A courageous woman, similar in age to me, emailed her story to me following one of my mental health presentations. I wept as I read the words. I wanted to reach through my screen, scoop her in my arms, tell her I believed her, that she was safe, and let her repeat her story as many times as she needed. Life can be cruel as it was in this woman’s life. The behaviour of her family members is inexcusable. As you will read, the undeserved abuse of several types over a period of years wrecked her life. She has given me permission to share her story with you. Can she answer myriad questions about who, what, why, when, where? Probably, but even if she could not, her story is true and the abuse was real.
I grew up with an alcoholic father who abused me physically, emotionally and sexually. “Everyone” knew about the abuse, but no one spoke about it. I was sexually abused from a young age until I was in my teens. Tragically, other family members and relatives abused me as well. I lived in a state of constant fear, wondering what horrible thing was going to happen next.
“She listens at doors and around corners. She has always had this habit.
A child in danger must learn to pay more attention
to the adults than a child loved and cherished.”
I tried to tell my mother about the abuse when I was very young. Was she understanding and supportive? No, she believed an uncle who told her a different story and she punished me instead. When I was older, I tried to tell mother what had happened a second time but, once again, she refused to believe me. I kept the abuse a secret until I was in my twenties. Food became my source of comfort.
“Abuse is never deserved,
it is an exploitation of innocence and physical disadvantage,
which is perceived as an opportunity by the abuser.”
My first counselor was a church pastor. After two visits, I wrote down the painful things that had happened in the past and were haunting me still. His response? He concluded that considering the circumstances, I was doing well and no longer needed counseling. I gave a copy of my story to my pastor’s wife and told her I was not all right. After all, she was the one who had encouraged me and had set up the counseling sessions in the first place. She tried to help me until I could find another counselor. Thankfully I found an understanding lady who worked with for more than a decade and she saw me through several crises.
“People don’t always need advice.
Sometimes, all they really need is a hand to hold,
an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.”
— Leo Busgalia —
As well, I was seeing my family doctor and a psychiatrist from CAMH, formerly the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, who came to my city. Three of the doctors I saw were convinced I would be fine if prescribed the correct combination of drugs. They failed. Another doctor once told me to pull up my socks and to get on with life. What did he know? I told him I don’t wear socks and, furthermore, I haven’t killed myself. It was at that point that he finally took me seriously. Over the years, I have tried art therapy, individual therapy, group therapy which provided some relief.
However, a couple of obstacles remain to this day. First of all, is my relationship with my mother. Although I rarely see her, there are times that I run into her at family birthdays. Being in her presence throws me into a state of panic and fear. Although I have forgiven her, I do not want her in my life. My mother has two very different sides: one for the public and a totally different one behind closed doors. Second, I struggle with nightmares and night terrors. I have begun to take a medication that is supposed to help with that which, hopefully, will make a difference.
I discovered a male relative was accused of abusing a stepchild. The case had been in the courts for two years before I learned about it. Family members who knew about it thought it would be too painful for me – more secrets. The abuser was sentenced to eighteen months in jail, but released after just six months. Because of this, I made the decision to take my father to court which angered some the family, in spite of all we had suffered. Most of us had not seen him in over thirty years. When he died, everyone, except me, went to the funeral. To this day, some of them cannot understand why I chose not to go.
Depression has played a major role in my life. One doctor I saw believed I had lived with a low-grade depression all my life. I have always put on a happy face in spite of what was happening.
I was extremely blessed to find a supportive family to live with. I was their live-in nanny/housekeeper. Later on I looked after the family’s grandparents. For the past nineteen years I have lived with them, but worked as a nanny for other families. It has provided a stable, healthy home life for me. During times that I could not cope, the lady I worked for sat in emerge waiting for me while I talked to the crisis worker.
I believe the joy I have found working with children has kept me going. Having a job allows me to take responsibility. I have great friends who understand.
I have only ever been in one serious relationship, but I found the closeness unbearable. At the time, I was not on top of my depression. The relationship lasted for a number of years until I broke it off and broke his heart.
In the past, Church has been a positive influence in my life. A lot of the people in the church seemed to care about me. Then the governing body closed down the church based on hearsay. It resulted in another “loss” in my life because we were not given an opportunity to express our opinions. We lost something very important when the church closed. While I still have a relationship with God, I have no plans to become involved in organized church again. I have experienced enough pain and hurt for a lifetime.
I believe depression is the result of my abusive past, being without a partner, and never having the children I so desperately yearned for.
Where am I today? I believe the joy I have found working with children has kept me going. Having a job allows me to take responsibility. I have great friends who understand. I get up in the morning, take a hand full of pills and keep on going. It helps to know that others are travelling on the same journey, even if we are taking different paths.
“To anyone who has experienced abuse,
your story matters and you deserve to tell it
and receive support & kindness in return.”