My true story of how years of abuse shaped me, and what I know now

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To the outside world, I was just like any other child. I lived with my mother, father, an older sister, and a younger brother.

We looked just like a normal, happy family.

Except two of us were keeping a terrible secret.

I was being abused, and my father was the abuser.

One of our brave clients has chosen to share her harrowing, true story of abuse and how it shaped her life, impacted her self-worth, and influenced her relationships. This is also a story of hope and how Transformation is helping her come to terms with her past, so she can shape her own future.

Our client is not withholding her name out of shame or embarrassment. Recent changes to legislation, at the time of publishing this blog, mean that it is now illegal for her to use her real name when speaking about her sexual assault, because her offender was found guilty.

If you, or anyone you know wishes to get in contact with our client, please contact us at info@imanitribe.com

Warning: This story may trigger some readers.

A stolen childhood

I was raised in a European family in outer-easter suburbs of Melbourne. It’s where a lot of the migrants settled when they came out here in the 60s along with young Aussie families. I am the middle of three children — my sister is three years older, and my brother is 18 months younger. My father also had a son from a previous relationship who lived in Holland, he moved out to Australia when he was 18.

I was about four years old when the abuse started. My dad tried with my sister too but she was older, had a stronger personality than I did, knew it was wrong and stood up for herself. So he moved onto me, much younger, I was easier prey, I guess.

It’s called grooming and he was very good at it. He told me that it was our secret, our game and that I couldn’t tell mum. It was sneaky and premeditated.

Mum worked part time as a nurse and whenever she was on night-duty, dad would come to get me and take me to their bed, I’ve always had trouble sleeping. During the day or on weekends he would use any opportunity to take me to his workroom and lock the door. Mum went to Europe a couple of times so he took advantage of that as well. As he became more confident, the abuse became worse, more intense and painful. I don’t know where the other family members were when my dad abused me, but he was always sneaky and he planned it so he wouldn’t be found out.

I remember when I was about six or seven years old, I tried to get mum’s attention to tell her what was going on. I’m not sure why, maybe she didn’t want to know, but she hit and kicked me all the way down the hallway. It was the longest trip down the hallway of my life. I remember going to my room thinking, “well, I’m on my own now”.

The abuse continued throughout my primary school years, and was a normal part of my childhood. I do have happy memories with my Mum and siblings, but they are clouded by the abuse. My childhood was stolen from me.

I was awkward in making friends and didn’t know how to be a ‘normal’ kid. I had difficulty connecting with other kids, and I was often in trouble at school. I always felt like the teachers didn’t like me, I was disruptive in class, and spent a lot of time worrying about who would be home at the end of the school day, and what would happen when I got home.

Looking back, I used to disassociate myself from the whole experience. I would think, “That’s done now, so I can go off and play”. On the outside, I appeared happy, confident, was loud and was always in front of a camera. But I think I did these things to forget about the other side of my life.

I started to find my voice

In grade 6 I told a couple of girls at school about what my dad had been doing. We had recently moved house and I was going to a different school. I liked the people there and I wanted to make friends. I wanted people to like me so I told a couple of girls what was happening. But they didn’t believe me. They just said, “Don’t be silly. That doesn’t happen.” One of the girls went home and told her parents because shortly after this, she was no longer allowed to come to our house to play, and she was no longer my friend.

This instigated the beginning of me finding my voice, it was also the year I fought harder and harder. One day, he took me up to Kinglake — an area north-east of Melbourne where there is a national park, and forest. He had plans for me. When we got there, I was hysterical. I got out of the car yelling and screaming at him to “stop, stop, stop”. There were other people around and my dad was scared about anyone finding out about what he was up to. I made him promise to stop before I got back in the car, or else I would run away. After that day, the abuse stopped, although he did persist while I was developing, but I found my voice.

I assume the rest of the family knew nothing, because life went on.

An unhappy school life

In Years 7 and 8 I was very disruptive at school. I was naughty in class, and spent a lot of time in principal’s office. My connections during early high school years were with other disruptive kids, I seemed to relate better with them, I was bullied and at times, probably behaved like one.

My hope today is that teachers ask students why they’re behaving in these ways, look further and provide support, rather than being branded as the ‘naughty’ one and left to your own devices and punished like in the 70’s and 80’s.

Mid and later high school years I discovered I had a brain and I could use it. I concentrated on school to block everything out, made connections with different cohort of kids, including my husband with life-long friends. Along with this, my 18yo cousin who I loved dearly was diagnosed with leukaemia and died 18 months later, nothing else mattered during and after this difficult time.

Gagged and betrayed

During the later high school years, when I was about 15 or 16, I shared my story with another friend and she did believe me. It was around the same time that I told my sister what had happened. She wasn’t surprised, so I knew straight away that she had suspected all along.

