gone right. Look at the big picture and find perspective.
Psychology instructs us that every experience and resulting emotional response we have is valid. We feel what we feel. Our individual challenges and fears should not be diminished because they are less grave in magnitude than another person’s trauma. This philosophy is of immense value in therapy, particularly for people who discount major pain in a way that is detrimental to their healing.
However, there are also circumstances where we need to get a grip. Reach outside our self isolating walls and take in the big picture of collective human experience and suffering. ‘Year of the Pandemic’ seems as good a time as any to practice that technique.
Be grateful for everything that has gone right.
That’s enough about me. What do you think of me……. 😉
Looking at events within my own life quite a few things could be classified as having gone wrong. Not an ideal childhood, very abusive marriage, loss of my old job and career. On paper that’s a bit of a crap sandwich. Have I had the odd day where I’ve whined, “Oh for the love of GOD”? Well yes of course I have. I wryly commented to someone the other day that everything has culminated spectacularly in a world plague. It’s the grand finale. Yet, that’s where the field levels out and there’s a unique opportunity to examine how things have played out overall. As the world is tipping over, how on balance many things have unexpectedly ended up going right. Some people call it practising gratitude or perhaps counting blessings. I like those two terms but .. excuse the crass terminology .. I also rather embrace the phrase ‘pulling your head out of your arse’.
These are ways I have pulled my own head from my posterior region at key moments.
I learned a lot from the negative aspects of my childhood – including being content in my own company and developing certain forms of resilience. Whilst I would have preferred not to have had the challenges I experienced, I may have missed all those formative lessons that are coming in very handy right now.
My marriage was a long and traumatic path but it also taught me a lot. Being abused made me examine my childhood and seek out professionals to unravel what had taken place there; and subsequently what was taking place with my then husband. I learned I was strong enough to leave. Be grateful for everything that has gone right. If I had not left when I did, I would now be trapped with my abuser being watched, controlled and frighteningly isolated. I am grateful for where I am every day and never more so than now. The relief is absolutely palpable. The plight of anyone in a domestically violent home during this crisis fills me with horror.
After a distinguished career in professional theatre, five months ago that particular phase came to an end for me. At least in the the form it had been for well over two decades … you can’t really keep a determined thespian down. Where I might have remained unchallenged or stagnant for the rest of my working life, instead I have been motivated to study. I continue to do so and my inner nerd loves further education. I quickly found a new branch of performance and a little niche. Yes, the work I moved into has been clobbered by COVID-19 like many other industries, but that will pass. I am excited about what I might do and what opportunities may arise next. What could have been viewed as a sad thing has perversely opened up a whole new world of potential skills and people. A wrong has in fact gone very right. Enforced time in isolation is providing scope to think further outside the box. What can be achieved and created after we recover? Sitting within four walls is the ideal time to get more studies under the belt. (My inner nerd is delirious). I am grateful for all I have in life right now that makes that possible.
Look at the big picture and find perspective. The world is in an utter mess. There’s no way to avoid that fact. This pandemic is the biggest health crisis to sweep the world in 100 years (excluding the very nasty glitches of SARS, MERS and Ebola). It is the greatest economic hit since the Great Depression. The Queen is about to address The Commonwealth for only the fourth time in her extensive reign as everything goes to hell in a hand basket. (Things have to be grim for Lillibet to make ‘the speech’). Mr. Trump is making a disturbing hash of things and Europe has been utterly hammered.
http://www.worldometers.info puts out daily stats on disease numbers, recoveries, testing and related facts. Many of us are already at saturation point but it makes for sobering reading. As I write this there are 1,195,371 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide. The U.S.A has chalked up 277,491, Italy has 119,827 and Spain has 119,199 but those figures shift constantly. Australia sits at 5,544. Disturbingly, these figures are only as accurate as the testing undertaken and some nations have no way of charting the progress of the disease and no real way to protect or treat many of their people. Indonesia and India are prime examples. Estimates sit at about five million infections worldwide at this stage of the pandemic.
The figures are sobering as to the gravity of the crisis. They are also sobering at a personal level. They should serve to wake us up and gain perspective on our personal situations.
It’s another removing head from derrière moment.
As I write this I am perched on a comfortable chair in my comfortable Australian home. A country that is making (despite our many valid political criticisms) a concerted effort to keep us all alive and in one piece at the other end of this world crisis. I have a nice little home in which to isolate myself. I have food, alcoholic beverages, hot and cold running water, electricity, plentiful entertainment, three beloved pets, a nice bed, medications and the prospect of monetary welfare to see me through. I have a computer where I can see my friends via the wonders of technology, a mobile phone. I even found some toilet paper when I last went to the shops. Praise be.
None of the above is negating the fact that everyone is doing it tough. Job losses, loneliness, uncertainty, money worries and anxiety. No-one is feeling as though things are going particularly well right now. I personally find taking a breath and assessing what you actually have and where you actually are can do wonders. No-one wants to deal with Centrelink (what’s that all about) nor cobble together a sketchy financial survival plan. No-one enjoys sitting on the couch wondering when the hell they’ll work again and how all that will actually come back together. But we can all rejoice we have that prospect. Thousands of dead will never have that luxury and many thousands will be displaced and desperate across a virus ravaged world. Waiting a few weeks for Centrelink to get it together and scrounging for loo paper isn’t that bad.
