Watching from the sideline: My choice to be there, no matter what.
WORDS: Ocean Road Magazine Editorial Staff PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied
Everyone has the ability to choose to take positive steps to ensure they don’t hurt those they love.
I MET my best friend in year eight of high school. She was new to the town and was sitting in the spot I usually sat in during maths. I was late to class as I’d had a clarinet lesson. I was annoyed, but after glaring at my friend who was supposed to have saved the seat for me, I found another seat and focused on the teacher.
That evening, I went to a weekly study group and there she was, sitting on one of the couches. The only seat left was the one next to her, so I sat down. Our study group leader introduced us and we chatted for five minutes or so before study commenced.
As the evening wore on, we had numerous moments that resulted in us laughing. That laugh where no sound escapes your lips, but tears roll down your cheeks as your body shakes and you rock back and forth. We were in-sync as we rocked back and forth, which resulted in the rest of our group catching the giggles as well. Needless to say, our friendship was made at that moment. Thirty-plus years later, we have remained friends to this day.
We both moved to the city when we were 16 but lived on opposite sides of the city. I started working full-time as I had no idea what I wanted to do and, after the bullying, I’d had to deal with from the time my family moved to the town until my last day of school there, I couldn’t face more school. My friend attended a high school near her new home.
We used to meet up in the city centre and go to the movies and, later on, we went out to pubs and nightclubs on Friday or Saturday nights. We both enjoyed dancing and, yes, a drink or two, but getting drunk wasn’t our focus (and we rarely got more than tipsy).
We were around 20 years old when she met her future husband. I never said anything to her, but there was something about him that worried me, as well as her behaviour when she was with him. My friend never had healthy self-esteem, which is typical of teenage girls, but I’ve always felt hers was worse than average. Because of this, I was always finding ways to build her up but, when she was with him, this became harder and harder to do. It was a warning sign, but my friend wasn’t the sort of person to take advice and potentially, saying anything to her would’ve resulted in her doing the opposite. I realised that the best way to help her, even back then, was to be there for her, no matter what.
My worst fears were realised about three years later when he slapped her cheek one day. I was relieved when she told me she had broken it off with him. However, not much time passed before she was telling me he’d proposed and they were getting married. I was devastated. The only reason he’d proposed was to get her back and it had nothing to do with him loving her, or truly wanting to marry her. The reason behind his actions were questionable, but my friend didn’t want to see this. She was in love with him and that was it.
With a heavy heart, I kept my concerns to myself and renewed my decision to always be there for her, no matter what. I chose to be kind towards him because this is what she needed from me. I was her best girl. (She didn’t want a matron of honour. Guys got to have a best man, so she wanted a best girl.) I stood by her, helped with the wedding as best I could (I lived on the other side of the country at the time) and did whatever I could to make sure she had her best wedding day. I shoved my concerns aside and celebrated with her.
Over the years, I listened to her complain about him. I heard how frustrated she was with various aspects of her marriage. I heard how she had to wait on him hand and foot (dark ages type stuff from my perspective and it horrified me). He never helped with the housework or cooking despite the fact that they both worked full-time. He demanded that she bring him drinks as he sat watching the television. (Seriously, what century does he think we’re living in?)
However, I wasn’t the one married to him and I believe that you can’t know the full situation unless you are one of the people in that situation. I had to trust that she was doing what she wanted and leave it at that. I understood, and this is still the same, that she is the type of girl who wants to be in a relationship and that is important to her. I am the complete opposite.
I prefer to remain single and will only consider a relationship if I believe that we will both be better for it. Being so different to her in this regard makes it harder for me to comprehend why she stayed with him for as long as she did but, I stuck by my decision, and accepted that she needed to do what was right for her, no matter if I agreed with that decision or how concerned about her situation I was. (If she had told me everything that had happened, I would not have been so passive.)
They had been married for several years when he joined the army. This seemed to come from left field, but it was a step in the right direction for him, and I hoped would help to mature him and give him a sense of direction and purpose. Indeed, for several years, it improved my friend’s situation – or so it seemed. I certainly heard less complaining from her.
