Trigger warning: Domestic abuse, violence, PTSD, eating disorders, suicide, AVOs. Image Oliver Sjöström from Pexels
Any one who has been following me on Facebook or Instagram has likely heard of the Morgan & Elwood ‘Makeup for Change’ project that I’m starting this year. If you haven’t heard about it, please go read up at our website. I recorded a podcast about the project and domestic abuse for The Bold Platform the other week, and am finalising a few things with our partner, Women’s Safety NSW before we begin sessions.
Therefore, it seems like a good time to give a bit more of a personal perspective on the project – I’ve given a partial story about where the idea came from, but I’d like to dig a bit deeper in to what has led me here, and the changes I want to see as a result of the project. Some content below may be unsettling or confronting, so please feel free to skip this. Remember if you or someone you know needs support (in Australia) please contact Domestic Violence Crisis Support on 1800 656 463, or Lifeline on 131 114. Please contact 000 in an emergency.
You may have read about where Morgan & Elwood was born – in my bathtub as a little girl where I shaped the bubbles into a haven for women where they could feel spoiled and safe. You might have also heard about my experiences as a beauty therapist where I learned just how much support women needed and some of the things they faced on a day-to-day basis.
The concept of my business, this project, and passion for helping those facing domestic abuse starts much closer to home. Growing up, my family of four was largely controlled by my father who was later in life – around my teens – diagnosed with bipolar. This illness, previously referred to as ‘manic depression’, was not as widely acknowledged, or managed the way it is now. There was, and still is a huge stigma around this illness that more often than not goes hand in hand with violence. Bipolar is largely thought to be ‘triggered’ by life events, abuse, drugs and alcohol, but while we now know that bipolar disorder does not cause violence, the unfortunate reality is that many sufferers have experienced violence and abuse in their past which can then lead to potential abuse against others and higher aggression (read here).
*Note: I am in the process of writing a book for people who have a loved one with bipolar. If you would like to stay updated with news around this, please follow @lovingbipolar on Instagram.
Unfortunately as my father’s bipolar wasn’t diagnosed until his 50’s, we as a family had no reason for or understanding of his behaviour. He would range from being the most extravagant, loving, doting parent, to screaming, fearful, controlling, and frightening. My mother, experiencing horrors I will never fully know of, finally removed my sibling and I from the home and initiated a separation. It is this incredibly selfless, protective, and brave act that saved us from what was an increasingly dangerous and volatile childhood.
Unfortunately we could not avoid visitation, and being alone with our father was unpredictable. He refused to take consistent medication, the medication he did take is now known to worsen the symptoms of a bipolar patient, nor did he want to engage in any form of therapy, or psychiatry.
As my elder sibling turned 18 and no longer had to attend weekends and holidays away, I had another 6 years remaining in which the manipulation, control, and emotional and verbal abuse was solely directed at me.
My mother to this day cannot bear the thought that we did not confide in her how bad things were. She would have done anything to stop it, but as children, we knew no better than to not cause trouble, and in reality – didn’t know the option to end visitation was even available.
As a result I developed Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Severe anxiety, alongside interim eating disorders, self-destructive behaviours and suicidal ideation. I will be medicated, like many, for the rest of my life. I ceased contact with my father at the age of 21, reattempted it again at 25, and finally came to terms with terminating the relationship entirely at the age of 28. It took 21 years of sustained abuse to first say “I refuse to be treated like this”.
Unfortunately my prior experience and understanding of bipolar led me to accept the illness in a long term partner in my mid-20s. While my love of this person was like nothing else I have experienced, I once again found myself in an emotionally and verbally abusive situation, leading to our eventual separation and my attempts to obtain an Apprehended Violence Order which was not approved under interesting circumstances. In 2016, a few months before our court date, Parliament recognised “intention to coerce, control or intimidate” as a domestic violence offence (see here). By my court date, this law had not yet filtered down to the courts and so the AVO was not granted. The first news article I read about an AVO being granted on the same terms and conditions as my own that was rejected had me in heaving, grateful tears.
Sitting in the women’s safe area at Downing Centre Local & District Court on three occasions, my decision to help women who had experienced any form of domestic abuse was cemented.
I sat with women who were a tiny representation of the huge numbers who attended that court weekly for domestic violence related hearings. The volunteers for Women’s Safety NSW (previously the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service) told me about the numbers that came through their area – and this only represented cases that had made it this far; to the police, through the police, to court, through the first hearings, and to the final decision date. Months. The process alone takes months. And even then, I sat next to a women who withdrew her request for an AVO in the final hour due to poorly handled question and false accusation from a junior police woman.
The entire AVO application and process itself was enough to make me realise how much needed to be done. I trust the women at Women’s Services with the task of representing us in Parliament and pushing for change, and providing support and services for women going through this. But I need to be that someone who helps women know where to start when the daunting realisation that they are being abused starts to nag in the back of their minds.
It took me four hours in an interview room to finally have the police take my fears and concerns seriously. I was mislead twice by their phone support on where to go for help before I finally just walked into my local station. And it wasn’t until the Senior Constable representing me was herself verbally intimidated by the opposing lawyer that she finally understood and acknowledged my fear and what we were dealing with.
I need women to know the steps to take BEFORE they walk out of their homes, or remove their children. To understand, and prepare everything they can to do it as safely as possible. To know exactly who to call and what information to provide and what evidence to collect before they show up to a police station to make it as easy and painless, and least traumatising as it can be, because without that knowledge, leaving an abusive home can be as hard and confronting, if not more so, than staying in it.
I have to help, and this is where the Makeup for Change program was born. We are not ‘raising awareness’ or ‘fighting domestic violence’ or ‘saying no to abuse’. We are simply accepting that as much as we hate it, abuse and violence continues to happen, but we must be smart in knowing when and how to leave, and how to protect ourselves for the coming years, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Please visit http://www.morganelwood.com/makeup-for-change for resources, contacts, and information including the Women’s Safety booklet Charmed & Dangerous.
I love each and every one of you,