Looking at my own industry of many years. Losing scheduled gigs as a performer is a disappointment and a financial black hole. I am in that boat with a myriad of others. As artists we absolutely shouldn’t fall through the welfare cracks merely because of our mode of career. That would be manifestly unfair. Or the future cracks as things are restructured on the other side of the pandemic. That being said, we shouldn’t scream disproportionately like spoiled children that we have lost everything. We certainly shouldn’t whine that our various arts companies are owed automatic salvation. Each should earn their new fate by their merits. No one sector is more worthy than another. Some industries will be more vital than our own as the world recovers and it would be nauseatingly Narcissistic to view it otherwise.
The world is facing reorder in a way we have never seen and we can’t yet view how it will pan out. We are passing through a remarkable time in history. A time when it’s natural to not feel everything is okay because it isn’t.
Gratitude and perspective. For the most part we are lucky people housed in a very lucky country.
Fingers crossed we all have a lucky outcome. Stay safe. xx
Once Upon A Time there was a small, orange Pomeranian dog called Bunny. She had magical powers. However sad the people were, when they saw her they smiled and felt happy.
This is her story.
As I write this our world is in a very bad place. A virus tears through everything familiar and makes it unfamiliar. The news is teeming with worrying stats and trends. To combat that distress there are also uplifting posts and funny distractions to balance our anxiety and increasing isolation. I have always been aware that images and videos of Bunny bring people joy. Anyone who meets her speaks about how happy and loved they feel when they hold her. There seems no better time to share her with you, in the hope this will be a moment in your day that is brighter because of a very special little dog.
Bunny was born in September 2008 from two posh Pomeranian parents and her destiny was to be a breeding dog. She lived in not particularly kind conditions at the initial breeders for a year before going to a second. He was to own her for approximately five years. Her life there was very harsh and squalid. I do not have precise details and I do not particularly want them. I do know she had an inordinate amount of pups – far more than a registered breeder should have wrangled out of her. She lived in an extremely confined space, had her thick coat shaved and didn’t have a proper name. That breeder was finally notified he had too many dogs and Bunny was taken in by another registered breeder who gave her an actual name. She was there about 9 months before the magical day she was to become mine.
Having lost my precious Pomeranian Delilah after fifteen years, I adopted a little rescue six months after her passing. She was a Pom cross named Diva and my plan was always to have two fur babies. I began the search for Diva’s companion and was put in touch with the breeder where Bunny had gone to live. I was hopeful I could go on a waiting list for a Pomeranian puppy. After chatting with the breeder, I shared I would also be more than happy with an older, retired dog. She mentioned she had an orange girl who would be needing a permanent home. In my mind I did not want an orange Pomeranian as that was the same colouring as Delilah and too painful after mourning her so deeply. However, I made the jaunt out to see the breeder.
She carried out an orange Pomeranian whom she had called ‘Penny’. Penny was newly pregnant and would need to have her puppies before going to her forever family. When she placed ‘Penny’ in my arms my heart lurched as this rather worried little creature snuggled into me. Wishing to not seem hysterically desperate I nonchalantly said yes… I would probably adopt this dog and purchase one of her puppies as a package deal. What I wanted to do was run to the car with her in my arms and never let her go. She radiated love and a transparent need to have a human to call her very own. This tiny waif needed desperately to be the centre of someone’s Universe. I would move heaven and earth to be that someone. I reluctantly handed her back over to finish out her term and have the puppies. That night it was agreed upon that she would definitely be mine. I was beside myself with anticipation.
In truth I didn’t like her designated name. It was the same name as that of an extra marital affair my then husband had indulged in several times over his history. It was a name he delighted in hurting me with. My new fur baby had not had the name very long. Yet I didn’t want her to be confused now she actually had one, instead of merely being a number.
After some deliberation I decided to call her ‘Bunny’.
Bunny and her little puppy (who was to be subsequently called ‘Bear’) came home to me on August 9th, 2015.
Diva sniffed the new arrivals and they swiftly became a pack of three. There was the odd small tiff between the girls because Bunny was a protective mother over her diminutive, rather obnoxious son. If Diva had a toy or treat Bun thought her weeny Prince should have, she would bustle out of her bed and snap. Diva always backed down and it stays that way even today. Bunny is never challenged over a bed or a prize by the others. The days of her going in to bat for Bear however are long gone. She seems to view him more as an adult kid who still hasn’t moved out when she’s trying to have a pleasant retirement.
At first Bunny was rather puzzled by her new life. She was unused to beds and toys and hand cooked dinners. She soaked up cuddles but she also hid away in small spaces. Her little expression was often worried and a bit sad. I spent a lot of time reassuring her and trying to make her feel secure. She didn’t know how to walk on lead and outings rather distressed her. She never barked. She utterly didn’t understand toys. But she utterly knew I was becoming her person.
As the months went on some of these things improved. Her condition blossomed with good food and exercise. In February 2017 I ended my marriage and the four of us relocated to our new home. Diva and Bear were a closely bonded pair and a happy unit. And Bunny? Well.. Bunny finally came into her own. ❤ Already unrecognisable from where she’d started out at her adoption, Bunny was now in a quiet, stress free home. Everything revolved around her. An adopted pooch momma’s dream come true. The last remnants of the shy traumatised dog melted away and The Bun hit her stride to become one of the most charismatic orange fluff balls that has ever been.
