Rewriting the script

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.

‘Bear’ the bed hog. ❤

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

The final days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I want to leave? No.

Last photo as a ‘family’ in 2016

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

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

Predator and prey.

First photo as a couple in 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




First Christmas in our little rental home, 2017

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

Baby steps

As little girls we are very often given a baby doll to play with. A birthday gift perhaps, or a present wrapped under the Christmas tree. Little boys get a racing car or a truck. You might think I am about to launch into a debate on gender appropriate toys; or state that little girls like trucks and cars to play with just as much as boys. That male children can be extremely happy playing with dolls and gender specific toy giving is sexist. All relevant topics worthy of discussion. But we’ll shelve that for now and take it as a given.

I’d actually like to talk about the first time as females we are expected to respond to the concept of being a mother. It is worth clarifying at this juncture that I am highly in favour of kiddies – but have never had one of my own.

My paternal grandmother gave me my obligatory baby dolly. After she had been excitedly unwrapped I dutifully named her ‘Anne’. I examined the little feeding bottle and potty she came with whilst grandma looked on proudly. I recall my immediate concern was if I put water or milk in Anne’s head end with the bottle provided for that purpose…. it would consequently shoot out Anne’s opposite end and make a mess. I didn’t have siblings and I was rather an uptight child from an uptight family. I didn’t do mess. Nnoooooooooooooo. Having politely thanked my grandmother, I tenderly plonked baby dolly on her potty and moved to my next birthday gift. Poor Anne continued to perch on her pink plastic throne for many years in my toy cupboard. I’d bring her out into the light of day when my grandparents came for tea. As well as being an uptight child, I was unerringly polite to my elders. Even if I proved somewhat of a failure as a baby doll parent.

I did enthusiastically play with dolls. I loved doing their hair and dressing them up. Anne’s ‘potty situation’ however was a total non starter as far as I was concerned.

The older dollies enjoy my favour whilst ‘Anne’ languishes in her cupboard.

The truth of the matter was I had no interest in Anne, or her bottle or her potty. I was a feminine child who loved pretty dresses and dancing and music lessons. The older dolls, and subsequently Barbie, with their outfits and accessories were my personal bag. Babies really held no interest for me. I determinedly stalked the neighbourhood cats and dogs constantly for pats (as my parents wouldn’t allow me a pet). If someone had a new puppy or kitten I was instantly clamouring for a cuddle. If someone had an infant sibling I was habitually polite, but never asked to hold them or see them. I’d slip away from the circle of parents and children and go occupy myself elsewhere. (Most often with the family dog who was looking forlorn in the backyard).
High school years arrived, and friends were talking about how many kids they’d like when they grew up and got married. I always confidently replied I was not getting married and not having children. (Got it half right). As a teen there was no circumstance where I could envisage myself with a flesh and blood ‘Anne’. As I was an affectionate child, it was assumed this was a phase and one day I too would decree, ‘I want a boy and a girl!’. Yet school years passed and my opinion did not alter. Ditto my University years. I was valiantly sticking to my guns.

Obviously as life chugged onwards, the girls of my generation began to have families. I was always very happy for them. I attended baby showers, bought gifts, sent cards, handed out hearty congratulations. This was what my friends wanted and I was incredibly happy for them. I was still a bit of a youngster, so my statement I would not be joining the motherhood train was not taken that seriously. I was becoming aware however, that it was starting to be viewed by some as less of a ‘quirk’ – and more a character flaw. My grandma had handed me that baby doll for a reason. It was my apparent destiny as a woman to eventually desire a live ‘Anne’ of my own. Tendrils of inadequacy started to wrap around me that I found difficult to shake.

I did marry. #dontmentionthewar. I went into that union being transparent that I didn’t want a family. About a year in, my ex husband stated (in not wildly pleasant terms) that he expected I’d now have a change of heart. He had subsequently decided that he wanted a child and expected me to comply. Nnnoooooooooooooo. I had quietly wondered if I would experience some invisible ‘click’ somewhere along the line. A sliver of me secretly hoped my baby gene would magically kick in and I’d join the club. That unpleasant marital exchange was a pivotal moment. I decided that, even if my biological clock started ringing, I would shut it off again.

It had a mild jangle a couple of times but never enough to be of any consequence. The faint dinging was only heard on about two occasions when I saw a very doting and protective dad with his bubba. At those times I ‘got’ what it was about. It had no bearing on my own circumstances though.

Being childless was a burden for many years. I dreaded every baby shower, every birth announcement and every awkward question which now bordered in the invasive. People wanted answers. Why was this seemingly nice woman who obsessively mothered her dogs not producing offspring? My favourite was, “Can’t you have children?”, to which I retorted, “I don’t know. I’ve never tried”. I became an aunt to two little ones, which gave me great happiness. Still does to this day. They were the first two babies I ever held. My terrified countenance as I cuddled them is forever recorded as you see here. I was very concerned I’d drop said tiny infant…. or its head would fall off. Both are now old enough to drive a car and survived the ordeal.

Worried aunt clutches newborn with wobbly head…….

My marriage failed, but not for reasons linked to lack of offspring. I am immensely grateful I stuck to my ‘no baby’ guns. It was one of the only times I stood firm in those early years. It was simply too important a fight to lose, despite incessant berating and pressure. A baby is a little person who deserves things to be done right. I was never going to be a mum if I wasn’t confident it was the right choice. It would have been a catastrophic choice.

I have cried tears of joy for friends who have fought terribly hard to have a baby and finally succeeded. Tears of sadness for those who have wanted it so badly and it never happened. The person I have never cried for is myself. In my own circumstances, to be childless was the right path.

I am single and older now. The baby ship is inevitably heading out to sea due to age; and enough arthritis drugs on board for the last decade that cause birth defects to make things impossible (even if I were espoused). The awkward questioning is growing silent, although it still pops up. Had #dontmentionthewar ended sooner, perhaps I would have met someone different and changed my mind. Perhaps he would have been the protective, decent type of guy who made my alarm clock ding on occasion. We’ll never know, and it is not something I have ever dwelled on.

I have learned one thing. I think as women we all ‘mother’ in many ways. I’ve realised I am brimming with maternal instincts that are used in other capacities. I may have rejected poor ‘Anne’ with her bottle and potty…. but I have still been a mother. I have mothered my nieces. Most notably I have mothered my fur children to bits; and will undoubtedly be doing that for the rest of my life. (And they’ve made much bigger , stinkier messes than dolly on her potty could ever have achieved).

A message I would send out into blogland is to never ask people too many questions on the baby topic. Unless you are personally invited into their story. You never know what raw nerves you may be pulling. Only now can I answer the difficult questions I was asked as a young woman. Indeed, it is only now I can begin to sort out the jigsaw in my own head of exactly what my journey was.

They say “It takes a village to raise a child”. It’s always lovely to be part of that community. My little duties as a villager have all been precious. No regrets. 🙂