It’s not just about our relationship…Part 2

February 9, 2020 No Comments by Tess Aisthorpe

It’s not just about our relationship, but who we are as individuals, that we want to share. For most people, who we are defines us, but it doesn’t always mean that’s where we came from. Our histories are vastly different, yet in many ways Cara and I have shared similar experiences.

My parents separated when I was eight, and I lived primarily with my mum and step-father until I was 15. To put lightly, my home environment was far from easy. My mum was a victim of severe domestic violence, and I have memories of visiting my step-father in prison and spending time in shelters after particularly bad incidents. The bad ones have never left my mind, and I remember certain moments like it happened yesterday.

My relationship with my mum has been strained for a long time. I love her dearly…just like any child should. Although I can acknowledge her strengths, to this day, I wish my mum had sought professional help. She is a strong, stoic woman but she’s not bullet-proof. I often wonder if she had, maybe our relationship would be different now. I can acknowledge that this is where my stubbornness comes from…thinking I can cope with it all on my own.

I copped the back lash of my mum’s relationship with my step-father on several occasions. At the time I wasn’t sure if I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time or If I actually deserved it. Growing up, I started to appreciate that this wasn’t the case. No one deserves that. I questioned if my mum felt like she deserved it…was that why she would repeatedly go back to the man that would abuse her? It hurts me to know that Cara also suffered domestic violence in a past relationship. At what point does someone consider ending their own life due to the degree of violence inflicted upon them? That’s terrifying.

Domestic violence is not something we like to talk openly about as a society, and I have never spoken about it as part of what defines me. Because it doesn’t. And I never allowed it to, nor will I ever. Just because you live through an experience doesn’t mean that you carry this on. That’s a choice we all have to make.

This is really tough for me to write, as my youngest sister’s father was my step-father for several years. From an early age, I learnt that my experience of home-life was different from all of my sister’s, and I did everything I could to try and protect them. I remember being told by my Mum “You kids come first”…which was never the case when my step-father was on the scene. My biggest fault in life has always been putting myself last. Was this instilled into me from childhood?

It’s not to say that we didn’t have some memorable moments, but for me, these have been overshadowed by violence and abuse. I eventually had enough of watching my mum live a torturous life and at the age of 15, I decided I’d had enough of moving and changing schools. When I say “had enough”, I mean that I cared deeply about my mum and I hoped every time that she would leave him for good, that she would see through the bullshit and put us kids first, like she’d always promised. It never happened and I gradually came to the realisation that I couldn’t save her. So I left. I knew she needed to do it herself and I couldn’t torture myself by being part of that cycle anymore.

I had attended eight schools by the time I graduated Grade 12. I stayed with my Aunty and Uncle and completed Grade 11 and 12, after my mum and step-father moved away again. I lost touch with my sisters for a while and that hurt like hell. I was devastated to leave my mum. At that point in my life, she was my world, I looked up to her, I desperately wanted her to love me back, but I just couldn’t be a part of that life anymore.

Living with family gave me the chance to develop close relationships with my cousins, and they looked after me so well. I’m grateful for all their support. Getting through school and graduating was important for me. I’ve always believed that education was crucial, even though I didn’t really know where I was going to end up. I know I could have tried harder, maybe not have drunk so often in the last few years of school, but I finished with a decent op.

I visited my dad during the holidays, even when I was living with mum. He was always on properties, and that’s where my love of the land comes from. Things were good there until he met a horrible, evil woman, which made our holidays out there difficult to say the least. Thank goodness that ended eventually. Dad has now found the love of his life, and is happily married to a lady we all adore.

Ah, back to me….now let’s be clear guys, I had grand aspirations for myself. I wanted to join the Army after school. Clearly that didn’t happen….I met a boy at 16, put my plans on hold, and moved to Toowoomba to follow him. I would be lying if I said it was a smart move. Following someone else around for 13 years and pretending to be someone I was not…wasn’t my finest move. I was 16 at the time and he was 21… I lived a lot of this time on my own, almost an outsider as I was never accepted or included by his family, and learnt to either go with the flow or separate myself.