In July 2017 we had all travelled to Melbourne as a family where I was performing with “My Fair Lady” at The Regent Theatre. Bunny came onto the radar of the cast members and a campaign was started to have her in the theatre for a show. After months of touring the Company was tired, missing home and it was a morale boosting exercise. To convince management, posters made by the performers went up around the backstage corridors. The ‘Bring in the Bun’ Movement was launched with rampant enthusiasm.
And indeed Bunny had her great day in the theatre. She was cuddled by the likes of the magnificent Reg Livermore, adorable Tony Llewellyn Jones and lovely Pamela Rabe. She got to come to stage warm up and spent her afternoon nursed on the laps of Company Management. It is something that show team remember as a highlight of a long run in a cold, mouldy venue. Three years on she’s still visited by some cast. In fact, one of them now owns Bear’s brother ‘George’ from Bunny’s final litter.
After sojourning back to Sydney in early August 2017 Bunny has gone from strength to strength. She’s become rather bossy and she’s also learned how to bark in protest. It is possibly the funniest sound I’ve ever heard. A petulant ‘”MEH” that demands instant attention. She bustles up for her meals and likes to be hand fed her breakfast. She scrabbles at my lap to be cuddled. She goes nuts for a walk and then, like anyone with a built in slave, demands to be carried for most of it. She will happily sniff and traverse certain stretches of path and and then parks her fluffy butt and refuses to budge until she is lifted and carried aloft like some small, revered orange Pontiff.
About a year ago I came home and found her playing with a toy. I cried that day. It was like she had finally forgotten all she’s been through and learned a final, wonderful thing. Her little face was so proud and excited as she busily rolled that treat ball. She beamed at me with all she had.
My other two dogs are extraordinarily happy, but it must be said that Bunny is the happiest dog I have ever known. I sincerely hope she does not remember the suffering of her first six years. I think not in detailed terms, but I believe she does express every day that she loves her life and she knows it is very different from where she started out. She certainly expresses that she loves me in a way that makes my heart ache. Every meal, every toy, every bed, every word of love and cuddle, every day is enjoyed to its fullest. She’s a living, breathing epitome of gratitude and being in the moment. She reminds me that I am lucky. Bunny also gives me purpose when life seems a little bleak. Purpose to make every day she has wonderful – to make up for when she was a forgotten little breeding dog living alone and untouched in a squalid box. Her look of love and happiness can change a fraught moment into a beautiful one in less than a second.
Bunny will turn twelve in September and it is my fervent hope that I have many more years with her. As a canine helicopter parent, I have the vet check her over carefully regularly (including blood tests) and I am assured she is in excellent health. Her hearing is going and she has had a couple of very transient minor seizures so common in Pomeranians, but she is something of a tiny Titan. Once a scared little forgotten dog – she is now The Bun beloved by so many.
My adorable, demanding, eccentric, joyful, ever smiling fur baby.
It is easier said than done, but I think Bunny’s message to us humans at the moment would be a simple one. Be happy and grateful for all you have that is wonderful in your life. She does not dwell on what has been because she’s busily soaking up what she has now. Dogs live in the moment.
Stay safe and I hope Bunny’s story brought you a smile at a time when they are a little scarce. This too will pass. The Bun guarantees it. xx
18/5/20 I am heartbroken to add to this piece that my most precious Bunny passed unexpectedly on May 16th, 2020. She became off colour for a couple of days and I took her to my vet the afternoon of 15/5/20 who diagnosed a tummy bug and found a heart murmur (which had not been there at her last visit only a few months beforehand). That evening I raced her into Sydney University Vet Hospital when she became very disoriented and had an episode of not breathing properly. She passed away at 5.20pm the next day on a ventilator and despite every effort, nothing could be done to save her. The staff did everything they could and she was kept as comfortable as possible the whole time. She was with me for just less than five years and changed my life and the decisions I made in my life irretrievably. All for the better.
With thanks to everyone who has loved Bunny and followed her stories. For all the dogs I have loved (and I am sure I may love in the future) The Bun will remain a unique, shining light of pure joy. If love could have saved her she would have been here forever.
Especial thanks to Dr. Rachel Soh from University Veterinary Teaching Hospital Sydney who showed such compassion and worked so hard to save her.
Rest Peacefully my Bun-Bun. Until I hold you again at The Bridge. xxxx
Greta Garbo famously said … “I want to be alone”. Actually, she was later recorded as saying that was a misquote. Her actual statement was, “I want to be let alone”. But let’s not ruin a great story with the truth.
Some of us like a bit of solitary time. Some of us absolutely hate it. Looming on the horizon is the fact that the current COVID-19 crisis is probably going to cause alone time whether you’re a fan or not. Rapidly coming to light is not just our innate human fear of illness or a lack of toilet paper. There is a genuine sense of panic at the prospect of self-quarantine and social isolation. To a point where counselling lines are taking a high volume of calls on the subject.
Greta it appears was not the norm.
In generations past we tended to live in bigger families. Mum, dad, an army of children and maybe the odd grandparent thrown in. Meal times were large, noisy affairs around extended tables and older brothers or sisters looked after the smaller ones if the load was simply too much for the adults. Entertainment was somewhat self generated with backyard cricket, board games and scheduled television watching hours as a family once the ‘idiot box’ hit our lounge rooms. Times have changed. 2020 modern Australia now sees a prevalent adult population living alone. Yes, there are still extended families, couples with various numbers of children, flatmates and/or considerable numbers who cohabit as a twosome. Yet – with an ageing population, people choosing the single life and/or with relationships that have ended many, many of us live alone.
