The following story, by Marg* is a deeply moving and courageous account of her journey through violence. As you will read, she continues to work towards non-violent relationships and has found various ways to achieve her goals. We thank her very much for her generosity and commitment.
My two younger daughters Julie* 15 years and Dianne* 16 years were living with me. My older two children had moved out because it was too much for them. What had happened was that one of the girls, Julie*, disclosed that she had been abused several years ago. Her sister, Dianne* reacted with violent mood swings which became more like tempers and then what I would call rages, fighting physically with people and breaking things. She can be verbally very abusive and physically violent. She would break windows and break things, just anything in her path. I’ve had a lot of physical damage to the house and I found it extremely difficult to cope with. She would fight terribly and provoke Julie*. I thought it was a reaction to finding out about her sister, because she had an array of feelings including guilt. I also found out that they were both addicted to marijuana and were into alcohol binges, so I think it was all contributing factors. Dianne* has more difficulty identifying her feelings, let alone expressing them to people. She cannot talk about things and when I tried to broach it with her she said just forget about it. So now I’m scared to broach it because I feel like it could be followed by an abusive and violent sort of session.
Things had got really bad. There were holes in the walls, lots of things were broken and I kept a set of crockery and cutlery in my bedroom so that I would have something to use when I couldn’t get into the kitchen. I started living in my bedroom because I was frightened of the violence. I couldn’t really talk to them about it because I was frightened that it could be followed by more abuse and violence.
It was hard to get the right sort of help. The student counsellor was great but although I tried other counselling it didn’t help because either the girls wouldn’t go or others didn’t understand the problem. When I heard of the Breaking the Cycle group for parents who had an adolescent who was violent and/or abusive I was relieved because it was the first time I had heard anyone actually talk about the problem. I’d always believed that this was something that we just had to put up with.
I found that talking to other people in similar positions was so valuable. To know that I was not the only one and there are people who are as badly off and worse off than me. I came to realise that I don’t have to put up with this. So one day when there was a whole lot of stuff going on and I had been hit and physically threatened I rang the police. It was a relief but it was also shrouded in devastation because she tackled the police. Dianne* met the police with a knife and it was pretty terrible. It took about half an hour to restrain her and they had to call a back-up car. I was a blubbering mess the whole time the police were there. They were there for about two to three hours and each of the police had a talk to me and they were very, very good and supportive. They just kept saying to me ‘you don’t have to put up with this’. The police said to just dial 000 in the future.
I think the police intervention has helped because it pulled Julie up and made her think about what was going on and she was actually mostly very good from then on. It also made Dianne* think and she has been trying not to lose her cool, not to rage, but there is a point at which she switches, she’s like two different people.
It helped me because now I know there is something I can do. Before I felt that mothers should be able to fix things up but I couldn’t.
Now I realise I don’t have to put up with it. I think the fact of actually having the police come in an emergency situation and having my rights reinforced by the police and the group was important. Nobody made me feel that I’d done a terrible thing against my kids. Having support from people in the group who had been in similar situations was important. There’s a slightly different flavour to the empathy from people who have been there. It helped me feel that I hadn’t done the wrong thing. I may not have ever rung the police if I hadn’t felt that support. I told my ex-husband and my eldest daughter and they were very supportive. My ex-husband has been away interstate for many years and it was most unusual to get his support. I’d rung him after I rang the police and on this occasion he was supportive. Also the group has helped because I know that I am not the only one and that other people have survived.
Now I feel that it is OK for me to take action.
What’s been good is feeling the strength that came from realising that I could actually take action. I think it has really helped Julie* and Dianne*. I think they have seen an otherwise rather wilted and totally non-assertive mother suddenly do something and I think that has helped them.
I’ve changed how I view the girls too, especially Dianne*. I don’t exonerate her from the violence because she chooses that reaction, but I also have to keep in mind what is behind all this and to understand that she has not been in a position to control her reactions.
I got a sense of power from the group. Just teasing it all apart, so that what was an entwined mess before became something I could look at. Things like my reactions, my kids’ reactions and what was going on and what was appropriate to say and what wasn’t appropriate to say, what would inflame the situation and what might calm it down just a little bit. In the past I tended to speak in these situations without thinking and say things that I regret.
I think this problem needs to be talked about. It is very hidden in many families. I had tried so many places to get help. It isn’t in the category of normal parenting groups, and we’d tried family therapy, mediation, and counselling but there was nothing that addressed this, or they just wouldn’t go. Parents often blame themselves, and when we’re blaming ourselves it’s very difficult to go out and get help because you feel you are a terrible person who has done some awful thing which has caused my child to do this.
The hidden nature of adolescent violence in the community and the consequent lack of programs to address it, caused us all much pain and undue suffering. The ignorant attitudes of police, judiciary, court personnel all added to our pain. Finding Anglicare’s ‘Breaking The Cycle’ program and from that, gaining the courage to call the police, to take out an intervention order, and to temporarily cut contact with Dianne*, gave me the space to begin my recovery from adolescent violence. Being believed and validated was the first step in my reclaiming power.
* Names and photo have been changed to protect client privacy.