Safety for Girls and Women

This year, I have seen many glorious, smiling faces beaming at me from news sites. Young girls and women with children and careers, friends, family and pets. I have memorized the names underneath their pictures. They were killed strolling home from work or walking their dog on a beach. They were killed at a shopping centre and near their sleeping baby. I didn’t even get to fifteen before being exposed to male violence. I live with the consequences of having being treated as a thing, rather than an autonomous being, with the right to liberty. I was once asked on ABC National radio how I cope with having a girl of my own. I said it was a daily battle to not be a nervous wreck when she is out of my sight. I also said that I didn’t want what had happened to me to taint her future, and so I had to be brave every day of her life. I give her little pieces of freedom as she grows.

This year has seen me fret further. This graph presents the reasons why I am furious.


We attended self-defence classes for mothers and daughters when she was six. They were run by a former homicide detective. My daughter knows where to scratch and kick for maximum effect, and to call out ‘fire!’ if she is scared, as people apparently look to see what is happening. I hated that my little girl had to be taught to be alert and aware of her surroundings, and I hate that it wasn’t enough for the women and girls I have grieved this year. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was regularly approached on the street by creeps. I have been harangued, denigrated and worse. Australia is in a deep crises and we need funding, now. Women stay with dangerous men because Centrelink makes it so difficult to fund an escape. There is a lack of refuges and assistance at every level. I know, as some of these women have been my friends, whom have died.

Our whole culture needs to change. We need to call out sexism when we hear it and see it. We need to stand together, women and men, to end this scourge. It has nothing to do with the environment a woman is in, nor what she wears. This is about power, and seeing girls and women as lesser than they. I have friends who have come from places where they tell me they were told never to stop at a red light. They were advised to floor it, to avoid car jackings, rape and murder.

I have done my bit to keep my girl safe. She is a confident young woman, who knows self-defence. I have tried my best to instil in her that she can do anything that she wants in life. I have made my scars my own, and not transferred them to her. Is it enough? How can it be, when there are some men who still hate women; have this unadulterated rage against them. The time for action was a century ago. We have to catch up, and change everything we have known. I believe intent is everything with alcohol. We can enjoy a glass of wine over dinner, or use it as a crutch to amplify our anger. I have known men who take drowning their sorrows to be their creed, effectively making them a danger to all who love them. Cars become a metal prison in which to terrify their families when they are angry. Bills don’t get paid when one partner sees all the money as being theirs to dish out as they please and when they want. It is insidious, and affects whole communities. It is our job to declare that we won’t stand for it. It means having hard conversations when somebody is behaving badly.

I want my daughter to be able to go to the shops, catch a train and walk along a beach, without fear. I demand that she and her contemporaries are able to enjoy simple pleasures. I want her to be able to turn down a boy when he asks her out, without fearing retribution. Can we please be the generation that states in voices that roar in unison, ‘This stops here!?’

Grant Hackett

I read the following with dismay yesterday. It is a road many families have walked. I have walked… Some of my friends have also walked this road. It can start gradually, sneaking up on both the individual and those who love them. They don’t want to do what they once loved. They retreat, becoming uncommunicative. They find no joy in anything. You may find that they are drinking more than usual. You may uncover just how much when you put the bins out and see the many empty bottles in the recycling. There is something going on that you can’t quite put your finger on, and they are either refusing to talk or aren’t capable of telling you. It is frustrating, as in social settings, they can be  quite animated-jovial even-which masks what is really occurring.

When it all falls apart, it is often dramatic and spectacular. It can be after years of seeking help for the person. Marriage and family counselling, dietitians and alternative healthcare practitioners (to get their diet right and make sure that they have no deficiencies), AA, NA, GP’s, brain scans, blood tests, and so much more. There may be brushes with the law, and unpaid bills and fines. You may feel as though you are grieving a loved one, though they are right in front of you. You would do anything to retrieve their essence.

Thousands of families across Australia are facing the same agony as Grant’s loved ones. Right here and now. Finding appropriate help is time-consuming and exhausting, particularly when you are dealing with someone who denies they have a problem, or who tires of being on the merry-go-round. Who could blame them? Services tend to be dislocated from one another, and having to relay the story of why you came to be in somebody’s office time and again is wearing.