Looming viral catastrophe has made clear that work hours with colleagues, time in shopping centres, attending sporting events, theatrical events and festivals along with dining out are an essential part of maintaining a solo existence. These daily interactions with others thread into an essential tapestry that staves off loneliness and isolation. Good old Coronavirus has come along to test just how well we might do without those taken for granted hours with our fellow humans.
It is a given that some people hate being alone and others crave extended time out. I am very much in the latter category and am rather happy to spend extended periods of time on my Pat Malone. (I do not actually classify myself as totally alone as I have three small, demanding fur children. Companion animal numbers have soared in recent years as people like myself opt for fur people as housemates). I am an only child which I think gears me somewhat towards these solitary life choices. I was not really allowed many playmates as a kid. Outside of school hours I was pretty much self sufficient. My childhood was one of reading, playing instruments and inventing games for myself. I was not allowed pets (which I resented) so I spent endless hours mugging the neighbour’s cat and chatting to it. I wrote poetry and made up story books and danced terrible ballets alone in my room. In hindsight I was a weird little creature, but children adapt to whatever circumstance they are given.
Science has proven that complete isolation is not just unhealthy. It can send you bonkers in a remarkably short space of time. In 2008, clinical psychologist Ian Robbins recreated a famous experiment undertaken years beforehand by Donald Hebb. Six volunteers were isolated for 48 hours in sound-proofed rooms in a former nuclear bunker. There was complete silence with no opportunity for any sensory stimulation. The volunteers rapidly suffered anxiety, extreme emotions, paranoia and significant deterioration in their mental functioning. They also hallucinated. Their visions included a heap of 5000 empty oyster shells, a snake, zebras, tiny cars, the room taking off, mosquitoes and fighter planes buzzing overhead. (www.bbc.com)
In studies of subjects who have undertaken long periods of solitude – be it self inflicted such as a solo maritime voyage or due to involuntary isolation with military capture or similar – the level of coping and mental deterioration seems intrinsically linked to the subject’s ability to keep their mind stimulated. The creation of mental tasks and distraction stops the spiral illustrated in the experiment outlined above. In the absence of an actual companion with whom to interact, some survivors of utter solitude have created fictional companions from inanimate objects. Think ‘Wilson’ to Tom Hanks in “Castaway”. (Speaking of COVID-19. Get well soon Tom). Where that may seem an act of madness on the surface .. it is rather a mechanism to maintain a semblance of sanity.
So the question is, why are so many of us freaked that we may have to self isolate for (optimistically) only 14 days? It’s not just because we might run low on Sorbent or drink all the white wine in the first week by accident. I suspect a factor may be that we have lost the skill to self entertain and self care. Humans are a social animal, and in evolutionary terms separation from the pack means vulnerability. I had a lot of practice at being on my own as a child (that poor cat); resulting in adult me being fractionally antisocial. I adore seeing people I care about. Then I love racing back home to my bunker with its three resident pooches. In truth, I’m much better as a single than as a couple. There is of course the glaring fact that the other half of my extended ‘couple’ phase was an unpleasant human. Which has engendered even greater enjoyment of being solo once more.
Amongst the fear and uncertainly of the coming weeks, looking after those we care about will be paramount. Not being face to face with other people won’t necessarily mean loneliness if that becomes our lot for a while. It’ll just be more of a challenge for some than others.
If you have a friend or family member who you know hates being alone, call them for a quality chat. Text them. Messenger them. Have a scheduled group text with your posse watching a favourite telly show from your individual homes each night. Science has proven a busy mind is a much healthier mind. We all have stuff we’ve meant to get around to but haven’t had time. That time is being forced upon us by the looks of it. Around the house jobs, cleaning out cupboards, that mystery pile of mending in the corner, books we’ve never got around to reading yet, DVD’s we’ve meant to watch or really want to watch again, emails we’ve meant to write, things of interest we’ve meant to research. For many working from home will fill quite a lot of time. If practical, perhaps get ahead with some work things to buy some more recreational time when this is over. Make some nice plans of stuff you want to do with your chosen people when the world rights itself again.
Maybe the world or your job won’t be exactly the same for a bit after the COVID-19 epic. Perhaps it’s destined to be rather a sh*t show. Perhaps it will be mysteriously improved in some respects. It is what it is.
Writer Thomas Carlyle said that isolation may very often be the “sum of total wretchedness”. Instead of wretchedness, let’s have a crack at being there for one another even if it’s from behind individual doors. Surrounded by adversity, the Italians have been singing from their balconies. History will doubtless record this world event as an epic disaster. Mass fatalities and economic mess are now unavoidable and that weighs very heavily on us all. Conversely, this may also be an unprecedented opportunity for self discovery and creating bonds that may never have come into being otherwise.
I’ll be chatting to my three Pomeranians like a demented old bat, eating cheese and praying that the gin lasts longer than any lock down. Stay safe and look after your tribe. xx
Well .. if one thing can be said for the first few months of 2020 .. they’ve been memorable. Not all of it negative and not all of it positive. We appear to be in an epoch of time that is continuously highlighting the various aspects of what it is to be human. Good, bad and downright mortifying.
We have had bushfires where Australians have covered themselves in glory. Great bravery saving people, animals and homes. Great generosity in monetary donations and an overflowing of goods purchased for those left stranded. Great people working night and day to search out injured wildlife and nurse the critters back to health. Great pride in Aussie community and spirit.
