[Warning: This story talks about domestic violence.]

Hey friend,

It’s been a while since we last spoke. I know you have a lot going on in your life right now.

I’m reaching out to remind you that you matter and that you are loved.

I’ve been wanting to invite you out for a cuppa and a chat at a cosy café somewhere. But, I know that’s outside of your realm of possibilities right now.

I know you feel stuck. I know you’re trapped.

Honey, so was I.

You’re spinning round and round in the never-ending cycle of trying to fulfil someone else’s unrealistic expectations and satisfy their demands.

I know because I’ve been there too.

Friend, I want to be honest with you. The things I’m about to say are difficult to write, but it’s more uncomfortable to sit here and see you suffering.

This person says they love you.

They say you’re special to them.

They’ve promised to take care of you.

They lied.

Coercive control, manipulation and abuse (even if it’s “just” verbal) are not OK.

Even if it’s from a family member, it’s not OK.

Intimate relationships can be some of the worst for coercive control.

This person has isolated you from friends and family, monitors where you are and what you are doing all the time, calls you names and criticises you.

Friend, it drains the life from your soul.

I’ve seen you worn down to a frazzle. A mere shell of a person.

It is domestic violence. Violence means violation. You have been violated.

It doesn’t have to be physical violence to be domestic abuse.

Psychological abuse is still violence.

I’ve been there. I’ve been stuck in that lifestyle. I thought the behaviour was just disrespectful, rude and mean. But it’s more, much more than that.

It’s a criminal offence.

I felt like I had nowhere to turn. I felt like nobody cared. My life was in such a mess I was too embarrassed to tell anybody. Besides, I wasn’t allowed to. To call the police was the unpardonable sin. Apparently, you don’t call the police on someone you love even if they’re harming you.

I had it all wrong.

I should never have felt afraid or embarrassed to reach out for help, because the issue was not mine.

None of it was my fault.

People cared about me and loved me but had no idea how to help me because they didn’t know what I was going through.

I was the victim, but I was always made to believe that it was my fault. I was always told that the reason I was treated badly was because I had somehow done something to upset the person.

They made me believe that they were the victim when really, they were the perpetrator.

That is gaslighting. Making you disbelieve the truth about your reality, in exchange for their lies.

Big red flags. It’s highly dangerous emotional abuse that leaves you without autonomy, identity and freedom to express yourself.

Friend, it can lead to death. Intimate partner homicide is real, and women who live in a domestic violence relationship are more likely to die from murder than from anything else.

It’s grim. But it’s true.

Family violence or intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence.

But you are not alone.

So many of us Australian women have been or are going through it.

We feel afraid to speak up, but community awareness is so important.

If people don’t know, then they can’t help. Social isolation doesn’t help.

I’m here to tell you, don’t believe the lies. It’s not your fault. This is not because of you.

Don’t listen to the imposter’s voice: “If only I was a better mum, wife, etc, this wouldn’t be happening to me.”

Abusive behaviour is never your fault.

You’re afraid to speak up. You’re afraid to live life like a normal human being. You have to please their every whim and fancy, or else you get coerced, threatened, manipulated or put on a guilt trip.

This is an abusive relationship.

This person who you love does not love you. They are an abuser.

Listen, friend, everything goes in cycles. First, there’s the honeymoon phase where everything goes nicely, they’re super apologetic and say all the right things. But it doesn’t last. Soon, you’re back into the tension-building phase where you’re walking on eggshells again. You receive all the non-physical forms of violence (coercive behaviour, verbal abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, regulating and monitoring, and controlling your money—financial abuse). Then there’s the full-blown all-out explosion.

You love them, but you’re afraid of them.

At times you’re filled with hope that they’ll change, but it never happens.

You hate what they do, but you feel like if you just loved them better, one day they really will change.

You know what I’m talking about.

Don’t trust their promises. Trust their patterns.

Violence is more than physical abuse, it’s mental abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse. It’s using intimidation and threats to get something out of someone. These are all coercively controlling behaviours.

You are experiencing domestic violence.

I know deep down in your heart of hearts you know it’s true.

But you’re so afraid and also, you’re so used to it.

To stay with them seems more comfortable than to leave because you have no idea what that will look like. Somehow the abuse feels normal. You can’t remember life without it.

Friend, no matter how hard it is to leave, it’s harder to stay. Believe me, I know. The toll on your mental health is deep and lasting. It has taken me years to recover and I’m still healing. No matter who they are or how much you love them, if they cost you your mental health, they’re not worth being with.

When I got away, I never dreamed how many support services there would be available to me. The police officers, domestic violence social workers and family violence prevention centre helped me more than I could have ever imagined. They helped get me to safe accommodation, gave me food and petrol vouchers, and arranged for me to see a psychologist which was huge for me.

Most of the time I just sat crying while the amazing woman listened to my story. She helped me learn how to breathe again. How to speak again. I realised what it was like to be human again. No longer was I held hostage to someone’s aggression and coercive manipulation. I was free.

There were times when I wanted to go back. There were moments when I thought about all our good times together, the memories that I wanted to focus on. But I knew I couldn’t do it. To make contact and go back would mean undoing all the work I had done. I would be risking my mind and my life. The bad memories were far more real and far more numerous than the good ones. I broke out of that “cage” and I never went back. I took an intervention order out on the person, changed my phone number and got off social media so they couldn’t find me.

I started a whole new life.

You can be free too.

Nothing is stopping you. Do it for you and your children.

You’ve been waiting long enough and I’m afraid, if you don’t take this step now, you’ll be waiting your whole life away.

You deserve to live the life you’ve always dreamed of. A life of freedom, going with the wind, exploring possibilities and achieving your goals.

You’ve forgotten what it means to be you. This is never going to change until you get away.

Run. Run. Run.

Don’t worry about what life will look like on the other side. Don’t worry about what you’ll leave behind. Fight against all those feelings that tell you to stay.

You can do this. I know you can.

I will support you all the way. Law enforcement is there to help us and I couldn’t have made it out without them. I was always made to believe the justice system couldn’t be trusted, but it proved to be one of my biggest helps. Family law supports women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

We may have been victims, but we can also be victim-survivors.


Your future self

If you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control, abuse or any type of violence there are people who care and can help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

If you or someone you know are in a life-threatening situation, call 000.

If you have thoughts of self-harm, call Lifeline 13 11 14. There is hope for you and there is help for you.

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