SPEECH: One80TC Gala, 2018

“Well, in case you didn’t notice before, you may now realise I am quite heavily pregnant. My husband and I are awaiting the birth of our first child in a couple of weeks, which is, of course, a truly exciting time in our lives. But it’s also poignantly significant that I’m standing here in this condition, because our baby is a girl- a little daughter. And this fact makes my story, and my future purpose in life, all the more important. And I’ll explain why.

In 2006, at the age of 19, I began down a journey that would shape the rest of my life. I met a man, a man who promised me we would take on the world, create a future unlike anything I’d ever dreamed, and that we would do it together.

He was right about one thing- it was unlike anything I’d ever dreamed possible.

For nearly three years, at the hands of this man nearly 8 years my senior, I experienced cruelty, abuse, and control like I didn’t know could exist. I was young, naïve, a little arrogant- as only teenagers can be- and vulnerable. He saw this, and he saw an opportunity to make the most of it, to satisfy his own demons and his own need for control in his life.

At the hands of this man, I experienced abuse in many forms. It was emotional- not a day went by that words and phrases such as useless, worthless, ugly, disrespectful, in need of a lesson, didn’t get flung my way. It was social- my friendships were closely guarded and controlled, leaving me with almost no one by the end, and fear of even looking people in the eye on the street lingered for a long time. It was financial- I was both forced and stopped from working, depending on how he felt at the time, and had my possessions stripped from me, destroyed, until I was left with only that which I had managed to salvage and hide.

And it was physical. I was beaten on a near daily basis. Weapons were a myriad of objects- his fists, bent out coat hangers, belts, pieces of timber, extension cables, metal bars. I would be punched, slapped, dragged out of bed by my hair, have cold water thrown on me while I slept, forced to sleep on the floor, forced to stand outside in the cold and the rain, screamed at, spat on. I had ribs broken, black eyes, bruises where people could not see. Permanent scars on my arm from a fight one night. I lost half a tooth when he punched me in the face. I had surgery to repair a burst eardrum that was caused by being slapped across the head. My body carries markings of a time in my life when there was no sun.

I speak of these things, and the age-old question rears its head- why didn’t I leave?

Well, the fact that I’m standing here today, in front of you, shows you that I did in fact manage to leave. But no, I didn’t leave the first time he hit me. In fact, I don’t remember the first time he hit me. It sounds crazy, I know. How can you not know when someone HIT you? But this is where the fragility of an already uncertain and still-very-young mind can be lost in a world of control and darkness.

In an abusive relationship, it is not black and white. It is every shade of grey. The violence grows. It begins with words. The waters are tested, boundaries pushed, control mechanisms put into place. As your defences weaken, as you begin to doubt yourself, or begin to believe what you are being told, day in, day out, it escalates. The anger increases. It becomes a push, a slap. It is, more often than not, then followed by deep remorse, apologies, maybe even tears. A promise to never do it again, that it was an accident and he lost control. You believe him- he loves you, he wouldn’t hurt you.

It happens again, then again. You feel confused, ashamed, bewildered. Scared. You doubt yourself further, and before you realise it- if you ever do manage to realise it- the loop has closed, and you are in the cycle.

How does this link in to my daughter? Well, the process of my pregnancy has allowed me time to reflect on the experiences of my past, and it has brought up a great many questions, understandings, and resolves. It has become clear to me just HOW important the support, building up, acceptance, and time we give to those who are growing and discovering themselves truly is. And I looked back at myself, at who I was before I was there, the good and the bad, and I saw that I had been missing the chance to be okay with myself. And so I found myself questioning who I was, and therefore vulnerable to the control of someone else.

What constitutes the type of person who experiences domestic violence? Are they a certain age, a certain background, a certain class, a certain level of education? Unfortunately, although it does happen more to women than men, it’s not even a certain gender. It doesn’t matter your age, your location, your socio-economic background. It doesn’t matter if you’re educated or not, if you have money or not, if you’re overweight or underweight or good looking or not good looking. It means nothing. There is only one real factor that links anyone who has experienced violence in this way, and that is that they were vulnerable in some way, and the perpetrator saw it, and took advantage of it.

I recently wrote my unborn daughter a letter. It came about because of what I’ve come to understand since learning I am going to be a mother. But it’s not just for her. It’s for any girl or woman- and, while I think of it, for any boy or man as well. Nobody is perfect, nobody has life figured out- no matter how much they may portray it to the outside world. Nobody really knows the way, we are all stumbling in the dark as we go. But I do know some things, some things that 100% are true, and are applicable to being human, and I knew it was important to share them. She will make her own mistakes in her life, and I will be there to help guide her through, but I know I want her to understand just a little bit before she ventures out there on her own, to let her know that she doesn’t need to find herself where I did.

