A Reflection of Myself
They put me in lockdown as soon as I got into jail, because I'd made attempts to kill myself out here. It was lonely. There was no one to talk to, no book to read. I wasn't allowed to wear any undergarments, just a plastic nightie. I had to eat with my fingers, because we weren't allowed knives and forks or anything like that. There was no light, no window. Just brick. Out here there were always too many other things happening. But in jail you get to see yourself as you are. Your true person.
One day another lady came in. She had a cigarette lighter. God knows how she got it in there. She set her blanket on fire; she tried to burn her plastic nightie. Then she burnt her face and her hair. The fire alarms went off, and sprinklers showered water everywhere. From my cell I could just see across to her. She kept screaming, “I can't live without my kids”. Over and over, that's what she kept saying. I went to the back of my cell and sat there, wet from the sprinklers, and cried. I prayed a karakia.
I could hear my voice in her words..... my children are my world. I had lost my children too. They had been taken from me, it was like they had died. I felt that lady's frustration. Her sadness and anger. I felt her pain. I felt her world. I suppose it was like a mirror reflection of myself. That lady showed me a picture of myself. And for a minute there I saw me. I suddenly saw that it was a wrong choice, to take my life and leave my children behind. I'd never seen suicide like that before. I realised that I could carry on the same path, and my kids would not come back, because they would think I was crazy. In that moment I made a decision to start changing everything that I could. I'd had a sad and abusive past, and I had made lots of mistakes. But I could leave that behind and start making good decisions.
Even in that state, they handcuffed the lady, and took her out to an ambulance. I remember yelling out to her “It's going to be alright”. And suddenly I wanted to get out of there, into the sunlight. I needed to feel it's warmth.
When I finally got out, I started to appreciate life. I went to courses on living without violence and had counselling. I did an engineering course, and got paid work. I got involved with the church, and I've just got involved in an eco-friendly community project. I try to keep my days planned, and busy. Every day is about picking up the pieces, and making better choices. There's a long way to go, but I feel proud of the changes I've made.
A couple of times a year my husband would just pack his bag and disappear for a while. I had no idea where he had gone, or how long he'd be gone. He would just storm in pack some gear and go. I always felt bad when it happened.
I just carried on, trying to keep things normal for the kids. Someone had to keep it together and I saw that I was the only one doing that for them.
I resented him for leaving me to it, but I thought he had a right to some space if he really needed it.
This went on for years, and I never told him how I felt. But then one day I was talking with a friend and telling her about it, and she said “You don't have to put up with that!”. I was actually quite shocked.
I'd always been a person who put my needs last, and tried to keep things peaceful for every one else, no matter how I felt about it. I hadn't ever learnt that my needs mattered as much as any one else's.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that both our needs mattered. Not just his. So I spent ages plucking up the courage to say something. I remember lying in bed thinking to myself “This is it, if I say something it could all be over. He might leave for good, and never come back.” I could feel my heart beating really hard, my palms went sweaty... and then I just came out with it.
I said “You know how you just pack up and leave sometimes without telling me where you are going or how long you'll be gone? - well I find that really disrespectful to me. I understand that you need time out, but can you talk to me about it first?”
There was no big argument, he didn't yell or storm out. I just said how I felt and what I wanted.
He'd been taking off like that a couple of times a year for twelve years.
... and it never happened again!
That's all it took. For me it was a huge lesson in assertiveness.
A lesson for all of us ..
I fly off the handle. I guess I've always been a yeller, and I didn't realise I was psychologically abusing the children. Until one day my oldest daughter heard me yelling at my younger kids and she said “Stop mum! Don't yell at them like you did to us”. It was then that I realised I was hurting them.
My father had banged our heads together. He would just bang things. But I thought because I didn't do anything physical it was OK.
But then that day my daughter said she was scared of my voice. My voice was scary!
One day recently, this is trivial, but... well, there was this chocolate bar in the fridge. And we are allowed one slice each. Well, I went to the fridge and found it gone. It made me so angry, like I was boiling mad and ready to explode. So I asked “OK, who's eaten the chocolate?” All the kids said “Not me”. Then I got more angry. I started yelling, and said “Well it must be one of you, who's lying to me?”. I hate people lying to me.
Then my older daughter said “Just breathe mum, and think about it” That's what I say to her. She said it to me. So I breathed, and then said “OK, lets talk about this”. So we all sat down, and talked about the chocolate. I talked about the truth, and how you won't get into trouble for telling the truth.
Then one of them said “Well I took two pieces”. And I didn't get angry. Then another said “Well actually I took more than two”. We all started laughing about it. And it was all done and dusted. In the past I would just yell, and we would end up not talking for the rest of the night. But we talked. We were great.
It's like I got it wrong, then I got it right. So they saw both sides of the coin.
It was a good lesson in communication for all of us.
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