Professional Pride prevents help seeking
Professional pride often gets in the way of asking for the help we need, Sophie thought as she cycled to a large parkland marked on the map, due south of her aunt’s village. The farm houses were all built in the characteristic provincial themes, but each one was unique. The sun’s heat enticed her to stop at a farm brewery, but there were no tastings occurring.
She enjoyed taking some photos, then cycled on and, as the forests closed in on only a single cycleway, a sacred stillness silenced all thought. The tyres made no noise on the smooth bitumen path. Disappointed at the distance of the path from the lake, she stopped at a raised bike-parking area where some tandem cyclists were just leaving. There was even a sidecar with a wheelchair-bound passenger. The group of seniors didn’t notice Sophie who tried to surreptitiously photograph some of the most unusual bikes. She got a video as they left – just the backs of helmeted riders.
She set up her tablet computer at the table (shown in the photo in the previous chapter), with a jar of flax, lentils, herbs and oil to nibble on and with tea from her water bottle to drink. Occasional whisps of wind caressed her curly hair as she breathed in the forest smells and sounds.
‘In my own defence,’ Sophie wrote, ‘I did try to tell people about the subtle ways that my ex made my life a nightmare, destroying my self-esteem with constant put-downs – which, of course, were brutal truths about my flaws: not being a beauty queen, not wasting time trying to be, and slaving in the yard while he sat around watching TV all weekend.’
Bird calls for a mate echoing across the lake drew Sophie’s attention back to her piece of paradise. High in the sky a flock of migratory birds circled until all of them had been gathered into a long V-shaped stream.
Sophie continued to write. ‘Arriving at family gatherings was always preceded with particularly vicious criticism directed at my appearance, gaslighting about how I had no friends or family who wanted to visit. Yes, because when they did, my ex would pick a fight beforehand, usually about my most sensitive weakness – creating self doubt, destroying any happiness or excitement I had, and making threats about what negative things he was going to tell them. My face would be blotchy from crying and I couldn’t look anybody in the eye. And, of course, he would tell them exaggerated, twisted things, which caused my sisters to blame me for everything I might try to explain was wrong.‘
‘The biggest issue was “Why do you stay with him?”
‘Well it was better than being alone. And they found out how hard it was for me to leave when I did. One sister believed me and gave me a bed for a few nights, only because she was going into surgery for the same thing as I’d been given Zoladex for – to prove that fibroids on the outside of the uterus were the cause of debilitating cramps for half the month. I had my hysterectomy five months after her. Months of complications afterward, which inspired me to adopt a raw food diet to break the strangling scar tissue on my lower abdomen G-I tract.’
‘There were too many crises in her own life for this sister to cope with me in the house, even though the kids were enjoying having me back in their life. I’d not been allowed to have any of the six nieces or nephews at our joint homes. Yep, social isolation from those who were most likely to see and say how it was – pure and simple. Out of the mouths of babes and teenagers! When the time came, they did say, but were under age to testify.’
Professional Pride propped by colleagues
‘When I mentioned DV to counsellors, who were all colleagues, there were always the questions that led to “What’s stopping you leaving?” but never any concrete directions on how and where to leave to. I’d only go to one session and only drop the little icebreakers. Everyone stood back, so to speak, expecting me to miraculously find somewhere else to live. It was easy for them, who all had stable relationships. Nobody asked me to elaborate on how bad the violence was. They didn’t seem want to know if there was any violence. I didn’t want to upset them, or my family. I never told anybody that my ex had tried to strangle me; not until well after I’d left.’
‘My professional pride stopped me going to the proper women’s services where I’d been a volunteer on working committees advocating for funding and policy and police training. I maintained my image of counsellor and educator about PTSD. It’s not only war veterans; it’s domestic war victims, and often their perpetrators too. Right in our homes we live in terror, drowning our despair in alcohol, drugs or work – or all three.’
‘I told the few people I confided in that I wasn’t eligible for a women’s refuge: I had no children. Too old and traumatised to be able to sleep at a refuge, the shared accommodation I was shown was even noisier, including the shared house 2,000 metres from the end of the airport take-off runway where I stayed for three months. That seemed to be the maximum amount of time that I lasted at most places. I moved ten times in three-and-a-half years of court hearings, with two days at the VRO court and almost monthly appearances demanded in the Family Court. This strategy resulted in my never having time or mind-space to collate a case for the three-day trial, where the bits of evidence was “objected” to that I tried to table. Finally, Her Honour yelled, “I want to see that photo.” When it was handed to her by the barrister most-hated by women defendants at the court. Her mouth dropped open as she said, “Oh my God! It’s a quarry!”’
‘Yes Your Honour. That is what the neighbours all called it too. I single-handedly re-vegetated both the ten-metre cut and the thirteen-metre embankment that was made to hold a week of sand truck deliveries all day…’ But I was cut off by my ex’s barrister. Her Honour called a break. Of course, I was representing myself, so she couldn’t talk to my lawyer in the back room. She could only listen to my ex’s lawyer and barrister, who both had terrible reputations when they appeared against women.
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