It’s like being locked up in a cage with no key to let you out, or it’s like having rope tied around your ankles and your wrists, having no control.
It is like you’re in an intense nightmare, a never ending nightmare, a nightmare where you’re trying to force yourself to wake up but you can’t, or you know on a bright summer day and you enter a dark room and struggle to see anything until your eyes re adjust to the light?
It’s like that, but your eyes never readjust, you cannot see clearly nor is there any hope of seeing clearly.
Imagine a deep bath filled with clear water, the water is your self-worth, the water is your confidence, the water is your strength, your courage, your energy, the water is your job, your money, your sense of safety, it is your personality and everything that defines you, as you. When you’re trapped in the vicious chapters of physical, mental, psychological violence, the plug to that deep bath that is keeping your life afloat is lifted. Everything you once had control of, confined to that one bath, is drained. It is drained. It is sucked away from you so quickly that you forget what it once felt like to have happiness, to have control, to have courage, to go to work feeling determined or go to a friends party feeling happy.
You find yourself curled up in a tight ball on your bed, squeezing your knees to your chest as tight as you possibly can. You clench your teeth so tightly together, squeezing your eyes closed at the same time, to avoid the howling cries from escaping. You’re longing for that someone to knock on your bedroom door and fall to your bed to hug you and allow for you to scream and fall apart and cry and howl. But that someone is the reason you’re alone and scared. The same person you’re longing for is the person that emptied your bath.
You deny that this is what your life has become. You deny that you’re being abused, or that it isn’t your entire fault. When you’re called hourly with intense abuse, threats of suicide, threats to kill, threats to destroy you as a person, you’re silently feeling okay about this, because it confirms that your abuser hasn’t taken their own life and when your hands are shaking, and your heart is beating so strong that you can feel it pounding your chest, you’re okay with this too, because after all, you need something to reassure you, that you, yourself are alive, and you have survived another second, minute, hour of pain, of this nightmare.
Months pass and the only thing that has changed is you. You feel weak and emotionless but experience sudden episodes of anger and of intense sadness and suicidal thoughts. You drive in the car alone, and all you take notice of is which tree would take your life the quickest, or how fast you need to go to kill yourself and escape this nightmare. You only get angrier at yourself, when something inside you, or someone watching over you, is stopping you from doing the one thing that you know will end this pain and suffering and if someone calls you in this very moment, you’re so quick to say how good you’re going and you’re so good at sounding absolutely fine with tears rolling down your face and blackened eyes from tear washed mascara.
You’re still alive though; you’re still tackling the systems that are crippling you as an Aboriginal woman. You’re still raising a child whose father is in jail and whose mother is experiencing her own issues. You feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and you awake every morning to feelings of anxiousness, wondering what today will bring. Will the police arrive at your doorstop again? Will DHHS call you and question you? Will you check your bank account only to see that your account has been emptied? Will your abuser call you yelling at you while you’re sitting at your work desk? Or will you receive yet another dreaded call of someone ringing to tell you what your abuser has said or done to them?
You need to keep showing up at work, you need to keep proving to everyone around you, that you have the ability to raise a child, that you have the ability to work in a large, fast moving organisation. You need to keep showing up, but you don’t, because some days, you need to let yourself fall to the ground, you need to feel the pain of this nightmare, not because they say it is unhealthy to pretend you’re okay, but you feel the pain because you believe strongly, that you deserve this torture, and you deserve to feel like a sinking ship at sea. And if at any moment, you catch yourself smiling, you’re quick to tell yourself that you do not deserve to smile, you do not deserve to have a good day, or a good catch-up with a friend, because you know, your abuser is alone and hurting, so so should you.
You’re 22 years old; you have been considered an adult for just five years, yet you feel like you have experienced enough pain and trauma to last a lifetime. You lose hope in that life is a good thing; you cannot comprehend what it must feel like to be older, or to experience anymore hurt. You lie down and wonder, if this isn’t what a broken heart feels like, then what is? What else could be anymore painful than this? What else can be anymore painful, than the woman who you have aspired to be like, the woman that has taught you your life values, the woman that made your school lunches for 13 years, the woman you love more than anyone in the world, that woman is your mum and your mum is the abuser, the perpetrator, of what people around you are labelling as family violence. Family violence you question, but she is your mum and you’re her daughter?
You’re learning so much about both yourself and people around you. You know exactly who has and hasn’t been there through your darkest hours. You know exactly who has let you down or who see’s your situation as too hard for them to deal with. You learn that people live such privileged lives that to have to hear your hurt is too traumatising for them and you then feel guilty yourself, that by trying to talk you’re hurting another person, you remember this. So you stop talking. You silence yourself. You focus strongly on protecting others by not talking about the reality of your every-day life. This all becomes a part of your newly learnt ways of navigating the life of what they’re calling family violence, and the shock you’re experiencing through this sudden change is pumping through your blood and your heart. So many things are exhausting you, this is just one of them.
People think that after months, you would surely be okay and you would surely not still find yourself in that curled up ball in your bed or on the shower floor, but you have learnt that family violence does not have a timeframe. You still do not have money in your bank account, psychological abuse does not stop effecting you after a specific period of time, your way of living in this world has completely changed, you’re still being abused and manipulated on a daily basis, but have found your own way to deal with it, you’re still trying to build up the courage and the strength to seek professional help, you’re living in a small country town where you’re bumping into the police that know your nightmare.
There is no escaping this nightmare right now, but you only hope for an escape, for freedom in the near future.