Amy’s Story – Trigger Warning

*****TRIGGER WARNING*****

I’m 19 and I know everything.

Like most girls that age, I thought I knew everything and that my life would be just like what you see in the movies.  My parents weren’t too impressed with the prospect of me moving out with my boyfriend, but they didn’t argue with me about it.

The first few weeks was what I now know of as the “honeymoon period”.  We were both enjoying playing “house”.

I didn’t have a car, which living in Canberra, can be a bit difficult.  So we decided to move to a complex that was within walking distance of my work place.  He did have a car and he drove to and from work, which was about 20 minutes away.

Even though we left the flat at the same time, he refused to drop me at work.  He told me the exercise would be good for me.  Even when it rained.

After a few months he decided to trade in his car and purchase a more expensive car.  This meant he had no spare money to spend on things like rent, groceries and utilities.  My 19 year old casual position was paying the rent, the utilities and the groceries.  He spent his money on his car, smokes, his car, alcohol and his car.

He went out with his mates most Saturday nights.  When he did allow me to come with him, he instructed me on what to wear.  He often complained of the clothing I picked out, about how I did my hair or makeup.  He said all of those things because he cared about my appearance and just wanted me to look good.

Four months into our lease on the flat things were becoming difficult.  I was starting to run out of money, I was getting annoyed I had to spend my Saturday morning cleaning, washing and ironing.  I was getting annoyed I was being left at home to watch Walker Texas Ranger every Saturday night.

I didn’t know how to cope with things.  I was a nice person, but he was so mean to me sometimes.  But other times he was a delight.  He was popular and all the other girls loved him, so I’m pretty sure it must be me.  I took an overdose of anti-depressants.

Then it happened.  We were arguing about me being left at home AGAIN, when he snapped.  His friends were there and saw it all.  He picked me up by my arms and threw me across the room and into the wall.  His friends came into the bedroom to see what had happened and saw me lying on the floor crying.  They turned on their heel and walked out with my boyfriend.

The next morning I noticed the bruising on my arms.  Big purple hand prints. My head hurt too.  Come Monday the bruises were black and it would be difficult for me to hide them.  My work uniform was a short sleeved shirt. It was hot that day so, during a quick staff meeting, I lifted my arms to pull my hair up into a pony tail.  My supervisor stared at me blankly.  Then I realised he saw the bruises.  I quickly pulled my arms down.  After the meeting my supervisor came to my work area and told me he was there to help if I needed it.  I never took him up on that offer.

There were a few more occasions like this again.  A few blood noses, a slightly blackened eye, plenty of bruises, forced sex and plenty of emotional and financial abuse.

A few months later when I was totally broke and was so incredibly lonely, he left me.  As far as I was concerned my whole world was over.  Who would ever love me now? I also spent the next 12 months paying off debts that he had incurred in my name during our relationship.

After a few months on my own I joined a gym and I re-established my friendships that I had let slide while I was with him.  I made a point of going out socially with one of my girlfriends at least once each week, whether that be out partying, for a movie or a meal, I made sure I did it.  I was able to slowly rebuild my self-confidence through my gym work and hanging out with my girlfriends again.

Approximately 6 months after we broke up I started dating another guy and started a new job.  He lived two suburbs away from my ex-boyfriend.  By chance my car was parked outside my new boyfriend’s house when my ex-boyfriend must have driven past.  I started receiving text messages from my ex-boyfriend that evening. He demanded to know who I was with and what I was doing.  The lock on the driver’s door of my car was broken.  He said to me “How dumb are you? You’ve not even locked your car.  I opened your door and checked out what was in your car.”  On another occasion he was caught climbing my back fence and peering in through the crack in my blinds.  A few days later he recited back to me what we had watched on television and what we had eaten.

One evening after I left my new boyfriend’s house I was about half way home when I noticed a car right up my rear.  Now, my car was nothing fancy, but I was doing the speed limit.  I pulled over to let the car pass.  But it pulled over too and that is when I realised it was my ex.  I immediately started driving again and called my Dad.  He said he would drive out to get me.  I couldn’t stop because my front door still didn’t lock.

My ex drove around me and slowed right down, then sped off, hid and then was following me again.  Then I got to a roundabout and turned right.  After coming out of the roundabout the two lanes merge into one.  On either side of the road is a high medium strip – as in I would not be able to drive my little car up it.  As I exited the roundabout he sped up and locked me in between his car and the medium strip.  By now I was incredibly distressed and upset, and my little car was fogging up from all my crying and screaming, which only made it worse!  Where was my Dad?  I was almost home and should have passed him by now.  I managed to get home, turn off the car and race inside.  A few minutes later my Dad arrived back at home and started taking photos of my ex-boyfriend in his car out the front of our house and my mother called the Police.

