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When your 8-year-old son wants to die, you know it's time to change.

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.

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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.

Stacey with her family.

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.

Stacey with her eldest son.

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.

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Understanding this cycle made me much stronger. I decided I couldn’t live with the game any more.

The cycle of domestic violence can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to go full circle. What helped me most was learning to recognise when the build-up was happening, because I knew an explosion was coming next.

The truth is that when you live in violence and you imagine your life free of violence, your imagination ends up being a fantasy. When you leave, you expect to be living that fantasy life straight away. The sad truth is when you leave a violent relationship the hard work has only just begun.

For starters, you will most likely be living in a refuge, or with a friend or family member. You'll be trying to deal with custody arrangements and a lack of money. There will be ongoing abuse between yourself and your ex-partner, restraining orders, DHS, child support, your anger, and the hardest part - your affected children, who are suffering anxiety, anger, uncontrollable behaviours, bed wetting, clinginess - the list goes on. You’re trying to raise these children, you are trying to find answers, but you have no idea where the hell to begin.

Stacey.

There is no magic wand to get through all of this.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is leaving a violent domestic situation is to seek ongoing counselling with a domestic violence counsellor, and seek urgent and ongoing counselling separately for your child. I attended my session twice a week for nearly two years. Find a centre that has child-care facilities so your child can be looked after while you work on yourself.

If you have out-of-control anger issues, seek help. Look for anger management counselling and make a promise to yourself to stay with it for at least 12 months; it will become addictive when you start to notice positive changes.

Your positive attitude can, literally, re-wire your child’s brain for success, happiness, confidence and health.

Stacey.

DO NOT get into a new relationship until you have done at least 12 months of self-development on yourself and your children. When you are feeling vulnerable, you will only attract someone who has the same sort of issues as you: insecurity, anger, low self-worth. It will escalate into another abusive relationship. Use this precious time to break the cycle, not only for yourself but for your children too.

Fast forward 11 years, and I am now with a beautiful and caring man and my children live violence free.

Both my boys, aged 20 and 15, still have bouts of anxiety, however they now have the tools to control it. Josh has been drug-free for quite some time. My 17-year-old daughter is in her last month of year 12 and passing with high distinctions and wants to work in the events and tourism industry. My 15-year-old son is thriving and following his passion (scuba diving).

Life is finally settled for us.

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