‘This photo was taken the night before I escaped’
JUDY Sharp doesn't find it easy to look at this photo of herself with her young sons.
Yet she does so every year, sharing her story in a bid to show others caught in the web of domestic violence that there's a way out.
You could be forgiven for not recognising the gaunt, terrified mother-of-two above, as she appears to be a very different woman nowadays. She went on to become an accomplished author. She's also known for her inspiring TEDx talk with her son, artist Tim Sharp.
The dynamic duo has come a long way from the night pictured in this harrowing photo.
Judy shared the image recently on Tim's Facebook page, despite the bad memories it brings up - but she went a step beyond. She also shared practical tips for people thinking about escaping abusive relationships.
"On this day every year I share a small part of our story with the hope that it may encourage someone else.' she wrote in the poignant post.
"On February 1, 1992 I escaped a very abusive marriage," she wrote in the social media post.
"This photo was taken the night before I escaped. I do not know how I survived that night. He took the photo he said because it was supposed to be the last night I was to be alive and so the boys would have a memory of being with their mother."
Her boys Tim and Sam were aged almost two and four at the time, and the fierce mum knew she had to act, despite feeling exhausted by her situation.
"To be honest I didn't run for myself, I was too worn out and worn down to do anything for myself. I did it for my sons," she said.
"I really didn't believe there was any hope or future for us and I didn't believe I could do it. But I had to try for the boys. I had to do everything I could for them to be safe and away from such evil."
Women that find themselves in domestic violence situations are often asked why they don't just leave. There are countless reasons why, and a big one is feeling trapped by their financial situation.
SURE YOU CAN LEAVE, BUT TO GO WHERE WITH WHAT MONEY?
Financial abuse is often also part of the deal, keeping victims tied to their abusers who deny them access to money.
"He kept all the money from me. I never even had $5 in my purse," Judy told Kidspot.
How could you survive looking after two young children, particularly if they also had demanding special needs? Her eldest child Tim, was diagnosed with severe autism when he was three.
"I couldn't go to a shelter because Tim's autism was so bad, no one could deal with it," she said.
He has since gone on to set records with his exceptional talent, and in particular his magnificent, popular creation, Laser Beak Man.
Despite being urged to place him in an institution, Tim is living a happy, successful life. His work has appeared in international galleries, and his creation sparked an eight-part animated children's TV series and even a Broadway play in the Big Apple.
"Looking back Tim was always leading the way, but it wasn't always clear then," the proud mum told Kidspot.
But the day the photo was taken, Tim's future didn't look so bright.
Knowing the reality of taking that seemingly enormous leap into a new life, and not only surviving but thriving, Judy wanted to share how she coped.
"In the early days it was down to basics - food - and for Tim living with autism trying to find a bit of happiness in every day, just trying to survive," she said.
The best-selling author made a few rules and beliefs for herself, some of which she still follows today. They are:
1. Always pay your bills first. People will feed you rather than pay the bills for you. And they did.
2. Only go to the shops one day a week and then hopefully there will be some money left for a drive to the country or fish and chips at the beach.
3. No matter how hard it is to ask for what you need, when you do, most people will try to do what they can to help. They cannot read your mind. Talk to them. But only ever ask for really important things.
4. Always be humble and grateful for every single act of kindness. THANK YOU.
5. One is the loneliest number but at least you get all the blankets. As one you are the captain.
6. A friend's husband told me that every day in every way things would get better. I didn't believe him. I didn't think it was possible. But I did what he said and every day I wrote down one good thing. He told me not to think of what had gone wrong, what I hadn't done, or what I thought I failed at - just find one better thing. Some days it seemed impossible to think of any better change, but he was right - there was always something. You have to look to find.
7. No matter what the expense, this family needs a dog. There is no one else who is always that happy to see you and makes you smile like that and forget everything else.
8. Single mothers have been raising incredible humans since time began. I am strong, I am invincible, I can do anything. I am woman! I am a mother.
9. It's rare that only one thing goes wrong at a time. Sometimes it's threes, or many more. Deal with them one by one and do your best. It may not seem fair but it is what it is.
10. All that matters is the family you make. That is the only thing worth fighting for. And when you have a child with autism the fight is longer and harder but you are the world expert on your child and your family. Believe in yourself and after a while you are no longer fighting, just leading the way.
11. No matter what happens, life goes on. You can watch it go by or walk with it. No matter how slowly or even wearing 10-ton, mud-covered boots from the depths of quicksand, but you can always take a step. Like every wise prophet has said, life is one step after another.
12. Everything is better when you float in water.
13. It took me a long time to start to believe this one - It wasn't my fault. I didn't deserve it. No one deserves it. I deserve so much better and it's up to me to make that better happen.
DON'T WAIT FOR IT TO STOP. IT WON'T
Judy wraps up her post with a plea for those suffering in the same situation she was facing when her boys were tiny.
"Take a step. Tell someone. Ask for help. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for your children. Domestic violence/abuse is never acceptable. Don't wait for it to stop. It won't."
Back then Judy says she could never imagine that all these years later she would have such a wonderful, full life. She has a home and garden, her beloved pets, great friends and has raised two "healthy, happy, gentlemen sons". Her other son Sam is a swimmer that trialled for the Olympics and is a swim coach.
"I am a keynote speaker, an author and an associate producer. I am me," she said.
"The scars don't go away, but I don't have to look at them every day. I wish you the same happiness - believe me everyone does. Take a step."
As well as being a phenomenal advocate for autism, Judy has become a powerful voice for domestic violence victims. According to White Ribbon Australia, a woman is killed by her current or ex-partner every week over a 12-month average.
"This is a huge need in the world," Judy told Kidspot.
"I only wrote it in the hope it may help one. I think it might have."
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), or contact White Ribbon. Alternatively you can call helplines such as the Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 800 098 or 1800 65 64 63 (24 hours) or the Domestic Violence Crisis Service on 1300 782 200.