The next morning when I went to work I noticed my hand break wasn’t on.  I had probably forgotten to do it when I pulled up last night.  My parents live on a steep block, so how my car didn’t roll during the night I will never know.

Fortunately for me, I worked in a law firm.  By 10.30am that morning they were with me down at Court obtaining an interim Domestic Violence Order.

The interim Order wasn’t served for another two days.  But I was fully aware of when it was served.  His mother started calling me telling me he was going to end his life and it was all my fault and I needed to withdraw the DVO.  He started sending me the same sort of text messages.  I just ignored them, but kept a log of everything in case it would be needed later.

Approximately two weeks later I attended at Court for the Return Conference.  This is an opportunity for him and I to agree to finalise the current DVO, with or without some amendments, enter into Undertakings or proceed to a final Hearing and let the Magistrate decide.

I was familiar with the process, but I still felt incredibly intimidated.  When I entered the Court, I could see him sitting in the foyer.  There was actually nowhere for me to sit to avoid having to look him.  I stared at my hands a lot that morning.

When our matter was being dealt with by the Registrar I felt a huge amount of pressure to agree to accepting Undertakings.  The Registrar told me it was my ex-boyfriend’s dream of being a Police Officer, that I was aware of this and if I forced an Order to be made he wouldn’t be able to get his firearm license which would stop him from joining the Police.  I agreed to Undertakings, which he breeched on numerous occasions.

He is not a Police Officer and never has been.

Despite my private education and privileged lifestyle, caring and committed parents and friends, I still experienced domestic violence before I was even 20 years old!

Each time I see Walker Texas Ranger it takes me back to that flat and that relationship.  This is something I have learnt to manage and am pleased to say am able to enjoy Chuck Norris without any problems.

By the time I was 27 I had a supportive network of family and friends, a good job and my self-confidence was back. I had my own house with a mortgage, a nice car and the ability to holiday and enjoy life.

So confident in fact, I partnered with someone whom looking back now, I should have avoided.

He moved into my house and paid minimal rent. He didn’t contribute to the utilities or expenses of the running of the household, probably because he didn’t work. Instead he worked on his PlayStation each day. He did, however, contribute to the consumption of alcohol and drank more than enough for the both of us. By the time I returned from work to cook dinner each night he was mostly already drunk.

When he was drunk was when he was most scary. I never knew what sort of mood he would be in when he was drunk. Would he be in a jealous mood, a demand rough sex mood or just a put me down for everything mood? Didn’t really matter because I didn’t enjoy any of them.

If he was in a put me down mood he would belittle my job, my cooking, my ability to parent, my friends and previous partners. I felt like everything I did was wrong.

Sometimes he would pressure me into having sex. And not just the encounter itself, but also the particular type of encounter he demanded made me uncomfortable. He made me feel like a prude if I declined him.  I felt it was my duty to have sex.

If I had the energy I would stick up for myself and when I was feeling really confident I told him he would have to leave and move out. Without fail, every time I asked him to leave or discussed ending the relationship he would become physical with me. On one occasion he held me down on my bed by pushing his forearm down on my neck. I couldn’t breathe and was starting to struggle. I thought I was going to die right there on my bed when he did that. He eventually let go. I will never forget that pain. My neck hurt so much that week and resulted in heavy bruises.

When he was drunk it’s as if his strength increased tenfold. I know the sound of his angry voice. I know the sound of his angry breathing. He was good at throwing me around rooms and into walls. Pushing me down onto the ground and kicking me was another favourite.

I slowly stopped spending time with my girlfriends again. If I did go out I would be constantly harassed by him via text messages and telephone calls about where I was and who I was with. If I decided to catch a taxi, he would come out to meet the driver and lecture him about where I was to be dropped off. It became so bad I just stopped going out.

One morning I woke up, went to work and just didn’t go home. I moved back to my parents’ house. I moved out of my own house and gave him two months to vacate my house. I thought that was plenty of time, but he constantly harassed me that he needed longer time. When I eventually returned to my home it was a mess and he had taken a significant amount of furniture and items that had belonged to me. But I wasn’t interested in having a battle with him about that. I could replace that sort of stuff.

I did find it beneficial to repaint, re-carpet, refurnish and hang fresh new curtains. It was sort of like a starting again type thing.

