SHARING LIFE LESSONS: Terri Gardner has found much to appreciate in life after taking charge of its direction. File photo D7300-10

WITH New Zealand’s White Ribbon campaign exposing violence against women currently under way and the White Ribbon Ride coming through the Eastern Bay this week, Beacon reporter Mark Rieder explores the effects of living in an abusive relationship.

IMAGINE reliving the same situation twice, and not realising it until your house is in flames.

That is probably the worst, but far from the only indignity that happened to Terri Gardner while she was in an abusive relationship.

“I actually went through two. The second one was where I had the big wakeup call,” she said.

“We had a very short relationship. We knew each other for about four months and we were together for only two of them. It ended when he cheated on me.”

She revealed that her experience with abuse made her lash out in anger when provoked by her partner but that her frustration was directed at others. She said she had low self-respect since childhood and she carried that attitude into her relationships.

As scary as it was while they were together, ending the second relationship led to an attempt on her life.

“I left him and a week later he came back. He sent me a message saying he was going to light my house on fire with me in it and about five minutes later, he turned up. He poured petrol on the house and lit it on fire,” she said.

“After it happened, I had to sit myself down and have a talk with myself. I thought ‘this has happened twice now, I can’t keep going on this way and the way I feel about myself. I saw a pattern with those two relationships.”

Knowing she was no longer safe at home, she tried to reinvent herself and her life.

“I sold my things and moved with the kids back to my parents and pretty much just locked myself away from everyone. There were certain friends that I would see but I basically cut everyone off because I didn’t need a lot of outside noise. I needed to figure out what was going on in my head,” she said.

She is taking self-improvement training and reading books and uses the basics of what she is learning to develop a self-improvement regime that fits with her beliefs and needs.

“I created a very simple mission statement. It was about helping others and it gave me a purpose. Another thing I did was whenever I made a decision, I based it on the fundamentals I had learned,” she said.

“I was holding on to a lot of things and I didn’t understand why. It was a constant challenge where I felt I was constantly fighting everything bad that was happening and having to physically do things to make it better and it was tiring. I knew that I was experiencing growth but it was hard.”

She decided the best way to start was to improve her relationship with her children. She said they were always her ‘why’ – her reason for being.

She also wants to help other woman who are struggling and for them to relate to at least a part of what she has experienced.

“My why is based around my kids – giving them the best life I can and leading by example.

The other part is wanting to inspire people and create a legacy that lives beyond me,” she said.

“I want what I am doing to carry on and be never-ending.”

The definition of love

AS she was young, the relationship with her first partner set the standard by which she judged the meaning of love.

“I was genuinely in love with him. So, when fights would happen I would try and fix it because I had a strong need for him.

“I didn’t know how to be independent,” she said.

“I was always feeling anxious and feeling fear. It could even be over silly little things sometimes.”

Though the relationship was not especially violent, damage was done.

“Physically, there were some things, but emotionally, I’m scarred,” she said.

“I didn’t realise that love is caring for someone else. To me love was about ownership.”

She said she tried to reason with the man about their relationship but to no avail.

“I’d been wanting to leave for a while and I tried to do it the right way – by being honest and saying it was unhealthy and he should let me go, but he wouldn’t. Because of the kids he’d say, ‘you’re stuck with me for 18 years then you can do whatever you want’,” she said.

“We both knew the relationship wasn’t good and we both had our own aspects that we had to take responsibility for.

“Since I left, he has flipped his life around and has found a new partner and we are able to co-parent well for our kids.

“It’s like we’ve both changed our definitions of love.”

‘It starts and ends with ourselves’

The children

NEW BEGINNINGS: Lexi, 4, Terri and Reif, 5, have become closer as they build a new life together.
Photo Mark Rieder D7462-10

MISS Gardner was surprised by how quickly things changed with her children once she had the energy and time to put her efforts into them.

“There is definitely a different relationship between my daughter and I. I went through post-partum depression with her. I was afraid to have her because I had an unhealthy relationship that I didn’t want to bring another kid into,” she said.

“I didn’t put a lot of time into loving her. I would just put her to bed at night. I wouldn’t kiss or hug her and she would go to sleep herself – she was such a good baby. But one night I decided to sit down with her and give her a bottle.

“I looked down at her and she looked up at me with nothing but love. I realised that I was her whole world and I hadn’t bonded with her at all. I started crying and held her until she fell asleep. She was nearly a year old and I hadn’t done that before.”

The effect it had on her son and her relationship with him was slightly more complicated and the overall impact has yet to be revealed.

“My son is very advanced for his age. He ended up getting anxiety that I think came from a few things – one being the situation of leaving their dad. He was only one or two when it was happening, but he knew what was going on and it had a huge impact on him. The way

I was as well didn’t help,” she said.

Her devotion for her children has her excited for future possibilities.

