Sarah Dowie isn't going to be anybody's victim. Hell, no. She's leaving politics on her terms, her way, after winning back the right to stand again as National MP for Invercargill.
She's chosen to leave because she had a Christmas "epiphany" and decided "winning" was being there for her children, watching them grow, building a business lobbying for Southland.
Winning was also being Invercargill's first female MP and getting through to the city she loves that her foolishness with Jami-Lee Ross wasn't the sum of her being.
"Let's just cut to the chase, right. If you're a p***k, people are not going to forgive you. People are not going to make allowances.
"I'm just like any normal New Zealander. I'm human. I have my limits. I make decisions that are really poor decisions. I make some really good decisions.
"But regardless, whoever we are, you have to move forward, you have to learn your life lessons and put them into practice."
There would be few - if any - MPs in New Zealand's political history who have had their private lives explode in such a public way.
In February last year, Dowie was revealed as the National MP who had been in a relationship with Jami-Lee Ross, the party's former front-row star whose actions led to a personal meltdown and his own political exile.
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Her exposure was due to a text message she sent at 1.19am on August 11, 2018. At the time she sent it, she says she was angry. She may also have been drinking - she won't say but she won't deny. You work it out, she says.
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The text message began and continued with a string of personal insults aimed at Ross and ended with the words: "You deserve to die."
"It was just anger, you know. It was a spur of the moment, rash, basically 'I don't like you' mean text. 'I don't like you and I don't like what you've done and I'm going to tell you about'.
Dowie says now: "It was a stupid decision to send that text message but equally it was a stupid decision to get involved with him. But we all make mistakes."
There were months between August 2018 and Dowie's public exposure in January 2019, which came when the Herald revealed she was under criminal investigation by police because of that message.
In the time between, Ross was exposed as undermining leader Simon Bridges by leaking sensitive details, been turfed out of the National Party, accused the party of dodgy financial dealings, and apologised to "hurt" caused while admitting relationships with women outside his marriage.
During that time, also, Dowie's role as one of the women he had been seeing became the worst-kept secret in New Zealand. It was there to find on social media. Ross almost blurted her name over the airwaves during a NewstalkZB interview.
It left Dowie having to find a way to carry on as Invercargill's MP, known to have had a relationship outside her marriage, which was now over.
It's a conservative place, Southland, with its Presbyterian Scottish roots. It was a tough place to be Dowie, on a bleak and cold evening with a bitter spring wind, turning up to face a political meeting of National Party members.
The Herald was there in November 2018, at a parking lot in suburban Invercargill, when Dowie squared her shoulders, put on a smile and went inside an op shop for a meeting of party faithful in a back room.
"I'm not going to sugar coat it," she says. "It's very hard, when you know that people are talking about you, to do your job.
"It was challenging … You just show up and do your job and you've got to trust in the fact that the firestorm will move on eventually and you will walk through it."
The rumours couldn't be confronted openly, she says. Early on, Dowie and trusted local supporters organised a meeting for party members. She deliberately didn't turn up, allowing those who attended to vent "anger" and ask questions without it blowing back on her or the party.
"You've got to get people to run through the emotion of a shock when something comes out about your MP."
That anger passed once "people could see it for what it was". "They could see I had shook myself off, put one foot in front of the other, that I had done the job well prior, I was doing the job well then and I was going to do the job well in future.
Strong support from Southland's National Party board member Rachel Bird helped, as did then-deputy leader Paula Bennett who turned up early in the crisis at local meetings, showing there was support from high in the party.
Dowie planned her way through it, she says. She describes herself as optimistic and an empathetic enthusiast for people, but - as her law and science degree suggest - also analytical.
"I parked the emotion and ran with the analytical and planned out the steps that I had to take to build confidence, again, not only in myself, but trust in the membership and the public and move forward."
That was more so after the police complaint over the text message, which Ross denies having made. It's fair to say Dowie disagrees with his version of events.
And at this point in the story, it's useful to explain exactly what Dowie says she came back from.
End of the affair
Asked how long the relationship went on, Dowie says: "It went on for too long."
When she talks of Ross and the psychologically "abusive relationship" she was in, she uses the terms "love bombing" and "gaslighting".
Love bombing is overwhelming - bombing - an intended partner with adoration and signs of affection or attraction. If the target of the affection leans into it, then the sudden withdrawal can be destabilising. Gaslighting is named for a stage play in the 1930s, in which a husband attempts to convince his wife she is insane by subtly dimming the lights in their home.
The effect of both is typically to emotionally and psychologically unsettle the focus of attention, creating self-doubt and low self-esteem.
And that's where Dowie says she got to. Ross has not responded to requests for comment, but it's a mode of behaviour described by women who were the focus of his attentions in a 2018 Newsroom article that led to his admissions of having multiple relationships outside his marriage.
So when Dowie says the relationship ended early 2018, extricating herself from it and being free of "that cycle of extreme highs and extreme lows and that unstable footing" isn't as simple as walking away.