We have grieved the loss of a young woman and her three innocent children at the hands of a violent man. We’ve found our voices to clamour loudly at the plague that is domestic terrorism and have started pushing for change. Some people have shown their lack of humanity. Others have shown an outpouring of empathy and anger and stood up.
Now comes a third huge chapter in only the third month of this new decade. A pandemic.
I sometimes ponder whether as a species, human beings are heading further down our abyss of selfish behaviour. Or whether access to modern media platforms just makes it more visible for us to analyse. Of course, we have been capable of pretty appalling standards since the dawn of our evolution as far as the history books reflect. Yet what we are experiencing right now is a glaring spotlight on what ails us as a society. When we require security guards standing over pallets of dunny rolls and you can’t buy a packet of pasta – things are getting grim. Yes, we are facing a state of temporary emergency. Yes, it’s unsettling. The question is – why can we not seem to follow simple instructions to manage the crisis. Research and the memories of our older citizens demonstrate we have managed it before.
My mother used to talk about rationing when she was a child of WW2. She was a chubby little thing who got a couple of extra coupons a week as a result. Odd government reasoning, but good for her. (Who would say no to extra emergency bacon and chocolate). My grandparents also kept chickens for eggs and grew veggies to supplement what could not be bought. They were reasonably well off for the era. Grandpa was part of the essential war effort at home, (having already seen active service in WW1). Australia was not as impacted as the U.K. where things were extra grim. Britain was blacked out and scraping together enough to get by. The Queen’s wedding gown was paid for with ration coupons. People were scared, had large slabs of their family perhaps never coming home or returning physically and mentally maimed. Society had no idea when it would end.
It is idealistic to believe it was all tickety-boo with everyone playing by the rules. Humans are human. There was inevitable theft, blackmarket selling, crime, assault and cruelty. However, one is compelled to ask just how the Sydney women going at each other over a huge trolley of toilet paper would fare with rationed coupons to supply their family’s needs. Forming orderly queues to receive those precious goods. Hoarding was not even a viable option.
This is a nation of plenty with enough stock for everyone. We are not inevitably facing down years of war with an uncertain future. The future does appear wonky for us as a virus threatens our usual order and routine. It’s not a pleasant sensation. It all feels decidedly spooky. We are worried about catching a very nasty illness, about hospitals coping and looming financial hurdles of interrupted work and economic mess. (Plus some dead set dodgy political planning and decisions that inspire zero confidence).
But quite frankly, our behaviour as a collective worries me more than COVID-19. At least it has the excuse of being a soulless virus that is simply running through an evolutionary process.
Rationing began in Britain in January 1940. Final rationing concluded in 1954. That is fourteen years of limited supplies, waiting your turn and daily hurdles. Each man, woman and child received a ration book of coupons. Fresh fruit and vegetables were not rationed but fluctuated as to availability. Rationed goods included sugar, meat, bacon, cheese, cereal, biscuits, eggs, milk. Soap was rationed in 1942 as was petrol. Clothing was also bought via the coupon system. Post war, bread was rationed in 1946 as supply chains were greatly interrupted. Rationing of clothing ended in 1950 with final meat rationing concluding in 1954. I see no mention of toilet paper in my researches, but I doubt three ply was readily available in bulk.
Although slightly less restrictive, Australia also worked on the same system.
Goods were rationed as to specific need. Children, expectant mums and invalids received extra coupons for eggs and milk. Neighbours often shared or exchanged coupons according to who really needed what.
I would like to offer here that I am an avid, modern consumer. I am not saintly. I mean … look at my fridge photo. I am used to living in a way where if I want something, I go to the shop and I have what I desire. Good grief. My dogs eat steak, chicken breast, premium veggies and various types of rice and a smattering of pasta. Plus some form of gold plated prescription kibble. The little buggers even regularly dine on tinned red salmon. This isn’t some superior diatribe on returning to simpler times.
I am more focussed on pondering why we are in a state of mass hysteria and FOMO. ‘F-O-M-O’. Fear. Of. Missing. Out.
We are being bombed by a determined virus. We are not being bombed by a terrifying military force. Quite frankly, Lord help us if we ever are. We’ll be sheltering in bog roll forts clutching bags of rice and litres of hand sanitiser.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is a horrible event. Our comfortable day to day is under threat and politicians and media have made somewhat of a hash of it. Mixed messages and misinformation. Social media is a barrage of ‘this thing will kill you and we’re all gonna die’ interspersed with, ‘it’s a common cold and we should all still go to the footy’. ScoMo is merrily singing happy clappy tunes at a Hillsong Conference amongst a seething mass of religious humanity. Then BOOM. Hours later borders slam closed and self isolation really gets some traction. Kids are going to school, they’re not going to school, crowd gatherings are underway, then they’re cancelled, the dunny rolls are all gone and people are clobbering each other in supermarkets.
It might be a moment to reevaluate how we have responded to crises in our past. Britain was blacked out (covering all doors and windows along with low street lighting) from September 1st, 1939 to April 1945. In an attempt to make visibility poor for enemy bombers, people sat inside their homes at night with blacked out doors and windows, a radio to listen to and rationed food. Many of their loved ones were absent. Yes, it was a different time. Yet it was community doing what was necessary to see out a crisis.
They didn’t know how it all would end. We’re not all too sure right now either. That’s what defines a crisis.
Everything passes and this mess will too. If it doesn’t, then at least let’s try not to disgrace ourselves on the way out. Unlike some other nations mid COVID-19 battle .. we have plentiful food, modern comforts, in-home entertainment, means of easy communication and a solid history of getting our sh*t together.
