“Why doesn’t she just leave? Seriously, if someone treated me like that, I’d be gone.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard statements like this. But how do I explain to people that the wonderful, charming, charismatic man who I exchanged rings with on my wedding day, was not the man I came home from my honeymoon with.
When I met Mike, he was the perfect guy - gorgeous, funny, successful, a high level manager at an international company. He was well respected, and very much liked by his colleagues. Mike was such a charmer, everyone loved him, including all of my family.
The first time Mike hurt me, our daughter Bella was 5 months old.
The garage door had jammed and in order to repair it, he asked me to hold it up. I tried my best to hold it for as long as I could. I told him I couldn’t hold it any longer and it started to slip. He was furious with me and he hit me across the face with such force that I landed on a metal coat rack on the wall.
I was in agony, my face swollen and red, and my ribs and back were bruised. I was desperately afraid and completely shocked.
I just wanted to run away, but I knew that he would go to the ends of the earth to find me and Bella. Especially Bella, and then he would take her away from me, and then I couldn’t protect her. I was trapped.
That was the start of 10 years of violence, manipulation and control.
Over the years, Mike became even more psychologically and physically abusive, and it didn’t take long to strip me of all self-confidence. I did everything he asked - because I was afraid of him.
I couldn’t figure out how to stop the abuse and I had no idea how to get out.
I told my family about what was happening, and I asked them to help me. My younger sister Rachel supported me and she tried to get the rest of my family to do something, but they didn’t want to hear it. When I tried to talk to my mother about it, she told me that the man was the head of household, and that I should try not to make him angry.
I went to a doctor and I told her what was happening to our family. She prescribed me anti-depressants and sent me home.
The violent behaviour was terrifying, but the response I got when I finally had the courage to tell people about it, made me feel as though I deserved it.
One day I found myself in a Citizens Advice office, and something in the woman’s kind face made me tell her how afraid I was of my husband. She gave me a brochure about Shine. It filled me with such hope!
Finally I summoned the courage to call the Shine Helpline. The call was answered by the calm and confident voice of Michelle. She didn’t question what I was telling her. She just talked to me about being safe. And about being prepared. That call was a turning point for me.
Having someone believe me was the most incredible feeling of relief. For the first time over this horrendous ten years of abuse, I felt that someone understood my feelings of fear and confusion.
I knew we had to leave our home in order to get away from Mike, but where would we go? I was psychologically, emotionally, and physically a mess. And I knew Mike would freeze all the bank accounts. I have some amazing friends, but I knew how violent my husband was, and I couldn’t put someone else’s family at risk.
So I called Shine. I remember meeting Margaret, who runs the Refuge over on the North Shore, at a café, and we spent a long time talking, before I followed her to Shine’s Refuge where Bella and I stayed for the next 3 months.
In the initial period, we couldn’t hold down any food, my teeth were chattering, Bella had broken out in a rash that covered her whole body, we both had mouth ulcers, and we were just broken.
Today, Bella and I are living happy and safe lives, free from violence and fear. I will never be able to offer enough thanks to the wonderful people from Shine who helped both Bella and I through that hideous time. I just hope that in sharing my story, I am able to encourage others in the same situation that I was in, that with Shine’s help, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
You can become a Shine Freedom Champion and help victims of domestic abuse, like Sarah, to become free from violence and fear.