I didn’t quite know what to do with myself when I got here. I started studying for a law degree but that lasted 18 months….so I got a job and invested my energy in that. I was the best damn PA any accounting firm could dream of…for 8 years.

My relationship wasn’t perfect, I was far from the dutiful partner, and entertained my own personal sabotage along the way. I’ve always been self-sufficient and don’t need a lot of praise, but everyone wants to be loved by someone. I was no different.

We wanted very different things in our life. My ex wanted kids. I was adamant that I didn’t. I had always been surrounded by younger kids growing up, and for some reason the crazy little bastards looked up to me and loved being around me. I tolerated them. But I never liked or wanted them. That’s still true to this day.

Don’t get me wrong though, Cara’s kids are “our kids” and I love them. It would be your misfortune to mess with them, just saying. You’d have me to deal with.

But life just went on. The world didn’t wait for me. No one came to remind me to chase my dreams. I slowly but surely forgot about prioritising myself and for a long time, lived a fairly mundane existence.

Then one day I decided to go to a class at Fighting Fit.

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I have incredibly fond memories of my childhood, being number five out of seven I had the way paved before me. From the outside looking in, we were a typical functioning family, and in many ways we were.

But even though my childhood was spent outdoors, playing, being active and encouraged to try anything and everything, there was a lot of tragedy that surrounded us. When I’ve thought about this over the years, I’ve found gratitude for the opportunity to develop resilience at a young age, but I’ve started to question whether the impact of this damaged my emotional response to further traumas I would encounter.

Looking back, it seems as though my life was in fast forward from the time I hit high school. Walking in the footsteps of my older, accomplished and well regarded sister, bought some great obstacles for me. Honestly, I struggled in the shadows of someone, I fought against being ‘good’, and even though I did well academically, I was constantly seeking and finding trouble for myself (yes, I can admit that I went looking for it…).

Before my little sister came along, I had a little brother. Paul was only with us for a few short years, but man did he leave a mark. Not only on me, but my whole family. Being a mum now I can’t imagine how my parents felt at the time, but I understand more about the gigantic gaping hole in left in their hearts.

I remember my mum’s sadness and spending time with her in bed, a lot.

Memories are funny though. I can’t remember when it all changed, but I know it did. Soon enough my little sister was here. I remember my older brother and sisters all leaving home, one by one, and being left with her. Being seven years older than her, I just found her annoying. It wasn’t until we grew up that we shared a close friendship as sisters.

There was a lot of loss in our family; our brother, our grandparents, our cousin. I always found that in those moments we would all be reunited by our shared pain. Life was not always smooth sailing. I know my parents had their fair share of rocky moments, and I know for certain that I didn’t make their life easy.

My mum had struggled for a long time with depression and after many unhappy years, she saw the right professional and was diagnosed and medicated properly. It was definitely a relief for me, as I had watched both of my parents struggle to keep their marriage together, and their sanity intact. They did come out the other side. If they hadn’t, I’m certain they couldn’t have spent years travelling Australia in a caravan together.

Even though we claim to be a close family, I know we all keep secrets. Even to this day. There were moments in my childhood when I knew things weren’t ok, but wouldn’t find out why until many, many years later.

Then I left home before I finished school. In a mess. In anger. And it’s from there that I can trace a direct line to the significant decline in my life, my choices and the subsequent consequences of those.

Somehow, I managed to finish school and was accepted to uni. Choosing psychology seemed like a logical step. My family’s history is marred with mental health issues. Whether they like to admit it or not, there are plenty of potential psychological disorders and characteristics floating through our genes.

So that’s what I studied. I worked with my boyfriend while I was at uni and found a job at Autism QLD, where I stayed for several years. I loved it. I worked there until I graduated and then managed to secure (what I thought was going to be a great career choice) a job working in the child safety sector. Man, how wrong was I. It chewed me up and spat me out. 18 months there and I was done.