To kick COVID-19’s arse FOMO has to go.
No comment on ScoMo.
In the meantime, as I am a casual employee in the entertainment and promotional sector I am in the same position as many others. Facing uncertainty. Writing my blog – starting out with a well stocked bar and an impressive stash of dog friendly cuisine.
We are about to have International Women’s Day for 2020. It is a much spoken of day bringing up issues of feminism, equal opportunity, women’s safety …. what it is to be a woman of our era. I consider myself very much a woman of my time. I have had an excellent education and continue to pursue further education even now. I have experienced a solid full time career, I am divorced and I am financially independent. With all the trials and tribulations life has thrown in my direction to this point; I have enjoyed advantages and freedoms many women of previous generations never even dreamed of.
It makes me think about the women who came before me in my family. Their hopes, dreams, aspirations and histories. Who were they really? What did they actually think? What would they have to say if they were here now to see how far we have come.
And how far we have yet to go.
I know surprisingly little in many ways about the women who have been my immediate predecessors. My grandmother married my grandfather after he returned from WW1. He was a gentle soul who served at Gallipoli and had given his promise to her before he joined up. Beatrice is remembered as an angry, unstable and rather cruel woman who subsequently had two daughters born 13 years apart. Yvonne in 1919 and my mother Geanette in 1932. By the time she appears in my conscious memory Beatrice is a very old lady in a recliner with advanced dementia. My grandmother passed away when I was fourteen. Because of her lifelong mental health issues I knew nothing of her personal history. She is remembered simply as a wife to a kind man and as a mother of two; who determinedly kept one daughter at home with her (whilst the younger was eventually permitted to marry).
Yet surely Beatrice was more than that. She would have once been a young girl with her life ahead of her. Was she always destined for a prison of mental illness? Or would a modern world have given her opportunity to address her demons. Was she frustrated by a society where her mind was not used to its full potential? The book of Beatrice’s life may have been a very different novel a mere two generations on. My grandmother, for all her grisly attributes, doubtless had talents and intelligence that went unseen and untapped.
As was to be glimpsed in her second baby who went on to be my own mother.
Whilst the older sister was a quiet and obedient girl who lived to pacify her volatile mother; Geanette was wilful and intelligent. She also displayed some of the same unstable attributes as Beatrice.
Yet again, what do I really know of these two sisters a mere generation before my own? Yvonne fell in love with a young man whom she met at a dance. He was Catholic and wanted to marry her. His religion made him wildly undesirable as a family member; although she quietly accepted his proposal. Snippets I have learned indicate he was vocal that things in the household were not as they should be. The man she loved was to finally walk away from the situation as it was impossible. Yvonne could not abandon her baby sister to her mother’s cruelty and she was mercilessly brow beaten until she broke off the engagement. I do not even know her fiancee’s name. One wonders how my aunt processed the fact a man she wished to marry gave her up. Yvonne never entered the workforce or met anyone else. She nursed both my grandparents until their deaths in the 1980’s and passed away in 2003 alone and still in the family home.
Who was Yvonne really? She is a single generation before my own and I have no real clue. An obedient daughter, a loyal sibling, a woman with very little education. We will never glean Yvonne’s true persona or potential. It went undiscovered at a time when what she wanted out of life was not part of the equation.
My own mother did well at school, but exited with a Leaver’s Certificate as was expected with girls of her generation. It is my understanding she was nearly dux of her year. She went on to secretarial school and topped the state in shorthand, before taking a job at the radio station where she was to meet my father. They began dating aged 23 but they did not marry until she was nearly 29. She was reluctant to marry and Beatrice fought to keep her at home. These family facts that I have known all my life take on a different perspective as I age.
Mum liked to act in amateur theatre, she studied piano, she liked her job and she wasn’t keen to walk down an aisle. These freedoms came at the cost of her sister’s continued subservience to their mother. By the time she married my father, Geanette was already displaying the signs of mental illness that were to ravage much of her later life. She gave birth to me aged 36 and her persona quickly spiralled into a vortex of depression, anxiety and frustration. Just one generation ago vital help was simply not there. Not there for my mother and not there for me either as her young daughter. Mum worked sporadically after my birth, but the wisdom of age and hindsight show me a woman with a bright mind who was incredibly bored and very unwell. There were no available tools to address either issue. She was a wife, she was a mother, she had a husband in the workforce, she cooked and cleaned and that was just how it was.
With each generation comes incremental change. I went on to finish high school, get a University degree and create the life of a more modern woman. I surmise that my mother lived vicariously through the opportunities made available to me in a variety of ways. Not all of them healthy …. she was often transparently resentful. That aside, one wonders who Geanette (with her evident intellect) would have really become with the stimulation of a tertiary education and a satisfying career.
I am grateful I was born into my own generation and not that of my grandmother or her daughters. It is unfortunate my own path has been somewhat derailed by a marriage that was not what it should have been. Despite that massive speed hump, I have my education and a burgeoning understanding of what I want to be. What I want to achieve to take me into my next chapter.
As women we are on the cusp of change. Readying ourselves and our younger counterparts to fight a perilous battle for what we deserve. What we want is not greedy nor should it be insurmountable. A wish to reach our full potential in a world where we are free to live safely and control our circumstances. As we once fought for the vote, accessible contraception and education; we now fight for the kind of equality that makes us truly create our own destiny. For some of our sisters in other cultures, the old battles are only just beginning. We are forging a path for them as well as ourselves.
