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Definitely found my self esteem
Finally-I’m forever free to dream
No more cryin’ in the corner
No excuses-no more bruises
I’d rather die standing
Than live on my knees
Begging please-no more….  Shania Twain.. Black Eyes, Blue Tears

Sunday 25th November is White Ribbon Day..It is Australia’s campaign to stop violence against women.. It is a male led campaign that believes most men are good and that good men abhor violence. (straight from their website).. This is an incredibly important campaign and one which holds a very special place in my heart. The fact that it is men who have implemented it is, to me anyway, one of the greatest things about it.

When men have the conversation and speak out against violence toward women, they put their peers, perhaps unknowingly, on  notice, to treat women with respect or face being ostracised by your friends.  Now, before it gets said, I know there is violence toward men and it is every bit as bad as violence toward women.  Emotionally, it may even be more degrading and isolating as men don’t want to speak about it.  So I am not, under any circumstances saying that this is one way street, but the day was brought about to highlight violence toward women and that is what I’m talking about today.

I think we have so many days which support different causes (here in Australia at least) that we become a bit blase about them.  We buy the ribbon or flower, shove it on for a day, then discard it.  How many of us actually think about why we are wearing it? Sometimes we need to personalise things before we understand them completely.  I proudly wear a pink ribbon in memory of my cousin Julie who succumbed to breast cancer in her early thirties, leaving three beautiful children without their loving mother.  When I wear a red poppy, I remember not only my own father and grandfather who fought in WW1 & WW2 but all the other soldiers who sacrificed so much so we can live the life we do.  A yellow daffodil is worn with love and an overwhelming sadness as I remember how cancer took not only my mum’s life but her dignity and quality of life before she finally lost her fight against the insidious disease.  When I buy a red nose product, I do so with gratitude that my own 3 children were born healthy and grew past babyhood.  So many causes and to me, the ones I choose to support are very personal.

The most personal of all to me is the White Ribbon Campaign.  Those of you who know me or who have read a few of my blogs will know that my daughter Aimee died when she was only 10.  According to the authorities, Aimee was a road toll statistic.  I know she wasn’t.  Aimee was a victim of domestic violence.  You see violence comes in many forms.  It’s not just about being hit or kicked or punched.  It’s also about being threatened, intimidated, controlled and held to ransom in some way.

On the record, I am a victim of domestic violence.  I had numerous AVO’s against my ex husband as he assaulted me and stalked me for a number of years before and after we separated.  The children were used as a weapon to control me.  I heard constantly that if I didn’t take him back, he would kill them and teach me a lesson.  That is the worst violence you can commit towards a mother.  Her children are so much more important than her own life.  I hate reliving these years as I am embarrassed that I stayed.  I am ashamed that I was the sort of “weak woman” I always thought less of, for allowing someone to dominate her.  Most of all, I feel an overwhelming guilt that because of the choices I made, my daughter’s life ended prematurely. I can listen to all the experts in the world telling me it was not my fault but they will never convince me.  I failed in the worst possible way as a parent.

I used to say (and I’m sure some of you are thinking it now).. if it’s that bad, why do they stay.. If a man hit me, I’d be out the door, never to return.  Let me tell you, most domestic violence doesn’t just start with a brutal attack, (though I know some do).  It starts in different ways that are harder to recognise and life isn’t always as simplistic as we think it should be.  My ex started by isolating me from friends and family.  He would behave so badly at times that I was embarrassed so I just avoided putting myself in a situation where I could be. I lost most of my friends at that time. It was just too hard.

Do you leave a man for that?  That is, if you even recognise that it’s  happening.  Then when the isolation turns into control and you are questioned as to why you took so long doing the shopping, you try to make excuses.  I mean, I had the 3 kids with me.. Surely he wasn’t suggesting I was having an affair was he? No, he was obviously just having a bad day… or a bad week… or a bad month.. you get my drift.  So, do you tear a family apart for that?  Do you say to your children, we can’t live with Daddy anymore because he thinks I take too long doing the shopping?

