A day in the life: living – and working – with domestic violence


Lisa McAdams is a business consultant and survivor of domestic violence. She shares her story openly and is passionate about educating workplaces so they can ensure women in abusive relationships remain in the workplace. 

Ahead of November 25, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Lisa pens a powerful first-person account of what it’s like to live – and work – in the shadow of violence, and she highlights the role businesses can play in supporting staff.  


My life today is filled with compliments. Most days someone will tell me how strong and brave I am. And I need to be commended for the inner strength it must take to do the work I do.

It makes me think about those living with abuse now, because that is where the true bravery and inner strength are needed. Just getting through the day is sometimes almost impossible.

When I think about what it takes to get through the day when your partner is abusive; one memory in particular stands out.

It was a work morning. As we only had one car we had to drive into work together. I was fretting because I had an early meeting I didn’t want to be late for. He kept threatening to leave without me, which would make me late.

He kept screaming, ‘I am leaving without you!’

I replied over and over, ‘I am ready’

At this point he purposely tipped his coffee all over the kitchen floor and said ‘You’re not ready, you need to clean the floor.’

It may seem strange. But I didn’t even question why I should clean it up. So, all suited up for work, I got down on the floor to clean the mess he’d made. The whole time with him screaming obscenities at me and threatening to leave, saying, ‘If you don’t care about being late for your meeting, why should I?’

I felt panicked, I felt degraded, but what could I do? This had become my normal.

Once I cleaned up we left for work. It was about a 30-minute drive. All the way he explained to me how annoying I was and how pathetic my career was. He just went on and on explaining – yes explaining is the right word – how useless I was, how he didn’t understand why they employed me.

When I arrived at work, I felt like I had no place being there, like I was a complete fraud. My boss indicated to me that there was an issue (which was not of my making) that needed my immediate attention. I scrambled to pull my thoughts together, it was hard to simply breathe.

I spent the next few hours talking with the relevant people about the issue, then I had to have that meeting I was supposed to have at 8am. By the time I sat down in my office it was past lunchtime. There was no opportunity to catch my breath, because I needed to catch up on the work I’d missed in the morning.  As manic as the day had been I loved my job, it was my happy place.

At 6pm my partner called to see if I was ready to go home. He started screaming about how selfish I had been that morning, and how he shouldn’t have to live like that.

I knew that night was going to be awful. He was angry. He was dangerous. At the time I didn’t even know why…? My brain was so muddled and confused. I didn’t understand what I had done to make him so angry, but there was no time to figure it out; I only had an hour to think of ways to pacify him.

I was supposed to be in professional mode, and to the best of my ability I was. But I was also living – and working – under the cloud of domestic violence.

The workplace offers two of the crucial things I needed to eliminate the devastating impact the abuse had on my life; financial security and a sense of community. By creating a culture of empathy and understanding, implementing the right policies and training, workplaces truly can be a positive force for change.

Domestic and family violence isn’t just domestic. See how Commonwealth Bank developed a comprehensive family violence policy. Read the case study. 

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