That’s a statement from mother of three, Sophia*, who’s been through something no one should ever have to face – an abusive relationship.
About nine years ago Sophia met Doug*, a man she thought she wanted to build a life with. While their relationship started out innocently, she said it soon turned into a “toxic circle” of physical, mental, and financial abuse.
“I met Doug not long after my mum had passed away. It was a sad time in my life, and I was very vulnerable,” Sophia explained from her home on the Central Coast.
When entering the partnership, Sophia knew of Doug’s previous drug abuse, but at the time he was not using.
“Within six months of us being together I fell pregnant with our first daughter,” Sophia said. “While it wasn’t planned, we were very excited and hopeful for our future.”
However, not long after their daughter was born, Doug returned to old habits. Sophia believes Doug’s drug use was the catalyst that led to the abuse that ensued.
“Doug started showing signs (of drug abuse) in the sense he was paranoid, always wondering what I was doing or where I was going and just being very controlling,” she said.
“He also became very manipulative and started isolating me from my people. I now realise that’s because if I didn’t have anyone else in my life it meant that I only had him to depend on, which gave him a sense of power.
“I think that is why I stayed in that relationship for so long because of the fear of not having anywhere or anyone to go to.”
Sophia still remembers the first time Doug was physically abusive towards her as if it happened yesterday. Her voice trembled as she described the moment she was sitting on the lounge holding their newborn baby when Doug accused her of having an affair and slapped her across the face.
“I was so scared and worried, I was beside myself because it was a real shock,” she said.
The abuse and control continued for years. Despite this, Sophia and Doug added to their family.
Just five weeks after the birth of their third child, the baby contracted meningitis – an inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. While in hospital with the baby and away from Doug, Sophia realised things had to change.
“I was sitting there in hospital with my youngest and I just had this brain snap where I went: ‘You have to leave’.”
Soon after, the now single mother temporarily relocated her young family to Forster to live with a friend until she found her feet.
That was less than a year ago and while it’s been a bumpy road ever since she left, Sophia is sharing her story to raise awareness and encourage women to come forward if they need help.
Her advice to other victims of domestic violence is simple.
“Because of the abuse and control, the thought of leaving may seem difficult to imagine but once you do you will feel such a sense of relief and achievement,” Sophia said.
“You just need to have faith in yourself that you are strong and capable enough to do it. We always underestimate how strong we really are and what we can get through.
“A lot of the time you’re living through the bad days to hope for one good day, and you can’t keep doing that to yourself because it’s physically and mentally destroying.
“Now I can go to sleep at night knowing that my children and I are safe.”
Sophia also encourages women to seek out support services and said she felt lucky to have the support of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning.
CatholicCare provides support to victims of domestic abuse and violence via government funded programs including Renewing Pathways and Staying Home Leaving Violence.
“CatholicCare has helped me in so many ways, and I am going to be forever thankful for that,” she said, adding that the support her caseworker provided was a big part of the reason she didn’t return to her ex-partner.
“They helped me with everything from obtaining food vouchers to returning to the Central Coast.”
Sophia’s bravery in sharing her story coincides with the release of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Council’s annual Social Justice Statement. This year’s declaration is titled, Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse.
The 2022 Statement draws on data around family and domestic violence and gathers the insights of people – especially women – on that data. It also reflects on the words and example of Jesus.
“The teaching of Christ urges us to promote relationships marked by respect and freedom rather than coercion and control,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB writes in the foreword.
The Statement also promotes programs and agencies that support those who suffer various forms of violence but also highlights the importance of support for those who perpetrate such violence.
If you are in immediate danger, call the NSW Police on 000. Or if you or someone you know are experiencing domestic and family violence call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit www.1800respect.org.au