As a child, I grew up wanting to be a doctor, someone who would take care of sick children and make them healthy and happy. I visualised myself wearing a white coat and a stethoscope around my neck.
To me, a doctor represented authority, strength and kindness. Being a doctor was someone of significance.
My older brother had turned eighteen and was going out with friends. He even had an Italian girlfriend.
The possibility of my brother becoming serious with an Italian girl and having children with her was a grave breach of tradition, and was the reason why dad decided to uproot the family and return to Turkey. My dream of becoming a doctor was to remain a dream.
My brother’s resistance to leave Australia was met with threats by my dad. With a heavy heart, my brother boarded the plane that was to change his fate forever. I remember him being sad, holding little hope that he would ever find a way to return to his girlfriend.
I believe my brother never recovered from the forced parting with his first love, or the shock of being conscripted into the Turkish Army at nineteen in a country where he barely spoke the language. Decisions made by elders in the name of tradition and honour were not open for discussion.
Years later, as a father of two children, my brother discovered liberty in a syringe loaded with heroin. Like many children of immigrants from that era, he struggled under harsh discipline and sought freedom, which led some to drug abuse, violence, and even suicide.
My first marriage was arranged by my elders when I was sixteen. Girls my age were still in high school flirting with boys behind the shelter sheds and going to birthday parties, while I was expected to be a good wife and mother with no voice. The traditional discipline imposed on me by my parents would now be exercised by my husband.
I returned to Melbourne as a married woman with an imported husband. There were strict guidelines for my dress code: no pants, skirts had to be below the knee, no singlet tops, no revealing cleavage, no body-hugging dresses, and definitely no red lipstick. Red lipstick was supposed to simulate a woman’s desire and was deemed provocative. I was told that only loose women wore red lipstick.
The only miracle that happened to me from the violence and abuse I endured during my marriage was my first-born baby girl, and she was my inspiration to break free. I was one of the few women in the Turkish migrant community to survive a divorce at the cost of being ostracised from the community and my friends.
So began my journey of self-discovery, self-awareness and ultimately self-love, a life free of domestic violence and constraints from old cultural beliefs.