When I look back to the person I was, she is a stranger to me. She was broken in so many ways; physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually, writes Leeza Baric.
BY Leeza Baric
When I look back to the person I was, she is a stranger to me. She was broken in so many ways; physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. The mindset I had then was that I was not good enough. This affected the type of relationships I entered into, the career choices I made and stalled my dream of a successful writing career.
Domestic violence is insidious because of the shame and silence surrounding it. I believe that speaking our truth and sharing our stories allows us to forgive, heal and help others. “We can be the change that we want to see in the world” (Gandhi).
At 23 years of age, I was lost. I came from a good family and finished university but I didn’t have confidence or a sense of self worth. All I wanted was someone to love me. I attached myself to the first man who showed signs of commitment, but it came at a cost. He wined and dined me, but slowly chipped away at my already low self-esteem and isolated me from family and friends.
“Why do you want to look pretty? Why did you leave the blinds open? Do you want men staring at you?” he asked.
I was confused, constantly trying to prove to him that I wasn’t a bad person. Arguments erupted. Our relationship was volcanic and violence set in. A push here, a shove there. A slap, a punch, more punches. “Sorry, it won’t happen again.” Hands tight around my throat. “Sorry, it won’t happen again.” My head slammed into the floor. Police sirens. Blood. Pain. Shame. The cycle of violence became normal.
A broken arm; for taking my eyes off the floor. “Sorry, it won’t happen again.” I left. I went back. I left. I went back. A broken ankle; needing two plates, ten screws and in hospital for a week. No apology. Back at home with my leg in plaster, he kept bashing me, telling me what a horrible person I was.
I knew that if he didn’t kill me soon, I would kill myself. He bruised my body and broke my bones but it was my spirit he was trying to crush. I called my family, again. They didn’t know if this would be the last time but they came anyway.
For the next three months my family protected me and cared for me until I could walk. I began to write a journal, poetry and short stories. I read books on psychology, health, relationships, self help, biographies and autobiographies. I wanted to understand people better. I wanted to understand myself.
I began to question: How could I let another human being treat me like this? Why did I accept this behaviour? What was wrong with me?
I knew that what he did was wrong. Violence is not acceptable in any form. However, I realised, it was all about me. I was so desperate to have someone love me that I compromised myself, my life, for his misogynist behaviour. I was scared and felt fear about pursuing my dreams. What if I failed? What would other people think of me? I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed someone. Anyone. I wasn’t good enough. And he reinforced those negative self images I had about myself.
It is important to define domestic violence because as a young person I did not know about it or see the signs. Domestic violence covers a wide range of abusive behaviours committed in the context of intimate relationships such as those involving family members, children, partners, ex-partners, or caregivers. It can include many types of behaviour or threats, including physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and intimidation, economic and social deprivation, damage of personal property and abuse of power (Directory of Family and Domestic Violence Statistics, 2011).
My friend Lauren also experienced abuse and like me, didn’t tell anyone because of the shame. When I asked her what she would say to women in violent relationships she said, “I’d be telling them to hold a vision of a better life… We are not victims. We can all leave, there is the [social services] benefit for women with children, there are places you can go to get out… They have to look at what the pay offs are and ask what it is that makes them stay. I guarantee it’s because they don’t believe in themselves, don’t believe that they can have any better or deserve any better.”
Looking back, that experience taught me about courage. Having the courage to leave, to be on my own and more importantly, having the courage to love myself. If we truly loved ourselves we would not accept this behaviour. I made a commitment to myself that I was not going to be a victim. I had to forgive him and myself in order to heal and grow. I was not going to let that experience stop me from having a wonderful life or find someone who loved me, for me. I was a good person and had great potential. I could do anything I wanted in my life and I realised my thoughts created my life.
My passion was to travel and write. As soon as I could walk, I worked two jobs, saved enough money to explore this wonderful world. I travelled to my father’s homeland of Croatia and went topless on the Adriatic with the French girls. I rejected all offers of camels and Persian carpets in Turkey and backpacked Europe. I was happy. I was alive. I could wear short skirts. I laughed again. I reconnected with family and friends. I studied to become a high school teacher and I volunteered my time to teach English to migrants. I began writing poetry and short stories and I felt at peace within myself. I didn’t need a man to define me. I found Leeza again.
It was at that time when I wasn’t looking, that I met my husband. When I finally let go of the desperation to find a partner and focused on growing as a person, achieving my goals in life, seeing the world and having fun, magic happened. I fell in love.
My husband and I have been together for 15 years and we have two beautiful children. We shower them with love and consciously raise them to question science, religion, the media and us. We work hard to keep the normality of violence on television or computer games at bay. We are conscious of the words we say that negate or sexualise women or children.
The core of violence stems from attitudes and behaviours learnt from childhood. If we want to stop violence in our society we need to think about what we say, what we watch, what we let become normal in our lives. When we are consciously aware of our own attitudes and behaviours in relation to violence (however subtle); we can provoke change against violence that permeates through our society.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in two women will be subjected to violence during their lifetime and usually by someone they know. It is a complex psychological problem for both the abused and the abuser, stemming from issues of low self esteem. It is influenced by culture, media and attitudes towards women by the church, corporate sector and society as a whole.
By speaking up and telling my story I hope to inspire you to think about how violence colours your life and what you can do to change attitudes and behaviours and violence towards women.
Leeza will present a one-day “Wobbly Woman Workshop” on Sunday February 24, 2013 at Arise Natural Therapies in Camden. Take time for yourself and be inspired to re-discover your passion and purpose in life. For more information about this workshop and others offered by Leeza, visit www.LeezaBaric.com
Support Groups and Resources
- The National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line Ph: 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732
- Lifeline Ph: 13 11 14
- The Good Sams Foundation, supporting the work of The Inn in Melbourne and Transitional Housing Program in Brisbane, which both offer crisis accommodation to women and their children who are escaping family violence or homelessness.
- White Ribbon Day (November 25)