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16 days, 16 stories

Mary Chetcuti

"Within you is everything that you need to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma," says Mary. She shares about strength, self-worth and healing, in a deeply personal story of recovering from rock bottom.

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.

“Within you is everything that you need to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma,” says Mary. She shares about strength, self-worth and healing, in a deeply personal story of recovering from rock bottom.

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 Mary Chetcuti

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Mary Chetcuti. 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 Mary Chetcuti.

My true passion is speaking on breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma, and rising above or triumphing after trauma. I am also a co-author and I MC as well. So, I do this work because I believe if I’m able to help one other person sort of get the courage to know that it’s not just them that goes through family or domestic violence, lessen the taboo or even to help them get help and eventually leave a toxic situation, then that’s just what I want to do.

My grandmother who was a victim of domestic violence, my mother was, and then I was as well. And, I had to make a decision to change or break the cycle, otherwise, my daughter was probably going to go on the same path as that. So yeah, you had to use a number of different resources–psychiatric, psychological, allied health, mindfulness practices to recondition my brain and rewire my thinking and, yeah, break the cycle of toxicity.

I grew up watching, you know, there are a number of times where I had to stand between my dad and my mum, you know, as my dad had his hands around my mum’s throat and yell and scream for him to stop. So, to me, I didn’t recognise it at the time, but it was a norm. It became a norm, you know, on a subconscious level. So, I thought love meant having to suffer, having to be beat[en] down. Having to…. that was just kind of the relationship I had formed in my head. So naturally whilst I realised on a conscious level, I never want to be in anything like that, you know, I moved countries and then naturally I got into a relationship that started having similar, you know, red flags, which are like that, but it was just, ‘Oh, okay, well, you know, it was one small thing and then another small thing and then another small thing.’ But at the end of the day, subconsciously, the belief has been set that you are not worthy of anything other than what you’ve grown up seeing. And, your definition of love is being spoken down to being hit, being emotionally and financially abused. And that’s what love is.

So, in that sense, the person I am now and the person I was then are two incredibly different people, you know, minimal self-worth, minimal self-esteem. Just because you look, or you sound a certain way, it’s not something that just one day happens, and someone comes into your life and they’re abusive. They slowly break you down, your confidence. They slowly, you know, whittle away at your love of life or your love of things and isolate you slowly and you don’t even realise it. You know, by the time you realise it and you wake up, you’re so far gone that you think you truly are worth nothing better. In my case, I was a single mum as well, so my father had told me I was basically used goods, and no one would want me and then the partner I was with reiterated that so, well[it]must be true, you know, because the person I trust as a father figure has, you know, conditioned that within me. So, it wasn’t until that ended, I had a lot of unlearning to do, you know. And I guess that’s the overarching work that I do is, you know, encouraging people…. it is possible to unlearn.

I didn’t have the resources to understand what I deserve, how I deserve to be treated, my worth and all of that. But now that I do, it’s, you know, and I tell my daughter everyday -maybe too much, but -you know, but I, I now have those resources and tools to be able to go, “Well, that may have been, you know, what three generations of women in my family did, but now I know better and I’ll teach my daughter.”

No one is immune to domestic violence or family violence. Different classes, different cultures, different races, different religious practices all have this as an issue. It can run in families; so, three generations in mine. But you are able to stop it. The cycle can be broken. And that’s definitely what I advocate for.

In my case, I was lucky enough…that the youth, it’s closed down now, but at the time, the Fremantle youth centre was able to find me emergency accommodation. And then later on I was able to get a Homes West house on a priority list.

I had to leave home at 16, slept on friend’s couches because no place would give me, no rental place, would hire, would get a young single mum as a tenant -another thing that’s got to change as well. So, you know, I’m lucky enough that I had a number of friends through school that just kind of helped me out until I was able to find a place. But not everyone gets as lucky as me, you know. Not everyone’s able to maybe even read and fill out the forms that I needed because of the English barrier. Not everyone, you know, is able to overcome the cultural conditioning that is, “You know, you’re leaving your family in the house, like you’re breaking up the family. Like, how can you do that? That’s just, you know, you rather die before you do that.” And that’s sometimes how ingrained these cultural conditionings are.

