I Am....

Melani

Post Traumatic Growth


What does this mean to me?  

It means I now  have words for what I have always clumsily called my “Collateral Good”, my “giving back”, my drive to “Make things better for others like me”, to “use what happened to me for good”. 

It gives me a name for the journey I went through over the last 20 years which led me to firmly believe I would be half the person I am now if I hadn’t survived domestic abuse as a young woman. 

 The question I ask is - If this hadn’t of happened would I have spent the last 20 years working in the DA sector trying to make a difference to the service Police officers given to victims of DA; Would I be the person who challenges victim blaming, ignorance around DA and societies clear misogyny? Would I be calling out friends, family and strangers on their ignorance around DA and many other social injustices. I think not. 

Somehow having the experience gifted me bravery, resilience, negotiation skills, how to listen, have empathy and an ability to read others thoughts and feelings, see danger at 30 paces and diffuse others anger. These are all skills I use everyday and if asked if I would swap these for a life where abuse did not happen to me, the answer would be no thank you.

When I explain this to those in life that have not suffered trauma they generally are flabbergasted and for some I watch myself slip into their “she must of liked it” bracket in their closed mind, with a pitying look on their faces.  But when I meet others who have survived and then thrived not just despite trauma but because of trauma I see the understanding in their eyes, the kinship and the strength of them.  

I am not a fragile, vulnerable, unable victim of DA.  I am a strong, feisty, brave survivor of DA who is part of a team of thousands, changing the journey from victim to victor for the next thousand, making it smoother, shorter, and never lonely.

Sarah, "It’s imperative that stories like mine are heard. You felt my emotion today as a woman, mother and nurse. I’ve had to bury that for over a decade until today when I sat for my portrait, there was no voice for me.”

Jessica, "I see being the survivor of a controlling and abusive relationship as now being someone who can speak up, I can be confident in controlling my own life, my own needs and not letting myself be a victim but letting it shape the person I have become today, a mother, a wife and a successful career person.” 

Sophie, "I know that my disability and wheelchair make me vulnerable and an easy target for some men.”

Samantha, “ I was heavily pregnant and slept in my car outside the refuge. It was full.”

Julie Vaughton

I was powerless then

It's different now

I can make my own decisions

It's up to me 

and I say how

Yes, I make my own decisions


It's my choice now

What colour I paint

What clothes I want to wear

It's my choice now

When I go to bed

No more body full of dread


My life is my own

My music, my rules

No more football night after night

My life is my own

My children, my rules

No more pretending, no more fright


There's no more egg shells on the floor

I'm not tip-toeing round any more

No more doing what you say

I'm here living my own day

I'm free to look to my left or right

I can even smile and have a good night

Chat with people, say hello

It's all right now, it's ok to go


It will always be a part of me

But I'll make damn sure that it's small

The control is no longer over me

I am proud and I'll stand tall

This is me, like it or not

I've survived and am getting stronger

It will always be a part of me

But it won't hurt me any longer.


I'm finished with the silence

I'll not carry your guilt myself

The shame is gradually dying

Happiness is my new wealth

I've got my family who love me

My friends and their support

I don't need to hear your lies now

Honesty and kindness are what I've sought.


Don't sit in this room

Sit in that

What the hell is wrong with that?

This is my family

This is my life

I make the rules now

And that is that!

                                             *************************************************

Sarah Edith

So I speak out .... 

Coerced and cold, frozen in fact, blunted, bland and broken. A marriage of battery had become my normal. Bruises, scars and aching from being grabbed, snatched, slapped and beaten - my life felt fractured. I was envious, angry, furious; with my jaw wired and my eyes clamped shut.


I was not allowed to be me, a pretty little accessory and spoilt with anything as long as it made him money. Sick to death of his so called friends who did the same, drugs and drink. I was diminished and detached, silent and full of shame. To the outside he was jovial and charming, my situation was not funny.


There was no counselling for me, no refuge, drop in or escape. I wanted to flee but had no where to go. My daughter had become more vocal, unsure of her father or being alone. She called our home “The Crying house” this phrase had to resonant a change.


Unhelpful comments “you’ve made your bed lie in it”

“He loves you”, “sick of hearing you say the same things”


Failure and failing to protect was not an option. I went to work nights, as she still napped, and it meant I didn’t have to see him. I realised I needed to return to my forte as a Nurse and that education and University was the most feasible, ticket out.