After five exhausting years of not knowing what the heck was going on with their partner, a friend was relieved when a diagnosis of depression came about. It was short-lived, as the antidepressants put them in free-fall. After another year of tumult, it turned out that they actually had bi-polar disorder, and the medication was causing them to rapid-cycle. They are doing so much better today, though life can still be challenging. The whole family or friendship group may have to adapt to a new normal. Stressors which the person may have coped with in the past, may cause them a set-back in their recovery. I hope with all my heart that Grant gets the help he needs, and I hope that his family can feel our support. It highlights the urgent need for prompt and cohesive services.

For urgent help, contact Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.

Please Read the Following…

Josh has posted two courageous stories over at his blog. Stories I wish he hadn’t had to endure…

Supporting a friend through AA as a teenager, I met many women, young and middle-aged, who found themselves in the grip of alcoholism. The beginnings of this cruel disease were pretty pedestrian. A bottle of spirits shared at a party with mixers, wine shared with friends at dinner, sipping a glass of alcohol whilst studying late at night. It’s not like you need it, right? Only if it’s there. Hard times hit, and the anxiety chews away at your mind. Adrenaline racing and unable to sit still, you reach for alcohol. Perfect, huh? It is a depressant, thus ideal to soothe a raging mind. Ah, that’s better! You remember how you relaxed the previous night, and instinctively reach for another bottle. Able to function during the day, you look forward to your nightly elixir. Trouble is, it is hard to gauge the damage being done internally, and the horrific rebound affect the alcohol shall have on your mind. Depression and anxiety heightened, you need more. You have heard the recommendations of having several alcohol-free evenings each week, and also the advice to never have more than two standard glasses… As the ice melts in your glass, you quickly refill. Automatically, in response to a nagging thought that if one glass felt good, another will feel better. Here is Part 1 of Hannah’s Story.  With a heavy heart, I bring you Part 2. It has given me pause for thought and made me question why so many social events revolve around alcohol, why we instinctively reach for it after a hard day. Hannah’s story could be so many of ours, in particular women. We are good at concealing our struggles, to our own detriment. I commend Josh on his bravery and also his generosity in sharing the above.

One Day…


I met a complicated lady at the bus stop when my daughter was a baby. She was beautifully dressed, her hair coiffed. She had a cigarette dangling from her mouth and a haunted expression on her face. Our friendship grew over the years, and she delighted me with the wondrous and unexpected things that came out of her mouth. She excitedly told me one day that she had been to a sale at the local chemist shop. “What did you buy?” I asked. She retrieved the bag, and pulled out a tube of Vagisol, “for this old vag of mine!” she roared with laughter. The poor man sitting next to her at the bus stop went beet-red. I gave her some money for her fare, and a few day’s later I found a chemist bag in my letterbox. In it contained a thankyou note, the money I had leant her, and as I tremulously pulled out a box from the bag (thinking it was leftover Vagisol), I found a small bottle of perfume.

She came to my door a few weeks ago, and asked me to put on the kettle. We sat in silence for a bit, before she said “it’s the anniversary of when my mum died. I didn’t want to be alone.” I gave her a big cuddle, and she left with a tin of bikkies. We saw her on Monday. She called out to me in the street. Her arms and legs shook so severely, it appeared as though she were having a seizure. She said she had been in hospital. My little girl was concerned, and I explained that sometimes when people drink too much over a long time, they get the DT’s. “I wish we could make it go away,” she said. I do too. I have a sense that this lady’s mind holds many traumatic memories. She has been trying to drown them in alcohol and the mesmerizing light and sound spectacle poker machines  offer. A well-dressed lady with a colourful array of hats, missing teeth, a cheeky grin and a complicated back story. We love you. I pray you are with us for some time yet.

The Aftermath.

Has it only been five days since a sink-hole opened and swallowed my home? Everything has changed. I have changed. If I didn’t know I was strong before, I do now. Diamonds are created under immense pressure. For years, he has told friends how he worries about me, as though I were made of porcelain. Deflection at its best. I am not scattered. I don’t disappear. I watched a musical with my girl and several friends Saturday. I couldn’t tell you anything about it, as I was bone-shatteringly exhausted. I kept bumping into friends, dear people who asked how we were. We were assembled to be shown to our seats. Does one say “my husband disappeared and I don’t know what the hell is going on?” Once home, the mask collapsed. He was there. I had nothing to say. I was so tired by this point. I changed, grabbed my little girl, and on the way out the door, noticed his bandaged hand. “Mummy is taking you to the carnival, just as I promised,” I said breezily. As I entered the showground and the swarm of people, my head was thumping. It grew worse in the searing sun, despite the painkillers I had taken. I didn’t want to meet familiar faces. I was too spent for conversation, and too exhausted for a fake façade of togetherness. By a miracle, I ran into an authentic family. A family who loves unconditionally and does real. Hallelujah! I told the sorry tale to the couple as Lizzie played with their daughter. I got to hang around them throughout the night. My friends sat with me, and understood my introversion. This was kindness. We watched the fireworks, then I went home. Hubby was in and out of the house. I didn’t speak to him. I was too spent.


