My bag was packed for only one night….I was incapable of planning further ahead. I had some PJs, ad hoc toiletries and my change of clothes for work the next day. It was midnight, and my partner had promised he would be home by 10pm, like he had promised twice a week ever since we’d moved 6 months ago. And again, like every other time, he wasn’t answering his phone.
I knew what was coming. He’d stagger home at 5am, drunk and abusive. I’d dread every hour the clock ticked over, not just because I was worried about his well being, but because I would be emotionally steeling myself for the verbal barrage of abuse I’d receive when he got home. After 6 months of it happening, I told him I’d had enough. I said if it happened again I’d disappear and he wouldn’t know where to find me.
But on the way to the hotel, the elation quickly turned to anxiety. I felt the dull, heavy ache in my pelvis accompanied by a huge spasm. My period was coming early and I wasn’t prepared. Suddenly, all the pride and strength I felt at leaving sunk into a cold vulnerability.
Years later, with the benefit of hindsight, I know I was lucky. I fled with a change of clothes, money in my pocket and a warm hotel. I had no one to worry about except myself. But other women aren’t so fortunate.
From Saturday 19th November to Saturday 3rd December ‘Share the Dignity‘ will be running the ‘It’s in the Bag‘ campaign. The campaign came to the founders of Share the Dignity when they realised people would readily rally to meet the needs of children over Christmas, but were largely unaware of the needs of women who may be homeless, or may have recently fled to a shelter. And in those dark hours, what women desperately need is to feel special, valued and have the dignity of being adequately resourced during their period.
During the campaign Australians are asked to donate a handbag they no longer use, fill it with items that would make a woman feel special and even pop a thoughtful note into the bag to show that someone, somewhere cares…and that she matters. Collection points are Australia wide. The donations are then delivered to the charities that take care of women in need over the Christmas period…while, as always, those same women put their children first.
I wish I could tell you that I had the strength to stay away and that I didn’t go back. But I did. Each time I was tempted to leave again…I simply didn’t know where to go. I didn’t feel my case was severe enough to go to a woman’s shelter, but I couldn’t afford hotels for more than one night. I also didn’t want to impose on friends or embarrass my family. And so we moved together to two more states and I endured my living situation for 6 more years until I found the courage to leave.
So this Christmas, I’ll be making up a special bag for a woman in need. For a woman who is vulnerable. For a woman who may think no one is there for her and no one cares. A bag with some basic female items which shouldn’t be considered a privilege.
And I hope that my bag will remind her that although we are strangers, this woman is special, valued…and that regardless of the darkness she is currently experiencing, there is a bright future on her horizon.
And I hope that one day, she realises that she has more strength than she ever dreamt was possible.