Courtney Stevens, 28, Toowoomba, Qld
I thought at first I'd had a terrible nightmare. In the darkness, my eyes pinged open. But right away, I knew something else was very wrong. Lying next to my two-year-old daughter, Lily, I could feel a hot, burning agony on the right side of my chest. What was happening?
I stumbled out of bed and into the lounge room. That's when I switched on the light, and looking down, my blood ran cold. Oh my God.
Sticking out of my chest was a black-handled knife, the kind that you might use to chop vegetables. The room started to spin as I stared at it in disbelief. How did it get there? Numb with shock, I instinctively reached up and pulled the blade out with both hands.
It was 12cm long, and I knew then that I was in serious trouble. Terrified, as blood began to ooze out of the deep wound I ran towards the granny flat at the back of my house. My housemates Mike, 29, and Renee, 21, live there.
Sticking out of my chest was a black-handled knife, the kind that you might use to chop vegetables.
Banging on the door as blood dripped down my stomach, I pleaded for help. 'I think I've been stabbed!' I cried as Mike opened the door. Then it hit me. My daughter. She was still in the house. If anything had happened to her I could never live with myself.
Racing back to my bedroom, I saw she was safe. I was overwhelmed with relief, but then the room began to spin and I collapsed to the floor. It was getting harder and harder to breathe...
As I lay there, the room grew dimmer, and just one question burned in my mind. Who had done this to me? As I felt my consciousness slipping away, I realised this was the end. Surely there was no way I'd survive.
I can only remember what happened next in strange flashes - almost like an old movie reel. There was a policewoman kneeling over me. A hospital, with nurses and doctors rushing around...
It was getting harder and harder to breathe...
When I finally woke again, I learnt I'd been in intensive care for three days. 'It was touch and go for a while,' a doctor told me, explaining that blood had filled my lungs so I couldn't breathe. 'But it looks like you're on the road to recovery now.'
As the news sank in and what happened came back to me, so many questions filled my mind. Who had stabbed me? And why? It wasn't until my sister Holly, 31, came to visit that afternoon that I finally found out more.
'It was Darren,' she told me tearfully. 'He's been arrested.'
'No,' I gasped. It had to be a mistake. Darren, then 35, was my estranged husband and the father of my little girl. Our four-year marriage had always been rocky. Darren was very possessive and I lived in fear of him losing his temper.
When I'd finally found the courage to leave the relationship a year earlier, it had been a huge weight off my shoulders. At first, Darren had begged me to come back. But after a couple of months he seemed to have moved on and met someone new. I'd started seeing a new man too - Michael. We'd hit it off after he'd come in for a haircut at the hairdressers' where I worked.
Charming and funny, Michael was the opposite of Darren. But as soon as we got together, Darren's jealous streak returned. He began texting and calling me constantly - even showing up unannounced at the house to cause a scene. One night the police were called and Darren was served with a domestic violence order, but still he didn't let up.
Darren was very possessive and I lived in fear of him losing his temper.
Sadly, all the drama took its toll on my relationship with Michael and we made the decision to put things on hold for a while. I hoped that it would be enough to finally get Darren to leave me alone. It wasn't.
Still he called and sent text messages, and then that terrible night, I'd woken to find a knife embedded in my chest. Had the man I'd married really tried to kill me? I felt numb with the horror of it all.
As the days passed and I struggled to come to terms with what had happened, Michael came to visit. 'I thought I was going to lose you,' he told me, as he held my hand tightly. He stayed with me to nurse me as I underwent surgery to fix a blood clot that had developed in my lung.
'I'm so glad you're back in my life,' I told him afterwards. Michael made me feel so safe. Each night when I had nightmares about the attack, he was there to hold me.
It was another two years, in July 2014, before my ex, Darren James Williams, then 37, came before Toowoomba Supreme Court. He pleaded guilty to charges of burglary in the night while armed and grievous bodily harm. But he denied attempted murder. Instead he claimed a voice in his head told him to stab me and a 'demon inside' just took over.
I was the first witness called to give evidence and standing there in the room, I vowed I wasn't going to be afraid anymore. After hearing all the evidence, it took just four hours for the jury to reach their verdict. Guilty.
I vowed I wasn't going to be afraid anymore
I was there with my family to hear the results and relief swept over me. We were safe. Sentencing Darren to 15 years in jail, judge Peter Applegarth inferred that my ex had aimed for my heart when he attacked me in front of our daughter. It was a chilling reminder of how close I came to losing my life.
I hope my story sheds light on domestic violence and encourages a change in the system that includes more early intervention in cases like mine.
Published in that's life! Issue 35, 2014
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