*TRIGGER WARNING* The following story deals with child sexual assault, and discussion of self-harm and suicide.
If you need to talk to someone, please call Bravehearts’ Support Line on 1800 272 831 (Mon to Fri, 8:30am-4:30pm AEDST) or Lifeline (24hrs) 13 11 14
Aged thirteen, I was sexually assaulted by my father for the first time.
It was 1979. No internet. No Bravehearts. Just sex education at school and parents that taught us nothing, other than to be embarrassed about sex.
The assault continued for two years. No one knew. Not one person noticed the changes. There was not one person I could turn to for help. I thought I must have done something to start this, I must be bad, really bad.
Sex education had taught me this was stuff you only did when you were married. I wasn’t married so I thought must be bad. He wasn’t my husband so I thought I must be bad.
My dad told me that if I told anyone, he would go to jail. My family would break up as a result and it would be my fault.
I began to self-harm and I thought of suicide daily, but a friend of the family worked in prisons and I would overhear conversations about failed attempts and that sounded really scary. So, I found a way to disassociate from my body; to distract myself from what was happening to me, and to protect myself the only way I knew how to.
I was physically there, but emotionally I wasn’t. How does a 13-year-old know how to control their mind in that way? Every survivor that I’ve spoken with has told me they worked out their own way to minimise the psychological pain.
When I was 40, my past crept up behind me. It all came back. Apparently, that’s normal. When life finally goes quiet – career and assets set up, children fairly independent, divorced – you have time to think.
Eventually, I saw my doctor and within two hours of seeing him, I was sitting in front of my first psychologist who helped me immensely with the shame, especially in relation to my physical body betraying me as a teenager. The shame I’d attached to that was crippling as I’d figured it meant I’d enjoyed it.
I learned so much about my journey and begun to understand all the ways it was still affecting me from self-esteem and trust to less obvious things like not having clear boundaries, feeling unable to speak when emotional, putting up with my husband’s string of affairs for the sake of my children, coming across to strangers as intimidating, and over-reacting when feeling threatened.
Fifteen years of studying, and getting therapy and coaching, I’ve learned the gift of using my voice to speak up for myself and others when something is not right.
I’ve learned that I am 100% in control of who does what to my body and when. I’ve learned that vulnerability is the ultimate strength so I reach out and share my story. I ask for help knowing the people I trust will believe me and won’t see me as weak. I’ve learned to acknowledge how amazing I am.
The ultimate gift is that I now help other survivors.
My hope is that if you were sexually assaulted as a child and haven’t got help yet, you have the courage to reach out to someone. Every time you speak, it gets easier. I’ve been careful about who I spoke to and I’ve never had anyone not believe me. I’ve only ever received love, understanding and support. This has given me the courage to eventually get professional help and devote fifteen years to my healing journey. Now I am privileged to help others on their journey.