I still remember the physical pain I felt as a young girl when I left my mum even for a moment. It started as a big lump in the middle of my chest, it rose to my throat and my head became light as the hot tears would roll down my face.
I cannot put my finger on exactly why life was like that. I had a carefree childhood, two parents, a nice home, everything a kid could want. My mum told me it was because I had a shy, gentle nature and maybe that’s exactly what it was.
Still, it wasn’t something that I could seem to shake, and in regional Australia in the early 1980s you didn’t check your kid into the closest psychologist to do a deep dive into such behaviours. So I chose to be ashamed of my gentle nature. After all, I was a big school girl then. A big sister, too grown up for this carry on.
Perhaps this is why I so willingly handed over my canteen money every day to one of the ‘cool girls’ at school. I can’t remember exactly what I won through the exchange, perhaps it was a break from the bullying, perhaps it was feeling like I was part of something in those moments of interaction with the popular kid before the money was exchanged and she was sucking on the cool ice cup that should have been mine.
Most critical to this story is that I didn’t tell.
When I think back on this as an adult I want to give little me a voice. I want that voice to shout out “get your own lunch money you little cow”. I want that voice to be strong and powerful and I want little me to sit happily and powerfully alone in the playground.
But I don’t have a time machine. So the best I can do is to give that little girl a hug and tell her that she was doing the best she could with the tools she had.
Over the years I found my voice and became an advocate for other vulnerable people. Yet that interaction I’d had as a little girl with the schoolyard bully where her role was to be cool and my role was to quietly serve kept playing out. Somehow I lugged this into my marriage.
It took me almost 17 years to understand the relationship I had with the man I had married did not serve me. And even then I wasn’t capable of acknowledging it as abuse until a girlfriend risked our friendship to tell me in no uncertain terms that what I was enabling was not in my best interests. She had bitten her tongue for some time but when I disclosed the abuse had become physical she took the chance.
Those are the friends you keep.
I thought it was my job to give him a happy life. I thought that because he claimed to have xyz mental illness that I had to cut him some slack. I thought marriage was forever (even though if I was completely honest sometimes I wished that he’d just have a bad car accident and I wouldn’t have to put up with his bad behaviour anymore). And I thought he was what I deserved because despite my positive outlook and big talk, over time, little by little I‘d lowered my expectations of life.
Again the time machine could have come in handy, I look back to that beautiful vivacious girl in her mid 20s and I just want to say — “wake up!” “This guy is no good for you. You WILL meet the right one, don’t be in such a hurry”.
The relationship did produce my beautiful children. And eventually, it also produced my voice.
I left him for the last time just over two years ago and it has taken me that long to feel brave enough to start speaking about living in an abusive relationship.
And the reasons are logical:
- I didn’t want this to be my story
- I thought people would lose respect for me because of the dumb choices I made
- I didn’t want to hurt my children as I spoke about family
- I was afraid it may impact on the court proceedings — all complete now (yahoo!)
- I was still afraid of him. I still am.
- While I attempted to get support from my local Police in the peak of the abuse they refused assistance. If he decides to reinstate the abusive behaviours I know I’m on my own
Over these two years those feelings I’d experienced as a young girl missing her mum have welled up in my chest and hot bitter tears ran down my face again and again as this man got to walk around the community as if nothing had happened — even after he’d texted me a death threat, or bailed me up in a shop and screamed abuse through the door or sat in a prime position at my dad’s funeral and glared at me as I read the eulogy. All the while reminding me that he could if he wanted, quietly keeping me in his control. (not entirely dissimilar to that childhood bully).
Finally I realised this feeling, reaction came of supressing my voice. Staying quiet.
And I realised that this story, these stories no longer need to live as a rotting part of me. It’s time for a new story. It’s time to speak.
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak” Audre Lorde