The next morning, we had a christening to attend. Our dear friends are moving to England and I was not going to miss the opportunity to meet their baby, and bid them farewell. My spine was excruciating and I had to ask hubby to drive. I read the Sunday papers, and he said nothing. Our daughter watched DVDs in the back. “What happened? How could you do this?” I finally asked as she slept on the long journey. “I messed up,” he shrugged. “I didn’t know if you were dead or alive!” I cried. Back to silence. I am so tired. We enter the church in the Southern Highlands, and a grown woman, who has intellectual challenges, greeted me. She held my hand upon my entrance, and sat with me. I had on a black coat, and she nuzzled into its softness. “I feel sad,” she whispered. I looked around at all the folks gathered, and said. “There are a lot of people here, more than you are probably used to. I feel afraid sometimes too.” We hugged, two child/women connecting in their fragility. It was special, raw and honest. My friend came over with her new baby, and my daughter kissed his head. How I wished I could give her a sibling. A lady spoke an obscure Bible verse and my jaw dropped open. It was the verse I had selected to open my book! My husband sat beside me, unaware.


Afterward, outside in the glorious sun, I met a music teacher who lives in the same area as I, and formed a new friendship. My daughter was playing, and my husband had extricated himself. We went to find him when it was time to go back to the house. I searched the vast grounds, then rang his phone. We found him in the car, staring into space, the seat in recliner position. Wanting to bring some food to the house, I asked that we stop at a market. There were complaints that I spent money on bread and chips, and on a little bracelet for a friend’s birthday. How much does a six-pack cost? I wondered. “Please slow down, it’s hurting my back,” I winced as he sped down the bumpy rural road. He wasn’t listening. We missed their house in his haste and had to turn around. As Lizzie played and I chatted to our friends, he paced outside. Disconnected. My friend watched him pace up and down the patio. I confided in her, told her how he hadn’t come home Friday night. She had bi-polar running through her family, and understood. Her father-in-law pulled me aside and said my husband looked gravely unwell. He was concerned about him.


Back home, I did what parents do; fed my child dinner and prepared for school the next day. In the shower Monday morning, I wept, soul-wracking tears. I felt raw, exposed, going up to school. I told a few close friends and they weren’t surprised that my husband was an alcoholic with mental health issues. They had suspected as much. I went to the gym, and did the circuit of the damned, attempting to exorcise a demon. I figured at least I wasn’t drinking, or dying. A friend shouted me a coffee and confided that she and her husband had the experience of seeing my husband come to their door with a fresh beer and our daughter in hand. Horrified, beyond belief. He had been drinking at ten am in the morning. Shame and humiliation, anger. He came home and I asked that he give me the key to his car. He wouldn’t. I looked in. Empty cigarette packets, brown paper scrunched up, empty bottles and fast food wrappers. Bills and envelopes. Chaos and filth. I wanted to smash the window. In the spare wardrobe in the garage, I found a demand letter addressed to me from a company hired to collect payment for Centrelink. I had been receiving a family payment years before, and when I had broken my back again, my husband took over the finances. He made some huge errors, and now I found I had relationship-acquired debt in my name. I wasn’t even privy to my own affairs, my own life! The madness saw me tearing through every jacket pocket, trying to find evidence and hoping to find none.

The past fell into place in a devastating manner. Why, when he was working interstate, I uncovered that despite receiving a living away allowance, he was sleeping by the side of the road in his car. He was spending hundreds each week on booze and heaven knows what else. He was a master of deception, made easier due to the long hours he worked. I hardly saw him. People have been kind, though I have been asked many times in the past five days, “what are you going to do? Are you getting him to see a doctor, into treatment, into AA”? Healers have been suggested, or offered their services. Somehow it all falls on me. I tell you, I am a mum, and a writer, trying to earn a living. I barely sleep and I need spinal surgery. I have no more energy. I have invested thousands in therapy, in alternatives, in resources for him since he began to fall apart. Why am I then asked, what I am doing about the situation? I didn’t create it! I have no power over it. I can control my life, and keep my daughter’s life orderly. I can’t control his. He has to make the appointments, and put in the work. I can’t do it for him. I will die in the attempt.


