Sunday, 4 September 2016

be you!

Spring 2015

After the briefing session last Friday, camp became somewhat confrontational and to put it bluntly, difficult. I was overwhelmed by the background of the campers that we’d be working with and the effort my friends had put in to make the event a success. The early morning starts, 4-5 hours of sleep each night, and the fact that they had completely raised the bar to create an environment where these girls could feel comfortable enough to just be themselves. Even though I was present, observant, and assisting where required, it was both physically and emotionally draining. So much so that by the time Sunday afternoon came around, in between bump-out, lunch, and watching these girls leave to go back to their foster homes and reality, for the next hour and two, I just couldn't quite contain the tears.

Before this, I’d had one experience with DOCS when they had called to see if my sister was safe. It had been after the ‘beer bottle incident’ and I had been studying at the UNSW.
Autumn 2011
My father who opens all my mail, had had a few drinks with one of his mates, and after he’d left, I'd gotten into trouble and things quickly escalated.
I had been working in the payroll office for a non government organisation and decided that I was going to take on some extra shifts and study part time so when the student administration fee bill arrived for a full time study load naturally I was waiting for the correct bill to come along. By not paying the bill however and cutting back on my studies my father saw this as being disrespectful. I was clearly disinterested in my studies and after all that my migrant parents had done for my life and to put me through private school the least that I could have done was take my studies seriously.   
In the midst of my father yelling and cursing, he had also thrown his beer across my room  – and his aim was on point! The VB bottle had grazed the left side of my head and cut it open and for a brief moment, I wasn't quite sure what had actually happened. Fear had left me desensitised, and I don't recall feeling blood rushing down the side of my head before my mum started screaming. My sister had gone into the room next door to call the ambulance. They came with the police and off to Liverpool Hospital I went. I had no idea that the ride to hospital would cost me an absolute fortune, and it was only after I started working in health insurance did I put two and two together! Note to self: Take out health insurance or ambulance coverage!
Back in those days, having been extremely sheltered, I had an emotional cloud over my head and to even consider taking out a restraining order on my own father was unheard of or even a thought I could fathom. Whether it was cultural or generational, most people I knew seemed to treat it like it was nothing and no one ever wanted to get involved in anyone else’s business. But perhaps that only happened in my world because even the cute doctor in ED was baffled as to why a 20-year-old grown woman was still living at home.
I still remember that moment and the days following clear as day. I can count all the things I did wrong, how I could've better handled the situation, how I could have lied, all the stories I could have made up, how I could have been smarter in my approach and not so stupid to let that incident happen. I’m sure from my parent’s perspective and as a 20-year-old, it was my fault for getting myself into that situation knowing full well what I was dealing with. Even my mum was frustrated with me for not standing up for myself.
As a 34-year-old woman looking back I was scared shitless to breathe when in the same room as my father. And whilst I now understand the concept of not being responsible for someone else’s actions, it’s challenging not to feel responsible. After all I was always the one that instigated arguments and fights between my parents because of something I’d done, intentionally or unintentionally, for getting my sister into trouble, for consistently creating unpleasant situations by just being plain clumsy and opening my mouth but most of all for just being me.
Spring 2016
I'm returning to camp this month as the Atmosphere (Creative) Director. Ironically the theme is ‘be you’. I have no idea as to how broken these teen girls are, where they’ve been, what they’ve gone through, or where their life’s journey will take them. All I know is that every person who ever set foot into this world deserves to at the very least be loved and accepted for who they are. And in doing so, I hope that I can use my creativity to inspire confidence and freedom in these girls to be exactly who they are, so that they may come to know that that is enough in and of itself.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

if at first you don't succeed

We decided that the only way we were able to get away from my father for good, or at least a decent proportion of time, was to move interstate. For us, the decision between interstate vs. anywhere rural was not difficult.  We are city folk.  

I recall one day when everything and nothing changed. I was at school that day and my mum and sister had gone to Bankstown Square to buy suitcases. On their way back to the refuge where we had been hiding, two family friends, a mother and daughter saw them crossing the lights. Unluckily, they followed. That afternoon they knocked on the refuge door. I was fourteen at that time and so infuriated that I had to run downstairs to tell this woman to back the hell off. Little did I know that mum’s friend (another Vietnamese lady staying at the refuge with her two year old son) had already told her that we had been transferred (for safety reasons) elsewhere. If only I had kept my mouth shut! 