Before Tess, my relationship history could be likened to the track record of a bad racehorse. I’m a maiden, with no wins, I was checked and bailed up repeatedly, often scratched and basically stone motherless. When you’re in it though, it’s not all that easy to realise that not all horses are made for racing. These were the years I was flogging a dead horse. Every outcome led nowhere.

I’ll tell you what though. I tried. I stayed in relationships for convenience, because it was much easier than leaving. And then I would find ways to sabotage these, because that was easier than the truth. I caused a lot of pain. Pain that was totally unnecessary and could have been spared had I known how to be honest with myself.

Unlike Tess, I’ve been married before. Twice. Yep. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Tess has often asked me why I’d want to get married again. I’ll get to that in another blog….

Like many women I was told I wouldn’t be able to have kids, I suffered from PSO and significantly high testosterone levels. And I wanted kids. Having older siblings, I’d grown up being an Aunty early, and having nephews and nieces that I adored. I married the loveliest man before I was 20 who wanted all the same things as me, but with no spark it just didn’t happen. I threw myself into work, which eventually consumed me and destroyed our relationship – see there’s that sabotage…

When I fell pregnant with my eldest son I was in a really bad space. I weighed the equivalent of two bags of concrete, lived on cigarettes and red wine, and was still working in hell on earth. I decided I wanted more for that baby. What I know now however is that you can only push yourself out of any given situation, it’s pointless trying to drag someone away who doesn’t want to leave the party.

That was my mistake and a costly one. Domestic violence creeps up on you. I look back now and can see that there were so many small signals that I missed. And until it was in my face, literally, I couldn’t see it. When I did, I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to admit that I had allowed myself, a strong, smart woman, to be belittled, controlled and manipulated.

It wasn’t until my son was almost 2 years old that I got out. It took a close friend to see me at the worst. Having someone who cares about you see that, to tell you everything you need to hear, and to remind you of your worth, is terribly confronting but without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Tess and I have talked about domestic violence and the issue with people on the outside looking in, being unable to understand why victims stay. I could say that I was young, I was naïve, I was terrified of being on my own, but I know now that it wasn’t that simple.

Domestic violence is cruel and complicated. It causes chaos to our self-belief and perception, and it shatters our confidence.

I knew I wasn’t done. But even after I was out, I would face manipulation again. Emotional and psychological abuse can be crueller than anything you might imagine.

This would be my next challenge.

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Why is it that domestic violence is taboo? Why do we only talk about it in hushed tones? At what point do we acknowledge that it happens to people we love, while we sit back and watch? Why do we hold expectations of victims but fail to act ourselves?

There are too many women who suffer in silence. We acknowledge that men can be victims of domestic violence as well, but our experience is far and above with women. Our friends, our family and ourselves. That’s too much experience to ignore.

We have had many friends laugh it off. Failing to acknowledge that their relationships are teetering on the edge. Attributing blame to themselves, refusing to acknowledge that they are losing who they are.

Sitting with female friends and hearing stories of violent ex-partners, and manipulating husbands, we can only validate their emotions and support their convictions. Hearing mothers talk about the impact of violent fathers upon their children, one can only console. There is nothing to be said about a mother’s guilt and sense of uselessness in failing to protect children from domestic and family violence. Except to remind them of who they are and what they are capable of.

Speaking to those who have come out of these relationships, the scars remain forever. Years later, even when their children are adults and have their own families, these women feel some sense of responsibility. Still, for their children who may have suffered damage to their attachment ability, their trust of men and often irreparable tension with their fathers. It is not their fault and there is nothing they can do to repair those emotional and psychological tears.

We know of mothers who continue to cycle through violent relationships, not always physical. Both of us know this too well. Mothers who place their children and themselves at ongoing risk, most often because they are still unsure of what they deserve. We know women who seek comfort by having friendships with their children, trying to make up and forgive themselves for the pain and harm caused by someone else.

Cara and I are in privileged positions. We have the benefit of hindsight and honest self-appraisal. We also understand the importance of coming into self-awareness, and that for most people this is a process they must work through themselves.

What we know undoubtedly is this. No one deserves it.