I won’t share it all, but I’ll share a couple of points I wrote for her, because I’d like for each of you to take these away with you too- no one here is too old to know it is okay, either.

-          IT’S OKAY TO BE YOU. Society (and social media) tell you that you need to be like other people, and there will be times you wish you could be someone else, but you are you for a reason, and if you were any different, you wouldn’t be you. You are perfect as you are.

-          IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO. Never allow anyone to make you feel like you have to do something. Your life and your choices are your own, and at the end of the day, if someone doesn’t respect your wishes, they’re not the sort of people who should be in your world. Being able to say no is one of the greatest strengths I have found in my life, and it has taught me to be true to myself.

-          IT’S OKAY TO FEEL SAFE. Personal experience taught me this the hard way, but your safety is always paramount. It is your absolute right to feel safe in your home, in your skin, and in your world. Walk away from anyone or anything that challenges that right. Trust your gut, it never lies. And there is no weakness in walking away from something that doesn’t feel right. It may just save your life.

-          IT’S OKAY TO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO. I promise you, in your adult life, there will be days (sometimes even weeks or months) where you just don’t know what you want, where you’re going, or what you want to do. And that is okay. Take a breath, and let it flow.

-          IT’S OKAY TO NOT LIKE YOURSELF. But only temporarily. Some days, you will feel tired, frustrated, and annoyed with yourself, and that’s okay. Allow it to be there, but then stand in front of the mirror, and look at the incredible creature that looks back at you. She will keep you going even when you have no faith in her. I promise.

-          IT’S OKAY TO MAKE MISTAKES. Some of the greatest inventions in the world came about because of a mistake. It’s okay to screw up. Find the lesson in what went wrong, and change it for next time. Failure is only when you don’t learn the lesson. I have made monumentally huge mistakes in my life. I have found myself in situations I couldn’t get out of fast enough, learnt the hard way how to be a responsible adult, and burnt relationships that definitely could have been handled in better ways. But those mistakes helped me to learn, helped me to recognise signs, be better prepared, understand compassion and connection with other people, in a way I couldn’t have without having first got it wrong.

-          IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP. A struggle I still battle with even now, especially in pregnancy. Independence and strength in yourself are valuable qualities that will serve you well, but nobody can do everything on their own. We are human. We fall down, we make mistakes, and sometimes, we need help. There is no shame in asking for a helping hand, no matter how big or small. It’s also okay to give help, even to those who may never be able to repay us. This is part of the honour of being human, that we can help those who need it.

-          IT’S OKAY TO BE A WOMAN. Being a woman is the greatest thing you can be. People will try to bring you down, stop you, change your mind. But you have the capacity to change lives. There is no greater gift, honour, or responsibility in life. Embrace it.

 

I am 31 now. It has been more than 10 years since I started down that journey that has shaped my life. And shape it, it has. I have no idea who I might have been today, had I not met that man, and experienced what I did at his hands. Since that time, I experienced a long, painful, dark, and lonely process of healing, finding forgiveness, and finding myself. But can I tell you something? I don’t regret it. Given the choice, would I want to go back and go through it again? Hell no. I wouldn’t wish the fear, the pain, the terror I experienced, on anyone. But because of what I experienced, I have become a stronger, wiser, more passionate, more appreciative person than I probably ever would have been, had I not known what it meant to understand my own mortality.

Today, I am a domestic violence survivor, and thriver. I stand and speak for those who cannot speak, who have not yet found the strength and the courage to leave. I stand and speak to dispel the stereotypes, the misunderstandings, the assumptions of who experiences domestic violence, what they experience, and why. I stand and speak to show my daughter, and all future daughters of our society, that being a woman is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and nothing can take that away from us.

I am not ashamed of what I have experienced. And neither is it pride, what I feel. What I have, is purpose. Purpose, passion, and humility. I do not ask for pity, but I do ask for action. Action to change the attitudes and mindsets of society. Because when we change the attitude, we change the outcome.

It begins with compassion, it begins with understanding, and it begins with acceptance. With these things, those that are broken can heal, those that are lost can be found, and those that have left us, will not have left us in vain.”

ONE80TC exists to rescue lives from the devastating effects of alcohol and drug addiction, to restore hope and rebuild families.

Impact, ALLFelicity Cook