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The Avalanche

Mid-June 2017

My daughter is seven and a half months old and we have run out of money. Before I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant almost 18 months earlier, I quit my job to attempt to write full time. During the rough pregnancy that followed, this decision was my salvation: I earned enough to pay the bills, but was able to work flexibly around the nausea and the vomiting that continued up to and including our daughter’s delivery.

But there was a downside: no employer maternity leave, a lower income, no guaranteed work to return to. And now, more than a year later, those downsides are clearer than they’d been before. Despite the government’s paid parental leave, despite my partner’s permanent job, we’re hemorrhaging money. Our savings have gone. We pay rent and buy food and that’s it. I’m avoiding phone calls about overdue bills. The stress is all-consuming.

It hasn’t been an easy year. First, our daughter wasn’t a great sleeper. It made working difficult as she’d only sleep with me at night, and for three twenty-minute naps in the day. All these grand plans I’d had for working when the baby slept went out the window and, with hourly wakeups through the night, constructing a coherent thought was near impossible.

That was followed in quick succession diagnosis of post-natal depression, a tooth infection that got so bad that I was hospitalised for three nights as it made my whole face swell, and then two discs in my back deciding they didn’t want to stay in the right place. We were doing ok. We were surviving. Our daughter was beautiful and funny and worth every difficulty, but we were wrung out.

So I decided to apply for some short-term contracts, hoping an influx of money would help to solve the problem. I quickly found a six-week role in a government department and they wanted me to start as soon as possible. I started the process of organising care for our daughter, figuring out how to share her between babysitters and family as the daycare centre we’d signed her up to was delayed and wouldn’t be open for some weeks.

On Friday, June 30th, I started in the job and had my first day back in an office in over a year. My brain was full of worry about how my daughter was doing, concern about remembering how to function in the workplace, doing a good job, and holding on financially until that precious first paycheck would come in almost three weeks later.

March 2015

One night in March 2015, I took a man home with me.

An interlude

It’s hard to talk about this. I grew up in a pretty conservative family and sleeping around is not really something I like to talk about. That isn’t a judgement on anyone else or on myself. Just… I exist within my context and I feel things within that.

The values that other people would likely say are old fashioned and out of date are still buried deep inside me. I wish I’d listened to them, but I didn’t. I wish I didn’t think I needed sex to feel ok about myself, but I did. I made choices that were bad for me.

This isn’t about slut shaming. This is about regretting my own choices. I think I made bad ones.

Back to March 2015

I was coming off a pretty bad depression stint. A year earlier, I’d lost my job and the apartment I had rented for seven years sold and I was in a car accident in the space of a week. I spiralled and, for the first time since being diagnosed with depression in 2010, I started taking medication for it. I spent the year that followed unmoored and unsettled. But I finally had a stable job and, three months earlier, had moved into my first grown-up apartment all by myself.

I dressed up that night, put on a black dress I loved that wouldn’t fit me now, and was looking forward to celebrating a friend’s birthday with people I knew and others.

Sometime early in the morning, after spending far too many hours drinking at the Town Hall Hotel in Newtown, a place you only go for trivia or when the night has tipped over from fuzzy to drunk, he and I leave together. My spotted memory after that includes the man, the cab, the couch, my room. But there are moments of the night that I remember so clearly, they haunt me even now. Him pinning me down, his hands around my neck, my gasping for breath and saying stop, stop, stop. Being more scared than I have ever been.

He left afterwards. We didn’t even exchange a text. I couldn’t sleep. When I got up in the morning and looked in the mirror, and saw my body covered in bruises, I felt a deep well of shame open up inside me. I sat in the bath for three hours, wanting to remove any trace of him. I threw my sheets in the wash, I threw up, and the next day I got back to my business of living my life.

People asked about the bruise on my arm- it was unmissable, the size of a cricket ball. The foundation mostly hid the marks his fingers left on my neck, which took weeks to fade. But every time I looked in the mirror, I saw them.

May 2015

About six weeks later, I was at dinner with a dear friend. We were having the usual chats about our lives and mutual friends and politics. We were at one of my favourite pubs, a place with a killer pie and amazing bread. The topic turned to a mutual friend, Lauren, who’d been having a tough time. My friend told me about how Lauren had gone home with a man who turned violent. She’d gone to the hospital the next day, but she wasn’t doing very well.

My blood ran cold.

We cut the dinner short and my friend dropped me near the local shopping centre. I had no food, I needed to go grocery shopping, but I needed to make this phone call. And so, outside East Village Coles, I called Lauren and asked her about it. Was it X? I said.

Lauren’s not a person I generally use the word “quiet” to describe, but her voice that comes back is tiny. Yes.

In the weeks that followed, we went to the police to report our stories. The detective I talked to at North Sydney station was wonderful and kind and empathic and told me again and again it wasn’t my fault. The case was then transferred to Kings Cross station, and I went in to speak to a detective there who was kind, if a little clueless (he suggested me calling the man, to try to get him to admit what he did on the phone. He didn’t understand how weird calling someone like that would be). But ultimately, the thought of a trial unlikely to lead to a guilty verdict was more than I could face.