They had been married for eight years when my friend fell pregnant. She had never intended to have children because of concerns about him, so it was a total whoopsie. However, she loves her first daughter and he appeared to as well. Again, I watched from the sidelines, heart in mouth, chewing on fingernails, as I hoped for the best while fearing the worst. I now not only worried about my best friend but her daughter as well.
About two years later, they had their second daughter, as they wanted a sibling for their first child. Things appeared, on the surface, to be going okay, although grumblings were there, he was often away as a result of his job in the army. I know that she was always happier when he wasn’t at home. She also realised this and was starting to talk about leaving him. I encouraged this, jumping at the chance to say something while holding my breath and being mindful to not be pushy. The decision to leave him needed to come from her.
Sadly, each time, she decided that her girls needed their dad and chose to stay with him. I tried to tell her that his verbal abuse of her, in front of their girls, didn’t provide them with a good role model on how to expect to be treated by a man and that she certainly shouldn’t be putting up with that, and deserved much better than that.
I worried about the physical threat he made each time he punched a hole in a wall or door. She sent photos to me. I still have them. (This is a threat as it’s saying ‘I’ll do this to you if you don’t fall in line’.) I didn’t realise he was also physically violent towards her, which is another concern that the girls would learn the wrong thing. She just couldn’t get past the belief that her girls needed their dad. She had been without a dad in her younger years and I know that her belief stems from that. However, I couldn’t seem to get her to see that, if he were a good role model, as a father who treats both his wife and children well, she would be correct.
However, as is the case, he isn’t a good role model because he treats her with both verbal and physical abuse and is also abusive towards their girls. This teaches them the wrong thing. I was extremely frustrated with her (and still am). I constantly worry about her and their girls and all I can do is watch from the sidelines, choosing the only option I have, standing by my decision to be there for her, no matter what.
But the verbal abuse, threat of, and actual, physical violence, as I found out later, was not the end of it. He would only give her a small amount of money each fortnight, which had to cover food, groceries, clothing and all other ‘women’ related items. The amount provided was nowhere near realistic and resulted in her self-esteem being reduced to a pathetic mess that had me silently crying at the injustice of it. My heart broke every time I heard another story of what she had to cope with. I wanted to shake her to make her see sense, to get her to leave him, to save both herself and their girls. But there was nothing I could do other than watch from the sidelines, my heartbreaking as I watched my best friend go through it all.
My worry about her and her girls increased as the situation seemed to get more explosive. He also had PTSD now and this was certainly increasing the volatility of the situation. I will say though, having PTSD (I also have PTSD, although being female and a gentle-natured person and it being the result of very different events than his, means that it affects me very differently) does not provide the individual with carte blanche to treat people with disrespect regardless of age, sex, culture, etc., violence, or abuse in any way, shape or form.
An individual has the ability to choose to do something about the effects of their PTSD if they feel their anger, in any given situation, is unbalanced to the detriment of those around them. I feel that if you feel love towards those who are affected by your anger, and are endangering them as a result, that you need to take action to stop this behaviour (whether that’s medication, seeing a psychologist or other option). Everyone has the ability to choose to take positive steps to ensure they don’t hurt those they love. By not taking any action to ensure the safety of loved ones suggests the individual doesn’t love said people and puts into question everything about that person.
Because his abusive behaviour was already in existence prior to the events which resulted in PTSD, the PTSD certainly worsened this situation but is by no reasonable measure the reason for his abusive behaviour towards his wife and children. This was already in existence and is therefore not related to the PTSD.
Three years ago, their third daughter was born. My friend is struggling to lose the weight she gained during this pregnancy and this became another issue her husband (unrealistically) held against her. He has no understanding of the impact a pregnancy has on a woman’s body, nor the impact that aging and the changing hormone levels have on a woman’s metabolism.
