Breaking The Cycle: Sally’s story

The following story, by Sally* 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 son, Bill is 18. Until a short time ago he was living with me and his father and my older son. We’d been going through a lot of drama with Bill and I’d got to the stage where I was very frightened. I got to the stage that if I knew he was going to be home, my stomach turned and churned. If I drove into our driveway and his car was there and I knew he was there, I felt like turning round and driving out again. Initially I guess I’d let him get away with a few things, to a certain extent because I really didn’t know how to handle it and I felt that he got the upper hand on me.

It all happened, I suppose in the space of six months when it went from just small things. He did Year 12 last year and didn’t do as well as what he wanted. He socialised and of course we were down on him a bit for doing that and he started reacting a bit during the year and then as the year got on towards the end it got worse.

The start of it was one day on a Saturday. His main thing was that he would throw things around the kitchen if I was cooking a meal and he was in one of his moods. One time he emptied a salt container, he emptied a spaghetti container. He just made a mess of my kitchen. He took all the crockery out of the cupboard and stacked it all on top of each other on top of the stove and of course it fell on the floor. ‘Oh oops’, he said, ‘it broke’.

This one particular Saturday morning I called him to go to work, he was working part time at a petrol station and he’d been out late the night before, he didn’t start until 1 o’clock in the afternoon. He said, ‘my back’s too sore, will you ring them up and tell them’. I said, ‘No, Bill. It’s your responsibility. If you don’t want to go in that’s fine but I’m not ringing up.’ Because I know he suffers from a bad back but it was more that he was tired from the night before and I wasn’t ringing up for that sort of thing. I had rung up for him before when I knew he was ill but I told him that if he didn’t want to go that was up to him, but I wasn’t going to make excuses.

This was really the first bad outrage that he had and he just got angry – I was home on my own at that stage, and he got angrier and angrier. He put his fist through a wall and he was virtually going to go into each room and destroy the house – smash the windows, everything. He threw one of our chairs – we had an empty block of land next door, threw it over the fence and I was very frightened. I told him I was going to call the police. He said then that he was leaving and he got into his car and drove off down the driveway and I was just sort of left shattered. I was a shaking wreck at that stage by his violence. I really didn’t think that he was capable of such behaviour, that something that I just wouldn’t do for him triggered all this off. And then he was back a few minutes later. He came back to get his licence so that when the police found him they’d know who he was.

So there was the threat there that you know ‘I’m going to do away with myself now’. And of course that just tore me apart. He did go then and – I didn’t know where he was for a few days but I found out that a family at school had taken him in and he stayed there for quite a few weeks.

And then he came back again, we had a talk, a family conference about it, he aired a few things. It wasn’t just me not ringing up for him, there was a build-up of things. He doesn’t have a very good relationship with his father and I think that he couldn’t take it out on his father and he was taking it out on me. I can cope with that to a certain extent but when it got to the violence part – that was just the end of me. Just after that we went away for a few days and he and his brother stayed at home. The day that I came back, I asked him could he could help get something out of the car and he said ‘I’ve been doing what I like when I like’. He wouldn’t do anything to help. He didn’t put his dirty clothes out. He came and went as he pleased, so I sort of made up a list of ‘if you’re going to live in this house, this is what I expect of you’. He had got a job at this stage and we told him that he had three months and then we expected him to pay some board and he said ‘well, how do you think you’re going to get that out of me?’ He wasn’t willing to do any of the things which were things which really didn’t even need to be written down, I mean most families you just do it.

His violence wasn’t so bad again at that stage until one Friday night he did exactly the same thing again for some reason. I was making a cheesecake because we were going out on Saturday night and he walked in the middle of me making it and wanted me to stop. You really can’t stop making a cheesecake so I explained to him that yes I would sit down and speak with him after I had finished but that wasn’t for him, he wanted me to sit there and then. So the violence started again. I had things streaked from one end of the kitchen to the other. This time he left with a knife out of the drawer so again it was a threat to hurt himself.

He went and stayed with another family for about 3 weeks. He virtually hasn’t been home to live since. He’s now living in a flat, not very far from us, and things are a lot better between us. I am a bit surprised about that but because he is away from the situation I guess it’s easier. He just didn’t like being told to do things.