He went to AA last night, and I sat up until midnight covering books and doing all that is necessary to lead a manageable life. I am doing it solo. At the moment, it seems an unfair equation I can’t believe that this is where we have ended up. I have shown people a picture of him from before we were married. He glowed. He was handsome, charismatic, and healthy. He was a vegetarian who didn’t drink. I can’t believe the man whose eyes are dead and whom never smiles in photos now, is the same man. Where have you gone? The past six years have been excruciating. Anxiety every time I log on to pay bills, tension every time you disappear at a dinner party. You have become a phantom. I miss you. I hold on because I love you. I know you are in there. I am not angry, not really. Just very sad.


Hell. No other word is adequate to describe what it is like living with someone who is an alcoholic, intent on destroying themselves. Add mental illness to the mix and boom! There is reams written about mental illness and addiction, though scant support for the partner. I had no family support, either to turn to or go home to. I called him at 3.30pm, and he said he would be leaving work shortly. I was pleased, as I had invited a friend over for dinner. 8.30pm came and went and he was a no-show. I called, and he said he had met some boys from a construction company he had previously worked for, and they were having a drink together. I didn’t like the sound of it, nor how the plans had changed without consultation. He said he would be home in an hour. At ten pm I rang and he was slurring. “I am in Marrickville.” Our friend left and I called again at 11pm. “I have only had three beers, relax!” I was made to feel that I was being unreasonable, and a nag, despite not knowing where he was, with whom, when he was coming home and whether he had cleaned out his bank account.


I received the following texts throughout the endless night… “See you tomorrow night, lots of love.” “I don’t know why this has happened but see you soon. Please don’t worry I am fine!” I tried calling, but his phone was switched off. I begged him via text to let me know he was okay at 6am, and said I would be in touch with the police if he didn’t answer. No answer… Our daughter woke up, and found me in the shower, sobbing. I wiped my tears, smiled, and gave her breakfast, my arms shaking. I wanted to keep things as normal as possible, despite not knowing whether her father was dead or alive. I called close friends and asked them to pray. One said she had bumped into my husband near her work, and he looked depressed. He had called her a few times the past week, worried about money. I thought he may have suicided at that point. I phone the police assistance line, and the lady was full of grace and compassion. I explained that my daughter had a class for two hours and I would be home after taking her. She said the police would call in, as it was a worrying situation. I dropped my daughter and her little friend at art class, smiled and chatted to the art teacher, and drove home to await my visitors. I received a brief text, stating “I am at work, battery flat, see you this arvo.” I had to ring the police and cancel the visit, and the dear lady said she was glad he was safe. The thing is, he is not safe. We aren’t safe. If you find this behaviour normal and acceptable, then you aren’t in a safe place inside your mind.


I have to keep being strong even though I am collapsing into myself. My body can’t hold this exhausted spirit up any longer. My daughter and I were going at one pm to see a show with friends. My schedule; pick my daughter and her friend up. Let them have a playdate, then head to the local theatre. Smile through my exhaustion. Face my destructive husband when I get home. Change and take my daughter to the local carnival, as I had promised to get her a show bag for the tremendous work she has put in at school. I don’t want him to come. I can’t play happy families, not tonight. The people we will run into, some of them were praying alongside me this morning. It can’t be business as usual. My nerves feel as though they have been put through a mincer. I met a generous compatriot and her family, and the situation is briefly explained. We hang out with them at the carnival, my silent contemplation accepted, my exhaustion understood. As we walk around, I wonder where my husband has gone, and how he has come to be in the dark place he resides in, alone. I have Natalie Merchant’s ‘Carnival’ song spinning around my head. I am looking forward to sleeping tonight. The trip home with an excited, chattering little girl was five minutes of pure angst for me. I don’t know what to say. I had left the information I had written out for the police, alongside a recent photo of him on the dining table, hoping he will understand the gravity of what he put me through. I tuck myself and my daughter into bed, and we fall asleep in each other’s arms, whilst he prowls the house, unable to stop moving. It will be another long night, but I haven’t the stamina to participate, other than in my disjointed dreams.