Many men want what is best for the women they love. Their mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, daughters and friends. In troubled times, as we begin to address the abuse and mistreatment of women, we know so many good men who have our backs. International Women’s Day isn’t solely for the sisterhood. It’s for everyone invested in the future of women in our society. Simply looking back over two generations of my own line shows the incredible potential for rapid change.
To Beatrice, Yvonne and to my mother Geanette. I wish you might have enjoyed lives with many more keys to unlock your potential. To the girls to come after my own time line I would say …… imagine how it can be. Know your worth. Know your strength. We’ve already come so far.
As human beings we go through phases of change throughout our lives.
When I left school aged 17 I had a blue print of who I thought I was. When I left University aged 22 I believed I knew who I was. When I got married at age 32 I had very much lost who I was.
By the first attempt at ending my marriage aged 41 …. I had no self identity left at all.
When I actually left the marriage by age 48, I had finally clawed back certain aspects of the blue print of my youth. I was coming full circle. In the three years since that momentous event I’ve been experiencing all the highs and lows of striking out on my own. Like a pseudo teenager with an adult bank account (albeit somewhat depleted).
The highs are pretty dizzying. The biggest one is simple, uncomplicated freedom. Things people who have not lived within the confines of coercive control take for granted.
The freedom to wear what I like, speak with whom I like, go to bed when I like, sleep unafraid, eat what I like, watch what I like, care for my pets and myself as I like … the freedom of living an unwatched life. The freedom to text friends late at night, chat on the phone without being listened to, send unmonitored communications, have unguarded conversations, waste time on facebook, cut my hair shorter, read in bed, tell my dogs how much I love them minus consequence.
Every day brings a teenage joy as I experience all of these things.
The lows are all chained to one key problem. Editing the script in my head to now say I am entitled to do all the things I have described… and more. Rewinding an extensive history of coercive control is a big undertaking. A long engrained mental tablet says I will pay a price for these freedoms and it is hard to rewrite that text.
I remember a few days after I had fled my marriage and was settling into my little rental place, I awoke in the night. I turned over and saw a shape next to me asleep in the darkness. An electric shock of fear shot up from the soles of my feet as my brain failed to swiftly process where I actually was. That I was safe in my new home. I screamed and scrambled away until consciousness kicked in – and I realised it was the slumbering form of my little boy Pomeranian dog, Bear. My heart was pounding as I woke up fully and absorbed how deep seated the fear was of lying next to my husband of so many years. For one horrible second I had believed I had never left and was back in my former home.
I awoke this way several times more over the next few months, but never with the utter terror of that first occasion. Bear remained unimpressed with the circumstance, as he was always joyfully asleep next to his human mama and my nocturnal panic woke him up.
The experience hasn’t stopped him kipping on the pillow next to me with his butt in my ear however. Bless his hairy little socks.
Trauma is a fascinating beast. People all cope differently. For me, I have a very calm exterior and quite a developed sense of humour which shields me from various things. Whilst not going into specific detail, I can cite here that one of my coping mechanisms is avoidance. I avoid certain places, people or things which will make me flash back to particular incidents. Some of those actions are quite instinctive and I’m not aware I am doing it.
Some two years after leaving I was searching for something in a cupboard.. when I came across the above photograph underneath some other items. As I looked at my bridal photo in its blue and gold frame, my mind raced back to where that photograph had sat in my old home on a glass bookcase. How I had felt over the years as I had dusted it and carefully put it back in its spot. I was gripped with an irrational anxiety and nausea that took several hours to dissipate. Why I brought the photo into my new home puzzles me slightly. I am guessing I chucked it in a box on that frantic last night because I had bought and chosen the frame myself. I was far too pressed for time to fiddle about removing a picture. I still don’t use the frame. For some reason it disturbs my sense of peace.
Only a few weeks ago I had an exchange with an old friend from years ago who was in my marital home at a time of extreme crisis. I unexpectedly came to a realisation that I had avoided them for many years, not because of who they were. Instead, I found they represented things that were painful and I could block those memories more successfully if I did not see that person or actively remember them. They did not realise why I had evaporated or think less of me, but I felt I owed them a kind of apology. It does not help lessen the pain of that time or the gravity of what took place. It lessens my sense of being dominated by it and gives me some of my own power back.
I have a sense of unease if I happen to be driven past my old home.
I choke up in the street when I pass by a dog that looks like one I once adored and tried to protect.
I have sold jewellery and given away clothes that I wore on certain occasions that represent grief.
Trauma is indeed a fascinating beast.
I suspect one of the keys to closing the door on trauma is time. Time to realise it was not your doing. Time to realise you can rewrite your mental script. Time to discover who you really are. Most importantly, time to plan who you now want to be as you heal. The process echoes that of a teenager on the cusp of their adult journey (whatever age you may be in real terms). For me, I have found it is time to work through my experiences and embrace my desire to write.
The past rushes back to be acknowledged because avoidance can only take us so far. Whether our past has been a fairytale or a nightmare, it’s all part of the script.
For anyone who does not currently have their freedom – I sincerely hope you find safe passage to the unfettered life you deserve. You are worth everything you are being denied and more. The demon that is coercive control is an insidious force and it will enslave whoever it can. None of us are lesser beings for being held prisoner by it. The lowly beings are those who choose to enact it under the guise of love.
