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23 July 2022
The Salvos assist women like Elena to work through their trauma, embark on the road to recovery, and rebuild their lives.
After experiencing care and compassion from the Salvos, Elena* is now a guiding light to domestic violence survivors.
Growing up as the oldest child in a European family, I was taught to be seen and not heard, to do as I was told, to suppress every negative emotion and to portray a happy and perfect life.
Bullied at school for being the chubby kid caused me a lot of hateful self-talk and emotional detachment, and as a result, I had low self-esteem and no self-worth. To deal with my life and its challenges in my late teens to mid-thirties, I chose the path of drugs to numb my stress and dull my emotions. I avoided relationships, working in the corporate world and partying hard for 20 years.
At 35, on a drug-fuelled weekend, I thought I had met my Prince Charming, my soulmate. How wrong I was! I was unable to recognise the monster lurking behind the charm, and the emotional, physical and sexual abuse slowly crept in after I had my daughter two years into the relationship.
When my partner became violent, it felt like I was walking on eggshells. It was such a toxic and abusive relationship – he was narcissistic and controlling, and I was subjected to gaslighting, manipulation, stalking, verbal abuse, drug abuse and his blatant affairs. I was like a zombie – I had no soul.
In 2017, one woman was killed every nine days in Australia as a result of domestic violence, and I could have easily been one of those statistics. Easter Sunday was the day that changed my life – it was the day I left my abuser.
I escaped with a three-year-old and a five-month-old, carrying just the bag I had packed for that day. Seeking shelter at my parents’ home was not an option – “What would the neighbours think?” – so I went into crisis accommodation for one week. Options then included a women’s refuge, friends or family, or going back to my abuser. Offers of a spare couch or a room with friends often came with strings attached. When I sensed I had outstayed my welcome, I would move on to the next friend.
Domestic violence is very real, frightening and traumatising, and anyone can be a victim. I never thought it would happen to me. I never imagined that I would need to escape from a violent relationship, that my family and friends would turn their backs on me, or that my children and I would become homeless.
Mentally I was in the deepest, darkest hole, dealing with postnatal depression, high anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction. I couldn’t see any way out of that frightening darkness.
In December 2017, light and hope came to pierce that darkness – a phone call I remember as my Christmas miracle. It was Judy from The Salvation Army, with life-changing news about transitional housing and case management.
The Salvos accepted me, and Judy saw me not as a victim, a drug addict or a worthless nobody. I was shown care and compassion, and for the first time in my life someone said I was worthy and deserving of a better future.
Sharon, my Salvos case manager, was wonderful. Over the next year, we built a warm rapport in our weekly sessions – she showed such empathy and assisted me with the support I needed, including referrals, food assistance, clothing, toys, bikes and essential items for the kids, and stable housing. She gave me the courage to work through my trauma by attending programs that helped me embark on my road to recovery.
I am one of countless women who have experienced domestic violence – I lived it and survived it. Recovering from such a horrific experience has become my greatest gift. I learned so many major life lessons when the Salvos opened the door to my journey of healing and where I am today. I am proud to say I am celebrating two years free from addiction.
I have been inspired to use my experience to help others in a similar situation and am now an administrative officer of the Women’s Spirit Project, a volunteer-led initiative of women supporting disadvantaged women to transform their lives through fitness, health and wellbeing activities. I have also completed my Diploma of Community Services to support women who have escaped violent relationships. The Salvos paved the way for me to do this and supported me throughout my studies. Otherwise, I couldn’t have done it.
I want to be a driver of change, empower and inspire others through sharing my experience, and reassure those suffering domestic violence that their lives can be transformed and there can be light after the darkness.
*Name has been changed