I come from a middle class family. My sisters and I were raised by babysitters, childcare workers and then a nanny while my parents earned enough money to pay for a comfortable life for us all. My parents thought that paying someone else to raise us while they worked for 10 times that amount was worth it for the future of our family. It wasn't.
I was sexually, physically and emotionally abused. I was abused from when I was 5½ until when I was 10½ years old. I was abused by a woman, her husband and her brother. These people were supposed to care for my sisters and I. They were entrusted with our wellbeing, and instead they crushed our spirits.
Abuse damages people immensely irrespective of when it happens, how it happens, or how old you were when it happens. It has resounding affect on who you are. It changes you in ways you still won't realise for many years. The lasting effects of abuse are even more painful because there is often no physical scars to show the damage that has occurred; there is no exterior sign to show people you are fragile and need help.
The people who abused me were sadistic pedophiles with no compassion. They were also Jehovah's Witnesses with a religious exterior and an involvement in their community. She was a childcarer, her husband was a bartender, her brother was a doctor. They presented an immaculate façade. They contorted my life so extremely that I do not remember vast periods of my life right up until my late teens when I sought psychological help.
I was raped, drugged, held underwater, suffocated, locked in rooms, starved, beaten, made to eat feces and drink urine. I was forced to perform sexual acts on all three of them. I was tied up and I was put in car boots while they shopped or went to (her husband's) bar to get my baby sister drunk. My sisters suffered different abuse; they were abused emotionally and physically. I was at an age when they could groom me and then abuse me horrifically, so they did. When they met me, I was also a child used to being ignored, a child used to being shunted, a child who did not have a strong attachment to anyone. This makes it easier to abuse a child, and I was a prime candidate because my parents were so disconnected.
I thought this was all normal. I thought everyone had someone who played heavy metal music at maximum volume while they raped you on a towel. I thought everyone had to keep secrets from other adults or else you would be killed.
I went to friend's houses and it was normal there too; one friend's dad had a tattoo on his penis which he liked to show us and ask us to touch it. Her 5 brothers all did the same. Another friend's grandfather would ask us to sit on his lap and he would fondle us and then digitally rape us as he read to us. This was life. I would have swapped their lives for mine, though- it seemed they had it easier.
As a teenager I was a self-mutilator, writing dark poetry and smearing it with my own blood. I became bulimic and then vacillated between anorexia and bulimia. I attempted suicide and I tried any drugs I could. I slept with anyone who looked at me, starting when I was 13. I got drunk as often as possible and I was raped at parties when I was too drunk to fight back. I teetered on the edge for so many years that it was normal for me. I felt dead inside and I thought it was normal. I slept with men older than my father with little understanding of the way I was continuing the abuse. In my last year of school, I lived on the couches of other people, in the apartments of men I had just met, and for a few days in the back of a ute when I had nowhere else to go. I was adrift and I did not know how to anchor myself. It seemed I had always been adrift.
I am still recognising the way the abuse I endured has affected my life in ways I never considered.
I underwent intensive psychotherapy, using so much of my weekly salary as a waitress that I barely had enough for rent. I would rather go without food than go without my psychologist. She was the one person who helped me understand myself, understand what had happened, process the years of hurt. Without her, I would not have made it to 20. But I did. I struggled through, trying to make sense of it all, trying to find a reason to live. I attempted suicide one more time when I was 22, sick of the suicidal thoughts and the bleakness of my life. I decided that if I managed to live, then I would throw myself into trying to live. My older sister saved me, finding me on the edge of a creek on the edge of unconsciousness and racing me to hospital. I survived. Just as I have been surviving for almost my whole life.
I don't expect a medal, or pity, or even understanding. I don't make excuses for myself because I was abused, nor do I allow myself to be a victim. I made a choice- I decided that I was going to make a difference. I was abused, but that did not make me who I am today. It is a part of me, and it always will be, but it is no longer how I frame myself.
I parent my children with love and attachment. I make sure they feel safe and secure so that when they are older, if anyone approaches them or tries to abuse them then they know that it is wrong, know they should scream, know that it is wrong, know they can come to me. I am present in my children's lives. I do not let strangers look after my children, I do not leave my children with anyone I do not know, I am hyper-vigilant. I cannot imagine leaving my children to be raised by others at all- let alone from when they are small. My children know they are loved. My children will not be raised by other people because they have a mother, and no money is worth missing my children's childhoods. I will not make the same mistakes my parents made, trading money for our childhoods.
Today, everywhere I go I meet other women and men who have been abused. Often, survivors tend to gravitate towards each other. It saddens me to think of the vast number of people I know who have been abused as children. Yet, the majority of survivors I know are strong people who have overcome adversity. They are amazing people who have hurt in their hearts but love in their eyes. They try to help others because they were never helped. I hope I do the same.
Today, my parents still refuse to acknowledge that abuse we all suffered. I am manifesting these memories, recreating my childhood, fabricating these ideas. They are terrified of facing the harsh reality of their mistakes. So I am the one who has to validate myself, I am the one who has to be strong enough to stand up and say this: I was abused, I was hurt, and it was wrong. No child should have to suffer, no child should be abused. And yet I did, but I survived. It would have been nicer to have experienced my childhood rather than simply survived it, but you cannot undo what is done. All you can hope to do is heal the wounds until they no longer hurt.
If you suspect someone is being abused, whether they are an adult or a child, please report it. You could be making a world of difference.
Here are some links for those who need some guidance:
I have a few great books on processing and healing the effects of childhood sexual abuse; for those who would like to borrow them please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org