WHEN Felicity Cook finally escaped her abusive relationship after three years, she wasn't prepared for just how much more pain was to come.
Life with her violent ex-partner was all she had known since leaving her parents' home in the New South Wales Blue Mountains at 19 and moving in with him in Sydney. He was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive, hitting her almost daily, smashing her possessions and banning her from having friends.
Worst of all was what the relationship did to her self-esteem. "He would tell me no one else was kind enough to want me, he was doing me a service," she tells news.com.au. "He'd have women come round and say he had to have other women because I wasn't good enough.
"He was abusive to our pets. I was doing a TAFE course and he would tear up my assignments. When it came to food, he would throw away meals I had made."
By the time Felicity worked up the strength to leave, she was in pieces, emotionally and physically. "I was busy focusing on keeping myself alive, other things just fell by the wayside," she said. "I had dental issues because I had been malnourished.
"I'm 5ft 11in and I only weighed 52 kilos. I was very unhealthy, from the sheer stress and strain. I wasn't exercising."
The young woman hadn't spoken to anyone about what was going on at home, but says several figured it out. One day, she says, "something clicked in me and I called my best friend and said 'I'm done.' She said, 'I'm coming to get you.'"
Felicity moved in with first a relative and then her parents, but says the atmosphere was "strained" because she had barely spoken to her family in the previous few years. "I don't think I was in the best state," she says now, eight years on. "I was broken, I was a mess.
"He'd brought me to the point where I thought there was nothing else out there for me, I couldn't get any further. I was on a destructive path of self-hate."
Her ex was still calling her - on one occasion, 86 times in two hours. "I went back two weeks later for a couple of days," she says. "In that time, he burst my eardrum and I had to get surgery."
When she found a place to rent on her own, he found out where she was and climbed on to the balcony to get her attention, as well as calling her relatives and emergency services and claiming she was threatening suicide.
Felicity, now 30, knew nothing about shelters or organisations that could have helped at the time. Despite her difficult relationship with her family, she says she was lucky they could take her in. "It's one of the hardest times anyone can go through, especially if you find yourself with nowhere to live."
This month, she becomes the face of a campaign to deliver 20,000 meals to survivors of domestic violence living in women's refuges in Sydney and Melbourne. The initiative was started by Two Good, a non-profit that produces beautiful, nutritious meals for women in need, created by famous chefs including Kylie Kwong and Matt Moran. For every meal purchased through the "buy one, give one" scheme, one is donated to a shelter.
In October, American Express and Deliveroo are expanding the model, so for every meal purchased on the delivery app with an Amex card, Two Good will send one to a woman living in a safe house.
"To have a meal that's healthy and well prepared shows you someone cares," says Felicity, now a married, award-winning cake decorator who owns her own business and helps other small firms get started. "It's like if you're sick at home and someone brings you chicken soup."
Every week, one Australian woman is murdered by a current or former partner, while thousands of women and children seek refuge in emergency accommodation.
Two Good founder Rob Caslick says the concept began with trying to scale soup kitchens to provide more people with food. One day, he sent six meals to a women's refuge using the "buy one, give one" model. The next thing he knew, another shelter was calling to find out more.
"It went really well," he says. "It's more than Two Good delivering a meal, it's someone purchasing one for someone else. It's about a demonstration of love and support from the community."
The organisation now delivers around 300 meals in jars every week to refuges across Sydney and Melbourne, and they hope to expand the program to more locations and begin offering care packs. Rob says speaking to domestic violence survivors has taught him how the experience not only creates financial difficulties but can strip someone of their self-worth. One woman told him how it felt when she arrived at a shelter in the middle of the night and was given a pack of toiletries, tied with a purple bow. It wasn't about the items, she said, but seeing how carefully someone had tied that bow made her realise someone cared.
"The goal is that no woman in a refuge feels unworthy of love," he says. "The meals are wholesome, healthy. If you're eating well, you have the ability to think. It's certainly also about health."
Two Good also employs domestic violence survivors to help them start on the path to employment until they find permanent work and a new home.
American Express has commissioned a giant mural made by artist Noula Diamantopoulos from 20,000 jar lids, reading "Love shouldn't hurt", which was installed at 180 George Street to promote the campaign this weekend.
"Life is really short," says Felicity. "My husband, he's the sweetest man in the world, but he always says, 'you're never serious.'
"I've had serious times, I prefer to be silly, to help people celebrate happy times. I know what it's like to not have that."
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the website at lifeline.org.au. You can also contact Reach Out on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit the website at reachout.com. In an emergency, call 000.
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