This post contains accounts and graphic photos of domestic violence. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, you can contact 000, or you can talk to the crisis lines listed at the bottom of this post.
Last year I got a public message on The Design Files’ Instagram post from an amazingly brave woman who told me her story of looking different. She said she was disfigured by domestic violence and is rebuilding her confidence. I am continually amazed about the power of sharing stories and connecting online. I hope she’s ok. (I feel privileged to have strangers tell me their stories. Many of them are just between them and I. This one was on a very public post and I wanted to share it here.)
I’ve not previously thought of visible difference being caused by domestic violence – but Sarah’s story highlights just how quickly a life – and a face – can change. I can’t imagine what it would be like when people ask Sarah about her appearance and she has to think back to the cause of its change, or even talk about it to strangers. She’d have to relive that trauma over and over. Once again, a reminder of why it’s good not to ask someone about their appearance. They might be grieving for the life they used to have, or might not be ready to talk about their appearance or the circumstances that changed the way they look.
With Rosie Batty being named Australian of the Year and Sarah being assured of safety, I thought this was the right time to publish her words that she’s courageously written.
She’s strong and beautiful. Meet Sarah.
“I wasn’t aware of how I looked until I was rushed to the Emergency department at my local hospital and the nurse told me not too look at myself. I knew something was not right due to people’s reactions. I was rushed to the emergency department with my 5 year old.
You see, I had been enjoying a sunny day in WA, with my husband, son and some friends. On our way back home, my husband lost his temper so badly he beat me up with his fists, fracturing my eye socket, my cheekbone, my jaw, breaking a bone in my nose, ruptured my eyeball and I sustained head injuries. I had police at the hospital. Two witnesses at the scene had call police and ambulance.
I did not realise how much my life would change. I was rushed to another emergency hospital better equipped to deal with my injuries. They told me they wanted to remove my eye as it was so badly ruptured it could not be saved. I was devastated. I also had all these maxilio plastic surgeons wanting to wire my jaw up and all these surgeons arguing.
It was time I went for an MRI to check all my injuries. Laying in bed being wheeled down to the MRI department, would stop people in their tracks, they would stop and point, whisper and stare. I remember thinking “this isn’t me?”. I wanted to tell them “What you are looking at is my injured shell; I am usually a normal looking girl, not a deformed person. I am normal like everyone else”. But reality, then, I was far from normal. We got to the MRI floor and they rolled my bed up into the waiting room, I lay there for everyone to gawp at and discuss. My sorrow was others entertainment. One elder lady turned to me and said ‘what happened to your face’. This was something I came to experience a lot over the next few months. This is when I began to realise for some people, other people’s sorrows and strifes are their entertainment. I found that people can ask me what happened, what is wrong with me etc., but then they can go home and forget about me, my story has interested someone for all of a few moments, yet I am left to live this.
The surgeon stitched my eyeball up over a 5 hour surgery. I spent the next week and half in hospital in shock that they wanted to remover my eye. My face looked worse during the week as it was so bruised and swollen, I had to wear a protective shield over my eye and my jaw was sticking out. I did not recognise myself.
I refused to have my eye removed even though it was 100% blind, it was my body part and I did not want a fake eye. One year later I still have my eye but it is disfigured. The courts, the police and the specialists say my eye is now a deformity. It has shrunk, sunk back into the eye socket and everything has drooped, like my eyebrow and lid. I have scarring from tears around the eye area. I have lost volume on my right side due to volume missing from the eye socket. In May this year I had another surgery to put an implant in my eye socket to stop everything sinking into it.
I have now had a fake eye made that goes over the top of my damaged eye. I do not like it but I have to accept it and move forward. It does not look like my natural eye should but the hardest thing is it has extremely limited movement. It does not move much. People stare at me when I’m out and that makes it hard for me. If I look back at them they continue staring. I now make limited eye contact with people. My eye injury and the way I feel about my appearance has changed me from feeling confident out in situations to now becoming a recluse or nervous wreck when I am out just in case my hair moves off my eye, or have to remove my sunglasses. Of course people will stare at an eye that does not move while your other eye moves. That does not mean I am ok with it.
