This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers.
*Name has been changed for anonymity.
September 2013 was the month everything changed for Sandy, despite the fact she'd found the courage to leave her relationship five years earlier.
She'd put up with more than a decade of emotional and financial abuse, stalking, coercion and gaslighting. But as Sandy's ex, Joel*, would remind her over and over again: "I am not abusive. I've never hit you. You're overreacting."
Walking up to the front door of her home, with three primary school-aged kids clambering at her feet, Sandy was overpowered by the strong stench of gas.
LISTEN: Courtney Ugle isn't letting her past dictate her future. Post continues.
A week earlier she'd found herself shouting, "we are never going to be in a relationship ever again," after Joel had turned up unannounced at her home once again.
"No us, no kids," he'd replied. She hadn't thought much of it, because he'd always been very good at the dummy spit.
But here she was, her house full of gas, and her little gas-lit heater staring at her from down the hallway with its glass pane broken in. She knew she'd turned it off that morning. She always did.
Reliving that scene while speaking to Mamamia, and remembering the dozens of police cars and fire engines that were soon outside her house, Sandy is emotional.
She credits that moment as being the one that finally broke the spell she was under. She realised Joel wasn't going to leave them alone.
So, they went into hiding with the help of police.
It would take five goes for it to stick, because Joel kept finding them. But eventually, after one of Sandy's multiple reports to police about intervention order breaches finally stuck, she had enough evidence to get him put behind bars.
Looking back, Sandy says were bright red flags when she first met Joel. She just wasn't ready to listen to them.
"There were signs he was a stalker when I met him. I didn't recognise them... I just thought he was super interested in me," Sandy told Mamamia.
She also knew Joel was a recreational drug user, but she'd just emerged from a divorce and "he told me everything I had been longing for a man to say to me."
Sandy soon became busy raising their three children — all born within four years of eachother — giving up her own career to take on the majority of the parenting, while Joel was supposed to be in charge of keeping the family afloat financially.
When Sandy finally realised what had been happening, it was too late. The bank was already foreclosing on their house and no matter how many urgent calls she made to creditors and bank managers, there was nothing she could do.
Joel had been spending all of their mortgage money on drugs, and finally Sandy had the crescendo she needed to gather the courage to leave.