Julie (female)

From a young age to my early teens, I was sexually abused within the family home by my dad and grandad.

For some reason I became the family scapegoat. Perhaps because I was the youngest, less able to stand up for myself, or because my abusers had complete control and power within the family home to behave how they liked. It was not in their interest to empower me. I was there to be used by them. As an adult, I now know that an abused child is always singled out and groomed with equal measures of kindness and then cruelty. They took any sense of stability I may have felt, replacing it with fear and anxiety. I was totally at their mercy. Every photograph of me during this period of time shows an unsmiling, sad-looking little girl. Once I told my mum something my abuser had said to me. She was giving me a bath at the time, I was probably around four or five. She responded with such anger, slapping my legs uncontrollably! Shouting: “Don’t you ever say anything like that ever again!” My legs were red and sore but what hurt the most was her reaction. Whatever her reasons were, I knew from that point on I really was on my own, so in order to survive I split off from my reality.

Having no voice or power gave me an overwhelming sense of anger as I could not protect myself or expect care from an emotionally absent mother. Therefore splitting off or disassociating from my reality became a coping mechanism in a situation too awful to comprehend. Another way of coping was trying to forget.

I have spent most of my life trying to forget what happened to me. Even when flashbacks arrived, I pushed them down so far that they were in the tips of my toes. I wanted to be normal, to be normal like my abusers pretended to be normal. Like nothing had happened, like they had never done those awful things to me; to pretend that they were really loving, kind, respectful, religious family men like they pretended to be to the outside world. Unfortunately their hypocrisy and lies were never judged by another adult, just silent, watchful me – with no power or words to make it stop or to make it fair – so I pretended too. But unfortunately, if you don’t deal with these issues they find a way of seeping out, without you even being aware. For me this happened in the way I felt about myself and in relation to the people around me.

I have always felt not good enough. Not just self-esteem issues that the average person can also struggle with, but a real, bone-crushing devastation in feeling below everyone. Because of the way I was treated, I felt I did not deserve basic human rights. If the people that were supposed to nurture you as a child, sexually abused you, then surely you are unlovable, unworthy and deserve bad things to happen? I am nothing therefore I deserve nothing. As I walked through life feeling like this I had no way of protecting myself emotionally against people who would want to manipulate or hurt me for their own gains. Then if I was treated badly I would not stand up for myself and would try to get away from any conflict. Of course I was angry, but I did not know how to express or channel that anger in a healthy way to protect myself!

As an abused child, pushing the anger down, just like the memories, forms part of your survival pack where you tune out or try to eliminate feelings completely – stay in the fog. What is the point of being angry about what is happening to you or that you are suffering a great injustice? I knew this at the age of four. You then carry these feelings along with you but where does that anger go? Sometimes it erupts for inappropriate reasons or sometimes you drink it away, take drugs or punish yourself with emotionless sex. This anger that I carried for so many years, that very nearly saw me off, was the very emotion that helped to set me free because dealing with your anger is about facing what has happened to you.

You have to face the fog. This fog is built on Fear, Obligation and Guilt. The abusers’ keys to your prison. The fear is not knowing when or where your abuser will pounce on you or how they might threaten you. My abuser used and built on my sense of obligation: on being told how you are being looked after and loved, you are obliged to do things that they want you to do. The guilt is the worst because it’s mixed with shame too. I always felt guilty because I knew what they did to me was morally wrong so I carried their shame. Therefore, to set yourself free, you have to unpack these dense emotions. This is not easy as they have become embedded in your sense of self, so you have to feel that anger of injustice, in order to illuminate your needs and not stay in the fog. To focus on your needs and become your own authority – reclaim your human rights.

I have been receiving counselling now for nearly two years. When I first arrived at One in Four I was practically on my knees! I was having a breakdown as I couldn’t go to work or function normally. Once the counselling began, I went on a long journey of self-discovery. Yes there was real pain, but slowly this developed into my recovery. I feel my parents trained me to deny my feelings so it was like reclaiming the right to feel and express myself. One in Four gives you tools to help you deal with age-old patterns, helps you to connect to the real you, the one that was hidden. You remove all masks and view the world as yourself – totally equal, self-knowing, with empathy for yourself. My abusers are now dead so I cannot seek legal recompense but I have rewarded myself through my own recovery.

I had to tell my children as I was acting so differently and didn’t want them to think it was something to do with them. It was the best thing I could have done, obviously, I didn’t go into too much detail, just enough for them to understand. To the best of my ability I give them a happy, nurturing home environment because even though I may not have had one, I certainly know what one is. My husband already knew from bits of information I have given him over the years. He is such a supportive, kind, caring man who loves me no matter what. I often think how clever I was choosing a man who loved me rather than denying myself that right too. While I was recovering, I told certain friends but I’m always careful not to over share, because I do not have to have my experience authenticated by anyone.

Childhood sexual abuse is the ultimate betrayal, as the very people that are supposed to love, nurture and care for you are the ones who place you in a living nightmare. I have a strong, powerful voice now that can say how awfully my family behaved towards me. That simple statement has taken me a long time to say, but it’s freed me. My recovery has changed everything for me. I feel happier than I ever have. Of course I have sad days, especially when you see images of caring families, but I know it’s me mourning for the childhood I didn’t have, and I have high hopes for my future.

The statistic for childhood sexual abuse is one in four so there are many of us. Counselling works, this is a simple fact and with specialists like One in Four, many adults living with the pain of childhood sexual abuse can be helped so they can have the life they were supposed to have.