I had my first book talk last weekend with a lovely supportive group of people. It was the most empowering experience and I am so very grateful to have those opportunities to start the conversations around domestic violence and addiction. To be able to connect with people, to share my story, to hear other stories and to work towards a common good. I will never get tired of the deep connections that can be made when this happens.
I have shared my talk below.
Firstly, I want to thank you all for coming, for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today,
and for those who have read my book…
I've been told that one of the most intriguing aspects to my story is that I wasn't a young naïve woman who may not know any better.
I was 48 years old.
I had 4 children, a loving close family and a great group of friends.
I had previously been in a 25-year marriage and I was an ambitious teacher.
My story shows that even an educated woman with life experience, can fall prey to domestic violence and drug addiction.
So how did it all begin?
He wasn't a stranger.
I knew him as a young teen. He often spent Xmas holidays camping with us at the river.
He played football with my brother, we had a lot of mutual friends and his parents were very good friends with mine.
For those reasons alone I thought he was trustworthy.
He came into my life not long after a violent incident with my oldest son.
I was emotionally vulnerable, and he knew it.
I was looking for a saviour, and he knew that too.
I remember hearing him tell his mother that I didn't deserve to be treated the way my son had treated me.
That comment alone made me feel completely safe with him.
It wasn't that I didn't see the red flags. I did.
They began to appear very early on in the relationship.
The control and manipulation.
The lies and the words that didn't match his actions.
But he also sold himself incredibly well and the red flags made him seem mysterious in some way.
In the beginning life with him was exciting and spontaneous, like a breath of fresh air after a long marriage.
But the thing that really had me hooked right from the start was the intense love bombing. There was no one else like me… I was special… he had never been so in love before…
And he knew that I was the one who could make him happy.
It was like I had finally found my place.
So I ignored the early warning signs, and pushed away the nagging thoughts,
because I loved him and I thought he loved me.
For those of you who have read my book you know what followed on from there.
You know that I eventually agreed to move interstate with him, and you know how things went downhill after that.
The first hit to my ribs once he had me isolated from my sons.
The offering of drugs once he had me away from anyone who could see his intentions.
I was controlled and manipulated into doing things I would never have done without him and acted against my own self-interests.
I was bonded through trauma and unable to detach and leave like I otherwise would have. And you would know that I eventually ended up in a very, very dark place.
So, what made me finally leave? And why didn't I leave sooner?
When you are in an abusive relationship you don't want to believe it.
You refuse to see it for what it is.
You are always in denial and hoping for a better day.
A day when it might stop and then everything will be back to how it was at the start.
You become trauma bonded, which I have talked a lot about in my book.
Trauma bonding happens much like Stockholm syndrome.
Intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment which creates a powerful emotional bond due to the natural functioning of the brain.
You crave the good times and you're prepared to suffer through the bad times to get them.
So, with such an intense trauma bond, that was magnified by his distribution of meth, how on earth did I manage to leave?
Now when I look back, I can clearly see that process happened in steps.
It was firstly the sudden realisation that the abuse was domestic violence.
That happened in the airport after he broke my nose and it was quite a surreal experience.
For the first time I saw the reality of my situation.
It wasn't just an argument or him losing his temper.
It wasn't just a bad day.
It wasn't that he didn't mean it and couldn't help it.
I began to see how he could control his actions. That he could switch the abuse on and off whenever it suited him.
He could headbutt me in the bedroom, only to emerge into the lounge room and laugh and joke with his family as if nothing had happened.
It was the sudden realisation that I was in an abusive relationship.
And he knew exactly what he was doing.
Then my daughter left and I was faced with two choices.
Stay or leave.
It was then that I finally realised the stakes that were in play.
If I stayed with him, I gave up my role as her mother and mother to my son's.
And deep down in my gut, I knew that just wasn't an option.
It was then I knew it was just a matter of time before I left.
The final push was that last night, when I came to the very real understanding that if I stayed one more day with him, I could very well end up dead.
Amazingly, despite all of the times he had hurt me before that, I never seriously considered that he would go too far.
I had disassociated from a lot of the trauma, and trained myself to think it wasn’t that bad. But that last night…
The feeling of panic when I couldn't breathe…
The fear I felt when he wouldn't let go…
It was then that it finally hit me.
