For a supposedly smart girl, I accepted behaviour from men that I shouldn’t have. There has never been a single horrific incident, but rather countless events I’ve dismissed as ‘nothing much.’ They go back as far as my earliest memories. Even as a toddler, I used to think… men look at me funny. The toilets at preschool had glass walls. Whenever I needed to pee I would cross my legs until the male teacher was out of sight.
Just a few years later, I overheard a conversation at a tennis barbecue.
‘I’d like to look under there,’ I’d heard the man with a moustache say as he angled his head towards my seven-year old self. I’d seen him play tennis with Dad. My face turned warm. I tilted my head forward, pulling down on the gathered side of my frilly blue and purple skirt. He sniggered with his mate then sucked the froth off his can of Fosters beer.
During my commuting days I had an encounter with the serial train sleaze. He thigh wrestled me, pressing everything from his shoulder to his knee against my body. Adrenaline morphed my flesh into concrete, and my voice mustn’t have been working that day.
Things escalated when the father of one of my ex-boyfriends roared with laughter as he dropped his pants to his ankles and exposed his genitals to me. He’d cornered me in the office of his framing gallery. I’d broken up with his son. Did that make me fair game? All I heard was the muffled tick… tick… tick… of the wall clock. Everything slowed down and became blurry. I grabbed the knot on my scarf and tugged it free of my clammy neck.
He fumbled with his words as well as his zipper. I seized the opportunity and slithered through the gap between him and the door.
I’m confessing what I’ve never said out loud. People would have looked at me differently, wouldn’t they? All I wanted to do was move on and forget. If I ignored these things, they never happened, right?
Lisa Benson is a self-diagnosed recovering perfectionist who skipped motherhood but became a grandmother in her early forties. She currently leads a ‘double life,’ living part-time at her home in Newcastle and the rest of the time on a boat on Sydney Harbour. Her writing travels with her whether she is on land or water. Lisa is currently working on her memoir which reveals how her ritualistic past is worlds away from the spontaneous life she now lives. Lisa’s dream is to help as many people as possible, to discover their soul’s purpose and live the life they were destined to.
I had no control over what other people did, but the stakes became much higher when I buried the blaring warning signs in my relationships. By staying, I was accepting the domineering behaviour that was chipping away at my essence. Our homes don’t instantly become filthy. Dust falls one tiny piece at a time until you can drag your finger through the film. Unhappiness crept up on me like those individual specks of dust.
Before I knew it I was a frustrated version of myself. Living a lie. Playing small and bowing to the needs of yet another insecure man. I wanted to make it better. Make them better. I cared too much and for too long for those who didn’t care enough back. I was their rock, but where was mine?
It’s been hard to admit the extent of my mistreatment. I’ve been yelled at, threatened, put down, ignored, and verbally abused over and over, but it all seems frivolous when I try to put it into words. I’m sure it’s a common side effect after years of conditioning. Even now as I write this, I recognise my tendency to downplay the torturous behaviour, but I can’t deny the myriad of physical symptoms or the emotional trauma I experienced.
I was on the receiving end of rage that I’d only ever seen in the movies, but all the threats and punishments were a secret… just between us. The doors and windows were sealed tight, just like my mouth. I had become a prisoner in my own home. Not literally, but it was easier to stay inside than to justify every human interaction. I cried most days, which should have been another warning sign. By ‘settling,’ was I protecting myself from admitting another failure? Back then, I would have never called it abuse though. Neither would they. There was no proof and there were no visible bruises.
No matter how much we think we know about relationships by observing others, reading articles, or watching movies, we cannot judge or comprehend what we would or would not put up with. It’s different when you’re inside it.
As we grow and learn, we are building up our resilience. It’s the times we think are going to break us, our greatest moments of weakness, where we become strong. Strong enough to leave.
I’m finally free and I’ll never be manipulated into submission again. Not after seeing the view from the other side. So when does behaviour cross the unacceptable line? If I’ve learnt one thing from personal experience, it’s that we need to stop identifying abuse by the visibility of bruises.
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
During this period, Joanne Fedler’s book, Things Without a Name (10th Anniversary Edition), can be downloaded for FREE.
Download Things Without a Name E-book
(Please check your email after clicking Submit for the download link)
Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.