*TRIGGER WARNING* The following article contains discussion about child sexual abuse. 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
“Stories Can Save Lives”: Deb’s Story of Survival
My name is Deb, and I grew up in the 70s and 80s on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. I have always thought of myself as nobody of much importance, as throughout my life I have had such low self-esteem, felt that I wasn’t smart enough, worth enough, important enough, all due to my childhood sexual abuse and being negatively controlled from a very young age.
My abuser was a family member and this has added an extra layer to my trauma as I had to be around them most of my life and they had a lot of access to me in my own home.
I didn’t go through the normal stages a healthy, carefree child would go through and this changed me as a person growing up. It made me feel unsafe, anxious, confused, self-doubting and generally a people pleaser, as this was how I was programmed to be during my formative years. I developed health issues such as IBS, struggled with anxiety and depression at times and also panic attacks.
My journey was one of not only childhood sexual abuse, but also being muted from saying anything as an adolescent and throughout most of my adult life. Having been abused and then suffering through my trauma without any help from my family, was a very confusing and soul-destroying time. The problem is with this kind of intra-familial abuse (child sexual abuse that occurs within a family environment), hiding the secret becomes more important than the child, and that’s a very sad reality present in a lot of homes.
The ways in which I have grown and healed are by educating myself about what happened to me. I watched programs similar to what I went through, I’ve been to psychologists since I was in my 20s and I have read books about abuse and how trauma plays out in our lives. I’ve also had a lot of friends and other extended family members go through abuse and I have seen how their lives have been changed forever. This has prompted me to push through my own struggles to try and help others.
I truly feel that we need to know as much as possible if we want to heal, and although at times we may feel triggered, if we don’t deal with our mind, our bodies will find a way to do it for us with things like anxiety and panic attacks.
Exercise and meditation have been very beneficial to relieve my anxiety. I go for a 5km walk every second day and do Pilates. I’ve also just finished writing a book about my experience. It’s made me feel as though I am worthy and smart and all the things I’ve always doubted about myself have been silenced finally. My goal now is to get my book published and help other survivors move forward as I have.
The most important message I would like to get through to other survivors is that this is not your secret! It’s your story, and stories are for telling, and most importantly STORIES CAN SAVE LIVES.
I would also say to other survivors who may have guilt from their experience – AT NO TIME WERE YOU RESPONSIBLE! You were a child and did not have the capacity to give consent for someone to do what they did to you. This is so important for other survivors to hear and understand and until they do understand this message, they will continue to blame themselves, as I did.
I have spent the last eight years now away from my perpetrator/abuser and although this was a difficult process at first, I am now able to move on with my life and find my voice to help others still stuck in their ‘rabbit hole’.
I have so much more to say and hope to get my book published and also become an advocate to personally help other survivors.
I believe the only way out – is through xx