So instead, I focused on recovering.

I wasn’t well at first. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and, as a contractor, those days meant I didn’t get paid. It was a constant battle between my finances and my wellbeing. I saw my psychologist regularly. I read books. I wrote. I cut back on drinking. I went out less. I had friends visit for a book club. I baked cakes.

And slowly, slowly the thing had happened stopped being something I thought about often. It was something I placed in my story, a thing that happened to me, but just one of many things. It was a bad thing, it was a difficult thing, it was something that still had a few tentacles in my brain and heart, but it was a tiny part of my life. It occasional peaked out: it came shuddering back when someone jokingly put their hands around my neck. But mostly, I was well.

I hate feeling powerless. I didn’t want this thing I couldn’t control to have any power over me. So I fought it and most of the time, I was winning.

March 2016

I started spending time with someone who was a friend and then I was in love and despite the pill and my polycystic ovarian syndrome, somehow I was pregnant. My fledgling writing career was starting to take off. Two years after my life had crashed so terribly, things had turned around.

At some point, Lauren speaks publicly about the fact she was assaulted. I make a decision to share that the same person had assaulted me. I know how much it’s weighing on Lauren, and I hate that people doubt her. If this is what I can do to support her, it’s a no-brainer.

Then my Mum texts me, saying she’s crying, saying she wishes I’d told her, and I realise I’ve made a terrible mistake. My original decision, the one to keep quiet, not to pursue, was as much about my family as it was about me and now I realise I’ve made a bad decision. I’m hurting the people I wanted to protect. I assure her I’m fine, I put it all back away, and focus on the thing I’m most worried about: the upcoming arrival of my child.

2 July 2017

It’s Sunday night. I’m at my parents’ house, because my Mum is looking after my daughter the next day, my second day at work. It’s late. I’m sleeping on a single bed because Mum and Dad have other guests, and bub is in the room with me.

I’m flicking through twitter when I see his name, the name of the person who assaulted me, a name I had gone to great lengths to avoid. And it’s Lauren who has said it. She has decided to name him publicly.

Things immediately pick up steam. There’s media interest. My DMs are filled with people who remember that I has said the same person assaulted me. His name is on my feed, over and over and over. And I’m trying to get work done but I’m feeling the clutch of the tentacles.

Then, people start accusing Lauren of lying. They’re telling her that she’s making it up, that she just wants attention, that she’s trying to hurt his political party. I have this thing, this piece of information, this support that only I can give.

Once again, I feel powerless.

So finally, I make the choice, to say something. To try to be non-inflammatory, I post the emails I sent my friends when it happened. It’s been more than a decade since I finished my history degree, but the historian in me comes out at strange times. I’ll post primary sources, I thought. And let people come to their own conclusions.

Rape

That word. Rape. It’s not a word I use to describe what happened. I understand why others would in the exact same circumstance, but it’s not a word I feel applies to what happened to me. Sexual assault, yes. Sexual violence even. But not rape. Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s my way of claiming that power.

Lauren talks about “our rapist” and every single time, I shudder. He is not my rapist. He does not get that title from me.

The Avalanche

And then the calls and emails and messages start. I say no to all of them with one exception: I agree to talk to Background Briefing for a piece they’re doing about the decision to name your assailant publicly. I wanted to do it because I was frustrated and upset that I felt caught up in it. I wanted to say that it isn’t only the person who did it who can be hurt- that these decisions can have other consequences.

I took phone calls in my lunch break. I cried after my baby was asleep at night. I sent refusals and worried about career repercussions. I worried about my family. I dealt with it all in the margins of my already over-full life.

When I spoke to Hagar from Background Briefing, who has been a kind and empathic interviewer, I talked a lot about these things. About the difficulty of it coming up when it did. About my ethical doubts about the act of public naming. About my reserve about being called “brave”. About my concerns that other people who experienced it would feel cowardly if they didnt’ speak up and how deeply unfair that was. About how what’s good for one person’s healing can be destructive to another.

For entirely understandable reasons, none of that made the cut. My contribution to the story is a description of what happened to me, the part that I least wanted to talk about, the bit that I said in order to be able to talk about the other stuff. It goes to air this week. It’s good journalism and a great story, but I am nervous and sick and stressed and sad about the repercussions. I dread the avalanche starting again.

If I had my time over, I would have said no.

Quiet bravery

The noise of it all has consumed me in ways I didn’t want it to. I’ve been a bad employee and a bad partner and a bad mum this last month. I’ve lost clients and others I’m hanging on to by a thread. When everything that happened forced its way back onto my already overcrowded plate, it was too much. I have been struggling with anger and sadness. I have felt powerless.

So this is my story. I am taking my power back.

And to anyone else who is struggling with complex feelings in response to all this, I am with you. I hear you. Do not measure yourself against anyone else.

It is ok to sit, quietly, with your own bravery. Healing doesn’t mean it hurt less. Protecting yourself and those nearest to you can be one of the fiercest things you can do. Please, don’t feel the need to speak if you don’t want to. Your voice is yours and there is no cowardice in silence. Sometimes, quiet pondering is the best thing you can do.

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