Emotional abuse almost killed me. Our underfunded support services didn’t save me.

(Originally published in the Canberra Times)


“If I crashed my scooter into a tree, I would probably survive and surely he’d have to be nice to me if I ended up in hospital…”


It’s a thought I’d have multiple times a day back when I was still in a relationship with my domestically abusive ex.


I pictured how I’d do it too. Just neatly breaking a limb or two, maybe a small, recoverable head injury. Then I’d play out his turning up at the hospital, suddenly realising he was concerned about my wellbeing…



And it was true, sort of.


When I finally overdosed one night in high distress during a seemingly never-ending (five week) abuse episode, I did end up in hospital. And it did stop him temporarily from abusing me. I couldn’t quite classify it as him being nice; it was more of a ceasefire from his unrelenting attacks. I wept with relief and cuddled closely into him.


Critically, this emergency room visit put our dynamics on full display to the lovely nurses at the now-closed Manly Hospital.


These nurses expertly whisked him away to “fill out paperwork” so they could quickly explain I’d soon receive a call from a private number, and to only answer if he wasn’t there.


It would be from Women & Children First, a Northern Beaches-located refuge, and they would be urging me to participate in a program called “Expect Respect”.


I dumbly nodded. Numb. And they discharged me into his care.


Attempting to get help


Later that night, we ate pizza on the couch as his ceasefire remained. I was too exhausted to do anything but acquiesce to the trauma bonds cruelly attaching me to my abuser. He remained entirely unaffected by the day’s events.


The abuse re-started the next morning.


When I attended my first session of “Expect Respect”, I came fresh from another abuse episode and silently sobbed for the entire hour we sat together on the collection of old but comfy couches. No one really noticed or minded; it was standard behaviour for many first-time participants.


When I coloured in my sections of the “types of abuse” diagram, I noticed I coloured far fewer segments than the woman beside me.


I turned red with shame.


I was not abused enough. I was a fraud, weak. What was I doing here? I had the financial means to move out of our shared apartment, unlike some of the women staying at the refuge. I didn’t have children with him either. Shame, shame, shame.


I dropped out of the program several weeks later, disgusted at myself for taking up one of their precious spots. The tireless women running the program begged me to reconsider. But I didn’t deserve to fill the spot another woman needed far more than me.


They wearily let me slip away, knowing there would be no shortage of replacements…


Eventual escape


It took two more years of self-funded treatment to finally extract myself from that cold, rage-filled, pathologically-jealous man, and break the trauma bond for good.


To stop the desire to be dead. The feeling, the unshakeable certainty, that I was already dead. The mental planning on how I could finally just… stop. Even after his physical presence no longer stained my life with pain.


When I reported his abuse to the Dee Why Police Domestic Violence Victims Unit, the young constable asked me gently, “What do you expect us to do?”. He wasn’t joking, or being dismissive. He genuinely didn’t know what he could do.


Years later, coercive control laws are finally, painstakingly, being introduced in Australia.


I also donate large sums to Women & Children First, attending their fundraising events and weeping at the stories told so bravely by women without public speaking experience, just experience of dancing with devils who walk far too freely amongst us.


I do this because our government’s lack of prioritisation of this issue means these lifesaving institutions turn away victim-survivors every single day due to lack of funding.


Because people like me feel too ashamed to take up a spot, knowing they are so precious and rare.


Fuck that.


It’s time, Albanese. No more performatively walking in marches or talking in empty impromptu speeches.


Act as if the government cares as much about the mistreatment and deaths of women as it cares about two young men being coward punched.


Act on this declared national emergency with as much vigour and dedication of resources as if millions of women’s lives are on the line – because they are.


Enough is enough.


Women matter, and not just because we are your daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives.


We matter because we are human beings worthy of living terror-free lives, so we can love and play and work and live to our full potential.


So we can live.

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