I fell pregnant with Josh at 15 and gave birth to him just after I turned 16. I was a teenage mother and this little boy was with me through every one of my repeated toxic cycles of neglect, mental abuse, physical abuse, and domestic violence.
I will never, ever forget the day I was at work and got a phone call from a teacher.
When I arrived I was whisked into a room where a counsellor and a teacher were waiting. I was told the school principal had walked into a classroom and found Josh trying to hang himself. He was eight years old.
All I remember is bawling my eyes out and using my beautiful dress to blow my snotty nose on. I took Josh straight to a specialised counsellor, but he just shut off. And even though I knew Josh was feeling suicidal, it didn’t stop me from keeping in touch with a violent partner – the man Josh was begging me to stay away from. My other children also implored me to stay away and I promised I would. But I kept going back.
The suicide attempt was Josh’s way of telling me he’d had enough and if I kept making him live this life, he would do something about it. He’d kill himself.
In the end I didn’t need to make the decision; the Department of Human Services (DHS) made it for me.
One night, after yet another violent argument with my partner, I found myself at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Sydney. My 4-month-old son had been admitted after being physically hurt. It was 2am and there I was, crammed into a little room with my three children, officers from the DHS, Federal Police and hospital staff.
They questioned me for a very long time about my relationship, and how my son was hurt. I was grilled about why I was staying in this abusive situation and why I was putting my children through it all.
They questioned me for hours before asking me to leave the room. I sat outside until eventually they called me back in. As of that moment I had two choices.
The first was that I could stay in the relationship and have my three children placed into foster care. I dropped to my knees, begging them not to take my kids. Then they offered the second choice.
If I took it, I could keep my children but I had to change my life. The conditions were effective immediately. I would be court ordered to have nothing to do with my violent partner for 12 weeks. In those 12 weeks, I would have to attend a domestic violence counsellor. I wanted desperately to keep my children, but still I couldn’t see how I could possibly change my life.
That night I was forced to make the best choice of my whole life. That night the dream began.
I went along to the domestic violence group believing I didn't belong; I wasn't bruised and battered. But it was court ordered and I had to attend.
My counsellor taught me about the cycle of domestic violence. The build-up, the explosion, the remorse and then the honeymoon; around and around it went. Without fail I would get sucked in again at the honeymoon stage and go back to him. I would start to see the build-up happening and knew an explosion was just a moment away.
During the build-up I would get angry and yell back at him, and the kids would be left to fend for themselves. Then through the explosion it would become physical, with us both hurting each other. During the remorse stage I would be crying with my kids sitting on my lap. He would say things like “Well, if you didn’t get angry I wouldn’t hit you”. I would promise not to get angry any more and then, while the kids and I were still crying, he would say something like, “Let’s go on a trip. We’ll get a motel room and take the kids somewhere special”. For me, this honeymoon phase was the most dangerous part, as I would always be tempted back with his beautiful offers of rewards, or love.