real life

'I'm a completely different person.' Lisa had to lose everything to find freedom.

Warning: This story includes descriptions of domestic violence.

There's a reason why *Lisa continues to share her story of escaping violence. She feels "indebted in a way", forever grateful to those who helped her start again.

You see, seven years ago Lisa's life looked utterly different. She felt fear for herself and her kids' wellbeing. She felt she had to keep her then husband's abusive nature a secret to avoid shame, embarrassment and judgement from others. She also hadn't realised that what she and her kids were enduring was domestic and family violence.


Lisa met her ex husband at a bar. He was charming though slightly aloof. Initially, things were great, though with the understanding she has now, Lisa believes there was love bombing at play.

Then the arguments increased. So too did his "pernicious behaviour", with Lisa telling Mamamia he was "very good at manipulating a conversation or argument, and his anger levels became worse as the years went on."

Two years into their relationship, the pair wed. They were married for 28 years. Lisa says it took time for his behaviour to turn threatening, and even physically violent.

"His abuse was a slow burn for many years. He wanted to make sure that I was never going to be able to leave. His controlling and intimidating behaviour to the kids scared me, especially when there was an escalation in abuse towards the children," says Lisa. 

There was one incident that was particularly disturbing.


"One of my sons ended up in hospital after he was smashed with a steel pole. It was a really scary time. He [Lisa's ex-husband] had popped him, split his arm open with the blunt piece of steel.

"I didn't fear for my life at that point. I always felt like I could 'manage' him. But after that I was concerned about whether I could protect my children from his abuse. I had stood in front of the children on many occasions, and held them behind me and said to him, 'If you're going to hurl abuse at anyone, you've got to get through me first.' But this incident was the first time he'd sent anybody to hospital with a serious injury."

Watch: women and violence, the hidden numbers. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia. 

At this point in time, there was little understanding socially about the realities of domestic and family violence. It was rarely spoken about, notes Lisa. She remembers reaching out to her doctor about her concerns, and the doctor handed her a brochure on borderline personality disorder, assuming that explained her then husband's behaviour. 

Lisa also had minimal access to the internet during this time in the early 2000s. She was isolated.


"I didn't open up to friends for a long time. If word got out that he was an abusive father, my five children wouldn't have been able to have their friends over — parents would have run for miles. My friendship network would have disappeared, and I would have also feared for their safety. What if he got a gun, knew I was having a coffee with a friend and divulging, and then she became his next target?"

The mental load on Lisa was a heavy burden, a reality any domestic and family violence survivor can attest to.

"I was always walking on eggshells. I remember another incident where he was on the warpath at home and I had to hide in one of my children's wardrobes."

In 2017, at the age of 52, Lisa made the courageous decision to leave her violent marriage. Her children at the time ranged in age from 13 to early adulthood — four boys, one girl, her youngest.

"I'd seen a family lawyer, and this certain one said to me straight, 'What you're experiencing is domestic violence'. That was the first time I had heard those words. And I initially assumed this lawyer wasn't right, because I didn't have the broken bones or black eyes. Yes, he was threatening. Yes, he was verbally abusive, and sometimes physically violent. But I'd never identified as being in a domestic violence situation until that moment," says Lisa. 

Following the sobering revelation, Lisa sought advice and started getting her "ducks lined up".


At this point, 28 years into the marriage, her husband's anger was on a three-day cycle.

"It would go from explosion to honeymoon and pretending everything was fine to then a build-up in tension and an explosion again. I could sense an explosion was bound for the weekend, though there were no triggers. It could be that it was raining, the dishwasher hadn't been fully unpacked,or one of the kids' rooms was messy," she explains.

"I came home one Saturday morning and as I pulled into the street, I could see all my daughter's clothes, furniture, bedding and pillows in the gutter. I started to tremble.

"I was always anxious coming home. I could hear him screaming inside the house. I remember putting my phone on airplane mode, hitting the record button and hiding it in my jeans. I walked in, he was smashing things and he spent the next 40 minutes terrorising me and saying he was going to put a bullet in my head, our daughter's head and also my daughter's pony."

Lisa says the perpetrator then walked into the kitchen, knocked back a glass of whiskey and said he was off for a walk to "cool off".

