"You're a bitch! Why do you make me do this?! This is all your fault."
He pinned me to the bed as he screamed in my face. My boyfriend of nearly three years was drunk again. That was what started his rampage in the first place; that I dared to be upset by his alcoholism. He let go of me and ordered me to stay in the bedroom while he cleaned up the trail of destruction in the kitchen; broken glasses and the oven door that he had torn off in his rage. I still loved him, but I feared for my life.
Warning: This article contains content that may upset some readers.
As the door slammed behind him, I sat up on the bed and stared at the wardrobe that I would sometimes crawl into and cry to alleviate the pain I felt in the relationship. I couldn't escape into it this time. He had taken my phone and my keys were sitting on the kitchen counter near the front door. I could grab it quickly on the way out. So I made a run for it.
In hindsight, I should have just left the keys. It gave him enough time to spot me, grab me mid-sprint and wrestle me to the couch.
"Drop the keys!" he shouted. I tried to scream for help but he covered my mouth with one hand while twisting my wrist with the other, forcing me to release the keys. I looked into his eyes, tears streaming down my face and onto his palm that was still covering my muffled cries.
He stopped. His grip loosened and he slumped down to the floor, his head down and resting against my knee. He started to blather.
"I'm sorry… I'm sorry."
I stroked his head as he wept.
"It's alright. It's alright."
It registered in my head that what just happened was not okay. Yet, I looked at the man in front of me who needed my forgiveness. Who needed me to tell him everything was fine and that I knew this wasn't the real him. Besides, where else would I go? I'm a worthless piece of garbage that was lucky to have him. At least, that's what I felt at the time.
There had been writings on the wall; he was a daily drinker and enjoyed getting wasted on weekends. He couldn't get through a day without at least having a beer here and there. His drinking affected every part of our relationship and his promises of cutting back on alcohol were never kept. I'd get upset and he'd get angry. His livid outbursts gradually escalated into property damage; he threw a chair at the wall in our apartment and left a hole in it. We had to rearrange our furniture to hide it.
I look back on those times with shame because I should have left him. I should have left him after the first incident. I should have left him when I realised he was feeding me so many lies. Yet, I stayed. I did it because I thought I was in control of the situation.
At the time I was already an established journalist. I had a good job. I came from a stable home. I had insecurities, but who didn't?
I had never envisaged myself in an abusive relationship. My previous partners had been kind and we parted ways amicably. I was outgoing and had a network of friends. If I were to be in an abusive relationship, surely I'd be smart enough to recognise that and get the fuck out.
We met at a party at a bar. He was handsome, charming and chatty. It was a whirlwind romance and a few months later he asked me to move in with him. It was the first time I had lived with a partner and I was excited to be starting a new phase in my life.
Perhaps that excitement blinded me to all the warning signs. Some of my friends really didn't like him. They thought he was arrogant and prone to making inappropriate jokes. I brushed all that off as him getting carried away by his humour. Everybody has character flaws. I could live with that one.
I loved that he was talkative and had a sense of humour. But I also gave him a lot of concessions because of those reasons. He would give me off-handed compliments like, "Awww, your wide nose is so adorable!" or "You'd look so good if only you lost a little bit of weight." I just went along with it. He just likes to talk, I thought to myself. He meant no harm with his words; he was just trying to compliment me in his own way. But those words gradually chipped away at my self-esteem.
Then the lies started. Big lies. Small lies. Our relationship deteriorated every time I called him out on his dishonestly. He didn't see a problem with telling "white lies". I just wanted a boyfriend I could trust. He would get mad at me for expecting too much from him. We'd fight, then he'd promise to not drink so much and not lie to me anymore. But it was a vicious cycle of broken promises and forgiveness.
Even though I had seen his violent fits, I had never thought he would lay a hand on me. I didn’t think he was capable of crossing that line. I still couldn't believe it was happening when it was happening.
After that night, a tearful apology and a promise to never do it again, we tried to move on with our lives.
Perception Vs Reality
Peterson Opio is the executive ambassador for White Ribbon, a non-profit group that focuses on raising awareness on domestic violence against women among men.
Speaking with Lifehacker Australia, he talked about the misconception that domestic violence is something that predominantly happens in low socio-economic communities.
"There's no 'type' — men who use this kind of violence do so against women from all socio-economic, cultural backgrounds and family situations," Opio said. "Women who are victims of men's violence are found in all socio-economic groups and cultural groups."
And domestic violence against women is more prevalent than you'd think.
"In 12 months, on average, one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence in Australia," Opio told us.
The solution for women who are in abusive relationships appears simple: just leave the bastard. Easier said than done.
"People tend to think it's easy for people to leave these kinds of relationships. The misconception comes down to the fact they don't understand how complex the issue of intimate partner violence is," Opio said.
"It's easy to say: "Why don't you just leave the relationship?" There's a variety of reasons why. There could be fear of violence escalating further. There could be intimidation and control from the male partner. It could be that they believe violence has become normalised. It could be about financial dependency and worrying about the aspect of not being able to support themselves or their family or their children.
"It could be the social stigma and isolation that unfortunately victims go through when they experience this violence from their intimate partner. It's looking at the lack of self-confidence, family pressures — there are a variety of different reasons why women will not leave a relationship."
The last part struck a chord with me because I chose to stay. My then-partner made it clear that he didn't consider what he did domestic violence. He was adamant that it was just a moment when he lost control.
I was ashamed but I couldn't tell anybody about what happened. I didn't want to make him look bad. I didn't want anybody to think that I was a victim. In doing so, I became more depressed and pushed away everybody who was close to me. I didn't want my family and friends to know how deeply unhappy I was. I didn't want people to worry about me.
In an effort to patch up our relationship, we flew overseas for a holiday and to visit his family. It was to be a relaxing two-weeks but ended up with him getting angry with his mother and shoving her to the ground in the hallway of their family home. He was mad that his mother had tried to do his laundry when he had asked her not to.
His mother came into the living room to confront him, with a knife in her hand for safe measure, and his father severely reprimanded him. His brother was standing on the side, arms crossed and shaking his head, as though this had happened many times before.
That night I returned to my ex-partner's bedroom in his family home. His brother came up as I was closing the door to ask if I was okay.
"I'm fine. It's fine. Everything is fine," I said in a mousey voice.
"Traci," he said. "You sound like an abused woman."
I gave him a weary look and closed the door.
The Hard Decision
A few weeks after we returned to Australia, I decided to end our relationship. I wasn't exactly sure of my decision and I actually ended up asking if he wanted to give the relationship another go when we saw each other for the last time. He refused. I wondered if it was because I had seen his true self and there was no going back.
I spent the next few months re-building my life, trying to de-program myself from all the false beliefs that kept me in a toxic relationship: that I wasn't good enough, that I didn't deserve to be happy and that nobody else would ever love me.
I started to re-connect with family and old friends. I told them what happened but it's only now, a few years later, that I'm able to talk about it without feeling a wave of dread and shame. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me.
I hope that by sharing my experience with others, it will help raise awareness for domestic violence and, in some way, help those who are trapped in abusive relationships. I'll leave the last word to White Ribbon's Peterson Opio:
"No woman deserves to be abused and men who use violence are solely responsible for their action."
If you or someone you know is in need of support due to domestic violence, you can contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), a 24-hour information and support line for national sexual assault domestic family and counselling service.