Surviving Abuse – “Abuse”, a word that has long lingered in the depths of my soul. It followed me through every chapter of my life, and brought with it a darkened heart that has spent many years fighting to break free.

I honestly cannot remember when the abuse first began. Probably around the age of 5. If that is true, then it has taken me a full 35 years to finally get to a place where I feel that I am no longer held captive to the unspeakable atrocities that stole away a little girl’s (my) innocence and optimistic faith in humanity’s essential goodness. I’m surviving the abuse.

To some I might just be another statistic, which is horrendously sad because statistics don’t have feelings, thoughts, or a life of their own, let alone a name. I am a person. A friend, a sister, a daughter, a mother and a wife. I have a name and I am  a survivor  here like so many others, surviving my abuse.

For years I asked myself the question – “Why me?”… What had I done to deserve this abuse? How was it my fault? The first perpetrator – I will not grace these men with the term “my abuser”, because the word “my” connotes the idea of “belonging to”, and they sure as hell don’t belong to me in any way, shape or form – stole my innocence, the second stole my hope that some men were good, and the third just reinforced my then broken image of all men being vile, untrustworthy and ruled by their egotistical lusts.

The First Perpetrator

Was a well known and respected man in the community. A leader in our church. He had a seemingly perfect family; beautiful wife, gorgeous children. His daughter and I were friends, and I used to spend a lot of time in their home. His abuse was so subtle, it started with a touch here or there, but slowly became more deliberate. More thought out. Planned. My heart is pounding as I put words to my memories. He got so brazen that he would slip his hand into my costume in the pool whilst family and friends sat nearby. His own children swimming just a metre away.

In the recent past I would find myself looking at pictures of his daughters on Facebook. Pictures of him holding his grandchildren, and wonder if it was just me he destroyed, or did they too share the same secret. Perhaps they were better than me, and his children, unscathed by this vile creature, were worthy of more love and respect than I was. It was then that I unfriended her, not for any fault of her own, but for my own sense of well-being.

The Second Perpetrator

I don’t think I will ever forget this moment. It’s the one memory that burns so sharply I can feel the hurt within the pit of my stomach. I was about 7-years old when it began. He asked me to come sit on his lap, I was wearing a green outfit (funny how certain things stand out when you look back). This person, I trusted. Never did I think he would do this to me over and over again.

Years later, he came to me and asked me for forgiveness. Admitting that what he had done was abhorrent. It’s difficult when this happens, because so many emotions course through your veins. But I chose in that moment to forgive him. Selfishly that forgiveness was for me, not him. I chose to set myself free of his trauma that day.  In a way, I feel pity for him. I guess I am able to say that now. Now that I have healed as best I can.

The Third Perpetrator

I spent so many of my teen years in this house. There were always kids coming and going. For me, it was a safe haven.

I fell asleep one night, and woke up with my friends father in the bed with me. His rough hands all over my body.  At first I thought I was having another nightmare, but soon realized that wasn’t the case. He didn’t rape me, but he did hurt me. He then just got up and left, like nothing had happened. I was too scared to move.

I never set foot in that house again.

Why didn’t I ever say no to these men? Well, I can’t answer that question. So many reasons I’m sure. But if the first question that comes to mind is why I never said “no”, then perhaps the violence of all the abuse that I had endured is much more damaging than one could ever imagine… the question should be; why would anyone ever even have to say “no”?

This abuse, by these three men, happened over a span of years. There are so many memories, so many unwanted moments forged into my mind that I find myself begging to forget. For years I lay awake, trying to pinpoint dates, moments and the shadows that haunted me.

I tried in vain to remove myself from the world. Emotionally and physically I just simply didn’t care. Giving in to anything that would in some way suppress the silent taunts and jeers that stared at me every time I looked in the mirror.

The anger.

I became inconceivably angry, resentful towards anyone and everyone, fighting authority at every turn, vowing that nothing and no-one would ever have a hold over me again. I ruined friendships, got myself into unsavory relationships, pushed people away, put myself in situations that were a danger to my life, and buried myself in a rage so deep it seemed to subsume my every thought… All because I imagined that this would soothe the aching heartbreak I knew.

When that didn’t seem to work, I delved deeper into a life of trying to suppress the trauma. I didn’t care what it was that took the persistent hurt away, even if it was only for a moment, I just wanted the nightmares to stop.

Alcohol seemed to work in the beginning, bare in mind that I was nowhere near the legal age of drinking. When the anesthetic of that died off, I turned to drugs. At that point in my life, I was just so numb, so emotionally dead. Which is ironic, because that was all I ever wanted to feel, but, it didn’t feel any better.

I was an empty shell.

Looking back now, I sometimes wonder to myself… “If I hadn’t managed to break free, would I have ended up dead in a ditch somewhere?” I was a runaway train, totally wrecked and hell-bent on a single direction, destination self-destruction.

Then one night I made a startling decision to try and wrestle back some control. Ironically enough, I was high at the time. Binging on Ecstasy, LSD and Marijuana like it was a mind-numbing Netflix series. But I do remember thinking to myself that night: “Is this it? Is this all I will ever be?”

Making the decision to take ownership of my life was a terrifying reality. I was so entrenched in holding onto my anger. It was all I had, the only way I knew how to survive. But I also knew that I had hit rock bottom, and in order to survive I had to leave the environment I was in. So, I climbed on the first available bus the next morning (because 20 years ago that’s what we did, right?) and headed for home…

I was 20 years old, tired, emotionally destroyed, physically “damaged” and alone.

It took years of counseling and support before I was able to see myself as a “good” person. Someone worthy of love, and worthy enough to be in the presence of others. For so long I had believed that I was too damaged to ever be happy (not that I even knew what happiness actually meant), too broken to ever deserve anything more than what “fate” had so cruelly thrown my way.

Even if, over the years that have followed, I came to believe in some small way that maybe there was a good person within me. Those dark moments, unkind whispered words and physical/sexual degradation are a part of me. They will always be there.  And every now and then, when I am in a low space, there’s a deep hurt. And for a second, just a glimpse of a second, I wonder if I am truly worthy.  That is the sad reality for a person who has endured any kind of abuse. The ghosts never really leave.

Today I share my truth with you. My journey to surviving abuse.  And even though I have dealt with my past and come to love myself, it still hurts. Even though it doesn’t define who I am, these trauma’s, horrific as they were, made me (personally) realize where my true passion lies. Helping others discover their voice and find their own true worth. And if my story helps only one other person know that they are not alone, that they can speak out, they can trust again, heal and feel a true sense of joy, knowing that they are indeed worthy, that alone will be something of immeasurable value to me.

This journey of mine, of surviving abuse has so many chapters, far too many for one post. I am slowly working through my thoughts and how I can turn my pain into a place of healing, not just for me, but for others too. Writing is my therapy, and putting this into words has soothed my soul yet again.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you find yourself in a similar place of surviving abuse, and need some kind of support, please reach out. You are not alone in this.

Jacqui Bester

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