by Mel Wojtas
I am a local Ryde resident and solo mother of two with a long personal history of varying degrees of emotional and physical abuse, also known as Domestic Family Violence.
Each night, once my children go to bed, I am on the laptop designing a community for women and children that is safe, accessible, sustainable and a long-term solution – without additional barriers (such as teenage boys not being able to share crisis accommodation with their mothers).
Why? This is my story:
By the time I was 19, I was already in my first of 3 abusive relationships I would endure over the next 10 years. After a fast paced start to the relationship with a man 4 years older who was extremely quiet and anti-social yet polite, seeing one another every single day for the first few months, I moved into his house within 3 months despite my parents telling me it was unhealthy to spend so much time with someone.
One of the early signs that I should have left was the night I attended my best male friend’s birthday party which my boyfriend wasn’t invited to. My boyfriend drove me an hour to the venue (a harbour cruise near Drummoyne) and on the way acted like everything was fine and wished me a fun time. By the time I boarded the boat I was receiving constant messages, calls and voicemails accusing me of being unfaithful with all the boys at the party. I was crying in the corner of the boat the entire time while he was in a jealous rage, threatening not to come back to pick me up after the party. He led me to believe I caused this by going to the party without him. It was my fault.
Because I ‘loved him’, I apologized for going out without him and promised not to do it again. This is how he managed to isolate me from my best friend by making anytime apart from him unbearable and not worth the arguments. This is how abusers gain control.
We talked of children and marriage and he very much wanted a baby. Within a few months I fell pregnant and even though he was thrilled, this is when he started to show his true colours – once I was too committed to leave.
During my pregnancy, I was living in a constant state of paranoia and had no privacy since my personal mail was opened by him. At times, I was dead-locked inside the house during arguments where he’d leave the house and take the home phone battery out of the house with him. I felt like I was trapped, too ashamed to tell my family or friends and too scared of him reading my messages, emails or checking my paper phone bill history.
I didn’t have my drivers license (furthering my isolation and reliance on him) so I couldn’t just leave. I was scared. He started drinking rum daily and I found crates full of empty bottles under the staircase. He was punching holes through doors and walls, going to bed each night with a knife in his bedside table drawer “in case of intruders”, and regularly calling me a “whore” for wearing a skirt to an event months prior. For this I lost my cool and slapped him. He reacted by picking me up and ramming me into a wall until my back broke the plaster, then threw me onto the couch, saying “if your ass wasn’t so fat it wouldn’t have made a hole”.
I would experience panic attacks, daily, on the way home from work. To the point where my doctor required me to wear a monitor for 48hrs to trace my heartbeat to see if there were any murmurs. There weren’t any, it was all my anxiety. Back in 2006 the ‘Safe Start‘ program (supports women with social and emotional issues during pregnancy and following birth) wasn’t available and my Obstetrician didn’t ask about my relationship. I contemplated jumping in front of traffic to get away from it all. I remember just standing there by the side of the motorway, blankly staring at the road.
After my child was born, one month after I turned 21, my parents picked up on me suffering PND as I was completely neglecting myself and showing extreme levels of anxiety, causing my breast milk to dry up at just 4 weeks postpartum. Thankfully, my parents admitted me into St John Of God Hospital Mother & Baby Unit, twice over 6 months, which was a life saver. As part of my discharge plan I was instructed to live with my parents with my baby, which in turn helped to end the cycle of violence and keep us both safe and supported.
Years later when I was living with a new partner, I again found myself in an abusive relationship and too ashamed to admit it. He was a well-respected man amongst the nightclubbing scene and also well connected which was intimidating. Some nights we would go out, he would end up in fist fights, covered in other people’s blood, fleeing the scene with me driving him home. I was terrified of what he could do to me if I ever stepped out of line. The security guards all ‘had his back’ and he was never held accountable for his violence.
One morning after a big night out, he was throwing my clothes from the drawers into a pile on top of me yelling at me to move out whilst I was crying in my apartment stairwell. Neighbours that lived above us walked past without saying a word. I wish they had called the police. I felt invisible.
On another occasion, close friends of his ignored my genuine messages for help and I ended up calling 000 in the midst of an argument but I immediately hung up. The police arrived at our residence and he was arrested shortly after but I was too scared to make a statement. In the middle of it all, my child woke up and walked out to the lounge room where the Police were and cuddled me and I knew I needed to make a move.
I held onto my child so tight that night, until the door flung open in the morning as my abuser had been released from police custody and allowed to come straight back to the home. I felt betrayed by the system and too scared to call them back. How was a piece of paper (AVO) going to stop him from losing his temper? I was told to call the Police immediately if I felt intimidated, but how could I? He was furious about being arrested. I remember sneaking out of the house with the police statement recording audio from the night before and in-between dropping my son off to daycare and going to the police station to show the Domestic Violence Liaison Officer my bruises from the night before, I listened to the CD from his interview on my laptop in the car. As soon as I heard him taking no accountability and blaming me for what had happened, I knew he would never change and that gave me the strength to close the door. I called him and said he needed to be out by the end of the day.
He left the and I struggled to continue paying the rent and daycare fees on one income and ended up losing my child’s daycare placement and our rental property as a result. We went to court 3 weeks later and extended the AVO for 1 year, with his immediate family sitting in the court room, including his nephew who had taken the day off from school – intimidating and unnecessary.
Fast forward to just over a year ago, I had my second child but when bub was 5 months old, again, I chose to leave yet another unhealthy relationship, where my mental health, amongst other things were used against me. ‘Gas lighting tactics’ were used to try and convince me I was to blame for his behaviour, saying I wouldn’t cope on my own with two children, no money and no job. He was trying to make me believe that because he wasn’t going to physically hurt me like others had before, that it was acceptable to be emotionally abusive and intimidating to my child such as punching and head-butting door frames and throwing objects when he was frustrated. This wasn’t okay and I didn’t want my child growing up thinking this was normal or how to treat a partner or their mother.
I finally found the energy to plan our exit and the kids and I left at the beginning of the school holidays so I wouldn’t upset their daily routine. We shared a room at my parent’s home for 3 months while applying for private rentals. All NSW Shelters were at capacity and not receiving any new referrals for 6 months. Link2Home told me to call back once I’m actually homeless.
After persevering and driving my child 1 hour each way to school and back in peak hour traffic and applying for every house possible back in our area near school, our 8th application was finally approved. But what if it hadn’t have been?
With my lived experience I feel this is my purpose in life – to help others escape and stay safe to raise their children without fear and support them as they heal before many more die at the hands of their abusers.
I’m currently in the discovery phase of my project ‘Hive Village Project’, running surveys to local Ryde residents to establish the need for a local shelter. All children deserve a safe and happy future, free from violence and it’s time to bring back the village.
|A New Beginning|