Surviving is no easy feat, but achievable 🙂
Surviving the last person in WA to be sentenced to death [commuted to life after 4 months public debate, then abolition of the death sentence in 1980] for the murder of the engaged couple, my 40th anniversary of life celebration – is to come out of hiding. Hence, I offer my story to inspire you if your journey is one of surviving, struggle, confusion and alienation.
Everyone just asks more questions about the twists and turns that continued during a too interesting life. Nutshell summary: – Pioneer prison visit in 1986 before victim-mediation began in 1988; his escape again in 2005; domestic violence (DV) from a partner, resultant homelessness and many more struggles. Freed by the prisoner’s death in 2010, I continue to be very grateful for my gift of resilience in surviving a myriad of life-learnings, and a capacity to turn my trauma’s into something positive and help others in books, voluntary community education, training, support group facilitation and now professional work.
Despite living in fear of him escaping again, I shared my experiences of discovering the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis 15 years afterward in my first book. I increased my sense of safety by changing my name completely, never telling the story of the crime or the prisoner’s name. My mentors encouraged me to start support groups – an idea which just popped into my head.
720 ABC’s Peter Holland kindly hosted several talkback discussions about the weekly 2-hour community-based support groups which I continued to offer into the 2000’s for a token cost ($5-15). Sonshine FM and occasionally other radio, TV and newspapers continued to publish my PTSD knowledge and experience from the mid-90’s to 2002, when the state government was sharing information about PTSD after the Exmouth cyclone and Gracetown disaster, so we felt we’d achieved our original goal. With a few other professionals the WA Chapter of the Australian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies was formed to educate workers counselling people surviving PTSD.
My single-person-charity from my bank account morphed into the Traumatic Stress Recovery Association (TSRA) in 1997, but we never got funding because it made use of the office in which I’d managed to develop a business and it was deemed a conflict of interests. My goal was just to provide information and support to people suffering PTSD and their families, so I continued volunteering providing free public information and affordable frontline worker training workshops around WA, funded by the little business I was asked to help develop.
The business opportunity arose from my voluntary work, and a Silver Chain nurse trainer seeing the value in making nurses aware of PTSD in clients and themselves in 1997. He then introduced me to a trainer of security and crowd-control officers so that I could have more work. He asked me to help set up develop a small Registered Training Organisation using funds from the half duplex I sold because I was too scared of the men in the adjoining rental.
In 2002, I finally had the courage to publish my first book but was informed by the West Australian newspaper that the prisoner had been granted parole, and they had published articles about the deceased couple’s family appealing the decision. I nearly died as she said, “due to my security risk, it was not safe to publicise my book” – even though I changed my entire name in 1995, due the prisoner recalling my entire name in 1986. Apparently, the police had read it out when they arrested him, even though I was then a minor at 17-years-old.
This news was a large factor in my stopping my work in the TSRA. My clients and other attendees to the previous workshops asked me to write a workbook to facilitate their own recovery, so in 2003 I created a framework of recovery activities based on personal and groupwork experiences, laced with research and quickly launched that in May 2004 with no media contact.
Despite the stress and fear, I continued working the training business of which I became sole director in 1999, and my voluntary support/therapy groups, while surviving escalating DV. In March 2005, I had the courage to write to the Parole Board advising against the prisoner’s release which was based upon my professional experiences and what the prisoner shared with me during my 1986 prison visit, 7 years after being attacked at gunpoint in 1979.
Despite this and the deceased couple’s appeal, the prisoner walked out of a low-security prison again on 29 March, and a manhunt dominated the media for 10 days. I had long conversations with the chief of Police Operations to set up surreptitious protection for my parents, and hid in my rented suburban townhouse trying to write up my first face-to-face training course (Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training) which I’d been asked to present the following week for a National Training Organisation. Needless to say, I was not my best and no more contracts were offered. The rest of my business suffered as I then spent months writing up a witness submission to the government inquiry, to the point that it closed down. To everyone’s relief, the prisoner ‘died’ in prison in early 2010 when I was ‘homeless’, commencing Masters in Clinical Psychology and fighting to regain my assets in the Family Court. Other than talking on the phone for some hours with a social worker at the Victim Notification Dept., I hardly gave it attention. This is the first ‘decade’ anniversary when it’s been possible to go public with the real story.
Although I present as professionally competent, my emotional and financial life has been a challenge since 1979, but once I knew that it was PTSD that kept tripping me up, my clinical psychologist found the only specialist PTSD counsellor in Perth. I invested in the fees of both professionals based on a life-long determination to never let the trauma stop me living life fully. My first book mentor told me to ‘remember that others may not be as resilient’ when he encouraged me to start the support groups. During the same discussion, he also countered my self-deprecation with ‘I hope that one day, you will see yourself as an expert.’ From a man of few words, these words were powerful inspiration to never, ever give up – especially during the years of escalating DV – which I felt were worse than the prisoner’s attack because my own home became very unsafe.
In the last few years, I’ve become very contented by living simply; pacing myself to manage Fibromyalgia diagnosed in 2015. Since finally buying a home again in 2013, I have provided affordable accommodation to 26 different women, then all other kinds of people via AirBnb, as I work part-time as a counsellor specialising in PTSD and Relationships therapy. The silver lining on the cloud of the DV relationship was discovering Imago Relationship Therapy, doing the training course then finding it is a very powerful way of healing PTSD.
This blog is now being posted at the very time, 40 years ago when I was surviving hours of gunpoint abduction during Saturday afternoon, November 17, 1979 in the middle of my tertiary entrance exams. When I got home, I was advised to not speak about it to anybody, and now it is very empowering to rewrite history and go public in sharing my celebration 🙂
40 years of surviving recurrent PTSD has arrived at a point of feeling that my spared life has been very worthwhile, and I am contented that nothing more could have been achieved than has been. 🙂 Innovative dreams and projects, like my Healing Retreat continue to inspire me to live life fully, which now includes more regular relaxing with many tremendous friends. 🙂 Thankyou to my friends who have encouraged me to start writing my story and really celebrate this weekend 🙂