Note: This article contains graphic depictions of violence.
It's been four years since my abusive relationship ended. But I still struggle to put into words what I think and how I feel about the fact I experienced domestic violence for nearly three years. Not because it hurts me, or because it brings up terrible memories. It's because I'm moving forward with my life and I hate the idea that my abuser still has any power over me, or that he ever did.
I was a young and optimistic 17-year-old when I fell madly in love with an older man. He was mysterious, troubled, and charismatic—a token bad boy. We met through mutual friends, and our lives became entangled, shockingly fast. And of the three years that followed, I only have one regret—staying with him after the first incident.
It came after a day of drinking. He got home, and we started arguing, but things seemed more charged than usual. In a matter of moments, I was pinned up against a wall, with his hands wrapped tightly around my throat. I got lightheaded as the oxygen drained from my body.
I'm someone who's always been physically strong, so it came as a surprise how little power I actually had over him. It was also the first time I'd ever encountered physical violence like this. In total shock, I ran out into the street screaming for help.
A neighbor called the police, but he'd fled before they arrived. The officers asked me if I wanted to press charges. I told them I didn't know who he was, and wouldn't be providing them with any information. I saw this as an act of love.
I was already making excuses for his behavior in my own mind: "It wasn't him, it was the alcohol." "He's going through a lot. It was a one-off thing." "I shouldn't have provoked him."
I was overwhelmed; I needed a moment to process what had happened.
But my family and friends made up their minds quickly—everyone opposed the relationship. So I pushed them all away. I ignored their advice and listened to his very convincing, tear-drenched apologies about how he would never do this again, and about how he loved me. He got a tattoo as an apology to me—as a symbol that he'd change, and that he wanted what he had with me forever.
In hindsight, it seems crazy that I believed a word he said. But at the time I was so psychologically manipulated that staying seemed like the only option. And I see now that someone who loves you doesn't isolate you from your family and friends. It's a tactic—a way to make you weaker, more vulnerable, and dependent.
The months and years after that were dark. Within six months of that first fight, there was another—then they came every other week. Eventually, I stopped calling the police out of fear that he would kill me. The fights became increasingly violent, his threats more psychotic.
Then there was the daily emotional abuse: There were threats to kill my family if I ever told them what was going on. I started to adapt to this manic cycle of passionate love and chaotic violence, convincing myself that as "an artist" I'd prefer to have this than a "boring" relationship. I lived in a perpetual state of walking on eggshells.
I'm sure this is a story you've heard a version of a million times. But there's a vital thing missing from our conversation around domestic violence. That's the lessons we need to learn from those who've never experienced it. We focus so keenly on the person experiencing abuse—teaching them the warning signs, telling them about the help that's available. But the reality is, we all create the environment where abuse is tolerated and covered up. So here are just a few things I wish those around me had known.
I never wanted your pity, ever
Don't feel sorry for me. What happened to me has already happened. Your pity doesn't make things better for me. Rather than your sadness, I really needed your anger, your disgust, and your absolute intolerance to this disgusting behavior. Rather than your "sad" reaction on a Facebook post, I need you to tell your friend that it wasn't okay to call his girlfriend a "stupid bitch" or to throw a glass across a room.
I appreciate your compassion, but your temporary emotive response to a chapter of my life doesn't help anyone. I am not a victim, I am a fucking warrior. Against all odds, I have beaten statistical data about domestic violence and have come out the other end even stronger than I went into it. I don't need you to feel sad for me. I need you to help me make noise, disrupt the cycle, become a catalyst for change.
Please don't feel the need to try and empathize with me, because you will never understand what happened to me or why. I still don't. I am one of the strongest females I know and would be the last person you would have expected this to happen to, but it did. To this day, I cannot directly pinpoint the moment when things went wrong or how I let this happen to me, but it did, and it happened so gradually that by the day I finally left him I could barely recognize myself.
Don't see me as a victim
Leaving my abuser was the hardest thing I've ever done and the strongest thing I have ever done. After feeling so weak and pathetic for so long it would have really helped me to have people affirming my strength and power.
If someone opens up to you about their abusive experience, they probably don't want you to make it a conversation. They just want you to listen.
I just wanted to release some of the awful demons I'd been carrying with me for so long. Often, hearing yourself say what has happened to you aloud can be the real first step in healing. Still, to this day I am only just beginning to discuss certain memories I have kept locked away and it is now as I begin to hear myself say them aloud that I can accept "this happened to me and I forgive myself."
I have learned more about myself and others from my experience than I could ever put into words. I have learned what my body and mind are physically capable of enduring, I have learned about my own resilience and ability to rise like a phoenix and I have learned some invaluable lessons about others along the way.
This is happening all around you, every single day
And possibly the saddest part of all of it, to me, is that many of these women and men suffer alone, silently covering up their shame every day. Shame—that's precisely the emotion you feel toward yourself when you are going through abuse. Complete and utter embarrassment that you could be so weak and pathetic, that you deserve what's happening to you. You take a twisted pride in being able to wake up in the morning, cover your war wounds, and put on a smile for the rest of the world.
The issue with domestic violence in Australia does not fall solely in the lap of the justice system, or the police, or any other issue scapegoat we can palm it off on. Fundamentally, it's about the way men are raised to treat women. Because it is women, overwhelmingly, who are the targets of domestic abusers.
Trace these abusive behaviors back to their roots and you'll find boys who were taught verbal and physical violence solves problems—that it's okay to yell at your mom, or tell her she's stupid, or throw a dish against the floor because you're mad. And, yes, you'll find people who were themselves raised in abusive environments—largely by emotionally unintelligent men, cycles of abuse repeating for generations. Why do we still not have the spine to stand up and say we won't accept this?
My relationship finally ended when he attacked my younger sister, the instinct to protect kicked in. It wasn't just about me anymore.
It took four months of careful planning for me to leave, crafting an elaborate lie to free myself from his grip. Then another year of lawyers and court dates to try and get a protective order against him. He'd find an excuse to delay every court hearing, drawing out the process, and push away my closure. The whole time I was trying to keep crippling PTSD at bay, while the court defended his rights, and ignored mine.
Sure, there are a million articles about domestic violence. You read them, feel upset about the daily abuse this person faced—momentarily—and then go on with your life. Please don't let this be just another one of those articles. Start telling your friends when their behavior isn't acceptable. Start looking at the survivors of domestic violence as warriors instead of victims.
Let's acknowledge our emotions in all the colors and extremes they come in but learn healthy ways to deal with them. Let's have the ability identify where mental illness is interfering with someone's judgment and help them to seek help. But let's stop just giving our opinion about "how bad domestic violence is" and not playing any part in making a change.
If this article has raised issues for you, please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline.