The Elephant in the room

It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.

Over the last couple of months since sharing my story, I’ve had a number of conversations about domestic violence. While talking about it has been cathartic, and has put some distance between myself and my experience, it has also really opened my eyes.

Questions have come up:

Was it physical or just emotional?

How bad was it?

Or comments:

Well, you must have loved him at some stage to marry him?

Can’t have been that bad if you stayed so long?

These questions and comments at times made me want to throw my hand on my hip, roll my eyes and ask what year do we live in, well?! at least in my sassier more badass moments. Alternatively, at times the exasperation was so overwhelming, and the victim-blaming felt so acute that I wanted to go find a safe place to hide and cry, wishing I’d never said anything in the first place.

I felt defensive, indignant, and frankly, on first poking around these prickly negative feelings, I just wanted to shout WTF!!!

I wanted to rant (and did to some friends – thanks for listening!). Does it matter ‘how bad’ the violence is? Is there an acceptable level perhaps? A level where we can rest our heads at night, thinking, ‘well they were only abused a little bit, they’ll be right’?! And why differentiate between different ‘types’ of abuse, as if that matters, they all do immense damage to individuals, families and communities.

Also, don’t get me started on the ‘you must have loved them at some stage’ and comments around the time taken to leave. Have you ever felt so completely trapped, alone, scared, and stuck that you couldn’t change things. Have you ever feared for your life or for your children? Now, take that fear and think about how that might just cause paralysis of action, possibly for years…

After consoling the victim within, stepping outside my experience, and taking some deep calming breaths, I decided to take a look at these experiences through a different lens.

Just as I would for a race or a run, or most other experiences in life I decided to look at these experiences, see what I can learn and then take action.

My experiences since opening up and talking about domestic violence have shown me that there is a lot of work to be done around awareness. While I may have swirling, overwhelming emotions that come up in relation to these questions and comments, I believe for the most part they are only said because of a lack of understanding.

People are curious and lack awareness as to what domestic violence is and how it affects people. It has been hidden for so long and still isn’t widely talked about. Because it isn’t talked about, it isn’t understood and that creates barriers around the language we use and ultimately how we support and help people experiencing domestic violence.

So here’s a start, here’s my taking action:

Let’s start with a definition, what is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is about a systematic pattern of coercive control punctuated by physical, sexual, emotional or financial violence that leaves the victim intimidated, hurt and fearful for their life, and the lives of their family. It is a pattern of power and control.

And to the age-old question, why didn’t they just leave?

As mentioned above, the abused person may be fearful for their life, they may be isolated, they may have no money due to the set up of the relationship, they might feel shame, or they might just be holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, one-day things will change and they will get their happily ever after, after all…

Running 100 miles for me is a walk in the park compared to the 10+ years I spent in fear. In running long distance I also get to build up a little more strength and courage and slowly make myself a little more whole. In being out in nature I see the beauty of the world, and in making friendships through this amazing community of like-minded people I see that life can be a celebration.

Relationships are complex, I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and join a support group for people with baggage (and not the fun fast-packing kind!). I mean, no one gets through life unscathed without picking up a few maladaptive behaviours! It’s how we deal with them that counts.

It takes time and a fair bit of work, and just like in running you’ll likely have a few setbacks along the way. But if you work at it the view from the top is totally worth it! If you recognise any behaviours that are hurting other people, in yourself or in others, then reach out and get some help.

Where to get help: Women’s Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It’s Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654 HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 – 0

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111

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