He could easily kill me and he probably would.
At that moment the shame of my addiction didn't matter anymore.
Nothing else mattered.
I just knew that I had to leave.
Coming back from such a dark place was really hard.
Which is why I named the book From the Other Side.
I felt like I had been to the dark side and no one could possibly understand.
It was a secret hidden world and to step outside of that to plug back into a normal life again felt alien to me.
I felt disconnected… disjointed… and the sense of displacement was terrible.
I had no sense of self at all, with no idea of who I even was.
The first few days and weeks were frightful.
Although I knew I had been coerced into using meth, and that it was all a part of his control and manipulation,
I still had to own my addiction, and accept full responsibility for my recovery.
It didn’t matter how I got there. The reality was... I had a full blown IV meth addiction.
I found support from a drug counsellor, found inner strength I never knew I had,
and I hid myself away and detoxed.
I dealt with it head-on. Moment by moment.
Some days were incredibly hard.
But not once after I left him, despite thinking about it many times, did I consider actually using again.
It just wasn’t an option.
The thing that kept me so determined was the need to earn back the trust of my family.
And that was my primary goal.
It was only after I had dealt with my addiction,
that I began to think about how to heal the trauma from his abuse.
I soon learnt that the only way to break the trauma bond is to have no contact at all.
And once I began to break that, it became a whole lot easier to move forward.
Recovery was very much an inside job.
The first thing that I really did was surround myself with good people who cared about me, and I learnt to let go of the others.
It's still amazes me how, when you surround yourself with kind and compassionate people who only have good intentions, your whole perspective can change.
And that was definitely true for me.
Like I have said in my book… I began to practice gratitude every day.
I learnt about meditation and mindfulness and how they could help me.
Most importantly, it was about finding a trauma specialist who was a good fit for me.
This took time and I went through a couple of psychologists before I found the right one. Through her I learnt about PTSD and how my brain matches triggers to traumatic memories which can spin me back in time.
So graded exposure to things and places is really important, to help make new memories to replace the old ones.
I remember a couple of small turning points early on in my recovery.
I went to the local football to watch my nephew play.
As I watched him out there and my brother running water, I became really emotional.
I realised then, that there were people who really loved me, who had been a big part of my life before any of this happened.
And they would be devastated if they had lost me.
And the other was, when I first got back home, before I was well enough to see my niece.
She told my brother, that she hadn't hugged me in such a long time, but she still remembered what it felt like.
It was those small, yet really important things, that showed me what I had almost lost.
And that alone encouraged me to keep pushing forward.
One of the important things I have learnt on my recovery journey,
is that healing takes time, and it isn't linear.
There is no one golden day that comes and saves you from your pain.
You have to feel it and move through it… again and again.
Healing must be intentional.
It is a practice.
I had to decide it was something I wanted… and actively do it.
I had to embrace it, make a habit out of it, and do it every day.
Taking control of my own healing that way gave me back a real sense of empowerment.
So, what are the two most important messages I hope come out of my book?
The first message is to others who may be in an abusive relationship.
And that is that it won't get any better.
Don’t ignore the early warning signs like I did, because by doing that, I gave him permission to treat me however he wanted.
In my case, it was over a year of the emotional abuse and manipulation before any physical violence began.
But once he got a taste of the control and power that came with the physical abuse, there was no going back.
Statistics show that in Australia, 1 woman is killed every 9 days by a partner.
So please… don’t ignore the red flags.
It will not get any better.
In fact it can get a whole lot worse.
My second message to others is…
No matter how dark it gets, or how hard it is to see any way out, there is always hope. Always.
I remember how it feels to be at the bottom of that deep hole.
You can see the light at the very top, but it seems too far away,
and the climb out is so steep, it seems impossible.
But I am here to tell you that it's not impossible.
Whether it's addiction… or domestic violence… or something else…
there is always a way out.
You just have to take that first step to let someone in and ask for help.
And when they offer their hand, you take that next step and grab a hold of it.
I won't lie and say the climb out has been easy, because it's hasn’t.
And some days are better than others.
But I decided right from the start, that if I wanted a better life for myself, if I wanted to be around for my children, and for my children's children, then it would be more than worth the struggle.
I will finish with my favourite quote…
Healing doesn't lead you back to who you once were.
It leads to the extraordinary.