Hold my gaze it tells my story.                                      

Kathryn

When I tell people that I was sexually abused by my older brother I always say it started when I was 8 and he was 14 but really I’ve no idea when it started, I can’t really remember a time before the abuse except for maybe the old house. I always hated the new house. It was so different from the old house. Not just the actual house but everything it represented, everything seemed to change when we were forced to move. My Dad had run up huge drug debts and the sale of the house funded his habit. The new house had no garden and was on a busy road, far away from all my friends. In the old house my Mum had stayed at home with us but in the new house she had to work full time and I was looked after by my older brother.


I’ve always felt like the domestic abuse we experienced from my Dad provided a backdrop to our lives. It was always there even when things were going well. We always knew that things could change in an instant depending on what mood he was in. 


I don’t really think of the domestic abuse as the worst thing that happened to me or the thing that has caused me the most damage as an adult because so many other horrible things happened at the same time. I realise now that the context of domestic abuse allowed the other things to happen – it made me and my brothers vulnerable, it meant neither my Mum or my Dad was around a lot and often it meant there wasn’t enough money. We learnt to look after ourselves and each other.


There are a couple of memories I have that have entwined themselves together and I struggle to separate them. One that I remember as being a really exciting and funny story to tell about my Dad to shocked friends as I got older and one that is just sad and seemed like the very beginning of the lifetime of self destruction that would follow. In the first My Dad has woken me up in the middle of the night to tell me he loves me and not to be sad. He must have broken into the house because he didn’t live with us then. I can remember exactly how I felt when he woke me up – not frightened or upset, just resigned to ‘here we go again’. I was only around 9 or 10, still at primary school but it had happened so many times already, I was just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep – which I did. 


The next morning when I got up for school there was blood all over the living room – on the chair, on the mirror and on the carpet. 

The phone had gone missing and the chairs had been slashed with a knife. My Mum had to go to the phone box to call the police. 4 police cars arrived and a police van with dogs all lined up outside our house. They called in a police helicopter as there was so much blood they thought my Dad must be dying somewhere in a ditch. I can really remember finding the phone down one of the slits on the chair and that the police really praised me. I think they were worried he would come back with the knife and we wouldn’t be able to ring them. They never found him that day. I knew they wouldn’t, even at that age I had known this was all for show – a grand gesture for my Mum. ‘Look what you made me do’. 


It was a story he loved to tell too, how he escaped from the police dogs and a police helicopter. In reality he rang his Dad who took him to the hospital to have his wrists bandaged up. 


The other memory was a bit later, I was 12. It was a normal Sunday. My Dad always came to see us on a Sunday. After they split up he insisted that my Mum let him come on Sundays and Christmas day. She didn’t have much choice. If she said no he would turn up anyway and break the door down or stand in the street screaming at her through the letterbox. Some days he sat on a wall across the road for hours and hours just watching us so mostly we let him in. This day was like most of them. He sat on the couch all day drinking and watching us. He never played with us or even talked to us really. He would watch and we would tiptoe around him trying not to be the one who said the thing that might make him explode. I can remember the tension in the air this day – odd comments here and there that showed us what mood he was in and put us on extra heightened alert. But nothing happened. As the day went on the inevitable thoughts of how do we get him out would start and what time would he go. He might say he was going to get a particular bus and we’d all be desperate for him to start getting his stuff together to go. Then he’d miss the bus (it went right past our house) and we’d start again hoping he’d get the next one. At about 6pm I was curled up on my Mum’s knee watching TV and he was still there sitting on the couch, still just watching us. He hadn’t spoken to us for hours and we knew something was coming but not what or when. Suddenly without making a noise he threw the glass of wine he was holding across the living room at the fireplace. It shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces and made a noise like an explosion. I started screaming, and screaming and screaming and couldn’t stop. 


I don’t think my Dad knew what to do. He had been building up to this for hours and my reaction confused him. I started to hyperventilate and ran from the house to the local churchyard where I morbidly liked to hide. I calmed myself down eventually and went back. My Mum had cleaned up the mess and managed to get rid of my Dad. The house was in order again, like nothing had happened. 


The next day when I got home from school I cleaned out the fire ready to light it before my Mum came home from work and found a small fragment of glass that my Mum must have missed when she cleaned it out. I picked it up and stared at it and held it to my arm. That was the first time I cut myself. I felt instantly better. In control for the first time ever.