Whatever the future holds and however long it takes to rewrite the script nothing can erase the simple joy of personal freedom. None of us should have it denied to us however cunningly the deal is initially packaged. You deserve dinner with friends who care deeply for you , late night phone chats to pals, sleeping unafraid, internet privacy, personal privacy, the unfettered joy of smothering your pet or child in kisses.
It is not you and it’s never your doing. You are worth all the simple things you wish for. xox
In 1978 when disco was king; a woman brought out a hit which has gone on to be an anthem for so many of us who are starting out afresh.
“At first I was afraid I was petrified Keep thinking I could never live without you by my side But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong and I grew strong And I learned how to get along…”
Gloria Gaynor sang her heart out under a mirror ball and 42 years later we still do our housework and put on our lipstick with that blaring on the stereo. I know I have. If it’s good enough for the girls driving ‘Priscilla’ it’s good enough for me. (I’ve also had a brief dalliance with “Shout Out To my Ex” by ‘Little Minx’, but in the end we all revert to the original and the best).
People have asked in the last few days if discussing some of my journey is productive or counter productive. The answer is both. We should not spend all of our future stuck in the past, yet our past irretrievably shapes who we are. If my past can bring a sense of support or understanding to another who is struggling, then that adds to the purpose of what I have lived and learned so far.
It makes me ponder the eternal question. What would older me tell younger me if I had that chance today?
By the time I turned thirty I had been in my relationship with my ex husband for a few months. That short time had been a jumble of confusion, happiness and fear. I felt very isolated and I could not quite fathom what each day would bring. I had never been ‘part of a couple’ before and I recall my 30th birthday party as quite a defining moment. He had already spoken about marriage. I was on my future path and not nearly evolved enough to see where I was headed.
By the time I walked down the aisle two birthdays later I knew I was not in a good situation, but I had no idea how to change the circumstance. What I didn’t comprehend was that no amount of accommodating my ex husband’s needs, demands and outbursts was ever going to diffuse a molotov cocktail that was to last nearly two decades. He was a man with a cache of secrets I did not as yet know ..and I am in fact still discovering to this day. If I could go back 20 years and give myself advice, what would it be?
I don’t actually have an answer to that. I’m not even sure I would listen to older me.
In a hypothetical world, what I would wish is for my youthful self to have had some way of recognising the abusive pattern I was living. That I could have seen, read or heard something tangible that could have given me a key. And I fervently wish there had been efficient systems in place to help when moments of clarity came. Some infallible resource to pick me up when I was repeatedly broken and lock me securely away from even more harm.
By the time I had reached my fortieth birthday I had been in the relationship a decade and married for over seven years. My identity was so enmeshed with my ex husband’s that I could not remotely see myself beyond the quicksand of coercive control that was holding me like glue. He was at every place I went within and without my homelife. In every room, every device, every decision, every thought. My 40th birthday gift was an eternity ring that matched my diamond wedder. In my warped world it was the sign (as had been reiterated so many times by him) that I had finally earned this gift. I was a worthy wife. He had turned a corner. A sign that the better times could outweigh the frightening ones after this reward.
I was about to enter a very dark and desperate phase of my life. Within eighteen months of that diamond gift on my finger I was lying in a hospital bed in a state of complete physical and nervous collapse. I had nothing left to give. His need for control had driven him to places I could not have imagined on the night of my birthday party, however unhappy I already was. I remember being admitted, weighed, asked many questions and a kind nurse putting me in a room with a little bed and a locker. My need for medical care had meant my ex husband had regained access to our home and my pets after a desperate attempt I had made at separation. The only thing that was keeping me alive was a determination to be there for my animals …. and an instinctive knowledge that I was worth something.
“Do you think I’d crumble Do you think I’d lay down and die?…..”
On my second day in hospital I was taken to see a psychiatrist and I made the decision to divulge my circumstances. Not all of them. That was not to happen for another ten years. But enough to have that doctor commence giving me tools to not be utterly consumed by the abuse. The specialist designed a plan where I could be an outpatient with him whilst my physical health was carefully monitored externally. I discharged myself that afternoon and returned to be with my pets who were my absolute lifeline. It was the starting point of my last seven years as a wife.
Within months of my hospitalisation I reconciled with my ex husband. There were no practical means of escape I could access. I was not nearly ready to face the dangers of final flight.
In 2013 we holidayed to America and visited Las Vegas where I agreed to remarry him. It had no legal significance, but was a message to all who knew us that he was forgiven for the past and we were successful and happy. It was a the oddest day because I was his wife, there had been some surface changes but nothing was really different. The only real change was within myself. I had commenced the unstoppable process of not accepting his domestically violent ways. The gaslighting, although still effective, was losing its hold. The stronger I became the more I thought of moments of freedom I occasionally got to embrace when he was not present. We continued onto New York and having just walked down another bridal aisle, I spent two weeks in a city I had always longed to visit. I was with my life partner. Yet I fervently wished I was there alone. I pushed those emotions under the surface and battled through as best I could.
I lasted another three years until I finally made it out.
By my fiftieth birthday I was awaiting my divorce and the financial settlement that would set me free. My ex husband was awaiting sentencing for crimes unrelated directly to his DV; but for a case in which I had become a witness after I left the marriage and was a protected person.
What would I say to youthful me and to any woman who is walking in the shoes I once wore?
You are worthy. This is not your doing. Go one step at a time.
“I’ve got all my life to live And I’ve got all my love to give. I WILL SURVIVE”. xxx Gloria Gaynor, 1978.
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