.. and I learned how to get along…

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?

30th birthday

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.

40th birthday

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.

Las Vegas, 2013

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.

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.

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

Technology as a Weapon in Domestic Violence : Responding to Digital Coercive Control (Woodlock, McKenzie, Western, Harris). 2018

Domestic Violence and Communication Technology