Your self esteem starts to slip.  Now that’s not an easy thing for a Leo.. Our sense of self is pretty well established.  But after a while, the isolation and lack of trust starts to eat away at your self confidence and you start to question if you have done something wrong to make him think that way.  He tells you often enough it’s all your fault and after a while, you start to agree. So by the time the first push happens, and he tells you that because you pushed him back (yes I did stand up for myself ), that you were as bad as him, you believe it. But is a simple shove enough to live life as a single parent.  I mean, you’ve been told time and time again that you are fat and ugly and you’re lucky he loves you just as you are.  Who else is going to love you? Is it really fair for your children to grow up in a broken home because he pushed you and you pushed him back? Your mother is living in a granny flat in the backyard.. Is that one push enough to risk making her homeless if things get nasty?  You feel trapped which increases his power over you.

It’s never as simple as it sounds.  Deep down, you know you should have drawn the line in the sand earlier.  You know you should have stopped it at day one but you didn’t even realise it was happening, so how can you stop it?  By the time it’s obvious to you, you feel it’s your fault as you allowed it to happen.

I have to tell you, my ex husband wasn’t a monster.  Nor did he have any substance abuse.  He had a breakdown.  He was a very placid man when we first met.  I was the loud, over the top person.  I had the opinions and he just agreed with them.  I was the one with the short fuse, not him.  I had agreed to be with him for better or for worse. Maybe this was the worse but it would blow over eventually?

It first reached crisis point when Aimee was five, Lachlan four and Stuart two.  Aimee was outside playing with her cousin, and got too busy, as five year olds sometimes do, and forgot to go to the toilet and pooed in her pants.  Her father punched her and called her a stupid slut. (sorry about the word.. but it’s what he said).  That was my breaking point.  I don’t know if I was angrier about the punch or the name calling.  Regardless, I said he had to leave and get help.  He went back to live with his mother and seemed to try to get himself back under control.

The kids missed him, I was finding it hard to cope on my own with 3 children 5 and under and he wanted to come home.  So I let him.  I mean, what sort of mother was I to deprive my kids of their father?  The transformation only lasted for about a week before the same behaviour patterns started all over again.  I was so ashamed to tell anyone what was happening.  I’d taken him  back. I’d made my bed and now I had to lie in it.

I got choked, I got pushed, I got my hair pulled, I was forced to have sex but I was never punched.. so that meant I wasn’t an abused wife.. Or so he told me.  I became over vigilant with the kids and would smack them for the tiniest misdemeanor before he could.  I became controlling over them as I had no control in any other part of my life.  I was a lousy mother back then.  I will regret till the day I die, how I treated my children.  I have since apologised to my  boys but can never expect complete forgiveness.  I  can never tell my gorgeous girl just how sorry I am for the way I treated her.  (I’m crying with shame as I write this)

At the time, my ex decided that since he’d worked all along, it was time I worked and he could stay at home and “bludge” like I’d always done.  I started work at a golf club, met a lady who has become one of my dearest friends and I found myself again.  I started to gain confidence back as I was around people who actually seemed to like me. I had worked late one night, catering a chinese banquet for a large group of people and when I got home, the house was a mess, the kids in bed in their dirty daytime clothes and I asked him what he’d made for dinner.  He said that he and the kids had pizza.. I could get my own bloody dinner.  I think that was my second breaking point.  I’d been on such a high at work then came home to that. I told him I wanted a divorce. He didn’t believe me.

It took me a few more weeks to get him out of the house.  I asked him for a temporary break and he went to stay with friends in Queensland.  He left there telling them he was coming home to kill me and the kids so when they phoned me and told me to be careful, I laid low and kept watch.  He finally got home one day, forced his way into the house, smashed my head through a plaster wall and when I fell on the ground, he started kicking me.  All this in front of my kids.  Aimee stood screaming, Lachlan ran to get my mum and Stuart (all of 3 at the time) launched himself at my ex and started biting his leg.  Terrified he would be thrown through the air, I got up and tried to get him off.  By the time Mum walked in, my ex ran out the front.

When I’d calmed everyone down, I locked Mum and the kids in the house, climbed over the back fence through a neighbours house to get to the police station.  I was greeted at the door by an officer who said I couldn’t come in as my ex was in there devastated by what I’d done to him. What the??????  I, of course, got defensive and angry, which in the officer’s eyes just confirmed the fact that I was the bitch troll from hell who was out to destroy her husband.  After much argument, he finally conceded to come around and see what had happened.  The hole in the wall, he said, happened because I tripped and fell.. He’d been told this by my ex and he believed him over me. I felt like I was in a no win situation.

