“I had a relatively unremarkable upbringing in Sydney until my teens when I adopted the punk look and attitude. I wore only black, collected tattoos, drank too much and had a string of deadbeat boyfriends. At age 23, I met Mark.
“Mark Alexander-Erber came into my life like a tornado. I had never before met anyone with such dynamism. He was seven years older than me and had charisma that I found intoxicating. We were engaged within a month.
“Part of my attraction to Mark was his entrepreneurial drive. He often talked of his vision to develop a chain of pubs across Sydney. Swept along by his dream, we borrowed money from friends and family and invested in our first pub.
“That pub turned into a string of them and, for the first five years of our marriage, it seemed as if everything we touched turned to gold. Almost overnight Mark became a millionaire responsible for one of the most successful pub brands in the city and I slipped effortlessly into the affluent world of the Sydney housewife, complete with mansions and expensive cars.
“At 27 I fell pregnant. I gained weight, had mood swings and, as my pregnancy progressed, I took more of a back seat in the business. My husband began to gradually drift away from me. Our son Oscar* was born in 2003 and things between Mark and I became increasingly strained. It wasn’t until Oscar was 18 months old that I pieced together the truth. For the past six months Mark had been having an affair.
“The hurt was unbearable. I confronted him, we fought and he moved out. I struggled with feelings of violation, deception and disgust. I went into survival mode, parented as best I could and got a job to support myself. Soon I was self-reliant again – both financially and emotionally. Predictably, that was when Mark came crawling back, full of remorse.
“I forgave him and we tried to continue as if nothing happened. Once again I was swept away in a cloud of Porsche smoke, passing my time with afternoon cocktails and extravagant canapés.
“But despite the luxury, I wasn’t happy. Although I didn’t recognise it at the time, our marriage was purely transactional. I was choosing material comforts over love and respect and I told myself that I was happy. It didn’t take long for Mark’s eyes to wander again.
“I started to find brothel receipts in his trouser pockets, the smell of other women lingered in his hair and there were lipstick marks on his clothing. But it was me who felt like a whore, like I was prostituting myself for my lifestyle.
“The infidelity continued and our marriage turned abusive. My reaction was to keep spending and bury my head in denial.
“By the time Oscar was three years old, I was pregnant again with our daughter Lily*. While still in hospital following her delivery, my mother phoned warning me not to look at the papers because Mark’s face was plastered all over the news with a young Sydney socialite. She is high profile because she was best friends with – and bridesmaid to – a princess of Denmark. Overnight my marriage went from being a shameful secret to a national scandal. I was followed by paparazzi, harassed by tabloids and mocked in gossip magazines as the ‘scorned wife’. It seemed the entire nation was hungry for every sordid detail of my private life.
“Feeling utterly debased and empty I vowed to leave Mark for good. Only then did I discover that our fortune had been whittled away. We were bankrupt. So there I was with two kids, no husband, no money, no home and no social status. Even my own son rejected me as he chose to stay with his father.
“I had been in therapy for much of my tumultuous marriage and, over that time, my therapist encouraged me to keep a journal. My writing was my outlet... my journal was simply the ramblings of a hurt and dejected wife. Following the publicity and the interest generated by my husband’s latest affair I decided to compile my journal entries into a book. I approached Pan Macmillan Publishers with a sample chapter. They loved it and within 24 hours I had signed a book contract.
“With the money they gave me up front, I took Lily, now two years old, and my last remaining possessions and headed to a small village in Bali. We had been there once on holiday and I remembered it as a beautiful spiritual place. I would be unknown and could live with very little money. Lily went to a local school while I wrote. We lived off the land and we had no hot water and often no electricity.
“Writing my book healed me. The more I wrote, the clearer I was about myself. Seeing my life unfold in the press made me realise where I went wrong. The first entries were full of finger pointing, blame and confrontation. It wasn’t easy... I knew that highlighting my failings and inadequacies for all to read would make me vulnerable. But it also made me real. I never wrote to an audience – all I wanted was to tell the truth. In doing so I worked through the bitterness and discovered a rewarding and therapeutic honesty. I recognised that I didn’t like who I had become. I hated that I had been willing to sell my dignity for a Fendi handbag.
Lost and found
“Once I’d finished writing my book a couple of things happened. First, our shack was broken into and everything I owned from my former life that I had once considered important – expensive jewellery and designer clothes – was stolen. I saw the irony in it and felt it was Bali’s way of cleansing me of my past.
“The second thing that happened was that I met a Dutch divorcée, Fred, who, like me, was in Bali on a journey of self-discovery. We fell in love and once all the media hype died down we got married in 2011. We moved to Dubai, a city we chose because it’s a halfway point between his two teenage girls in Holland and my son in Australia.
“There was a lot of publicity surrounding the launch of my book and I see it, quite literally, as a chapter in my life. Now that I’m in Dubai I feel I’ve come full circle. Once again designer handbags and luxurious cars surround me, but I can see through it all. Writing my book has taught me things money can’t buy – kindness, self-reliance and, above all, honesty. Once you have these nailed, nothing can touch you. The real me is strong and impenetrable.”
All That Shimmers is available from www.amazon.com.