Sophie Emma

The first time I kept dreaming of being free somewhere far away just my daughter and I, away from him and his family, no one knew where we were. I escaped it all by listening to Beyonce, her song Listen was so powerful and was everything I wanted to say and do!

Second time I coped by plotting how to get rid of him! I went for a drive on my own loads and I'd always end up at an old friends house telling him how I felt and he secretly would message me so I could get out for a bit but tell him that my friend Kat had messaged me and needed me! Over the weeks I planned how to make him leave and literally all it took was for me to be snappy for a week and give it him back! My friend gave me the strength to fight back for me and my my daughter!

                                     ****************************************************

Jo Lock

River

Where there was once chaos, only emptiness remained.

Survival was all consuming, I was left drained and without the mental capacity for escapist day dreaming about my happy place or what it would be like to be living another life far removed from all of this.

We were long term friends and you were my rock. Then as my partner you remained that rock, even when times were difficult as we both untangled ourselves from our respective lives with others so we could start anew together.

Then you became overcome by the tsunami within and my rock shattered into thousands of pieces and as I tried to pick up the pieces and put them back together again, I became collateral damage.

Random people would arrive and leave the weekend parties at all hours and you would light your touch paper with drink.

On a lucky night, I managed to flee before the explosion.

Running down the hill to the river, where I would hide under the bridge. Hidden away from harm and unseen by the weekend revellers crossing the bridge on their way into town.

Space and quiet to think. 

What lay in store for me on my return home?

You say you love me constantly, then how can you do this? 

Too painful to let that one in and be able to survive day to day.

What would it feel like escape by sinking silently into the dark depths of the river?

Would it be calm down there?

No not like that, how can you find the light you crave by fleeing from darkness into the dark.

The best way would be to head into the light, with the sun sparkling on the river like ‘Wind In The Willows’.

Finally, finding myself alone. Devoid of feeling, looking around the empty room and faced with empty weekends with no inclination or energy to fill the hours.

Thoughts of sinking into the river, were eventually replaced by time on the river.

Routine and order were instrumental to my recovery.

Three times a week, I would assemble on the river bank with the others anticipating the coach’s arrival to open up the boat house and reveal the order within.

‘A place for everything and everything in its place’.

All eager to get out onto the water, the order and organisation of the boathouse allowed many crews to manoeuvre cumbersome but delicate and costly fours and eights out simultaneously in the confined space.

For the next two hours my world would shrink down to the simplicity of a fibreglass shell, shared with eight others who like me were entirely absorbed in working as one with the sole purpose of rising and gliding through the water in the smoothest way possible.

Clearing my mind and tuning in completely to the sounds of the boat, sliding of seats, the dip of the blade into the water and the clunk of oars as they feathered when raised or lowered into the water. 

Ensuring that you play your part by keeping the sounds in time with each other by executing each and every movement in time and perfect with the single purpose of achieving balance is in turn cathartic.

Gradually learning to place my trust in others once again, a lot like that team building exercise where someone stands behind you and you close your eyes, fall backwards and the other person catches you.

You come to rely on the encouragement, support and nurture from your crew and in turn this becomes reciprocal. Collectively you find yourselves overcoming obstacles and through achievement my self-esteem restored.

As a crew you are attuned to each other, you are there for each other and they won’t let you go under.

Instead of finding an ending on the river, I found myself, friends and a new beginning.



Sandy Koujou

The Best of Me

I am ……happy to be ME!


My voice is as loud as the lioness's roar, 

but you can only hear it with your heart, not your ears. 


My mum once told me that a loving relationship or marriage was one of the best thing life could offer you. 

Today I have learned that it is only true when both partners love and respect each other, and look in the same direction and. 


I was hurt so badly; I nearly gave up on life. 

Domestic violence is not acceptable regardless of the "why". 

Nobody should wake up every morning being afraid of the person they woke up next to.

Nobody should be afraid in their own home, then it is home no more.


I was her, afraid to live, afraid to think, afraid to smile in case I hurt someone.

I had no confidence, I did not feel the beauty of a woman, I was just a living being,


Today I am happy to be ME!

I am free, I feel alive, I am a proud black woman, mother, sister, friend

I am unapologetic about my happiness, my confidence, my strength, my ambitions

Domestic violence is not hereditary, my mum suffered, I refuse to suffer.

I say yes to live, yes to happiness, yes to pulling the strings of my own life.

I am the indomitable lioness.


Do not be quiet, say yes like me and be FREE TODAY! 









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