There are two people who live inside my head. One is reasonable, thoughtful and calm, she's the person that I work on and I want to be. The other is a survivor, she’s tough, pig headed and frightfully reactive, you don't want to meet her, but she is the person I really am.
No, I'm not bipolar or suffering from mental illness, I’m the product of domestic violence.
I’ve kept silent the past few weeks mulling over the new prime minister's commitment to zero tolerance for domestic violence because the reasonable part of me is relieved about the commitment of $100 million. The other part of me cynical because the damage and layers of damage to families affected by domestic violence are just so deep and so broad that without comprehensive systemic responses accompanied by communities who actually care about their neighbours, nothing will ever bloody change (that's the comment I would usually keep under control).
The problem is far more complex than men hitting women. Domestic violence is like Newton's third law of physics "for every action there is a reaction".
"The flow on effects of this social scourge last a lifetime and their manifestations are complex. Cut off one head of this emotional monster and another springs up"
Violence and intimidation are just the tip of the iceberg, the flow on effects of this social scourge last a lifetime and their manifestations are complex. Cut off one head of this emotional monster and another springs up. Mothers lose their ability to function, children lose their childhood, the cycle becomes normalised, and potential is eroded by dysfunction.
As a child of domestic violence you can grow up, you may escape, or at least some of us sort of do. The shadow remains, because these behaviours are taught, learned and absorbed. Some of us grow up desperate to start our own families, the sooner the better, then we can fix it, that won’t happen to me, I won’t let it. But it does. Both my sister and I have walked into abusive relationships at some point in our lives. We both saw the warning signs, but how do you run when you don't know how?
It might sound easy to do, run from a warning sign, but we learned there was nowhere to go. It's like the recurrent dream I had as a teenager. It was my stepfather who punched, smashed and hovered over the family, the knife in his hand, his face red and his mouth foul with abuse and threats of slicing throats. But it was my mother who I feared when I slept. Night after night the same dream, Mum is dead but she’s coming to get us.
"No one called the police when our doors were kicked in, none of our white-collared neighbours in our middle-class neighbourhood"
Taking my younger siblings I would run until I'd reach a black body of water. Here I'd throw my siblings into a rowing boat and pull the oars until my hands bled. My eyes would remain on my mother until I lost sight of her, and not because I was getting away. Zombies aren't perturbed by water, they just walk on in.
It was at that point that I would realise there was no escape because in the depths of the black water my mother was waiting for us.
That's what it is like to be a child caught in family violence, there is no land in sight and there is no one to help. The funny thing is that children can't live in fear without other people noticing. As a society we talk the talk, but people rarely intervene, they rarely actually come straight out and say, "what you are doing is not okay" or even better "I see you and I will take action".
I know this because no one called the police when our doors were kicked in, none of our white-collared neighbours in our middle-class neighbourhood (did I catch you there?) ever called the police when they heard the smashing and abuse. However authority figures would never fail to deliver threats of suspension for wearing the wrong coloured netball skirt or missing homework.
"No one listened when I'd burst into tears explaining, "I'm sorry my step father threw away all my clothes"
No one listened when I'd burst into tears explaining, "I'm sorry my step father threw away all my clothes". Teachers were stern with admonition: "Why are you yawning in class, is it boring you?" Did they listen when I replied, "I'm sorry stepfather rubbed faeces all over my bed"?
Then there were straight out cries for help, “Please can I have a panadol, my stepfather slammed my head into a wall.” Nothing- silence, the only noise was the yelling and the smashing and the crying.
"Thankfully the person I want to be has become stronger as the years have progressed, and she rarely lets anyone glimpse the other me"
Today my stepfather is long gone, but the damage remains.
The other 'me' is always there, she wants to kick, punch, smash and hurl abuse. Thankfully the person I want to be has become stronger as the years have progressed, and she rarely lets anyone glimpse the other me. But the other me is still there, still waiting, she’s got nowhere else to go.