Immediately once he was out of the house, Lisa grabbed her keys and drove off, desperate to find where her daughter was. It took a couple of hours, but she later discovered her daughter had ridden her bike to a friend's house to escape her dad's abuse. 

"That's when it all unravelled, there was nothing to lose or hide anymore. Now I was trying to protect my kids from their own father."


Lisa went to the police with her story and the recordings she had as proof. She says little was done.

Now after fleeing him and ending the marriage, Lisa was left to pick up the pieces. She had fled with very little in terms of her possessions.

For a few months, she and her daughter lived in a machinery shed. There was a mattress on the ground, no power and no running water. But Lisa aimed to make the best of the situation, hanging fairy lights and trying to keep up her daughter's spirits. It was a very traumatic time for them.

There were other months when Lisa slept in her car. Her daughter and one of her younger sons couch-surfed and stayed with their friends, the other three boys staying with their dad. 

By 2018, Lisa was finally given a home via public housing and was referred to an advocacy service for immediate assistance called Micah Projects. This service then put her in touch with RizeUp — it changed Lisa's life completely.

RizeUp is a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, the organisation founded by the fabulous Nicolle Edwards

When Lisa first walked into her new public housing home, it was completely empty.

She brought an old horse rug and pillow from her car, and tried to fall asleep on the home's concrete floor. She tells Mamamia she went down the street, bought herself a bottle of red wine and drank it all in a bid to numb the pain.


Yes, she had a home now, and a roof over her heard. But it was still a deeply painful experience — a reminder of all she had lost. 

This is a part of the journey that advocates and services understand deeply. 

Currently, the RizeUp team furnishes at least eight to 10 complete homes per week. The team along with their brand partners source the furniture, the bedding, the kitchen appliances, the soft furnishings, the toys — all the things that make a home. They've helped thousands of women and children find a fresh start. 

When Lisa was put in touch with RizeUp, she was asked to leave her keys in the letterbox and go out for the day until midafternoon. By the time she had arrived back, her home was unlike anything she had anticipated. She will never forget that moment.

"I remember sobbing because my concrete shell had been transformed into a home. Everything looked perfect, it was in beautiful condition and there were so many thoughtful and personal touches that the team had considered. The nicely set-up bedrooms for my son and my daughter also made me cry. They were styled, considered and coordinated."

Speaking with Mamamia, founder Nicolle Edwards says there are thousands of stories just like Lisa's.

"The sad reality is that domestic and family violence can impact anyone," she notes.


"Recently we received some feedback from a social worker after her client was given her new sanctuary. She said, 'Our client is completely overwhelmed. When she saw the house turned into a home — the fruit bowl, the card, the arts supplies — she started crying. She feels relieved to now no longer have to ask for permission to touch anything."

Today, Lisa's life looks entirely different.

Now her son and her daughter live with her part time. Lisa also has regular contact with another of her sons too, who stopped living with his father following an abusive altercation, she says.

Sadly, Lisa has no contact with her two eldest sons, who have decided to side with their dad. She really hopes one day that will change.

"I'm a completely different person to who I was. I used to be dynamic, driven and passionate," says Lisa. 

"I have lost some things, but I also consider myself quite lucky because I got out of it. I wasn't broken down to the point where I couldn't function. I learned to rebuild. Once I finally had my own place, my own home, that's when the healing began."

She also regularly does work with RizeUp now, sharing her story and speaking at events — determined to keep the conversation going about domestic and family violence. It's Nicolle who Lisa credits for helping her most.

"Nicolle has held my hand and worked with me shoulder to shoulder throughout this journey. She gave me the bravery to step up and share my experience. She was the catalyst."


As for what Lisa wants other people to know, it's this. One, is to call out bad behaviour and perpetrators. This is especially something more men need to proactively do. Second, is to understand what survivors are up against. It's a "massive psychological journey," says Lisa, and it can take time to leave.

After seeing her home for the first time after RizeUp fitted it out, Lisa sent a thank you email to Nicolle and the team. They've held onto it all these years later. Lisa had wrote:  

I am overwhelmed and so very grateful for your dedication and kindness. I may not have had the strength to 'soldier on' if it weren't for your intervention.

With the greatest of gratitude, I thank you.

*Lisa has changed her name for privacy reasons. Her identity is known to Mamamia. 

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here

Feature Image: Canva.