At 21 years old, Sarah Prout would never have imagined a toxic relationship would inspire her to one day becoming a best-selling author.
New Zealand born and Australian raised, Ms Prout now resides in Las Vegas in the US. She rebuilt her life starting from square one after walking away from an abusive marriage as a single mum with two young children just over a decade ago.
“For anybody that has been in a bad marriage or a toxic relationship, it's so complicated,” she told Yahoo News Australia. “Sometimes people will try to leave and they might second guess themselves.”
She married her ex-husband in 2001 soon after her 21st birthday. She says he beat her while she was pregnant with her first child, and a toxic cycle of abuse between them played out for over a decade.
The abusive relationship ultimately ended in a horrifying act of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband.
The phone call that changed it all
Ms Prout attempted to leave her ex-husband eight times before the final frightening incident that became her “wake-up call”.
“Verbal abuse was something we were both really proficient at,” she said. “Our arguments got pretty heated before they escalated to physical violence.
“I threatened to leave too. In the end, I was terrified of being on my own and I didn’t have a clue how to support myself and the kids financially.”
Ms Prout returned home one night to find her drunk, angry ex-husband at the front door. According to her, he had trashed their family home, cut her desk in half with an axe, smashed-up her laptop, thrown all of her belongings in a heap and doused them in petrol.
Ms Prout recalled her ex-husband had been looking for the matches, “so he could light it up”.
It was about three o’clock in the morning when Ms Prout reached out for a lifeline and called her dad.
“Sarah, you call the police, you silly girl, you call the police,” her father pleaded over the phone. Advice she fortunately followed leading to her escape from the violent relationship.
As a survivor, Ms Prout believes that domestic violence needs to be spoken about more often because “it appears in many different ways”.
“All the different levels of abuse have an impact on our self-esteem and how we show up in the world,” she said.
“I really think every single one of them [domestic violence and abuse stories] needs to be taken seriously.
“When you are in a toxic situation, you must get real with yourself and don’t be afraid to seek help or helpful advice.”
Walking away for good
In April 2009, despite being $30,000 in debt and on Centrelink benefits, Ms Prout left her decade-long abusive marriage in Australia after that final incident with just two suitcases, daughter Olivia who was only four-years-old at the time, and her eight-year-old son, Thomas.
“I had no clue where I was going, or what I was going to do to support myself.
“I had nothing. I lived below the poverty line on a Centrelink welfare cheque and there were some days where I didn’t know how I was going to feed my kids... I just knew that if I didn’t change, decisions would have been made for me that I didn’t like,” she said.
According to a report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), one in six women and one in nine men have experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15.
“The impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence on children and adolescents can be long-lasting. Affecting their health, wellbeing, education, relationships, and housing outcomes,” AIHW spokesperson Louise York said.
The latest AIHW’s report, family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: continuing the national story, revealed that domestic violence can include oppressive conduct like emotional abuse and attempts to control another person’s behaviour.
Turning the page to a new life chapter
Ms Prout, who now permanently resides in the US, is now happily married to second husband Sean, a proud mother of four and the creative director of her multi-million dollar company called Soul Space Media.
The 40-year-old says that she wouldn’t change her heartbreaking, painful past because that challenging time in her life put her on the path of transformation and self-discovery.
It also gave Ms Prout the opportunity to help others in similar abusive situations with her story, via a publishing business she started with her current husband in 2011.
“I had always known that I wanted more for myself,” she said. “I was always in the background working on ideas, plans, and future projects for one day.”
Ms Prout eventually used her traumatic experiences as inspiration for her book, Dear Universe, which revealed the tools and practices she used to change her own life.
“Letting go of the expectation that somebody else is going to change in order to make you happy is the radical difference between staying the same and opening up a new empowered path for yourself,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
Eight months after its launch, over 50,000 copies of Dear Universe have been sold in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, and published in five different languages.
Rewriting her ‘happily ever after’
Ms Prout “did not think that in a million years”, she would be sharing her story with anybody.
She most definitely did not anticipate that over 54 million people around the world would watch her pour her heart out on camera in a Goalcast video that has gone viral since it was posted on Facebook last year.
“There are women (and some men) that write to me and they say ‘hey, I left an abusive relationship as well’, I left a toxic relationship behind me – now I’m ready to live my life in my own terms,” she said.
Looking back on the younger version of herself during her first marriage, Ms Prout admits that she had longed to be chosen, to be seen and to be loved, but knew little about giving those things to herself.
“When you’re in a relationship, it needs to be mutually supportive,” she said.
“It’s important for young girls to remember that they are worthy and capable, they shouldn’t keep themselves small to make other people feel comfortable.”
Now, as a mother of three daughters with self-awareness and wisdom under her belt, Ms Prout says it’s important for all girls to know that ‘a prince is not going to save the day, they must learn to save the day themselves’.
“Take responsibility for your own happiness and set your own clear, and healthy boundaries.”
“As a woman, it’s vital to do that from the get-go, rather than allowing situations to unfold that could [turn out to] be quite oppressive,” Ms Prout said.
“The happily ever after is up to ourselves.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, find help by visiting Lifeline or calling 1800 RESPECT.
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