What happened

For most of my childhood and teenage years, I had no idea that what was going on in my family was family violence. I’d never seen dad hit mum, but I had seen him stand over her, grabbing and lunging at her as vile words spewed from his mouth. That look in his eye was enough to keep us under his control, and it truly terrified me to my soul.

While there were moments of affection and love where my dad truly acted as though he cared about me, these moments slipped further and further into the horizon – particularly, once my brother was born. Suddenly his mood began to change, and he would begin doing little things for my brother that were not afforded to me. Jack was always in the right, I was always doing something wrong, Jack was shown favouritism, mum and I were always making mistakes. I was confused and sad…what had I done to make my dad start pushing away from me? Why was I always in trouble? Even more heartbreaking was that as my brother grew, he began to pick up on my dad’s attitudes. He would sometimes throw himself on the floor and pretend I’d hurt him. His brain was being wired to seek approval and love in the only way dad was demonstrating.

One time I had to call the police because I was truly terrified that dad was going to seriously hurt us all. When they arrived he lied and told the police that I was the one they needed to focus on; that I had been abusing my brother. He did this to take the focus off himself I guess. It was truly traumatising to be accused of something so horribly untrue.

We never knew when dad would erupt, or what would set him off. What originally began as stress, eventuated into control and manipulation. Dad was convinced that as a male, he was the head of the house, and he’d punish me for sitting in ‘his’ chair at the end of the table. He began to yell at mum more and more frequently, screaming obscenities and labelling her a ‘stupid bitch’. It was imperative to him that he remain in control at all times, and he often did this by controlling where we went, when, and for how long. He was convinced that mum was having an affair, and no matter what she said or did to prove where she was, it was ever enough. Sometimes he would take the keys to mum’s car and hide them, so that she had no way of leaving the house without his permission. Other times he would make us wait for hours and hours until he was ready to pick us up. There were so many occasions where he did this.

“One time I had to call the police because I was truly terrified that dad was going to seriously hurt us all. When they arrived he lied and told the police that I was the one they needed to focus on”

By the time I was in year six at school, I began to notice a deep sadness that ate away at my soul, but which I couldn’t pinpoint. I thought of the fog that settled across our paddocks in the morning, shrouding our house in a cold, frosty mist. Enveloping and taking over everything. That is what the sadness inside felt like, to my 12-year-old mind. It took me several years before I realised it for what it was: chronic depression. As each month passed, Dad’s inner demons only grew, and it soon became apparent that there was nothing I could do to win his love. I was female, and therefore inferior

I began to feel anxious about having girlfriends over. If there’s one thing I can say from all my years of growing up with an abusive father it’s this: in the absence of fists, words remain one of the most powerful tools of destruction when in the wrong hands. As I grew older I felt increasingly trapped, and had been making plans to get out of the house once I finished school. It was shortly after I graduated from year 12 that my dad committed suicide. Although traumatic and horrible, in reality, it was the only way that my mum, brother and I could ever be free. I think dad knew that. I think he was tired of living with these mental issues, and he saw it as the only way to ‘fix’ himself. I wish he had reached out for help instead. But I’m glad that I am finally free.

How I coped with it

Focusing on my school work and putting my all into that made me feel like I had control over something in my life. At home though, the only way I could cope was to literally avoid my dad at all costs. Sometimes I would hide in my room or try to find a reason to be outside, or next door, to get away from him.

One of the things that helped the most was finding someone that I could open up to. The support of my best friend and boyfriend at the time helped me to cope, as I no longer felt alone with this secret. It took me seven years before I opened up to anyone. I was 15. My best friend at the time helped me to feel that I wasn’t alone, that I didn’t have to carry this burden alone; this terrible secret. She helped me to realise that what was happening wasn’t my fault, and wasn’t a ‘normal’ family dynamic. My boyfriend also helped a lot, as he taught me that I was loveable, and that the things my dad said to me weren’t true. I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t ugly, I wasn’t unloveable. In the long term though, nothing really helped much until I was free of my father.

My advice

Abuse is not always physical – often it is emotional and mental, and leaves deep, invisible scars. Love and respect do not come in the form of degrading names. Love and respect do not come in the form of slaps and shoves. Abuse can be someone controlling you mentally, physically, financially or emotionally. Family violence is never your fault – no matter what someone says to you. Please, please – if there’s one thing I can say – don’t blame yourself. Please open up to someone you trust, who can help to make sure you are safe.