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She is not your Rehab by Matt Brown with Sarah Brown

She is not your Rehab is an inspirational book on how to end the cycle of domestic violence which is so prevalent in our society.

It had its beginnings in Matt Brown’s humble tin-shed barbershop in a backyard in Aranui, Christchurch. Many of his customers were victims of domestic violence like himself, often as a result of prolonged and intergenerational abuse. So, as well as a haircut, he provided a safe and supportive space for these men to share their stories. After an emotional TEDx talk, he and his wife Sarah started She is not your Rehab which has grown into a global anti-violence movement. This book, which they co-authored, followed.

Matt does not judge these men and walks beside them as a brother who knows and understands what they are going through. But his message to them is loud and clear. Their childhood trauma was not their fault but regardless of what any-one has done to them, now is the time to take responsibility for their own healing. By showing his own vulnerability and sharing his story and some of his clients he shows them that it can be done.

I found it deeply moving and it reduced me to tears several times. Matt and his brothers were frequently given hidings and humiliated by their alcohol fuelled father. They stood helplessly by as his mother was subjected to vicious beatings. His father was regularly locked up in police cells and had a spell in goal but on returning home the cycle would start all over again.’ He’d trash the house in another violent outburst, and she’d clean it up with a bruised face.’

Matt was sexually abused by a Catholic priest at his school and raped by an uncle when he was 13. By the time he was a teenage boy he was suicidal and did not trust anyone. His story could have ended badly had it not been for a youth worker who he reached out to and who really listened to him with empathy. It made him feel more powerful and was the starting point of his healing journey. It has been no easy ride and required grit and determination. But he had Sarah beside him to support him when he felt he was drowning. His children are loved and safe with him and he is proud that he broke the cycle of abuse for them.

In the chapters which follow he covers the many aspects of domestic violence, introduces the people and concepts that have helped him to heal and gives readers the tools they need to begin their own journeys.

New Zealand has the highest rate of domestic violence among OECD countries, a shameful statistic, so this is a timely and important book. It is happening everywhere regardless of wealth and status but much of it remains unreported and hidden. It has happened in our whānau too so I well know the pain it can cause.

Whānau too will benefit from reading She is not your Rehab. Matt writes "This is a movement for whānau, because if men take responsibility for their own healing that will heal the whole family and if women take responsibility for their own healing and do not rescue men that will heal the whole family, because our kids are watching."

One story that stayed in my mind is how onlookers did nothing when they saw his father punching his mother in broad daylight outside their house. When she fell on the ground, he dragged her by her hair back into their house.

To end the cycle of domestic violence in our community we all have a part to play. And being a good neighbour or friend can help.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Penguin $35