“To my abuser, I now pass on the shame, guilt and hurt that I have carried all these years. This was never mine to own and now it returns to you.”
Bravehearts was recently introduced to a brave young man called Tuia, who has just begun to share his story publicly.
We were struck by Tuia’s honesty and courage and he has kindly granted us permission to share his story in the hope it will give strength to other survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
*TRIGGER WARNING* The following story deals with child sexual assault and exploitation, and discussion of 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
This is Tuia’s story (in his own words)
It’s often easy for people to think they know someone – to see only the surface level and be convinced that this alone tells someone’s story. Whilst I wish this was true, it couldn’t be further from reality; people hurt, suffer and die inside without ever showing a crack.
For the past 12 years this has been my life. I have lived a lie and only let people see what I wanted them to – the kid who did well in school and sport, the kid who was always so strong and brave, the kid who had nothing in the world to be worried about. Every day I would put on a disguise, hold a fake smile, and display a seemingly invincible exterior, all the while being completely broken and dead inside. But now it has finally caught up to me – years of pretending, leaving me in the most difficult time of my life, a time that has almost cost me everything.
Today I am making this post to set myself and my loved ones free of this burden. Free of the pain and suffering I have felt. Free of the shame, guilt and fear I have unfairly carried. And ultimately, free to begin my journey of healing. This is my story, this is who I am and I am no longer going to hide from it.
12 years ago when I was only seven years old I was molested and abused by an older boy. My abuse continued over several years and was not limited only to sexual abuse but also the exposure to vile and damaging pornographic content. I was manipulated to believe that what he did to me was a game and something that I knowingly took part in.
He destroyed my perception of love, friendship and trust. He took everything beautiful and innocent in a child and crushed it in his hands. I was conditioned to feel like this was something I couldn’t speak about, that if anyone ever found out they would no longer love or care for me. For me this was my greatest fear.
“He destroyed my perception of love, friendship and trust. He took everything beautiful and innocent in a child and crushed it in his hands.”
From a young age my mum and I have shared an inseparable bond, an unconditional love like no other. The thought of losing her love broke my heart and was powerful enough to keep me silenced for the past 12 years. All this trauma, all of these images have remained vividly in my mind and have continued to haunt me every day of my life.
From my waking breath to my last thought each night I have been followed by overwhelming anxiety, guilt and shame as a result of my internalisation; an inescapable suffering that I hope no soul ever encounters. As I grew up I tried to forget and suppress these memories, but nothing I did could ever bring me relief.
For the past 12 years I have been completely alone, left to the devices of a mind that had been destroyed and corrupted at such an important developmental stage. Left alone with no one to reassure me of my worries or help piece things together. Worries that have included convincing myself I was going to die of AIDS due to the unprotected sex that was forced onto me.
I spent years questioning my own sexuality because I had not understood it wasn’t my fault and blamed myself for what had happened. This has been my reality, the fears and thoughts I have had to deal with completely alone.
The pain that all these years of silence have caused could never be put into words. I was broken, empty and utterly crippled. I had lost all hope and given up on life. I had convinced myself that the only way to be free again was to end my life; something I have come very close to many times over the years.
I have been living with extreme anxiety, PTSD, paranoia and depression, unknown to anyone else including the people closest to me. Issues so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night. On a daily basis I would vomit, feel nauseous, have headaches, bowel pain, panic attacks, shake, be unable to control my urination just to name a few. I had been seeing a psychologist for my anxiety but wasn’t getting anywhere as I hadn’t told anyone of the abuse, even him. Nothing was ever going to change until I got this out.
Ultimately, in my darkest times the thought of no longer being loved or accepted by my family was no longer more powerful than simply wanting to be happy. The feeling of happiness is something that I have forgotten, something that I have replaced with momentary distraction. So after 12 long years two months, I finally worked up the courage to tell my mum and my partner – the first people ever.
I had expected to be dumped by my girlfriend, kicked out and never spoken to again, but none of that mattered to me, because all I wanted was to finally relieve myself of this burden and try to be happy again. After speaking with them I was speechless to discover that I was loved more than ever and that in no circumstance was this ever my fault – a scenario I never imagined would happen.
“After speaking with them I was speechless to discover that I was loved more than ever and that in no circumstance was this ever my fault.”
The photo you see here was taken at Christmas time just as the abuse was all beginning.
I look at this photo now and all I can see is the innocence, purity and beauty of a young child. The expectation of platonic and unconditional love, the expectation to feel protected and be curious without the fear of being manipulated or taken advantage of. I am reminded of the sparkle in my eyes and how happy and hopeful I was for life.
To seven year-old Tuia, I wish so much that I could hold you tight and reassure you that everything is okay. I wish that I could be there when you were worried or scared and tell you everything you needed to hear. I wish that I could tell you this wasn’t your fault, that you couldn’t consent for what happened to you, that you couldn’t comprehend the consequences of what was done to you. I wish that you knew you could always talk to your mum and would never stop being loved.
But as much as I wish all these things, I can’t change what happened. One of the most difficult things with abuse is accepting that something horrific happened. This is my reality; this traumatic thing happened to me and I will have to live with this for the rest of my life. But happiness is a choice, I may not be able to forget or change what happened to me, but what I can do is choose to be happy and make the most of this beautiful life I am grateful is still mine.
I am in no way ‘fixed’, I am still broken and will be trying to pick up these pieces for the rest of my life. I am still undertaking psychotherapy, now more intense than ever. Over these past few months, I have deteriorated more and more; years of suppression have let themselves out at once.
Each and every day has been a fight for my life. A fight to simply get up out of bed and survive. Because at times that’s all it is – finding the strength to get up, get through the day and make it to the next. But in-spite of all this pain, I feel there is now a glimmer of hope for me that I will get better, that I will overcome this and that I will be happy again.
“I feel there is now a glimmer of hope for me that I will get better, that I will overcome this and that I will be happy again.”
Some of you may not understand why I would want to share something so personal. I can assure you that sharing this isn’t something I am doing for sympathy or personal gain. I am doing this to spread awareness and the hope that maybe my story could save even just one person – one person from blaming themselves for something they couldn’t see wasn’t their fault, one person from being alone and scared, one person from losing all hope and feeling like their life is lost. If I could do any one of these things then all the pain and hurt I have felt would be worth it.
I hope with all my heart that sharing my story will help someone who feels as I once did. I may not have all the answers, I may not have overcome this yet, but I am a survivor and I will keep fighting because he will not win. To my abuser, I now pass on the shame, guilt and hurt that I have carried all these years. This was never mine to own and now it returns to you.
I conclude by reminding everyone of the reality that we all have our own stories and can never truly know what someone is going through. If I could ask anything, it is that we should all remember to be loving, compassionate and kind to one another. Check up on everyone, your friends and family, people you don’t talk to much and even those who seem the strongest out of us all. These acts could be the difference in someone’s life. Thank you.
Tuia’s friends are currently holding a fundraiser in his honour, running 12 marathons in the next 12 months. All funds raised will be donated to Bravehearts.
Please show your support by donating today.
You can connect with Tuia on Instagram @tuia___
If you need support, please call Bravehearts’ Support Line on 1800 272 831 (Mon to Fri, 8:30am-4:30pm AEDST)