"There's quite an emotional process that goes with it. So there would be days that my self-esteem was so incredibly low.
"And many people ask, well, how can an intelligent woman with two degrees fall for that? It happens over time. The highs are never as high and the cycle gets shorter and shorter and it slowly evens out over time until it's just a horror, basically.
"Even though I was avoiding him and desperately trying not to interact with him, there were still periods of pull where I knew logically what was going on but emotionally it was very hard to control."
And Dowie wasn't the only one. Of course, she won't say who else there was.
"I'm not throwing another woman under the bus."
She says Ross was skilled at understanding the insecurities, needs or weaknesses of her and others, and meeting those needs. And then, when he withdrew that attention, it left her flailing for emotional stability.
"I made far too many excuses for him and didn't acknowledge the anomalies and a lot of things that occurred and I should have done it sooner," she says.
"But when you're in it and you want to see the best in people and you want to believe it, it clouds your judgment, unfortunately."
After the relationship stopped, she says Ross sought opportunities to re-engage and she says she avoided anything to do with him. She says it was also impossible to have an argument with him because he insisted on always being right.
There's a clear link, she believes, to the behaviour she experienced in their relationship and that which led Ross to undermine Simon Bridges as National Party leader with calculated leaks. She thinks Ross was determined he knew the right strategies to employ, policies to pursue, positions for the party, and he would argue those forcefully.
But when Bridges chose a different path, Dowie claims Ross would have been determined to exact a price for not being listened to.
When the travel expenses were leaked, she says, "I just knew it was him." She sought advice from colleagues, who urged her to pass on what she believed to be true "and that's when it all started to unravel".
The end of the relationship was fraught, she says, because of the close relationship Ross had with former Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater. There were some posts that she considers attacked her, and she worried over what might come next.
Ross spoke at the time of the allegations levelled by four women, disputing the way the claims were presented but apologising for the "hurt" he has caused the women.
Referring to being accused of inappropriate behaviour from a married MP and the revelations of the affairs, he said: "A scab has been picked on the parliamentary personal issues. It has long been a case where personal matters are kept private, but the rules of the game have changed.
"There's a lot of bed-hopping that goes on down in that Parliament. There's a lot of behaviour that a lot of people would want kept secret and has been kept secret until now. But the way in which we now play politics is that we lift the bed-sheets."
Months after he made the comment, police confirmed there was an investigation into Dowie's text message.
She said she believes the police complaint idea was cooked up by Ross after media didn't name her as the MP who he had been in a relationship with. His complaint might not have been the original one - which police have said was anonymous - but she believes he was linked to that and, contrary to what he claims, he made his own.
Dowie stood there the morning of the Herald story, watching her name scrolling across the television screen "as this woman who had sent this nasty text message".
Faced with that, she thought, "no, we're still going to do our job". And so she did, visiting conservation projects and schools - even one where she was invited to host a class in prose because of, apparently, her ability to turn a phrase.
From there, it was about building towards this year's election.
"I ran like the wind. In some ways I became very pig-headed, or determined, depending on which way you want to look at it. It was almost like, for want of a better term, "up yours" towards all the political commentators and people that have tried to tear me down.
"I thought, 'bugger this, you're not going to get the better of me'. I am going to be the MP for Invercargill at the next election. I ran like the wind and I secured my base.
"I showed up to everything, no matter how it felt, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type stuff and just did the work."
Dowie was selected to run again this year. Polling tells her she would have won. And then, during a central Otago Christmas break which involved biking and children, she realised she was going to walk away.
Part of it was the possibility of three more years in Opposition, where it's hard to get traction for policies and projects you care about.
Even the prospect of being Minister of Conservation - the job she went into politics to get - involved paying a price that suddenly seemed too steep. It would mean five or six days a week away from Invercargill, the most remote of electorates. It would mean constant travel.
"I think about what I want my life to look like, and it's not having an arduous travel regime where you can't form meaningful relationships with the people you love.
"What sort of lifestyle would there have been for my two children? Do I really want to continue on the mouse wheel at Parliament and then wake up one morning when they're teenagers and I don't know them?
"Yes I am ambitious. Yes, I want to do well in my career, but at what expense?"
And so she decided to walk away and find another way to live.
Dowie has pride in the job she has done during her time in politics. With fellow MP Nick Smith, she got changes to the KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme that made it easier for constituents to buy their own homes. She chaired a select committee and worked hard on constituency issues, the unsung labour of electorate MPs. She championed aquaculture, gaining traction even in Opposition and fought for Southland.
She's going to work as a consultant championing Southland and shepherding policy through Parliament and through local government.
"I can analyse policy and understand the political framework down here in Southland and Otago, and that triangle between Dunedin and Queenstown and Invercargill."
It will see Dowie wrangling the aspirations and ideas of Southland into a form that will glide past legislation and regulation without getting caught and stuck on the way through.
"That's why I got into politics in the first place anyway - to help people and to be a fierce advocate for Southland."