Close and Personal with Deborah Thomson
Deborah Thomson is a survivor. For sixteen years she suffered horrific abuse and coercive control by her husband. With tremendous courage and persistence, she and her children escaped. Whose Life is it Anyway tells the story of how she came to be in an abusive relationship and how she regained her strength, self-confidence and dignity in leaving. Her book is now used as a teaching resource to help people understand this insidious issue within our society, and the warning signs to watch for. Whose Life is it Anyway has been written primarily using the diary entries Deborah wrote throughout her ordeal, which, in her own words, provides a ‘voyeur’s’ perspective of living with domestic violence.
What was the most rewarding part of writing this book?
The most rewarding part of writing the book is the public’s response to it. Our governor Kate Warner and husband Richard purchased thirty copies when they attended my book launch at Fullers Bookstore in Hobart in 2018 and through Family Violence in Hobart, had the books distributed to domestic violence services across Tasmania. These copies are now used as educational resources for counselors and students on practicals. The book has been taken up by TAFEs around the country as well. For professionals to consider my book, which is essentially my personal story of lived experience of abuse, as a valid resource that supports victims of family violence, is incredibly humbling. I feel gratitude that a story such as mine is useful to others. Writing this story has also given me a sense of purpose as well as helping to make sense of the violence and seeing something positive come from these experiences.
What is one of the best pieces of advice for writing a memoir?
As far as advice for writing a memoir, for me it was having the strength to be completely honest and open about my past no matter how shameful and confronting the abuse was. When readers read the whole story, authenticity shines through. Also I’d ask a writer of memoir to try and find the positives in their story and highlight these as much as the negatives. It helps readers to know that a writer has hope in their life and something to believe in despite whatever their past held for them. Victims are survivors too.
What are your thoughts on the terminology around domestic violence. Do you prefer the term violence or abuse, or do you think there is another, more useful term?
Terminology is rapidly changing as society learns more about this once hidden issue. Professionals working in this field prefer to call it family abuse or family violence or intimate partner violence rather than domestic violence. Victims are now termed victim/survivors or simply survivors. The reason for changes in terminology is to reduce stigmatisation of victims and to further enlighten and educate the public of this issue of violence within a family. Which I might add is an issue of crisis proportions!
I recently read an interview with Jess Hill, author of ‘See What You Made Me Do’ on the Garret, and she described the space victims live within as similar to the ‘Upside Down’ realm in the tv show Stranger Things, an “upside down where you are in the world; it looks kind of like the world but it’s very different. And no one else can see you in there and you’re trapped.” Do you think this is a fair analogy?
The Jess Hill quote is incredibly valid, so valid that I was surprised to learn that she wrote from a position other than victim or someone with lived experience of abuse. Her words here state exactly the reality a victim who is living with coercive control, grooming by the perpetrator and constant mind conditioning in the abusive relationship. This power over, and control of a victim is an integral part of the abuse and allows the perpetrator to create a reality for the victim to where that person no longer can distinguish the difference between non abusive and abusive behaviour. At this point the victim is trapped and a slave psychologically to their abuser.
Domestic violence is such a complex, multi-layered issue, and unlike most other crimes in that in a lot of cases, victims still care deeply for their abusers. What is the most helpful thing someone can do to help a friend in a domestic violence situation?
My writing process was strictly linear. By the nature of using actual diary entries relating to the period of abuse from 1985-2003 the book presents as a timeline of events. I am told that what is unique about my memoir is ‘the ability to get inside the heads of both victim and perpetrator like no other book on this subject’ and my narrative throughout the book analysing the whys and wherefores of abuse, how to recognise abusive behaviour in an intimate relationship and the personality traits of an abuser or a person with potential to abuse. Both diary entries and analysis make this a useful and educational resource.
Can you describe your writing process? Was it linear?
The most helpful thing an outsider can do to support a victim is firstly to believe the victim and then to continue to support the victim when, as so often happens, the victim returns to their abuser or refuses to leave in the first place. Statistics show that it takes an average of five major events of abuse before the victim finally leaves and victims may leave and return to their abuser multiple times before they leave permanently.. As well, that victim at the point of leaving is at most risk of escalating violence from the abuser who wants to maintain control over the victim at all costs and will resort to further violence to keep the victim in the home. It is helpful for an outsider to understand that and enlist as much support from the victim’s family and friends and professional supports as possible before, during and after a victim’s leaving. I know it is frustrating when you reach out to the victim only to see them leave and then go back to their abuser however if possible continue to support the victim even if it is only to provide an understanding and non judgmental ear when the victim indicates her willingness to disclose abuse or asks for advice.
Do you have plans to write more books?
I have just completed my manuscript entitled Whose Life Is It Anyway? Leaving a Violent Abuser. As the title suggests this second book is a follow up to the first, detailing my life for the next six years from 2003-2009 after leaving my abuser. This book focuses on the Family Law court system, my experiences of that as I fought for custody of our three children and the failure of this system to keep myself and the children safe from further abuse by my husband and their father.
What are the main things you hope people will take away from your memoir?
The main points I hope readers take from my book are: a better understanding of the many forms family violence takes, a greater ability to recognise abuse. particularly the early signs of abuse in a new relationship that typically are subtle; abuse that is now called coercive control, a form of control my book describes extensively. I hope readers gain a better understanding of the typical personality traits of an abuser and what drives them to abuse. Understanding these factors and being better informed of the nuances of family violence, allows a person to make better decisions- to either leave early in to an abusive relationship before trauma from the abuse becomes so entrenched it takes years to recover from, or not to begin a relationship with an abuser to begin with.
TasWriters thanks Deborah for taking the time to answer our questions.