Many people are very surprised to learn that I am a survivor of childhood abuse. They ask me “How did you turn out so normal?”
My world was turned upside down and inside out when at around eight years of age, my father had a nervous breakdown. He went AWOL after he had been to Melbourne to attend the funeral of a colleague he worked with in the Victorian Police Force. I only really learned the full story about what actually happened last year at my mother’s funeral. My father had encouraged his young colleague who looked up to him, to apply for a job in the city, and he always felt responsible for his death.
His colleague had committed suicide after the pressure of life as a young police officer took its toll on him emotionally. He had a wife and two young children.
When my father returned home a month later, he was hospitalised and was barely recognisable to me. He had turned from a broad, strong man into one that shuffled when he walked and had lost so much weight he had to make new notches on his belt to hold his trousers up.
From this point on, life as we knew it was very different. Unfortunately my father chose to self-medicate with alcohol, over seeking professional support. He sat outside drinking, chain-smoking and spent hours on hours staring into space & talking to himself.
For the next few years, life for our family went downhill fast with my father’s alcoholism and aggressive outbursts taking over our lives. We tried our best to stay out of his way & knew that when he was “in one of those moods” it wasn’t very wise to be seen (or even heard) for that matter.
My mother, bless her heart, tried very hard to hold our family together, and for a while she did. However, my father was so aggressive that eventually our friends even stopped coming around and it wasn’t too long before our family was completely isolated.
Her hugs, kindness, unrelenting support and understanding towards her three children was admirable. The saddest part was, when she tried to reach out for help it was ignored. You just didn’t really talk about those things back then.
But when you live with a violent, emotional and psychological abuser who constantly wears you down and tears shreds off you, it inevitably takes its toll.
Mum started drinking too and before long, smoking too. Initially it was just to keep him company, but before too long his aggressive ways started to also become her norm. I will never remove the memories from my mind, of the nights they spent relentlessly screaming at each other into all hours of the night. I would lay in bed crying with the blankets over my head.
We soon learnt that my father’s alcoholism and abusive nature was due to a mental illness. His hands hit hard, but his words cut even deeper. The psychological effects of his emotional abuse were by far the most difficult for me to overcome throughout my adult life. I lived in fear every day of what he would say or do to me if he got angry.
For many years I was a bit lost. I was promiscuous and drank way too much. I had little care or regard for my body. I had no direction or career aspirations. Whenever I could I would make sure I was out of the house and stayed at friend’s places at any opportunity.
Speaking to my friends since then about ‘those years’, they too were terrified of my father, although realistically they had no idea of the full extent of what went on behind closed doors. It still amazes me to this day that it was just never discussed. We all hid it so well.
As a teenager at school I rebelled against the system and was violent and often rude and disrespectful to my teachers. Not one of them ever took the opportunity to ask me though if I was OK. They just labelled me as troublesome, despite being popular in social circles. School to me was an escape … a social outing where I could forget about the horror of my life at home.
So, how did I overcome all of this? How did I go on to break the cycle?
I spent years asking myself this very question.
When I moved to London I worked at a school where most of the students were neglected, starved of attention and abused – socially, emotionally, physically and sexually. I didn’t know it at the time, but the distance of living in another country, and working with these children who had endured so much in their short lives, were to be the first steps in my ability to make sense of my own childhood.
I began to realise that even though what we had endured as children was really difficult – we always had food on the table, beds to sleep in at night and clothes to wear. And most importantly for the early years, one parent who actually gave a damn. I visited many of the homes my students lived in. I couldn’t even come close to describing to you the environments they had to endure, along with starvation, physical beatings & emotional abuse they suffered at the hands of their own families.
These children behaved incredibly violent & aggressive and we had to physically contain them in a safe way so they were able to freely express their anger, sadness and frustration. It was by far the most emotionally exhausting but incredibly rewarding thing I have ever done.
I learnt to heal. To forgive and understand more about my family circumstances. I had the opportunity to grow as an individual away from my home town and everything I knew.
I spent the next few years living the life. Travelling and forging a career for myself. I practically shut up shop (in the sex department) and worked on my confidence and belief in myself as a woman. I also sought years of professional help through psychologists and counsellors and talking about it with trusted friends.
It is so easy to see it clearly now – but everything I went through was leading me to the point in my life that I am at now.
My husband is the gentlest and kindest creature you will ever meet. I now have a business where I help other families to better understand their child’s challenging behaviour and know how to cope with the stresses of family life. I focus on the importance of respectful, healthy, emotional communication and positive engagement.
My parents and challenging childhood taught me so much about the type of person that I strive to be. I forgave them a long time ago as it was holding me back from experiencing the life I dreamt of.
My beautiful child came to me through an open adoption. I sometimes thank my father for that as I was able to clearly see that being biologically related to someone doesn’t affect your ability to love. I am living proof of this and I will be able to teach my daughter this too as she grows up and faces challenges in her life.
I will share with her my learnings about the importance of understanding and embracing where you came from.
It is an important part of who you are – but it doesn’t have to define you.