Sophia's Story
The controlling thing can be really subtle and women hook into it

Reading real life stories about domestic violence hits a person very hard. Sophia’s words were truthful and real which had a big impact on me and how I was gong to create these images.

Olivia Coetzee

I used to be worried that I might be my father’s child in other ways. As a teenager I would only have a certain number of drinks, just in case I became like him. And I once got all my husband’s religious books and crucifixes and put them in the middle of the driveway and phoned him and told him he had 15 minutes before I set fire to the pile. That made me worry I might be like my father. But now I know I am not.

My brother started drinking with Dad, and he became an alcoholic. He’s lost his wife, his children and his business because of it. And he had a bad fall that did massive damage. But when he came out of hospital, he went straight back to drinking.

I don’t need alcohol, though I use sugar as a comfort, especially when I am stressed, which is what many children of alcoholics do.

But I seem to have a repeated pattern of involvement with alcohol. My husband wasn’t a drinker but then he got obsessive about religion. My next partner was a drinker but he wasn’t violent. The one after that was a two-jugger; after two jugs you couldn’t have a discussion with him because he’d get paranoid. The next one smoked dope, so that was another addiction.

I am really intolerant of people who drink too much. I am happy to sit down and have a rum and coke in the evening to relax, but I just don’t understand people who keep drinking despite the consequences. When men are being all convivial at the club, I always find myself wondering “what are you like at home?” and thinking of their partner waiting for them – and then feeling pissed off.

In my job I have to ask women questions about whether they are in domestic violence. But because those words make them think about black eyes and split lips, I ask them if they feel happy and safe with their partner. That addresses the question of psychological control as well. Lots of men will do both the physical violence and the control stuff, but the controlling thing can be really subtle especially and women hook into it.

I see it, for example, in cases where men take the woman to live in the country. It sounds nice, but if she doesn’t have a driver’s licence and can’t go to the doctor or the shops or have a coffee with a friend, she is being controlled by that man.

I feel that that’s how my mother and I were during my childhood. It was about that controlling thing. I know this doesn’t sound very serious compared with children who were beaten and abused, but the effects are still with me. It’s like having a chronic illness. You are always looking for the signs and symptoms, like someone who is a haemophiliac. Mostly their life is sort of okay, but they know they’ll have an eruption at some point.

It’s always there.