At first I was a bit lonely and struggled being by myself. To counter my loneliness I started spending a bit longer in the office each evening, say one or two hours. My working back wasn’t something expected by my employer, rather accepted. I think they knew why I was there and often others in the office stayed back and we all worked in peace and quiet without phones going off.

I began to re-established my friendships and make new friends. One particular friend I had been close with since we were 13 was incredibly supportive. She listened to me tell my story and she didn’t pass judgement or give me unwanted advice. She just listened and was there. In fact, she is still there for me, no matter what time of the day or night. I spent a significant amount of time at her place and she fed me dinner most nights.

A few years later I was married and had a beautiful son. Due to stresses in my workplace compounding the trauma I was still harboring I suffered a significant breakdown and attempted to end my own life. I found myself in hospital this time with my brother, heavily pregnant sister-in-law, husband and parents. When I was discharged I slept for five days straight. I didn’t shower, I didn’t eat and I didn’t leave the house. I wanted to crawl into a hole and just stay there.

My father and brother came with me to my GP and we begged to get a referral to the Black Dog Institute. It was here, four months later, I was diagnosed with Bi Polar. Now that I have this diagnosis I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Finally, I had a reason for why I felt the way I did. My medication was adjusted accordingly and I was able to access professional help. Upon reflection of my life so far, it is clear I’ve suffered from this illness since I was a teenager. It is not uncommon for Bi Polar suffers to go up to 15 years before being diagnosed.

Since my first breakdown, I’ve suffered two more. But both were significantly minor and fortunately, my husband ensures all medication in the house is locked up to ensure I am not tempted to take too much.

Now I am slowly learning what my triggers are. Things like crowds, too many questions being asked of me, listening to talk, instead of music, on the radio in the car and confrontations are some of my biggest triggers. They probably seem odd to you, because they seem odd to me. I can’t explain why they make me feel that way, but they do. I take precautions to avoid triggers, like shopping over the Christmas period is something I avoid at all costs and I never listen to the radio in the car, only my iPod.

I am an educated person, who has grown up in Canberra. I have worked in the legal profession for over 15 years and held down a secure job since I was 18, I’m now in my mid-thirties. I have a supportive network of family and friends. I am in a healthy and loving relationship and adore my son.

And I’m still the same person I was before I shared this very personal story. I have weaknesses and strengths, just like everyone else. I have bad and good days and weeks. I enjoy spending time with people and I also enjoy spending time by myself.

Sadly there is still so much negative stigma attached to domestic and family violence, sexual assault and mental illness. I don’t know how to make it go away, I think it will take a couple of generations to make that shift completely. If we talk about it more, maybe the stigma will go away, but I really don’t know.

I never made a choice to be abused or to develop a mental illness, both were out of my control. But I am in control of how I manage both, how I choose to recover and how I seek out help. I’m grateful I am one of the lucky ones who has the ability to make that choice, when many don’t. There is help there, but I’ll admit, it isn’t the easiest to find and certainly not the easiest to access. There are costs, waiting lists, time in your schedule, all of it adds up and can make the recovery road a real climb. Without a doubt, life was made easier for me by having understanding employers who actually put their money where their mouth was and having a supportive and non-judgmental support network of family and friends.

If you are an employer you might consider having, in addition to personal leave, mental health and/or domestic violence leave. There are some days when I just can’t pull myself out of bed and I struggle with the basics. And then there are days when I am up and ready to go before anyone else and I am one of the most productive in the office, and most days are like this. So ask yourself, for every 5 days of mental health days you give me, in addition to the personal leave (which I mostly use for caring for my sick son), I will actually give you an extra 5 hours of work per week, which equates to approximately 34 days per year. Economically it makes sense, don’t you think?

Additionally, ask yourself how you might feel walking into work with a black eye and a cut on your face? Some people might like to stay at home while the visible injuries heal, some might need time to speak with services about their options and some just simply might need to stay safe after leaving a violence relationship. Do you know a woman is most at risk immediately after leaving a relationship and her partner will very much know where she works and where she parks her car or how she travels to work.

In addition to the extra time, ask yourself how approachable you are. Would your employees actually feel safe and comfortable coming to you about personal problems? Maybe set up an anonymous survey to find out, and then action any adverse responses.

I’d encourage you not to judge people who have experienced violence or mental illness. It really doesn’t assist anyone, and certainly not those who are experiencing it. You never know what internal battles people are experiencing, so think before you speak and act. And yes, it could be your mother, your sister, your brother, your daughter or son, your neighbor or friend. Statistically, it will happen to more than one or two of your network.

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