Heather Abbott, 54, shares her story:
The door slammed and my husband staggered into the living room.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Mike slurred.
“I wasn’t looking at you like anything,” I replied.
It was 2003, and I could tell he’d been drinking.
He followed me around the house, trying to pick a fight with me.
From the moment I’d moved into Mike’s home in 1991, six months after we’d first met, he’d become nasty.
Now, he started calling me names, saying unthinkable things right in front of our children, Brittany, 10, and Dominic, seven.
Grabbing their little hands, I ran with them to the bedroom.
Then I called the police on the landline.
Before I could even say anything, Mike was there.
“Who are you calling?” he raged, and pulled the phone out from the wall.
He knelt in front of us holding the cord and I could tell from the look in his eyes he was considering strangling me with it.
But as fast as the thought came, it was gone.
He dropped the cord and ran out of the house.
By the time he returned hours later, he’d sobered up and calmed down.
It might surprise you to learn I stayed married to Mike for another 13 years.
Or maybe it won’t.
So many women are stuck in abusive relationships they can’t get out of because they’re too scared, and I was one of them.
Mike wasn’t often physically abusive; it was more mental.
His mood could change in an instant.
He was jealous and questioned everything I did. And my children hated him.
One day, in June 2015, I suddenly had enough.
He was picking a fight with me while I cooked dinner.
“So why don’t you leave me then?” he shouted.
He’d said this so many times during our marriage, confident in the knowledge that I never would because I was too intimidated.
But on this day, something inside me just snapped.
“Okay, I will,” I said.
Calmly, I went upstairs and told Dominic, 18, to pack his things while I called my friend, Michelle, to come and get us.
By now, Brittany, 22, was working on the other side of the country.
As we packed, Mike wandered around the house crying, begging me to stay.
Michelle drove us to my parents’ house and we felt much happier there.
A week later, I returned home to get some things.
I went upstairs, hastily packing belongings into a bag, when Mike suddenly appeared in the doorway.
Fear tightened my chest and my mouth went dry.
“I want you to see what you caused,” he said.
My eyes widened as I saw him take his life in front of me. It happened in an instant.
The next moments seemed to last forever as I waited for the police and ambulance to arrive.
In the following weeks, people rallied around, worried about me and the kids.
But truthfully, my overriding feeling was relief.
Finally, I was free of him.
I went for counselling, as did my kids, and everyone kept saying that seeing someone kill themselves in front of you must be so traumatic.
“Yes, it was a trauma,” I agreed. “But just one of countless traumas I experienced by his hand for the last 25 years.”
The only nightmares I ever had after that were of Mike suddenly being alive and tormenting me again.
Over the ensuing months, I slowly found myself once more and started enjoying my freedom.
I went to dance classes and reunited with old friends. It was like the whole world had opened up to me again.
The following year, I went to my friend Krista’s hair salon to chat to her and she was cutting a man’s hair.
“You have nice eyes,” I told him.
“So do you,” he replied.
Craig, 40, told me he was having tax issues and as I’m an accountant and financial advisor, I offered to help him.
After Mike’s death, I hadn’t been working. I just couldn’t concentrate on the numbers full-time.
Craig was a carpenter so he offered me a job painting.
I found it meditative and Craig’s company was soothing.
Krista tried playing Cupid as Craig was interested in me, but I was happy being friends.
In September 2016, we spent the day together.
“The girl who ends up with you is going to be very lucky,” I told him, honestly.
A few hours later, we went to see a movie.
Sitting there in the dark, it suddenly hit me that I’d fallen in love with him. I could be that girl!
For some reason, it made me want to cry.
Craig immediately noticed the change in my mood and looked concerned.
“Are you okay?” he asked after the film finished.
I shook my head and we sat in the backseat of his car.
“There are some rules,” I said to him. “Don’t ever lie to me. And don’t ever be mean to me on purpose.”
As I spoke, Craig realised I felt the same way he did.
We shared a kiss and became a couple.
He was the sweetest partner, always there for me, my biggest cheerleader.
I felt safe with him. I carried a lot of baggage, but Craig was so patient with me.
Three years on, he proposed at a waterfall.
I love fairies and thought I could wear wings to embody my true self – a magical lady who can make things change and happen in her life rather than having life happen to her.
Brittany helped me find some online, and came shopping with me for fabric for the fairy dress I planned to make myself.
Using chiffon, lamé and tulle, I spent 400 hours painstakingly bringing my special design to life.
On our big day, in July 2022, I carefully slipped into it, before making my way through woodland to the brook where we would say our vows.
“You look beautiful,” Craig said, beaming.
It was a real-life fairytale.
These days, I’m a public speaker and trainer, helping others like me who lost their power to be financially empowered and find joy again.
Everyone’s path is unique, and no-one can be forced to leave before they are ready.
But I hope my story inspires other women who feel trapped to know that it’s possible to find your happily ever after, like I did.
If you or someone you know is suffering domestic violence visit 1800respect.org.au or call 1800 737 732. If you’re struggling to cope visit lifeline.org.au or call 13 11 14.