It can happen to anyone
by Adam Clarke
"I'm a 41 year old financial controller living in Hobart. I separated from my wife 7 months ago. Since then we have both focussed on achieving the ugliest marital breakdown of all time".
The story probably begins when my wife developed a bad back problem about 4 years ago. She used a number of things for the pain - ranging from alcohol (every night) to Digesic (when her pain was unusually bad). The problem was when she took the two together. Soon after she started using Digesic we both became aware that she was at best irritable and often flew into rages - particularly if she had drunk a lot. Consequently she tried not to use Digesic but was often forced to when her pain was bad.
Over time, though she took Digesic less frequently, when she did her rages were worse. By 1993 she had turned to violence - working up from uncontrollable rages via threats with knives to real violence such as scratching, biting and stubbing out cigarettes on me. She would frequently stub out cigarettes on me, and I was surprised at how little it hurt. Everything was ugly but cope-able until the final fight when she smashed a glass across my face. That was a major escalation in the violence. Being your average stoic male there was no way I would ask for outside assistance - especially from the police.
The night she smashed the glass across my face she moved out. We had been married 23 years.
My wife and I had discussed separating previously - I guess she was dissatisfied with her life as much as with me. In retrospect I realise she decided to separate about a month earlier. However she didn't have the courage to just walk. I have no doubt that she wanted a cathartic confrontation to justify her leaving. I made it clear that I would not simply allow her to take our son Stephen (14 years old). By this stage she was committed to separating and I believe she realised that extraordinary steps were required to ensure she got custody of Stephen.
When she moved out, Stephen remained at home with me while she stayed with my sister a couple of suburbs away. I now know that over the next few days she elaborated a story to anyone who was interested about how she had been the victim of domestic violence by me for 15 years. Consequently her brother flew to her aid from Brisbane where her family live.
The next escalation in the ugliness occurred a week later when she lifted Stephen from school and took him to Brisbane, explaining to him it was for a "short break" while things calmed down between her and me.
As soon as they got to Brisbane my wife took out a Protection Order. To prevent me retrieving my son she got him included on the Order by claiming that I had been violent towards him. (Though I have no real evidence I believe that she was advised on this course of action by the Domestic Violence Service - her brother talked her into visiting them just before they left.)
I have heard it said that people guilty of domestic violence rarely admit it and often don't even believe it themselves. Despite some fairly nifty scars I have, that was the case with my wife. Given the popular image of domestic violence it was inevitable what her story would be - that it was really me who was violent.
This is when the full dimensions of this nightmare really began to hit home. I think of myself as being as resilient and undemonstrative as any man but I really fell apart. One episode I clearly recall is driving to work on a rainy day with sunglasses on to hide the fact that I was crying. Pathetic.
At that time I came pretty close to suicide. The only thing that stopped me was the realisation that it would really fuck up my son who would be bound to feel guilty. To me, this reads a bit like a pseudo-noble horseshit excuse. However, at the time, my realisation of its effect on him really pissed me off. I really did want to launch my car at a concrete pylon (and become another "road accident" statistic).
At first I was solely focused on securing my boy's return and didn't realise that the key was the Protection Order. My other major blunder was that I was so worried about acting in Stephen's best interests that I was paralysed and threw away my only opportunities. On the other hand she received excellent advice - most of it for free.
I spoke to Stephen on the phone to check that he wanted to return and then got a Family Court order that he return with my wife. Before the order was served on her, I warned Stephen (by phone) it was coming. He said he had changed his mind and now wanted to stay with his mother. I was shattered and stopped service of the order.
The second major blunder was the first time Stephen came back home to stay with me on school holidays. When it came time for him to go back to Brisbane, Stephen said he had decided to stay with me. However he asked to go back to Brisbane to explain to his mother. He explained that he was confident his mother would allow him to return because she had promised that if he ever wanted to go back she would put them on the first plane. You can guess the rest. I was powerless to fetch him because of the Protection Order.
In the end I never got a hearing of the Protection Order. After 4 months she had a status quo for custody and was prepared to drop the clause from the Protection Order that prevented me seeing my son. She offered mutual consent orders saying that we each promised not to beat up on the other. Since these orders didn't prevent me seeing my son I agreed. Based on advice from two lawyers that I had no hope of winning custody I have also consented to her having interim custody until a final hearing.
None of our mutual friends here in Hobart believe my wife's accusations of violence - not even her closest friend. However her family and some mutual acquaintances in Brisbane apparently do. I have now basically given up hope of Stephen returning home. Consequently my only interest in the legal system now is to clear my name and discredit her with them. I have initiated defamation action against her.
Obviously my experience of Domestic Violence is very direct and personal. My interests/hates include protection orders, the stereotype of violent male/female victim and the complete lack of help for separating males compared with females.
The stigma attached to domestic violence is so huge that it is very difficult to confess to having been accused of it. I am telling my story to illustrate how domestic violence can happen to anyone, and that when the victim happens to be a man, it is particularly difficult to reach out for help for fear of being ridiculed or disbelieved.
My advice to others would be to seek information and support as soon as you suspect the relationship is turning violent or that your wife might be planning to leave with your children. Do not forfeit the options you have.
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