Escaping a 22-year nightmare of abuse
"HE'S taken everything. He's not taking my soul. That's all I have left."
After 22 years of psychological terror, six weeks ago 49-year-old Lisa found the strength to walk away from her controlling abusive husband.
The mother-of-three is finally emerging from the nightmare marriage that consumed everything - her mental health, her finances, her home and her heart.
She married John in 1993 after a two-year romance.
While she only saw glimpses of the tyrant he would become in those early years, she walked down the aisle believing her "charming" 6ft-tall husband-to-be was the man she would spend her life with.
Lisa had given birth to a little boy when she was 15, choosing adoption as the best option at that time.
So when she found out she and John were going to have a child, she was ecstatic.
Born with a mild intellectual disability, Mary, now 18, was the light of their life.
A few years later Sandra was born.
The couple built what appeared to be a happy and loving home for their children.
John worked in retail, slowly climbing the career ladder as the little girls entered their first years of school.
In the beginning, it was small things - a put-down here, an angry outburst there.
John started drinking and the outbursts became more frequent.
He constantly told his wife she was unattractive, she embarrassed him and she was to blame for his ever-increasing love of the bottle.
"I was always terrified," she said.
"He would lean into me and yell into my face. He was always so angry.
"I blamed myself - I believed him when he said I was unattractive and embarrassing.
"I always felt worthless."
Then the gambling began.
"He would take the bank statements out of the letter box so I couldn't see them," Lisa said.
"He'd use my Buyer's Edge card - first it was $200 at a time then it was $1000.
"I'd ask him where the money went and he'd pretend he didn't know.
"He'd have all these excuses, like his car was broken down, when he didn't get home because he was gambling.
"And he started stealing from work."
The more money John lost, the angrier and more violent the episodes became.
He threw things at Lisa and constantly abused her.
When that didn't ease his temper, he focused his tirades on their daughters.
Remorse almost always followed.
He'd apologise for the gambling, buy presents for the children and beg for forgiveness.
"When people are nasty and then they're nice, you really hold onto that niceness," Lisa said.
The cycle continued for years.
Lisa became extremely depressed, believing suicide, a mental health facility or even jail were the only options she had for her freedom.
She first thought of leaving when her youngest daughter needed expensive dental surgery.
John yelled and screamed at the teenager, telling her it was her fault they had to spend money fixing her teeth.
"I let it happen," she said.
"I let him yell at my kids - I can't forgive myself for that."
But fearing she would not be able to support herself and her daughters, she stayed.
The final straw came when the power was disconnected.
Struggling under $500,000 debt from her husband's gambling addiction, unable to pay the bills, battling to put food on the table and with her home mortgaged to the hilt, Lisa knew she had to get out.
It took about a year to find the strength to walk away, which she did with the help of her sister, brother-in-law and nephews.
She has spent the past six weeks hundreds of kilometres away from her home, struggling to come to terms with the loss of her marriage and the immense debt hanging over her head.
Living with family is the only option while she struggles to get back on her feet.
While she says she will never let John back in her life, there is one small thing she feels will bring closure.
"I just want a glimpse of remorse from him," she said.
"I just want to know that he is sorry for what he has done."
- APN NEWSDESK
* Names have been changed in this story to protect the identity of the victims.