A while afterwards, my ex told me he was going to take the kids, put them in a car and kill them. That would pay me back for leaving him..  I finally went to the court and got a restraining order against him.  Let me tell you something here…. if the police don’t want to help you, that paper is worth nothing.  That initial reaction of the first police officer spread through the others and they all saw me as a ball  breaker and him as the innocent victim.

I don’t have the time, energy or upload limit to tell you everything that happened leading up to my daughter’s death.  I am writing a book about her but it’s a long and hard journey.  Suffice to say, over the next four years, Mum, the kids and I were stalked, harassed, threatened, physically injured, had our things stolen and vandalised.  We had so many intervention orders and court appearances for breaches of the orders, plus family law court appearances that even holding a job down became hard.  The police were, on the whole, no help at all.  There were one or two good ones, but basically, my fate had been sealed as far as they were concerned.

Thankfully, my mother diarised all of the contact we had with them and I have a plethora of paperwork and newspaper articles relating to it all so have proof of the treatment we received.  Finally after four years, everything had calmed down.  He didn’t even want to see the kids and we were all happy again.  After six months, he took me back to court yet again to re establish access although he had ceased it.   I have to admit, I was excited about having a weekend to myself and so was looking forward to it.  I honestly thought things might have settled themselves down. What a fool I was.. and a selfish one at that.

Aimee didn’t want to go and only agreed because she felt the need to look after the boys.  I was at a housewarming party on the Saturday when a friend of mine, who was a police officer, knocked at the door.  He told me the kids were involved in an accident and I had to go to the hospital.  As we walked outside, he put his arms around me and told me Aimee wasn’t with us anymore. The rest is too hard to recount here. My life would never be the same again.. Nor would my boy’s lives. Stuart was in critical condition in intensive care with serious head injuries and Lachlan also had head injuries.  The trauma they have lived through is unthinkable.

The day of Aimee’s funeral, I was served with court papers because the boys were still in hospital and he wanted to take them out for his access visit.  He walked past my brother saying, I hope this won’t take long. I have better things to do with my day.  Not long after he had me arrested for making threats against him (I hadn’t seen him).  He took me to court because I refused to put his name on her headstone (of which he paid for nothing).  His behaviour went on and on.  He was found to be responsible for her death but none of his threats or previous convictions were allowed to be brought into the Coroner’s Court.  He was charged with dangerous driving and had his license suspended for  6 months and got a $1000 fine. The boys and I got a life sentence.

My gorgeous girl was 10 years and 26 days old when she left this world.  Aimee is counted as one of 418 road fatalities that happened in 1995.  In my opinion, that count should be 417 as she was a victim of domestic violence not a car accident.  Aimee’s death may just be a statistic to other people.  To us, it was soul destroying. And then to have to handle the travesty of justice that followed… well, there are no words that can tell you how I feel about it all.

The point I’m trying to convey here, is that we need to change the way we think.. Until every police officer takes complaints seriously, until every woman thinks before she accuses someone of something they didn’t do, until the court system is fair, just and reasonable, deaths will still happen.  We need to change the world.  We need to say no to any violence.  We need to speak out when we see or hear of it.  We need to take all forms of bullying seriously.  We need to create a world where children don’t suffer at the hands of adults and where women don’t feel they have no choices.  We need to be aware.  To pinch a line from a recent anti violence campaign in Geelong, we need to talk about the elephant in the room.  If you know or even suspect it’s happening to someone, just let them know you’re there and you believe them.  Start the conversation with your friends.  Let them know that you say no to violence against anyone. Maybe by speaking out, a life may be changed or even saved.

Tomorrow I will wear a white ribbon for my beautiful Aimee Louise and for my amazing, resilient and loving sons who have endured more in their 20 odd years on this earth than most adults will in a lifetime.   I will wear it to try to forgive myself for my lack of action right from the start.  I hope that even if you don’t wear a ribbon, you will pause in your day and spare a thought for all the victims of domestic violence, men, women and children.   I hope you will teach your sons and daughters to give and receive respect, both to themselves and to others.  Most of all, I hope you will start the conversation.. The more we speak, the more hope we have of changing the world.  Oh and hug your kids if you can.  They are the most precious gift we have.

Please feel free to share, reblog and talk about this to your friends and contacts.  The conversation can start right here.  My angel will thank you for it.

Happy hugging… Livvy 🙂