24 months later and 4000 miles away from home.
I thought I was in a loving healthy relationship. But one day, the abuse happened. It only happened once but there’s no excuse to justify any kind of domestic violence.
This was the guy with whom I’ve built my life here in Australia, the person I’ve left the comforts of home for. The one who knew all my deepest secrets, and who pushed me to grow as a person. The person who saw my mood swings yet still chose to stick with me.
My world went crumbling down. I had no family here and nowhere to run to. I didn’t want to go home because I couldn’t muster the courage to break my parents’ hearts. I kept thinking about how he could have been immediately put to jail if this had happened in the Philippines.
I packed my bags right after it happened and left. I was homeless for 3 weeks, sleeping on friends’ houses and waiting to find myself a good lease. At some point, I questioned myself. ‘Why did this happen to me? Was I to blame for what happened?’
“Did you go to the police?”
I did. The very day it happened. I had bruises all over my arms that were shaped like hands, imprinted into my skin when he shook my little frame like a baby. Scratches all over my neck. I took photos and documented everything. Being raised by lawyers, I knew what to do.
I filed a restraining order and applied for legal separation. I was so scared to see him. But thankfully, during the trials, I was placed in a separate room with my caseworker and it was only my lawyer who went into the courtroom with him. The magistrate ruled in my favor.
I spiralled down into deep depression but I had to hold myself together for the public to see. I went to therapy twice a week, one with a court-mandated therapist who specialized in domestic violence. All I could hear was my heart, and how much trauma and pain I was carrying inside. When I felt that I couldn’t go any lower, I plunged deeper. I was prescribed a mix of anti-depressants and sleeping pills.
I focused on building my life, my career. I’m happy ticking off small goals as an adult, like fixing up my new apartment and buying furniture. Last night for the first time in a very time, my Dad asked me over the phone if I have a boyfriend. I still don’t know what I want as of this moment. I did date a few people after him, but I’m just not ready to commit to anyone yet. I just want to continue to learn to piece myself together and love myself wholly.
No one wants to talk about the specifics of abuse because it feels like no one really wants to hear it. You watch their bodies tense up, their faces not knowing what expression to show. Most will end up saying “I’m sorry.” Your gut reaction will be to say, “It’s okay,” when it really isn’t okay. And you’ll start to blame yourself by saying “I was young, I was naïve, I should have seen the signs.”
Countless people will tell you, “This isn’t your fault.” — you’ll begin to feel validated and strong. But then someone will respond in the worst way, and you end up questioning everything again.
I only told a select few. I surrounded myself with people whom I could trust, but even from this small circle, there were fall-outs — people who questioned me and said he might have done it as an ‘act of love’ or desperation in order to stop me from leaving; that we hurt the people whom we love the most. Domestic violence is NOT acceptable, no matter what bullsh*t you come up with.
I’m not sharing this to slander him or pit others against him. I have learned to forgive him on that day, and I hope he learns to forgive himself someday. There are times that I felt that he stole those years from me, but there were still good things to take out of our love— so much that I learned and I hope he learned, too. There also needs to be more accountability and avenues of healing for people who have been the oppressor, but that’s not what this story is about.
I share this because if I can educate one woman on abuse, it will be worth it. After I left, I learned that one in three women will experience domestic violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. ONE IN THREE. Many of whom will stay in these relationships for many years. It’s time to start educating our daughters on what abuse actually is.
- If he calls you names like bitch and cunt, that’s not normal, it’s abuse.
- If he blames you for everything and is not taking responsibility for his own actions, that’s not normal, it’s manipulation and abuse.
- If he creates a “reality” where you’re the monster and he’s the victim, that’s not normal, it’s manipulation and abuse.
- If he blocks you with his body or pushes you, even if you aren’t hurt, that’s not normal, it’s abuse.
- If he spits on you, leaves you or keeps you from leaving, punishes you in some way, punches walls, says he wants to kill you or kill himself, yells in your face, throws your clothes outside, makes a mess that he expects you to clean up, THAT'S NOT NORMAL, it’s manipulation and abuse.
I know now, why women stay in these relationships. Why women keep their secrets and hide their bruises. I know now, why women never press charges for sexual assault or don’t come forward for many years. For several months, I felt angry with myself. Angry I was never educated on what abuse is. Angry I hadn’t seen signs. Angry that all those years I believed I wasn’t being abused, because “abused people end up in hospitals.” Angry I didn’t own my worth sooner.
If you are experiencing things like the above from your partner or any other thing that just doesn’t feel “right,” I encourage you to tell someone. Anyone. If you’re keeping it a secret, it’s likely wrong and needs to stop.
If someone reaches out to you and shares that their marriage or relationship is struggling, ask questions. Ask them if they ever feel unsafe. Ask them what it’s like during arguments. If it sounds sketchy, please ask them if they’ve ever thought about calling the police. Because if they are in an abusive situation, chances are they’ve thought about it, they’ll just likely never do it.
This storm in my life has passed, I did become a lot stronger. I feel there is nothing I cannot overcome after this. And here I am, in the latter half of my twenties, asking myself. Will I ever be ready to commit again?
This may be the first time my parents or even my family would be hearing about my story, but I think this is the best way. I just want to share my truth, and help people who went through or are going through the same thing. Not everyone is as brave to leave after the first incident, so my hope is that this story will help others find their courage.
If you do need someone to talk to, I’m here. I know your story and I will listen.
Shar is a Filipina graphic designer currently residing in Melbourne, Australia. She is passionate about writing, photography, and helping other survivors of domestic violence to find their voice.