I was 37 years old and kicking goals left, right and centre. A senior marketing professional with a seasoned career, a beautiful home, overseas holidays, a terrific circle of friends and a world of opportunities ahead of me.
Things seemed to get even better when I met and fell in love with the man of my dreams. On the surface he ticked every box – handsome, charming, great job, he made me laugh and he wanted to be a part of my world.
Our relationship developed very quickly, and soon after we met we moved in together and started planning our future. Sadly, things changed soon after we lived under the same roof. My friends were made to feel unwelcome in our home, my social interactions were monitored and over coming months and years I lost all traces of the autonomy I’d previously enjoyed. His control spread into all facets of my life and his temper started to emerge. It began with verbal outbursts and then escalated to physical abuse.
At the time I was a Marketing Director in the construction industry with a small child. I look back now, and I don’t know how I managed to juggle my work and parenting responsibilities with the domestic violence that was occurring at home. It was like living in a war zone – I remember feeling constantly stressed, embarrassed and humiliated and always in survival mode.
Eventually, after a particularly significant incident, I called it quits. We separated and I bought a house for myself and my son. I informed my HR Manager at work, and she told me she had informed the CEO (whom I reported to).
I had hoped for support and empathy, but I didn’t receive it. I was given two days annual leave to move out of my home and relocate, and I was told that I expected to keep working at the same capacity as normaI. There was no understanding, no allowances and no respect for my situation.
To be honest, the attitude of my employer felt almost as bad as the violation I had endured at home. If only they had shown kindness and consideration and supported me through this period, my emotional health would have been so much better and my recovery would have been far quicker.
Once I moved into my new home, I took stock of the situation, and I realised I couldn’t juggle the demands of my job, my emotional recovery and supporting my child. So I left my executive position and took a job paying one third of the salary as a part time marketing officer.
It was tough. I rented out rooms in my home, cut my budget and started buying my food from the local church supermarket. It was a tough time, but I learnt some important lessons about economising that will set me up for the rest of my life.
During this period, the police had become involved in my domestic violence situation and they referred me to Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, who provided practical support and helped me make sense of everything that had happened. I will always be grateful for the kindness I received from this incredible organisation, and I am proud to be an ambassador for them.
Over the next 18 months, I rebuilt my confidence through counselling, setting challenges, physical outlets and allowing myself time to heal. Once I was ready, I accepted a leadership role in a community organisation and this paved the way to get my career back on track.
Four years later, my life is entirely different. I have used my professional and personal experience to co-found Workhaven, support victims of DFV to become survivors and educate and equip employers to support staff.
I have developed a coaching program to help people get back on their feet and rebuild their lives (with gusto), my son and I have travelled around the world together and I am back to enjoying fun and adventures with my beautiful friends. I am enjoying the life I always dreamed of, but thought I would never have.
Whilst I never want to return to my old life I had with DFV, it has enabled me to feel terrific gratitude for the new one. That period was the most difficult of my life, but with time and distance I can see the lessons it blessed me with.
If you are going through domestic and family violence, I am truly sorry and I hope you are able to find the support you need to move forward with your life. Everyone’s story is different, but here are some pieces of advice and insight I would like to offer that may help:
1. Find someone you trust and confide in them – someone who won’t judge but will just be there to listen unconditionally and help you do what you need to according to your situation and choices.
2. Take time out to reflect and rebuild – to reform your foundations and decide the best steps for you moving forward.
3. Seek expert help and support from a specialist domestic violence organisation – they will be able to connect you with the right services, give you legal direction and assist you to make sense of what has happened.
4. Confidence is key to rebuilding. Sadly, DFV often strips people of their self-belief and self-esteem. Spend time doing the things that make you feel good about yourself, and reach out to people (friends and professionals) who can help you restore emotionally.
5. Don’t blame yourself and walk away from people who judge or you.
If you know someone who is going through domestic violence, my advice is to listen without judgement and allow them to make the choices they need to make. Simply be there for them unconditionally. By doing so, you could make the world of difference to someone who truly needs it.
If your workplace would like some information and guidance to educate employees and support victims to become survivors of DV, please contact Workhaven at firstname.lastname@example.org