16 days, 16 stories

Carrie Smith

On the outside it’s neat and tidy; on the inside, it’s a war zone. Carrie speaks frankly about her history of abusive relationships, getting out for her son, the strength of survivors, and the need for humanity and empathy within systems supposed to help.

Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

On the outside it’s neat and tidy; on the inside, it’s a war zone. Carrie speaks frankly about her history of abusive relationships, getting out for her son, the strength of survivors, and the need for humanity and empathy within systems supposed to help.

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

Copyright © 2019 Carrie Smith

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Carrie Smith. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Production by Rita Saggar and Claudia Mancini. Recording by Terri Bellem.

Photo by Claudia Mancini.

View Story Transcript

My name is Carrie and I’m from Western Australia. Grew up in a little country town just south of Perth.

And I grew up with domestic violence, family domestic violence. So, it was a normal part of my life. I didn’t know anything else. I don’t fit the demographic of what people think. So, my dad was in the medical profession. My mum was a very, very high-achieving teacher and champion of many things and they were president of all the organisations.

And I was the oldest child.

We had every form of abuse growing up, which, you know, a white-skinned sort of English background, affluent sort of family, the one thing I could never ever get was help because of the power imbalance with my family in the community and because it just wasn’t spoken about and acknowledged. And there are too many connections, especially in a country town.

I went into DV over and over and over. The logic for me is it’s all I knew. And even when I did all the study and all the courses and then another 12 weeks, lots of courses, and then read all the books over and over, did all the stuff you’re supposed to do to be able to, to not repeat these patterns and to understand it, I’d go into another one. And so, if it wasn’t incredible physical abuse, and my tolerance for it was just so high because it was my normal, it was financial abuse. There was never, not financial abuse. There was not physical abuse in one relationship, my last, and yet I’ve ended up from there, homeless. You know, the consequences of domestic violence affect every part of your life. And at one stage, the police had said to me when we were living in the Southwest, they said, “We know what the next steps are. We can’t protect you. You need to get in your car, and you need to leave the state now.” And so nowhere to go, no family, and no money. I don’t recommend it to anyone, but it’s what I did to protect my son. And I breached family court laws to do it because I needed to keep my son alive and I needed to be alive to be able to look after him. And he has a disability, so he’s much more vulnerable, which also makes me a lot more vulnerable as a mum protecting him. So, he was the weapon that was used against me all the time in that situation.

And, I understand now in hindsight, I look back and think my friends who just disappeared, you know, there’s no way they could understand why I’d go back to someone who just shot a shotgun off at me or cut my leg open and [a] few visits to hospital. And, you know, I did try and get restraining orders and he did turn up with roses outside the courtroom and threaten my life and my children and everything else.

I don’t know why I’m alive. There are many times, I have no idea. At the time it was my normal and put me in a war zone and I won’t flinch because that’s part of the what happens.

This is our domestic terrorism. When you are living in DV, oh my god, you might as well be in the middle of a war zone. Your adrenaline’s just flooding all the time and yeah, it is a war zone. Except on the outside, it looks really neat and tidy.

The reason that I got out was for my son; I’d still be there otherwise. Hell of a lot easier to know that I’m going to have a roof over my head every day. I’ve adjusted to bruises. I’ve adjusted to all of this stuff and I’ll keep adjusting. But when my son was at risk, that’s the reason that I got out. I could fight for him. I had no ability to fight for myself.

So, sometimes, I have the privilege of being able to talk to students that are at university and it’s around trauma, and I like to talk about post-traumatic growth, which is a concept that doesn’t have D or ‘disorder’ at the end. It’s actually the concept that I like to call it, the gifts and the skills and the superpowers, because you don’t, no one goes through anything in life, whether it’s a university degree or whether it’s training at the gym or whether it’s DV without somehow coming out of it with something.

And I like to think that it’s not all negative at all. And that deep listening is required if you want to do anything with someone who’s been through DV, family and domestic violence. And if you, if you have an open heart and open mind and you’re willing to really, really hold that space and create a safe space with someone, you’ll be all to learn so many amazing things.

What I’d really, really like is that we start to take ownership of this as a community and a society because this is still happening. Women are still dying; children are still losing parents and being injured and dying. And this is still happening in Australia today. And it is something that I understand no one wants to really talk about.

I just think we’re not taking it seriously enough. And that really is a representation of where our politicians are at and where our, where our values are. I think it is speaking very, very loudly about our values, about the value that we place on women and children.

And, we need to change that, we need to step up, strive to be a little bit, little bit more decent human beings. And value the women and children that have been through this and get them involved in the solutions. And, start looking at the amazing skills instead of the, you know, “There’s a victim, they must’ve been weak, why would you stay?”

So, I think we need to really start to step up and value women a lot more, tip society on its head completely.

We don’t have the consequences. And to go through Family Court and the court system is just, I mean, it’s criminal. That’s criminal. To put a woman through the systems that we’ve got in place at the moment. We need to get some humanity back into our human services as well as our society when it comes to what’s okay and what isn’t okay.

Don’t just get the person with the degree in whatever, who says they’re the expert and the politician who says they’re the expert and the whatever else, whoever, get the people who’ve lived through this and get them in there with all the support possible. I know that lived experience, it can be messy working with people who’ve had lived experience, and everyone is a bit different and you know, so what? This is a messy business. We’ve all got different stories, but there’ll be commonalities and we know what works and doesn’t work.

Forget the colour of our skin. Forget our education. We’re human beings. It doesn’t matter where or who or what. It just needs to stop.