Refuges are safe houses and when a random person comes knocking on the door (woman or man), not only does it put one woman and her family at risk, but it affects the other women and children that live there as well. After all, they were all fleeing from their partners. Two days later we had packed up our belongings and were back to where it had all started, home. 

At that point in time and even now, I would appreciate the opportunity to tell these ‘friends' to go stick it somewhere.  To tell them that their actions weren't as noble as they may have thought.  To tell them that they only helped in prolonging inevitable agony and to tell them to mind their own bloody business! I'm not sure if that is a fair call but I suppose they were only trying to help. At the end of the day, no one ever truly knows what goes on inside the four walls of a home.

But I do know my father.

I would dare say that after we left he somehow ended up on their doorstep zombiefied, sobbing profusely about how we’d taken off and left him and he couldn't find us. Of course his feelings were valid, but it wasn’t as though we were stepping into new territory.  This was routine and had happened at least twenty times before and at least another five after. The saddest part is that it took almost thirty years and the expense of four uprooted lives, for him to finally realise that he needed to change a few things (and I don’t say that lightly). Better late than never right? The next time we left, we headed straight to the Sunshine state and managed to stay there for a year before receiving a letter from the solicitor.

This experience taught me the value of keeping the right company.  For me, 2016 is a particularly important year as I embark on a journey to lay the groundwork for my future.  I will be Jessica Alba in the movie “Honey”, attempting to build a life ‘when a career and passion come together’, (though maybe without Honey’s low-rise white tracksuit pants). 

I’m crazy enough to think that I’ll succeed however long it takes to get there.  In doing so, it is important that people who support my vision and know my heart surround me.  People who I can count on to have my back.  I guess, sometimes this will mean that I have to be selective about who I choose to invest in and spend time with.

And on a final note I’m practicing the art of more listening and less talking. Goodness me 
who am I kidding?

Happy dancing! 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

a liberating experience

I'm not an eloquent writer. In fact, it takes an awful long time for me to construct a sentence, let alone a paragraph. I do, however, think that life experiences ought to be shared and learnt from. 

Growing up within an alcohol fuelled, violent environment meant that we left home on numerous occasions. So much so that I have lost count. Aside from Canberra, I have lived in each of the capital cities on the east coast of Australia and every time we'd leave, saving ourselves was the ultimate priority.

The idea of the exercise was to get out noiselessly whilst my father was in deep sleep. In the wee hours of the morning we would sneak out and hide in the bushes out back to make sure he hadn't woken, then, make our move. Timing had to be impeccable. If not, we'd live to see another miserable day, where school was a safe haven and the anticipation of going home was met with angst. Hence, taking our belongings, the absolute necessities, such as a toothbrush or even childhood photos, was a rarity and what we had on our bodies was the only outfit we carried.

For the first few months we would hide out at a women's refuge, before deciding on our next move and from that point, begin rebuilding our lives. Often, the thought of changing surnames, even to the extent of identities, seemed like the next best option. We wanted so desperately to break free and start anew. The problem with running away is that your past is almost guaranteed to catch up with you, and on a winters night in July, many years later, it did. But that's another story for another day! 

I'm not sure how, but when I look back, my family are one of the lucky few. We could have easily ended up in tragedy and foster homes but we always got away relatively safe. I have known people who were not so lucky. Daughters who have had to witness their mother getting shot right outside a court before divorce proceedings, women who have wanted to leave but are so fearful. 

Watching my father clean up his own mess has been gut wrenching at times. I can only imagine the burden that he would forever carry knowing that his actions single handedly destroyed everything he once had.

These days, things aren't rainbows and daisies, but they are more than I could have ever hoped for. The journey hasn't been easy and I have had to become very familiar with putting up walls and auto responses. It's the only way I know how to protect myself. With that said, my journey is my own and if given the chance to turn back time, I would not change a millisecond as it has made me the person I am today! 

So, at first glance, "withoutmyknickers" is somewhat deceiving and I apologise in advance for not offering the raunchy sex advice that you may have been seeking. Rather, this is a platform for me to share the uncensored version of my story, in the hopes that my experiences will at the very least empower and make a difference to someone's life....anyone’s life! Personally, this is the beginning of a very liberating journey!

Happy reading!