He is unrealistic in his expectations that she cook, clean, look after three children, help the children with their school projects and so on, do the grocery shopping and cater to other household-related shopping, cook food that’s healthy for her children, meet her husband’s demands and was suitable for her changing body’s requirements (particularly on such a meagre financial budget as he provided her), let alone have time for her own needs (socialisation, exercise, relaxation). He had no regard for the stress he placed on her and the impact this had on her wellbeing, nor that on his own children.
Over the years, most of her friends were pushed out of her life by him, resulting in her isolation. I refused to allow him to push me away and made sure that she knew I would always be there for her, no matter what. He also realised I wasn’t going anywhere and seemed to be okay with that. He thought I liked him, I guess.
Several years ago, my friend called me, and my fear for her safety was renewed. He had knocked her down to the ground and, once she got back up, proceeded to drag her by her hair and throw her out of their house (him stating it was his house and he only allowed her to live there and that she had no right to it or the children). She had no choice but to call the police (thankfully having her mobile phone on her) as her three children were in the house with him and she was concerned for their safety. Thankfully, the eldest daughter managed to grab the baby and escaped out the back door before he was able to stop her. The middle child was still stuck in the house.
My friend, with her eldest and youngest daughters, waited for the police officers to come and he was taken away and charged with domestic violence and was not allowed to contact my friend or their children or come within a certain distance of them or their home. My friend made sure the police officers were aware of his PTSD and, if I remember correctly, she mentioned to me that she gave the police his medication to make sure he still was taking it. However, his slide to this level of aggressive behaviour suggests he wasn’t taking his medication.
In the end, she supported him in court and he was released from the hospital, however, he was still not allowed to contact her or their children, or to come within a certain distance of them.
He received his release from the army and they moved interstate, starting a new life in a place close to his family and several hours drive from her mum’s. He once again convinced her to return to him by hanging a financial nugget over her, which she wanted for their life as a family, not for herself. However, I have the impression he believes that she is like all other women in that we are all after money and will take a man for everything he’s got. (Seriously, this is how he thinks!) My own thoughts, which I believe are similar to most women’s? Be a dad and grow up. You’ve got children you’re financially responsible for and it’s their needs you should be contributing to.
He tried to be on his best behaviour, but it was only a matter of time before he snapped. My fear for my friend and her three children was no exaggeration. The situation certainly exploded within a brief time and after he told his eldest daughter she was ugly, (1. she’s honestly a beautiful girl; 2. what dad, who loves their child, says that?), my friend’s concerns for her children’s mental health finally kicked in. (He had also had the eldest by her throat, or pinning her arms so that she couldn’t call the police when he had been hurting my friend.) She secretly organised to get government financial assistance before packing up what belongings she could and fleeing from him to her mum’s, with their three beautiful girls.
He currently provides no financial assistance, despite his responsibility to provide for the welfare of his children. He wants to stay with them when he visits, despite the stress this causes my friend and the two eldest girls (the youngest, only three, and not yet able to understand that daddy’s not a very good person). He also has no regard for the confusion this causes his children nor that it’s an inappropriate request for him to make.
Both the eldest two girls have told their dad they don’t want to see him so much and they don’t want to speak with him on the phone. For13 and 11-year-old girls to say they don’t wish to see their dad, in my mind, says much about who he is as an individual.
I still find myself watching from the sidelines, worry lines permanently etched on my face, but at least my friend and her children are safer and mostly out of his clutches. I am relieved that she has taken their three children and finally left him, his excuses no longer validated or accepted. PTSD is a serious mental health condition. However, it’s no excuse for domestic abuse. There is NO reasonable excuse for that behaviour. Ever. Abuse is abuse – period!
Don’t allow someone to fool you into believing they will change. If you keep going back to them, they have no reason to change. The best thing you can do for your own safety and mental health, and that of your children, is to get whatever help you need and get away from that person.
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse or family violence contact:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
The Emergency Accommodation 24-hour helpline on 1800 800 588
The Safe At Home helpline on 1800 633 937
The Family Violence Crisis and Support Service on 1800 608 122
Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1
The Kids Helpline for young people aged five to 25 on 1800 551 800
Men who have anger, relationship or parenting issues can contact the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or the Don’t Become That Man helpline on 1300 243 413