Deb tells her story of how she left a violent relationship.
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[Title on screen reads, ‘Deb’s Story’]
[Text on screen reads, ‘Content Warning: Includes discussion of intimate partner violence and family trauma’]
[Our Site logo]
[Fifty something Deborah sits in front of a window]
Hi, my name's Deborah Thomson, I live in Chasm Creek, outside Burnie, Northwest Tasmania and I moved here with my daughter about ten years ago.
I'm disabled, physically. I have a rare disorder called Friedreich's Ataxia, which is a degenerative neurological disorder. Friedreich's affects balance, major organs and at the moment, because there's so little known about it, they're not sure how the disorder will impact on me.
It's a genetic disorder, so both parents had the recessive gene, unknown to them. And when they gave birth to me I got both of their recessive genes and it lay dormant for 45 years.
Most people start getting symptoms very early in age and die by the time they're 25. So, I'm one of the lucky ones, really!
In 1985, I met my then partner and...we ended up living together for 18 years. And he just became progressively more violent.
I didn't really understand the dynamics of domestic violence at all, so I stayed with the abuser for 18 years and we had three children.
Deep down I knew that it was wrong, but I kept on believing it was my fault or I could fix it, and this is apparently what so many victims believe themselves. And it's wrong! It's entirely their fault. You haven't done anything to warrant that sort of abuse.
I didn't realise until right at the end, after 17-plus years, when I could see the abuse was impacting on my children. They were indirectly abused, but the emotional trauma was getting to the point where I knew I couldn't stay.
Counsellors told me that for every year you stay in the abusive relationship, after leaving, it takes that amount of time again to get through the trauma and psychological mess of that abuse. So, for the children, it's the same. So, get...get yourself and the children out as quickly as possible.
Even though it was indirect abuse, it still impacted greatly on them. They're only just starting to deal with it now.
For a long time, I think, probably ten years after I left, until then, I struggled with friendships and relationships. I couldn't communicate very well with people, 'cause I was still going through that hypersensitivity and watchfulness, waiting for the abuse. It takes a long time to get over that, just looking over your shoulder all the time.
I think it's really important to get across the brainwashing element of domestic violence, because abusers, more often than not, start off being the white knight, the wonderful person you've been looking for all your life. And the narcissism comes out very quickly into the relationship.
You find yourself sort of swept up in the moment, and very quickly they then isolate you, denigrate you, and that leads to verbal abuse, and then usually physical violence.
Trauma bonds are where the victim doesn't see anything wrong with the relationship, they just think it's normal to be abused. Sort of like Stockholm syndrome, where, if the abuser becomes apologetic after the abuse, or very loving, the victim tends to hang on for those moments.
My book is about how to recognise the crucial warning signs that you may be with an abuser and the personality traits of an abuser. And I found, just speaking to other victims, that having that knowledge helps them to quickly realise that they are being abused and they can leave sooner rather than later.
I think, given the situation I was in when I was being abused, I think if I'd been disabled, as well, I wouldn't have survived.
The relationship was predicated on what I could do for him. And if I'd been as disabled as I am now, as so many people are in abusive relationships, where they depend on the other for care, and if they're not receiving it because they're being abused, then it's untenable.
[Deborah flips through her book titled “Whose Life Is It Anyway’]
I wrote the book in 2016. It was published in 2018. And it's only a small book, but it's a mix of diary entries from when I was being abused and analysis of domestic violence. So, it's being used as an educational resource as much as for general consumption.
During counselling, so many counsellors said the victim...There's very little lived experience talked about in the public, and I thought, "Well, I'm safe, I'm away from the abuse, I've come out of it relatively sane, and I wanna help people."
I'm disabled, I can't work in the social work field anymore, so I decided to write the book about my own experiences and used my knowledge of social work and counselling and incorporated that into the book, as well.
I'm just incredibly lucky, because I got out before I became disabled and I now have a partner who cares for me. I'm the happiest I've ever been, I think, in my entire life, so... Despite the disability, so...
[Text on screen reads, “If you or someone you know is impacted by violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au. In a emergency call 000’]
[The logo for 1800RESPECT]
[National sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service]
[Text on screen reads, ‘Watch more stories at Our Site oursite.wwda.org.au’]
[The logo for Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA)]