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The most dangerous time for women. Story 2of 5 Faliana Lee

Introduction

Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Faliana Lee abuse victim image www.goodgirlsgo.com

Faliana Lee

We want to make amends for the relationship to move forward, but the fact is, we are never moving forward. I don’t know how many times I tried to change myself to make things work. I was in a loop, and it was never ending, and eventually you lose a sense of your own identity. So when I left the relationship, I couldn’t even cry. I found grieving very difficult.


Faliana Lee

Faliana Lee is the author of Carving A Piece of Heaven, which documents her leaving story after almost two decades of being physically and emotionally abused. Lee now works voluntarily as an advocate for Womens Health East, to lobby the government for policies to speed up recovery for victims.

I was in a violent relationship for 18 years. At the beginning of the marriage, the first half of the first year, there weren’t any episodes of violence or abuse. After half a year, things started to happen.

Initially, it was things like, we’d have to travel to Sydney but for the whole trip I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet. Violence and abuse is a form of control. He actually would not hide abuse from the children, sometimes he would have outbursts in front of them and, somehow, I still believed it was better for me to stay for the good of the children, not knowing that for children who witness the abuse it’s as if they experience it themselves.

When you’re in the relationship for a long time, you lose your identity. You believe in the lies you were told. We don’t believe in our ability to live an independent life.

You don’t get much sense of freedom and, on average, it takes a woman seven times to leave a relationship for good. I lost the support of my own family, and friends. It’s about trying to form a new circle of friends around you for support.

The emotional abuse gradually became more intense, and then the physical abuse set in. One of the things abusers tend to do is to isolate us from the community as well, so it’s harder for us to seek help in many ways and over time, we believe in their lies.


‘Sanctuary at St Kilda beach. The smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves as they approach the shore calm me down when I have a problem relaxing.’


‘I’ve read my Bible almost every night since I was young. It brings me comfort knowing God cares for me no matter how big is the storm.’

And then, there is the shame factor in the whole abuse. So we find it very hard to open up to anyone. I did have friends at work, a colleague, she was in that type of situation before but then she realised what was happening to me, because over time, it will get so stressful that you develop the physical symptoms, even though you try to ignore it.

Eventually, your body will accumulate enough stress that it manifests itself in physical symptoms. I suffered from excessive bleeding and chronic fatigue, and when that happened, my colleague picked it up because she was in a similar situation before. She was trying to offer me support but it’s very hard for some of us to open up even with people who identify with you, with your suffering, and with your feelings. So I didn’t take the support. I tried to find [a] way to solve the problem on my own. But you’ll never be able to do it alone. Eventually, the stress meant I was forced to leave my job as a tax accountant.

I think before I made the final decision to leave my partner permanently, I attempted four [times]. After each scenario, when he showed remorse and the children wanted to go back home, then you sort of felt like that is the way to move forward but unfortunately like, you look back at what happened … the situation doesn’t improve over time. I think what made my final decision to leave permanent is because my life was threatened and prior to that, there were times where I had conversations with my older son where I said I would stay, as long as it was safe to do so. But if my life was ever threatened, then we had to leave.

And there are things people can see, if you pay attention to us. Sometimes like, there will be times that we seem to struggle emotionally no matter how bravely we want to put ourselves forward. No matter how hard we try to hide our bruises, there could be visible signs that we’ve been abused.


Faliana Lee

We were actually kicked out by my ex from home in the middle of the night. He went to the kids room, woke them up in the middle of the night, and we were kicked out of our home. I think [it was because] earlier that evening, I had a conversation with him because our Christian counselling session was coming up and usually what happened before a counselling session was, he would work me up to a stage that when I went to the counsellors office he would act like the calm and the more trustworthy partner in the relationship and I would be more hysterical, so to speak.

Somehow, he always got the counsellor to side with him. So I think I found it very difficult to cope anymore, so I refused [to go to the counselling session] and [mentioned] the fact that I was thinking of leaving. All was well until we went to bed, and all of a sudden he pushed me off the bed and then he said I had to leave.

During the time when you leave, the abuser will try to make it [seem] as if you have overreacted so they will give you excuses and say, like, it’s because you act that way I responded that way, you know, and it’s not really a big matter. But in your eyes at that time because you are all emotional you feel really bad about the situation. That’s why many women find it hard to resist the urge [to go back] because we always feel it’s our fault, [that] we are partially to blame.

We want to make amends for the relationship to move forward, but the fact is, we are never moving forward. I don’t know how many times I tried to change myself to make things work. I was in a loop, and it was never ending, and eventually you lose a sense of your own identity. So when I left the relationship, I couldn’t even cry. I found grieving very difficult.

My message to women out there who are struggling, I would say to seek help. No one can understand your situation if they are not professionals, they can’t offer you a safe way to leave. Without outside help, there’s no way you can turn the tide around in your favour and improve your situation. It’s very hard for those in a relationship to continue this struggle on their own, so whether you decide to leave or not, phone the helpline or phone a support group. I think that way you don’t feel isolated.


‘The night blooming cereus is a cactus flower that blooms at night and withers the next morning. That reminds me time is short, we should not dwell in the past.’


‘Refuge at the botanic gardens. I love the gum tree. I often climb the tree and rest my head on its branches.’

And there are things people can see, if you pay attention to us. Sometimes like, there will be times that we seem to struggle emotionally no matter how bravely we want to put ourselves forward. No matter how hard we try to hide our bruises, there could be visible signs that we’ve been abused. Recording the date of the episode, if you find yourself suspicious [that someone is being abused] may help us down the track.

Even though I’m completely recovered, there will be days without any trigger at all when something will come up, that emotion will come up. Even though we are out of the relationship, our system is still engaged with that feeling, so it’s really hard at the start to actually try to focus on the present. Even without consciously doing it, my thoughts will either go into the past or worry about the future. You have to learn ways to heal yourself, meditation, exercise, trying to spend time with your friends or finding a new group of friends who are supportive, find a counsellor, if your counsellor is not working with you, don’t be hesitant to change to someone who will be supportive.

One of the things you get from complete recovery is you get your identity back and you have a sense of freedom, and what that allows me to do is use my time more efficiently. So last year I finished my book, I ran as an upper-house candidate in the state election in Victoria. Without recovery, I wouldn’t have been able to do all that. I think that is what recovery is all about.

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Henry Sapiecha


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