One Mum’s Story: Surviving Domestic Violence

One Mum’s Story: Surviving Domestic Violence Mother and child, blond boy, lying on the couch at home, hugging

Warning: This article may contain content that some people find triggering, distressing or upsetting. The choice of the reader/audience to enter the article may require them to engage in self-care, including seeking help. A comprehensive list of DV support services is listed at the end of the article.

I will never forget the morning that I finally left him. I was getting the silent treatment again. His parents had kindly offered to take me and our six-month-old son in. I was nervous and hesitant. Was I doing the right thing? Was it really that bad? Could I work harder to make the marriage work, for the sake of our family?

Women’s Community Shelters CEO Annabelle Daniel OAM said that on average, it takes seven attempts to leave a domestic violence situation. I did leave that day. It took me just one attempt. This is my story.

Getting out

My protective mama-bear instinct knew it was bad enough to seek refuge in a safer environment. I’d called the national domestic violence and abuse helpline 1800 Respect several times in a bid to understand the crazy and at times quite scary treatment I was receiving from my then-husband.

The empathetic and helpful counsellor had told me it was emotional, psychological and financial abuse and coercive control. It had started off quite subtle – withholding affection as punishment; not telling me what I’d done wrong and expecting me to apologise constantly – through to belittling and bullying me, even while I was breastfeeding our newborn.

It felt like I was always walking on eggshells and having to anticipate – and then meet – my husband’s needs at the expense of my own and more importantly, our son. I was losing my mind and was emotionally and physically exhausted by the rollercoaster ride of mental confusion.

During the first four months of our precious son’s life, I kept a diary and confided with my in-laws about the situation. They were shocked and couldn’t see how I could stay in the marriage. It had been such a monumental shift from the joyous time we’d shared when our son was born.

Post separation abuse

While I felt safe living at my in-laws, I could never have anticipated what was to come next. My husband’s behaviour only escalated and surpassed the domestic violence I’d been subjected to while under the same roof as him.

At first, he attempted to get me to apologise and come back home. Once that failed, he needed to exert control by subjecting myself and his parents to what can only be described as terror.

I had streams of emails and texts from him claiming I’d stolen his child, and his parents were accused of abduction. I know now this is a common tactic in the narcissistic playbook of post-separation abuse tricks. It’s designed to make the healthy parent question their own sanity and feel guilty, and is behaviour abusers often use to ‘win’.

We were paid a visit by the local police several times after my husband had called them claiming I was exerting parental alienation. Fortunately for me, I’d already taken advice to file a police report on my husband’s behaviour, so these events were added to the list.

In the early days of my leaving, I was still hoping that my husband would have an epiphany or that I’d find this was all a bad dream. With this frame of mind, I stayed in contact and allowed him to see our son for short periods of time following the guidance from the NSW Domestic Violence Unit, which offers free and confidential legal advice both in person, over phone and via email.

In hindsight, I would have cut contact with my him upon leaving, but I was still weak and under his control and manipulation. It took almost three months after leaving the family home to arrive at my turning point.

My husband took our son for a scheduled two-hour visit but failed to return him for bedtime. I called and texted many times but to no avail. Over the course of the next 30 hours, the police and child protection agency tried to track him down, and when my son was eventually returned to me after this harrowing ordeal, I knew it was the end.

The refuge

For those who lack financial resources or social networks, it can take a woman up to 30 attempts to leave a domestic violence situation. I was fortunate to have some savings but was struggling to find a rental property in a highly competitive market.

It had become clear that my husband’s erratic behaviour had taken its toll on his parents too, and I felt I needed to move out.

The NSW Domestic Violence Unit put me in touch with a local, not-for-profit, community-based service for women and vulnerable families escaping domestic and family violence. This amazing specialist support system offers crisis accommodation, and the refuge became our home for two months.

Not only did it provide me and our son a safe home but also an emotional, legal and spiritual blanket of advice, advocacy, education and support. The wonderful volunteers helped me navigate the aftermath of the abuse I had suffered and held my hand through my first days of navigating the complex Family Law system.

Building our new home

After applying for nearly 40 apartments I landed on a rental unit and with the ongoing help of the counsellors at the refuge, started to build a new life. It’s here that the grieving really started. I was a single mum with a baby. It was a daunting realisation.

I don’t have many material items and it’s certainly a far cry from the future I had planned but, I have a happy, relaxed and compassionate home where we I can be myself, free from abuse and toxicity. My son is thriving and healthily attached to me. We are happy together. We are a team.

At night, when he has gone to bed, I think of the life-changing day I left my husband and our family home. Would I make the same decision despite all that I’ve been through? Absolutely. A life free of control and abuse is a healthier and happier life.

Resources and information

The Australian Government’s Institute of Family Studies classifies family violence as: abuse of one family member (including a child) by another and can involve physical, sexual, psychological, social and financial abuse and neglect. Normally the abused person is fearful of and/or intimidated by the abuser and feels relatively powerless. (Bagshaw et al., 2010, Vol. 2, p. 3)

  • The NSW Domestic Violence Crisis Service offers crisis support, free legal intervention, support programs, accommodation advice and safety planning for victims of domestic violence anywhere in the state.
  • On the Central Coast specifically, the Central Coast Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service provides free legal support for local victims of domestic violence. They can be contacted on 1800 938 227 during office hours.
  • The NSW Domestic Violence hotline provides 24/7 information, support and help including immediate accommodation including those living on the NSW Central Coast. They can be reached on 1800 656 463.
  • There are three dedicated women and childrens’ refuges on the NSW Central Coast.
    • Elandra Women and Children’s Refuge (4396 4263)
    • Kara Women and Children’s Refuge (4323 1709)
    • Neleh House (4340 1052)
  • Local not-for-profit, Coast Shelter, provides personal support for people experiencing domestic or family violence (4325 3540)
  • The Federal Government now offers the Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) program which helps women move forward and set up a home free of violence. You can apply at Uniting Vicas