I think as well, if you’re a young parent that adds to the stigma. “Well, you know, what were you thinking and what, you know…”A lot of conclusions or assumptions get made from not knowing much at all about person’s story. And I think people just class all the young people in one box marked ‘stupid’ or ‘brainless’ or whatever it is, and just kind of be done with that.

A lot more services I feel aren’t very effective in helping people of multi-ethnic or cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds. You know, so the stats probably only reflect a majority percentage, but there’s so much that goes unreported because culturally it’s not deemed appropriate to do so. You know, we need a lot more spaces that are available and that fit the cultural-friendly way of healing, which is not necessarily the first-world biomedical form of healing, which is: come speak to a stranger about your problems and they’re gonna write stuff down and what have you. You know, you need to be able to have gatherings with women who look like them, or have been through things like them; are able to be in a circle on a safe space and be able to share stories and go from there. You know, recognising that women of multi-ethnic cultures and even Indigenous women or families do things a different way, and let’s start assimilating to a lot more of those needs rather than trying to make them conform to the western standard of counselling and help.

Women are so incredibly influential and if you empower them and if you give them a safe space, they rear the children, they are out there teaching, they are out there nurturing and if they’re coming from an empowered place, you know, and that’s the knowledge and wisdom and fortitude that they sort of instil in others. We need so much more safe places where women can share, you know, without any judgment.

One of my biggest issues whenever I do this kind of work, or I’ll read certain articles is, people always ask, “Why didn’t the woman leave?” or “Why didn’t you leave?” And it’s like, well, you should be asking why the perpetrator is violent in the first place. You know, why aren’t we putting the onus on the perpetrator themselves? I mean, okay, yes, majority of the time it is a male, but I’m aware that there is, you know, female-on-male violence as well, but the more onus needs to be put on perpetrators and less on the woman themselves. I think it’s easier to blame. I think it takes less of the onus away from having to encourage, well, in this case, if we say to men, you know, encouraging men to start having a conversation with other men, men starting to change the culture, you know, starting to emotionally intellectualise our men and how they’re brought up and how they treat women. It’s just easier to not to have to take any of that responsibility and just blame. I think.

You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. So, first of all, acknowledging there is an issue. Second of all, we need to encourage men to be a little bit more emotionally intelligent. It’s no longer good enough to just, you know, “You grow up, don’t cry, you’re a man, you know, it’s okay to be a little bit misogynistic to women.”

So, I think, a lot of men in power, a lot of men in positions of influence as well, being ambassadors to say, “Look, we acknowledge there is a problem here. It’s not okay that, you know, men are taking out their frustrations or issues out on women and thinking that’s OK behaviour.” I know in my father’s case, watching him abuse my mum and working through that, he watched his father do the same thing to my grandmother. So, it was a learned behaviour that he thought, “Oh, I solve problems with my fists and the woman is just someone there to, you know, be…What do you mean that, that’s, you know, that that’s just kind of what they’re there for,” sort of thing. So being able to shift onus in men and going, you have other outlets for your frustrations or you have, you need to be okay with going to talk to someone and really starting to get engaged with the emotional side, it’s not okay to just use your fists and you know, we’re, we’re not animals.

I wish, obviously I could be on this end of things and not having to have gone through what I went through. But it’s a whole different…You do, you, you feel invincible.

You know, the fact that I had my daughter 15, you know, have, have struggled with mental issues; tried to take my own life. So, I know truly well what rock bottom is. And able to rebuild yourself up from that and know you that that’s all you, you know, you’ve had help, et cetera, but that’s all you. So, if I can do it and able to heal yourself and work from the ground up, then truly, you know, anything is actually possible. It is just so empowering to know that that capability is something that’s innate in everyone else as well.

And just helping other people in vulnerable circumstances like that just remind them, Hey, like nothing special about me honest! Like, I was able to, you know, utilise certain resources and tools to get myself out of that. And that’s possible for you as well. It fires me up so much and gives me so much joy to be able to just, even if it’s planting a seed, you know.

One of my favourite quotes is: “Never underestimate the power of planting a seed.” And I just want to plant all the seeds and just, yeah, help people, or remind them that they have within them everything they need to be able to break the cycle for themselves and their families. It’s just, it’s the best, best feeling.

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