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‘Everyone has a story to tell’

Elise Brooke talks about how she found a way to heal through creativity.

A life of abuse and trauma caused Elise Brooke to find a way to heal. She turned to poetry and has published two books under a pen name, Sheila Smith. Reporter Matai O’Connor spoke with Elise about her journey and how she ended up in Gisborne . . .

“My parents came to New Zealand from England and South Africa to create their New Zealand dream, which quickly turned into my New Zealand nightmare.”

Elise was born in Napier and grew up in Flaxmere. Her parents divorced when she was 4 years old and Elise stayed with her mother. Elise says her mother had mental health problems that she never sought help for, and it got worse over the years.

“She tried to deal with those things herself but it negatively impacted on mine and my brother’s life.”

Elise was born in 1977 and her brother was adopted at six months of age.

When Elise moved to Flaxmere as a five year old, she says it exposed her to the underbelly of New Zealand.

“There were many gangs, violence and drugs in the neighbourhood.”

Elise was introduced to alcohol — binge drinking — and drugs when she was 14.

At 16 she fell in love with someone she calls Blue. He was five years older and quickly became toxic.

“I was binge drinking and my younger brother started to associate with gangs.

“He ended up in jail at 17 years old,” Elise said. “He was going down a bad path, and so was I.”

At times, she says life was all about surviving each day.

“There were times we didn’t have a place to sleep. My boyfriend and I would sleep wherever it was warm.”

She got a job at KFC while at high school and eventually left home.

They ended up getting a flat together, but Blue became addicted to hard drugs.

Elise moved to Palmerston North and started doing a makeup course.

“It was 1995, and Palmerston North was student party town. There was a lot of binge drinking and I was getting told off by lecturers

“They told me I was burning the candle at both ends, so I started working harder but did not stop partying.”

She passed the course and became a makeup artist. She decided to do more studying and learned about modelling.

For a while Elise was modelling for EziBuy which helped to pay off her student loan.

She ended up in Hamilton working for a salon but it went out of business.

Her boyfriend cheated on her and for Elise, “that was it, I was done with him”.

“I had been there for him all the time and he did that to me.”

Elise moved back to Hawke’s Bay and found a small flat to rent in Hastings.

Recognising the red flags in abusive relationships

She met Jason and he moved in with her. Some red flags started to appear. People Elise did not know were visiting, and soon the verbal abuse began, along with people stealing from her.

But the couple worked through their issues and decided to leave Hastings.

Unexpectedly, she became pregnant with her first child Bella.

They moved to Hawera. But things deteriorated as Jason started to become more abusive, smashing things in anger and scaring her.

“He had a horrible temper and it got worse.”

He threw a pram at her while she was holding Bella, and so Elise left.

She bought a house in Te Puke but Jason would visit his daughter and problems arose.

A friend had a room available to rent, which Elise took.

The friend was a man called Alister who tried to win her over with romantic poetry.

“It was going really well. Things started to progress with him.”

She spent the night with him, and soon found out she was pregnant with her second child. Bella was three.

“It was a complete shock. I didn’t think I would be able to have a second child because of health issues I have, but it happened.”

Unfortunately, Alister was not as lovely as Elise thought. Patterns of behaviour she was familiar with began to emerge.

She moved into a caravan while she decided what to do next.

Another hurdle was soon to present itself. Bella’s father filed for custody and Elise spent weeks putting together a case against him. She was successful.

Throughout this time, she was being threatened by Alister and he became physically abusive.

She would tell the police most times and a file was created with all the situations Elise reported.

“There were many times I went to the police showing death threats and proof of abuse, and they never took it seriously.”

She sold the Te Puke house and moved to Tauranga, where she started training to become a nurse. She bought a house there and worked as a nurse for 18 years.

Her son Conor was getting older now and was asking to see his father. Alister wormed his way back into her life.

She put up with continued abuse from Alister for eight years, each time believing his promises that he would not drink, or do drugs, or become violent again. But he did.

She left Alister and told him to not bother coming back.

But the trauma and stress had taken its toll. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and had multiple blood clots in her legs. This meant she was not able to work.

Her mortgage insurance expired and she needed help. Alister had isolated her from her friends. The only person she could call was him.

“I had no one else to turn to.”

Alister — and his mother — moved in to help but that created its own problems.

After a fight which ended with Alister trying to strangle her, she at last decided to reclaim her power.

She never let Alister or his mother into her life again.

Elise sold the house in Tauranga and found a safe and secure flat underneath another home.

“I was surrounded by people. I was safe. If anything happened, someone would see it or hear it, and I told no one where I lived.”

Finding a safe haven, reclaiming her life

This flat became her safe haven. Her clots had dissolved and she was able to carry on with life. However, she could not work full time any more because of damage to her legs and fibromyalgia.

“I did not know who I was any more. I had been in so many abusive situations that I had lost who I was.”

Anxiety and low self-esteem were horrible, Elise said.

She decided to share her story and created the pen name Sheila Smith.

After a few years, Elise went back out into the world, doing small things to begin with, to feel like herself again.

“Like practising self-love and care, I used poetry, music and spiritual beliefs.”

She took a trip to South Africa to discover her roots on her mother’s side. She worked with the big five animals on a game reserve with other volunteers. Here she discovered how happy she could be following her passion. She realised she had not been truly happy for so long.

She decided to create profiles on social media sites and started to connect with old friends and make new ones. She left her nursing job to write full time.

Her children are grown up now and her brother works on a farm with her son.

“He is on the straight and narrow now.

“It makes me feel so happy and proud to see how far my brother and both my children and I have come. My biggest supporter is my fiancé Tony, he is my rock.”

About 16 months ago she moved to Gisborne. She started a website called www.mynzdreamblog.com where she shares her stories, poems and interviews, and collaborates with other authors. She is a writing coach with 24 years experience who can help people find healing through writing their story.

Her main focus is to write her life story and get it published, so others out there who are experiencing similar things know they are not alone.

“I hope someone gets inspired or finds some hope from this, whatever they need. I never had those things, so I wish others did.

“Book three, the finale in the series, will show you how I have overcome the obstacles in my life, coming out the other side and am now in a healing space.

“It is due out this year.”

Sheila’s books are available in the HB Williams library and to order through her website, or email elisebrooke771@gmail.com, and on Amazon.

“Everyone has a story to tell, this is mine.”

HEALING: Elise Brooke goes by the pen name Sheila Smith and shares her stories of abuse to let others out there know they are not alone. Picture by Liam Clayton