By Grace Frost
‘Every hour of every day was dark’ is how Madeleine Frost described her life when in a relationship involving family violence.
At the age of 20, Ms Frost was homeless, unemployed, a drug addict and the victim of emotional and physical abuse.
Now in ‘a whole other world’, Ms Frost hopes her story – one of courage – will spur on other victims of domestic violence to muster the strength to find better.
That story began four years ago when Ms Frost left her full-time job, had ‘lots of savings’ and was working as a lifeguard for the summer.
It was then that she met her now ex-partner, with whom she decided to move to Melbourne.
Ms Frost said looking back, she now recognised a cycle of abuse within her relationship began when she was searching for another job.
“It started off with the divisiveness and separating me, and making sure that I was the one that depended on him and I would think that he was the hero of the story,” she said.
“[Getting a job] was never viable … [He would say] ‘I’m so sorry, we can’t go this day because we’ve got something else on’, or ‘no sorry, I can’t drop you there’ or ‘no, sorry, that’s not a good job for you, you won’t be a good fit’.
“I literally could never get another job after that, and the only thing that I could get was Centrelink … next to nothing.”
Ms Frost said she quickly became dependent on her then-partner for basic necessities without an income.
Though she didn’t recognise it at the time, Ms Frost said it was clear her partner also isolated her from her family and friends.
“People were disagreeing with my relationship with him but they still wanted to continue being friends with me, however, on the other side of it he was always whispering things in my ear or putting doubts in my head,” she said.
“It was projection – he was projecting things like that, like ‘they only want to use you’.”
Ms Frost found herself homeless with her ex partner for seven of the nine months they were dating.
“We were living out of a car for about a month of that, the rest of that was couch surfing, finding cheap motels here and there. There was one time we were squatting as well,” she said.
Ms Frost said at the time she used the drug crystal methamphetamine, known as ice, daily.
Without family or friends around her, she saw her mental health decline rapidly.
“I was in a terrible mental state as well, contemplating the value of my life,” she said.
Ms Frost said she only recognised the manipulation and abuse she had endured when it reached a pinnacle.
“I didn’t realise that the abuse was happening,” she said.
“It was when it started becoming more physical, which I suppose is more observable, when I was like ‘oh no, crap, that’s not good.’
“I was going to say I never suffered any physical damage, but that’s a lie. There was one time where he slammed a door on my hand, he would damage my own property, [he would] do things to intimidate me like punching a wall next to me … just a few centimetres to the left and it would’ve been me.”
Ms Frost said leaving, though, was not an easy decision.
“Knowing when to leave was hard. There were multiple times when I nearly did leave,” she said.
“We spent all of our time together – he didn’t have a job or anything like that, so it was hard to even organise myself to make the move.”
Ms Frost became ‘isolated’, enduring abuse from her partner, while also discovering he was cheating on her.
To make matters more complicated, Ms Frost received news that would change everything – she was pregnant.
“I wanted to keep the baby, but I knew that I couldn’t have a child in that environment. I couldn’t function, I couldn’t live. It would be no good for the child either,” she said.
“It really wasn’t for myself, it was for [my son] Jakob that I left.”
Ms Frost said she battled with shame to go ‘crawling back’ to her parents, recalling doubt that they would take her back.
“I’m the pregnant drug addict. Are they even going to allow me to come home?” she said.
Ms Frost said she felt ‘conviction’ the life she was leading was not the one she was intended for.
“I grew up being told that ‘you’re worth so much, the God of the universe loves you, you are worth life and you are worth living well’,” she said.
“I felt a deep conviction that that was not the life that was meant for me, I think because of my Christianity. I think that conviction also helped me build the courage to leave.”
Ms Frost said it was also spite to prove her abuser wrong that fuelled her leaving.
Finding an ‘opportunistic window’, Ms Frost escaped her abuser when he was ‘passed out’ from drug use.
She described the bus ride home as a ‘massive emotional rollercoaster ride’, as she sat with the culmination of her sadness, shame and relief.
Returning home was the start of a ‘180 degree shift’ in Ms Frost’s life, describing her parents’ reaction to her homecoming as absolute ‘joy’.
“As soon as I hopped off the bus, they just wrapped their arms around me and then they were like ‘let’s go home’,” she said.
“It was just like a homecoming movie really. That’s the only way I can describe it. It was really surreal.
“We did talk about it later on, after a fair bit of healing and time had gone by, but it certainly wasn’t mentioned at first, it was just very warm and welcoming.”
Ms Frost said now, four years later, her life was filled with ‘so much light’, a stark difference to the ‘darkness’ she suffered ‘every hour of every day before’.
“I have a great part time job that I love at the moment, my life … was filled with worry, and trying to dance around another person, but now I have freedom to live my life the way I want and raise my son in a healthy and positive environment,” she said.
“I don’t live in fear anymore.”
Also now clean from drug use for four years, Ms Frost said living without dependency had completely changed her life.
Ms Frost took out an intervention order against her ex-partner for the first two years of her son’s life.
“He is able to contact me on matters in relation to Jakob, but I can’t remember the last time I heard from him,” she said.
“We have struggled through a bunch of mediations and are currently on our third parenting plan. He sees Jakob through a children’s contact/visitation centre once a fortnight.”
“It is hard to be a single parent, but it is far better than … living in that situation where you fear for your life and you have no stability or freedom.”
Given the opportunity to offer advice to another woman suffering abuse, Ms Frost said ‘remembering self worth’ was the message she hoped to encourage.
“I just want to encourage every other single woman who is going through this or worse … that they are worth so much more than they get treated in those situations,” she said.
“Don’t put up with it because it only gets worse.”
Ms Frost said she wished she could give courage to people, as it was the ‘biggest thing’ in leaving an abuser.
“You spend so long having [the courage] knocked out of you, it’s hard to build it up,” she said.
“I would like to encourage others to build up a circle again, which is very much easier said than done, because having others, especially other women around you, really helps to build courage.”
Note: The journalist who wrote the article is not related to Madeleine Frost despite sharing a last name.
If you or someone you know needs help or support, the following services are available to help:
The Orange Door: 1800 634 245, www.orangedoor.vic.gov.au
Safe Steps (24/7 Family Violence Response Line): 1800 015 188
1800 RESPECT (24/7 sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service): 1800 737 732
Nexus Primary Health: 1300 773 352
Men’s Referral Service: (24/7 professional support and information service for Australian men): 1300 466 491
Seniors Rights Victoria: 1300 368 821
The Bridge Youth Service: Seymour (03) 5799 1298 or Wallan (03) 5799 1298
Rainbow Door: 1800 729 367
InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence: 1800 755 988
Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative: 5820 0000
Djirra Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services: 1800 105 303, djirra.org.au.