This is my artificial eye.
They not attached to eye muscle so they can’t move and they can’t change colour or have a pupil that dilates.
They are quite thick (people still think they are glass but these days they are acrylic). They about 8mm thick and you have to stretch your eyelids and put in your eye socket. My eye socket is still painful but my eye got pushed forward, what left of it from the last surgery I had to fix my eye socket.
I’ve been told one day the whole eye will likely be removed as it will keep shrinking. It’s called a dead eye now. It’s has no vitreous sack so can’t produce eye fluid so it will shrink to nothing one day.
It not as painful as the first 4 months afterwards but it gets dry and hurts, my eye socket still hurts and fake eyes are not that comfortable. They also make your eye weep all day but that another thing have to accept. I call it eye boogers as that what it looks like.
There is no advancement in fake eyes for over 100 years now. Most people hate the lack of movement and pupil not dilating. It might seem like one thing on a face, but people look in others eyes. I have had people say to me which eye do I look in? What happened to your eye? Can you see out of it (duh, of course not), looks like a doll eye. In real life it looks worse than pictures. But they can’t paint a real eye. No one can give what god intended. I would love it to move like a real eye but I don’t think that will happen in my lifetime.
I have spent the past year regretting going out that day, hating myself, staying at home, cancelling on friends so they don’t see me. I’ve been a mess last year. Had panic attacks, didn’t sleep. I am on anti depressants. A lot over the grieving of my eye. I hate my injury that I have been left but in real life when people meet me they clearly stare at my eye. At moment I Iook down lots, try cover my eye with hair and glasses.
I would hate any woman to go through what my kids and I went through.
Before this incident. I never use to stare as my mum use to say when I was a kid it’s rude to stare. I don’t think I gave people’s facial difference much thought unless someone had being on the news burnt like Turia Pitt and I would think, ‘poor dear’. Now I look at others with things, missing eyes, I am in an eye loss support group on FB, and think, why us? Whether cancer, trauma whatever. They all hate it but have to get on with their life. I also think about people who are legally blind more now than I did before. I only have 1 eye now so sight is precious.
Where do you draw the line at self-pity? We are all allowed to feel sad at times, even resentful, but where do we draw the line? Self-pity gets you absolutely nowhere, but for some, it is a dark place you cannot escape, and yet it destroys your self-esteem, your strength and motivation deteriorates. This is how I have spent the most of the past year. Wanting to hide away and at times not be here anymore. To lose an eye through violence is awful.
I have learnt no matter how you end up with an appearance difference in life, through disease, birth or trauma no one’s person is worse than the others. WE all have our own feelings and how we go there. Bottom line is, we are only human, we aren’t built of stone, we are allowed to feel resentment towards things and down, but we mustn’t lose perspective of the whole picture.
My message to people who acquire a facial difference is you have to grow a thick skin. Accept your difference. People don’t know you, so who are they to judge? Try find ways to make yourself have more confidence and don’t just focus on the negative. Otherwise you will live a life in regret.
Appearance was important to me before. I am embarrassed to admit it. I would still be that girl if this had not of happened. I’m a mother of 2 boys and work part time in an office in a primary school so I had sloth days. But my low confidence has been with me since I was a teenager. Hated my skin, hair etc… I never thought I was good enough for anything. So I wore heavy make up and heavy eye make up. Now I feel so lost without it but not able to wear eye make up often. Guess I was caught up in the photoshop world of how a woman should be.
When you’re disfigured from an assault, the actual assault remains with you every time you look in mirror. When people ask me why I look the way I do, there is a painful reason why.”
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
Safe Steps Family Violence Resource Centre: 1800 015 188. Safe Steps’ mission is to “Be the voice for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and children by providing a state-wide immediate response that informs, protects and connects women and children so they are safe.”
Men’sline: 1300 78 99 78: MensLine Australia is the national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns. The service is available from anywhere in Australia and is staffed by professional counsellors, experienced in men’s issues.