Riding from the Shadow of Violence

On White Ribbon Day, Australians are encouraged to "swear" not to commit an act of violence against women. Black Dog Rider *Lisa contacted me awhile ago to share her experiences of both the long term effects of domestic violence and her experience with Black Dog Ride. In the shadow of White Ribbon Day, I felt it was time to publish an excerpt of her words.

"When I finally escaped from my husband, people assumed I was fine. I was safe. I could start a new life. I could put it all behind me.

I pretended they were right.

Who amongst them could understand that the memories, the shadow of violence, is always right behind me? It jumps out when I least expect it, and it still has the power to frighten me, make me ashamed, make me loath myself.

The black dog bites hard but the years of being forced by violence to do what I don't want to do made me develop a rock hard discipline. I don't want to get out of the bed most mornings but I push myself hard to fight the black abyss at me feet and get on with it. When I stir the gravy or meet with clients or browse the grocery store and a terrifying memory leaps up into my mind, a memory so vital and clear than my skin crawls and my heart races, I grit my teeth and continue on, pretending I'm normal and the shadows of violence aren't chasing me.

I can hardly say to people who enquire (and there's not many of them that do), "No I'm not ok. I just had a flashback of my husband physically harming me and these memories seem to be welded onto my brain no matter how hard I push forward into a new life."


So I pretend. I listen in silence when people call women who stay in violent relationships'stupid'. I remain quiet when a man exclaims that women wanting to draw attention to domestic violence is just an attention getting exercise for women dumb enough to date a drongo. Years of being taught the hard way to hide emotion have helped me master the straight face, no matter how provoking people can be.

I wish I could be more open. The wound is too raw and open to explain to people who will never understand and it's exhausting just thinking about trying to get people to understand that the shadows of violence and the black dog chasing you never give up.

Except when I ride.

The exhilaration of being on the open road on two wheels pierces through my facade of numb pretence and I "feel" again. I feel alive and actually happy and living the moment and those damned memories are left far behind me in the gutter.

When I went on my first black dog ride I put on the mask of pretence again. I'd be around people, so the mask went back on. Just a rider. No baggage. But riding with a whole bunch of people who seemed to get it, who understood the bite of the black dog, who didn't need explanations but simply rode so more people might understand, it stripped the mask off me. I had tears streaming down my face seeing nothing but riders in my mirror and as far ahead as the eye could see, riders who gave a damn. My tears were hidden by my helmet but when we stopped for a break and I took it off, I took off more than my helmet. My well worn facade of polite pretence was gone because I didn't need it. I was around people who smiled and nodded at my shiteaters grin and the tears tracking down my face. They knew what I was feeling because they felt it too. I know many of them have a black dog with big teeth waiting to bite and I know they understood what I was feeling with no words being said or even needed. They just 'got it'.

I don't know if these black dog riders understand what I've been through or how it follows me around, the stench of the violent past I have survived, but I know that at least they understand what it's like to pretend to be ok when you're not and they seem to understand that sometimes words aren't the answer. The road ahead of you and your knees to the breeze with a grin, a hug and a beer at the end of it are more therapeutic than false platitudes from people at home who can't or won't comprehend the trauma of violence and mental illness.

Black Dog Ride is helping me heal. One ride at a time, one day at a time. I have a wound which will one day just be a scar and even though the shadows chase me, I know how to deal with them now.

My smile is the best revenge for my past. I can be happy again. I'll always have the shadows of my past chasing me, but I know now that I can outride it with my black dog ride friends."

Thanks Lisa, for your courage and honesty. I know most Black Dog Riders would have been nodding in agreement at your words. Share your thoughts with Lisa here: http://is.gd/uqFBev

If you or someone you know are experiencing or at risk of domestic violence, please call:

000 - for police or ambulance in life threatening emergencies (dial 112 from your mobile phone)

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) - 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line.

13 11 14 - Lifeline's 24 hours crisis support line

*Lisa's name has been changed at her request for privacy. Edited by FD.