With less than a week to go until White Ribbon Day, we remind ourselves why the work we do is so necessary. Ending male violence against women starts with men.
Helene tells her story:
Domestic abuse. Domestic violence. Whichever way you choose to say it, it’s a bold statement.
A statement I never thought would apply to me. I never thought it would be something I would ever associate to my life.
Naively, although I was aware of it, I never took much notice. I ignorantly had that mind-set that something like that would never happen to me.
And here I am trying to find the right words to share my story. How actually I did experience domestic violence first hand.
I’m not a victim. Far from it. I experienced the violent side of domestic abuse. And it was horrific, it left me with physical injuries and mental scars.
Ok. So here goes.
I was married, we had children, a lovely house, both had good jobs. Then we separated. I set up a home for myself and my children and threw myself into being me. That included the gym. I met him at the gym. How cliché. I didn’t want to meet anyone else, I had no intention of anyone ever being in my life again. And there he was.
He knew exactly what to say. At the time I thought it was really lovely, he listened, he understood, he happened to be in the gym every time I was. I thought this was such a wonderful coincidence.
Looking back it wasn’t. It was manipulative and controlling. I didn’t know it, but he was already getting into my head and convincing me that I didn’t need certain people in my life. He started small, on my friends. He made me question their actions, my friends I’d known for years. And then he started on those I hold closest, my family.
Five weeks in was the first time I experienced his violent side. He lost his temper over something that didn’t even concern me. He punched a picture in my bedroom, smashing it, I remember the glass just splintering. There seemed to be so much. I remember his hands next around my throat, forcing me onto my bed. He held me by my throat for only about ten seconds and I knew I couldn’t take a breath in that time, but all I saw were his eyes. Those eyes frightened me. And then in an instant they changed, he let go of me and he cried. He sobbed so much and I forgot what he’d done.
I wrote it off, it was a mistake, I could fix him.
The second, and last time, he laid his hands on me was two weeks later. I was out with work colleagues, a private event, he turned up. He made everyone in the venue think he was perfect, he made them all believe he adored me. Later on that night it became pretty clear he didn’t.
Somehow we were railroaded into the same taxi at the end of the night, him full of alcohol, me wanting to be at home as soon as possible. Looking back I wish I had never got in that taxi, I wish the taxi had dropped him off first. I got out of the taxi, heels in my hand, key in the other. The taxi drove away, with him in it, or so I thought. As I put my key in the door he was behind me, he forced himself into my home. The home I had created for my beautiful children.
Within seconds he had wiped all my pictures I’d hung on my walls onto the floor. He threw the coffee table I’d spent an afternoon building myself. And he launched the beautiful glass tumblers I’d bought from Next at my bare feet.
He wanted my car keys. He wanted to drive himself away fuelled on alcohol. In hindsight I should have given the keys up. I didn’t. My punishment? Those hands around my neck again, but this time he squeezed harder, longer. I know I blacked out, maybe three times, maybe four. The pain from the ribs he’d cracked by kneeling on me took over.
I remember panicking about the spanx I had on. He’d see it. He’d know I had those ‘suck me in pants’ on. He didn’t notice.
The whole attack ended with me against a wall, his hands on my neck, that choking hold he had. My right arm held by him. He still wanted those keys. If I didn’t give them up he was threatening to break my arm. Without a doubt he definitely would have done had I not dropped those keys.
He could have taken the keys and left. He didn’t. He went into my kitchen and came out with a knife.
He slashed his own arms in front of me and left.
I’ll never forget the aftermath. He still continued to manipulate the whole situation. He called me 24 times threatening to kill himself. Despite the blood covering me, the walls and the floor, the Police had to concentrate on ensuring he was safe.
He didn’t kill himself. He didn’t attempt to. When they found him on the motorway bridge he was still in the car. Engine running, seatbelt on.
The aftermath is something that no one talks about. Yes the pain is there, physically, and my gosh the day after I looked horrendous. But the clean up was horrific. He created the mess, but I was the one who had to clean it up. Blood is difficult to remove. I had the most beautiful dress on that night that I would never wear again. My walls had to be redecorated, my car deep cleaned.
I wouldn’t utter a word to anyone. Just the Police. I was embarrassed. Domestic Violence? Me? I went to the gym, I was tough, I was smart, I had an amazing upbringing. Doesn’t mean shit.
The worst part? The knock on the door from a Social Worker. Because it had happened at my address, the address where my children resided, I got a visit. Devastated doesn’t quite cut it. But it wasn’t for me as a parent, it was for our safety. You see he had done this before. He was deemed as a medium to high risk of violence to children and a very high risk of violence to women. My children didn’t know him, but having to tell my eldest daughter what had happened to her Mum, with a Social Worker present, was heartbreaking. And telling their Dad broke my heart. I’ll never, ever forget his face.
It took me a year to sort my head out enough to stand tall again. I had counselling, but I told no one else, not my friends or my family. I still won’t tell certain parts. I’ve given my time to a domestic violence charity, sitting on their board and I’ve completed training. I want domestic violence to be something we talk about, no one should be ashamed if they have experienced it.
Am I over what happened? Yes. Have I forgotten? Definitely not. I have forgiven though. Because if I don’t I’ll be holding onto something that I don’t want or need in my life. Forgiving someone is far easier than hating someone. I sleep with the landing light on. I sleep on the side of the bed furthest away from the door, wherever I am. And I check the locks on the front and back doors religiously.
I’ve started to wear a necklace. I know it sounds ridiculous. So what it’s only a necklace right? It’s not. It’s something round my neck. It’s something touching my neck. I’ve had this necklace on for seven weeks and four days. After four years of having nothing near my neck I’m determined to keep them on.
That’s why raising awareness about domestic violence is important to me. I want to keep this necklace on. I’m aiming for another day wearing the most beautiful necklace. And I don’t want anyone else to be ashamed about speaking about their experiences, whether that be not being able to wear a necklace, being unnerved by a certain song or still living in fear.
I’m not ashamed anymore. And I’ve got the necklaces to prove it.