Bill never did these things when my other son or my husband was home, only when I was there. He never did it when his father was there. I think I was an easy target for him to take his frustrations out on. I think he believed that I should let him do whatever he wanted. I mean that never came out in so many words but I think he always felt let down in a situation if I went against him and stood by his father and not him. Now, on occasions, I might have but that was when I felt he had done the wrong thing.

I think there was an expectation that I should hand over money when he wanted it. It’s just part of being a mum. You know all kids ask for money for this that and the other. I think probably I let him get away with a little bit too much without paying it back. I mean I’m not saying that I gave him everything that he wanted. He had a car which he couldn’t afford to keep. This is why he had to have this part-time job but you know trying to talk to kids these days is just like talking to a brick wall sometimes, and he expected us to just keep handing money out to him all the time.

The most useful bit of coming to the Breaking the Cycle group was to be with people where you could say what you’d been going through and they didn’t doubt you. I didn’t tell a lot of people about what was happening but I did tell a number of my friends and there were a couple who were quite close and I heard from word of mouth that ‘she must be exaggerating,  he can’t be’ because they’ve known him since he was a baby.  I found that very hard to take. They felt that I was exaggerating about how my son had been carrying on because he never behaved like that anywhere else. I was the only one he behaved like that towards. Coming to the group, nobody doubted what you said and, well I heard worse cases, I thought mine was bad but there were people there that were in worse situations than what I was and, not that that was a feeling of relief for me, but at least you knew that there wasn’t anybody doubting you. None of my group of friends had that sort of problem. To me that was one of the main things. My friends just couldn’t comprehend. Even when he was doing the things that he was doing at home, I was quite confident that he could walk into somebody else’s home and be his normal self.

I got a feeling of strength from the group. I think just the mere fact that other people were there gave me strength. I came away from that group each time feeling a little bit stronger. I think that by talking about it there made me see that perhaps I was allowing it to happen to a degree and just by picking up on the way we did things, different things during the night, it just gave me a different perspective on how to handle it.

The big thing that we ended up doing was to stop him coming into the house because he was coming back into the home when we weren’t there and taking things which was against what we wanted. I packed all the things in his room and stored them out in our back shed. Now that was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was sick in the stomach but I knew that something had to be done for him to realise that I wasn’t going to stand for this sort of thing any longer. I wondered whether I was doing the right thing and what his reaction was going to be. I was warned about his violence and because he’d threatened two or three times to take his life. Although it never came to anything, I knew what he could say it again and he could do it. He was very angry because I’d done that. I’d called round to his work to give him a letter and I told him what I was trying to do and then when he came around he found that it had actually happened.

We have never really sat down and discussed his behaviour since he has been gone and he has been coming back visiting the home. I just think it’s a little bit too early for that yet. I’d like him to initiate it as well. Now whether he’s prepared to do that I don’t know as time goes on and he hasn’t said anything, but I’d like to think that we could sit down and talk about it.

I was really upset about him leaving but I knew something had to happen. I couldn’t really believe that I’d done it but I had to do something.  I had to take some space for myself but he was only eighteen and he’s out on his own and that’s not what I wanted for my son, or myself, or for the family situation. I never thought my son would do the things he did. I never thought I would have the need to do anything like this. Who wants to dob their kids into the police? I am just not that type of person. I would try and go the other way and keep the peace and perhaps that’s been my problem. I don’t intend to put myself back into that situation of feeling how I did. I’m just not going back to that again.

I guess I want to try and find an inner strength to step away from the situation and to be able to stand up to him to a degree without violence, without – I’d like to say without confrontation but I don’t know that that is possible. People told me just to walk away from him when I didn’t want confrontation and I did try to step away from it, until he calmed down, not to wipe it away, but wait until he calmed down, but that’s when he went and sat in front of my car and when I went to drive out of the driveway he wouldn’t move.

Bill seems a lot happier. When he comes home now he has a whole different approach. When he came back after the first time he left just after Christmas I think the main thing was that things between us really weren’t sorted out. He sort of slipped back into the house and we did sit down and have a chat and he sort of seemed all right. It’s made it a whole lot easier for me because I’ve had this time, this space with him being away from the situation and having gone to the group.

* Name and photo have been changed to protect client privacy.

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