Kay Schubach thought she had found Mr. Right, until he became controlling and violent. This is a true story of surviving domestic violence. SheSaid asked Kay for her advice and how it feels to be free again.
1. Can you tell us what your book is about?
Perfect Stranger is my story of turning forty, wanting a baby and falling for a charming charismatic handsome man – who turned out to be a terribly violent narcissist. He almost killed me and turned my life upside down. It’s a story of love and war and a cautionary tale.
2. How hard was it to write this book?
Partly easy and partly very difficult. After I escaped from Simon, I went into hiding and I wrote the skeleton of the book in diary form in almost forensic detail. I did that to help myself believe that it wasn’t my fault – that I had in fact been struggling to keep my sanity and my life. That part was easy to write as it just poured out of me.
After that I went to live in Asia and wrote the book in long form. That process was very healing. I came back to Australia and was diagnosed with a pretty nasty cancer and during recovery I went to live in France. I edited the book then. The book at first was so dark. Writing this book was a prolonged search to find a way to forgive and explain.
3. How long did it take you to write it?
Initially I wrote the first draft in six months, but then it took years and a major illness to get perspective, to explain what had happened to me and to make the book palatable and find its heart. All in all, it was nearly eight years.
It is a very honest and brutal account of what happened to you, how you feel about people reading about your own private nightmare.
People have said I’m brave to open up so much, but I had no choice. The book had a forensic nature initially because I was writing statements to the police and I used those. Simon had damaged me so much I needed these statements as an explanation to the world I felt very very guilty that he had gone on to harm other women. So partly I needed people to understand everything I felt and had gone through with him. I think you need to read the warts and all. I do believe the more open and honest we are the more we can heal and move forward. People have told me they are grateful for the honesty, as it has mirrored their own situation. My brothers and my parents were a bit freaked out – I told them to read it with their eyes closed!
4. Did you feel you wanted to write it as part of the healing process for you or more as a warning to other women?
Actually both in equal measures. I felt dreadful that I wasn’t brave enough to take Simon to court and get him locked away. I felt that I had allowed him to continue to run amok and dreadfully hurt other women. I hope the book is partly a cautionary tale and partly a cry to women to stand up and speak out: that these violent situations are not their fault, that violence is about control and that you need help. I also wanted people to see that if you do speak out and reach out, the most extraordinary people will step up to help you.
5. Have other women come forward and spoken to you of similar things happening to them since the book was published?
Just the other day and young woman came up who had recognised my photo from the Daily Telegraph article on my experiences. She was teary and nervous and said, “Thank you for speaking out. My family has been embroiled in this kind of violence and now we are beginning to know we can break the cycle.” Almost every time women, and some men, talk to me about the book now, they tell me of their own experiences or that of a family member or close friend. It’s scary how many women are coming forward… domestic violence is one of the great hidden menaces of our time. I hope my book tells women it can happen to anyone, successful, powerful, educated. You are not alone.
6. What advice would you give to women who are feeling trapped and isolated in an abusive relationship?
The thing that is happening to you in the violence you are encountering is that your abuser is very carefully and knowingly eroding your self-esteem. Those put downs and fights where you feel to blame, the insults and snide comments, the public humiliations….these are all used to control you. You feel like you’re in quicksand, the more you feel frightened or try to save yourself, the more deeply you feel you are sinking. You will want to just be silent, but you cannot choose this option. Remember that. You will get shackled to his moods: when the tension abates, the relief is so great it’s almost an endorphin rush. Take time out to breathe and think, tell your family and friends. They need to know that things aren’t quite right and that you might need them at short notice. Do not let people disbelieve you; do not let people dismiss your story because they can’t see what your life is really like behind closed doors. And have some survival techniques; remember important numbers, try to stash a little money, have spare keys cut. But most importantly don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
7. What is it like to stand in the sunshine again and be free?
After knowing Simon was being sent to jail, I felt enormous relief. I was sad that another woman had to be assaulted and go through hell to get him there. I lost a lot of faith in humanity because of Simon. And after he went to jail I was diagnosed with cancer. Strangely and wonderfully, surviving cancer restored my faith in the world. People showed me so much love, my friends, my family and my doctors – everyone was amazingly generosity and love. Now I know that whatever is thrown at me, I have the resources inside me to survive and prosper. I am very grateful and remember to be grateful every single day.
Perfect Strange: A True Story, by Kay Schubach, published by Penguin, RRP $29.95.