“I’m doing these little things now so maybe in five years, we’ll be able to pack up and I’ll show them the world.”

Dealing with the past

OVER time, she has created a new reality but is occasionally haunted by ghosts from the past.

Looking back, Miss Gardner has managed to understand the importance of owning her decisions and actions. This understanding has allowed her to develop The Zoe Journal, a lifestyle system that helps others achieve self-reliance and enjoy the freedom that comes with taking responsibility for their own lives

“I’ve learned to stand up for myself. If I’m not comfortable with something or if I don’t want someone around me or anything like that I can very easily say ‘no’ because I now have respect for myself, my time and my energy,” she said.

“The way I hold myself and the way I walk is different. I used to walk head down – I didn’t want anyone to look at me.

“I would never talk or even think about doing an interview like this. I would get nervous and the anxiety would kick in. Everything is different.”

It doesn’t mean she is now bullet proof. Everyday occurrences can take their toll.

“Nothing can push me over anymore. I know what my purpose is and what I’m here to do.

When bad things happen, I analyse the situation and as unhappy as it might make me, I just move on,” she said.

She is not the same person she was a year ago, and some of her friends have been sceptical of her new outlook on life.

“I think the hardest part was pushing through that because I shared everything on social media and I did get a bit of backlash – nothing major but things that hurt me.

“People weren’t used to seeing this new version of me, they were used to the old me.

People were saying ‘oh, this isn’t going to last’ or ‘this is a joke’ or ‘she’s really lost it now’,” she said.

A new life

“THE type of person I am attracted to has completely changed. I was attracted to a certain type of man. It was the same person over and over again – just with different skin on,” she said.

Miss Gardner has seen a lot of change, not only in her personally but in the type of people she meets. Her new approach to life has allowed her to drop many of the traits she had learned from former partners.

She said as she improved her outlook on life and changed her attitude, her life changed accordingly

“I used to worry so much about the right now. I never had a chance to plan, dream or think about the future, it was just about doing what I had to do right then to get us by and make this happiness that would last for five minutes – that type of life. Now it’s completely different,” she said.

She has found a new relationship. One where she feels safe and loved and where she is given the freedom she wants.

“He’s the complete opposite in every way from anything I’ve ever known – and that’s been a learning experience in itself,” she said.

“It took about five months of us getting to know each other before we committed to it and it was such an interesting journey for me because it was something I’d never experienced,”

The relationship was a bit confusing for her at first.
“It felt weird to not be constantly asked where I was and what I was doing all the time and being accused of something,” she said.

“That was something I had to work on because to me, that’s how someone shows they care about you. I thought ‘oh, he doesn’t care what I’m doing. He’s not interested. I don’t like him anymore’. It was a lot of work for me to understand what attraction really is – and it’s not forceful.”

With hindsight being 20/20, Miss Gardner’s eyes have been opened to her misconceptions of relationships.

“I want other woman to understand what can happen when they work on themselves.

“I used to have a victim mentality but made the decision to learn how to change that and take ownership of my life.

“It starts and ends with ourselves,” she said.

White Ribbon Ride against abuse

STEP UP: White Ribbon rider Aaron Morrison will be asking men to stand up and take action.
Photo supplied

NEW Zealand has the highest reported rate of men’s violence towards women in the developed world. A shocking statistic highlighted by the admission that 41 percent of a frontline police officer’s time is attributed to dealing with family harm.

“We need our men to step up and stand up,” White Ribbon rider leader Aaron Morrison said.

“One in three women are affected by family violence in their lifetime and that is just unacceptable.”

The White Ribbon Riders are generally a rugged, tough looking bunch, that deliver the anti-violence messages for the White Ribbon Campaign in a week-long ride through some 80 communities. At each stop they will be speaking and meeting locals and talking about respectful relationships.

“We know that most men are not violent, but too often we don’t speak out.

“This year we are asking men to stand up and take the pledge and choose one of eight actions. These actions support respectful relationships and get men actively participating in ending violence,” Mr Morrison said.

White Ribbon is asking men to listen and believe women, reflect on and change behavior, disrupt other men’s violence towards women, treat women as equals, choose how as men we will act, talk to young men about breaking out of the “man box”, think about what we watch and the media we use, and talk with young men about respectful relationships and pornography.

Mr Morrison said there was an open invitation to come along to a White Ribbon event in your town or to join the ride.

The Eastern Bay leg of the White Ribbon Ride gets under way on Friday, November 23 in Opotiki at Opotiki Primary School at 1.30pm travelling across to Taneatua at Hughes Place Community Garden Project at 4pm, then ends the day at Te Hokowhitu Marae.

On Saturday morning the ride leaves from the Commerce Street community garden at 8.30am and over to Kawerau for an event at the circus paddock on the corner of Winslow and Plunkett at 10.30am.

mark.rieder@thebeacon.co.nz