I felt so relieved that she finally knew. But she just told me that we couldn’t tell mum. “Why not?” I asked her. “Because it would kill her,” my sister said. I was gagged again and didn’t have the strength or ability to go it alone.

I felt like the abuse had happened all over again and that I’d been betrayed again. I understand her response now, but didn’t for quite a long time. I know that it was her way of protecting herself and mum. You see, often other siblings know what’s happening, but they have the mindset that if it’s happening to someone else, then it won’t happen to them. To this day I carry guilt for my Dad neglecting my brother too.

My lack of self-worth stems from here. I had already felt that I wasn’t important when I tried to tell mum when I was younger. I developed low self-worth and believed that I wasn’t important and nor were my feelings. These feelings were reinforced again when I told my sister — my voice was not to be heard.

High school finished at year 11. By then I had a boyfriend who was four years older than me. Between the ages of 16-18, I drank heavily because I now had access to alcohol. My dad said nothing about me having a boyfriend. Dad’s persona was the quiet, ‘nice’ one, while mum was the loud, dominant person of the relationship. I told my boyfriend what my dad had done, but this time I gagged him and told him not to say anything because I didn’t have any self-worth, and I knew it would only hurt mum. So he continued to visit and we continued to pretend we were a normal, happy family.

When I was 19, I went to Europe with my sister for 6 weeks. We went backpacking which was a great experience, along with the elephant in the room. We’d always have lots of fun as long as we didn’t talk about the abuse. When I got back from Europe, I started my nursing qualification and moved out of home while everyone carried on as normal.

Breaking my silence

It was during my nursing degree when the course covered family studies and it hit me hard like a truck, so I reached out for help and went to see a counsellor. I asked them how I could get help for what had happened without telling my mum. The counsellor helped me work through things and helped me realise it was okay to tell my mum about what had happened. I was around 20 or 21 at this point and deferred a year of my course to manage this.

The only way I could deal with it was to write a letter to my dad. I told him about the damage that he’d done to me. I don’t remember the exact words that I used, but I told him that if he didn’t tell mum, then I would. His response was “She’ll kill me”. I told him “That’s not my problem”.

Dad gave mum the letter on the same day. As he gave it to her he said: “I’m the reason why she is unhappy.”

She read the letter and cried. She listened to me and told me she was sorry, but insisted that she didn’t know. She denied knowing about it until the day she died.

After mum found out, she asked all of us kids whether she should divorce my father. My brother was still at uni so she still had a child to support. She was scared and vulnerable. My parents didn’t divorce but they lived in separate rooms. Years went by and not much else changed.

I wasn’t ready to process all that had happened, so my dad still came to my wedding and was actively involved in my three children’s lives as a grandparent, shared Easter holidays together, but he was never allowed to be alone with my children.

At the time, I was angry with my family and felt unsupported. I think I was hoping that mum would go to the police and tell them what had happened, but she never did. What I expected and hoped would happen as a result of mum finding out, was very different from what did happen.

Repressing my feelings took its toll

I repressed my feelings and the reality of what had happened for years. When my youngest son was a baby, I became quite suicidal. I was a mum with a daughter and two boys. I knew that I either had to confront it, which meant dealing with it or keep hiding from it, which meant suicide. I used to think about how I could take my life without harming my children. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I took them with me.

I remember one day my son looked up at me from the floor, smiling and laughing at me. In that moment, I realised I wasn’t well so I went to the doctor and told him how I was feeling. However, I didn’t tell him about the past. He believed me when I told him about wanting to commit suicide and he asked if I’d made plans. His response was just the right one and I felt understood.

My setting boundaries caused family conflict

I began to work through things and one day, I spoke to my girlfriend about what happened. I had known her since we were four. I seemed to remember that there was something involving her that was talked about years ago which my dad had denied. All these years, I had never had the courage to ask her. But this day I did ask if anything had happened with my dad. She burst into tears and told me what had happened. She had never told anyone about it either because my dad had put the fear of death into her too. She was also scared for my daughter. She does remember her mum asking about something, but no one followed up or pursued it.

The next day I confronted dad and told him that we were done and he was out of my life. I told him he was not to see me or my kids again.

My family couldn’t argue with my point of view. Mum understood but my family didn’t know how to react to what I had done. That was when the tension started because I had divided the “happy family”. If dad was going to be at an event, then I wasn’t going. Eventually, he wasn’t invited to anything anymore.

Conflict with Mum and siblings escalated from here as some family members still wanted Dad involved in significant family events, weddings etc.

My older half-brother turned 50 and had a massive party. He asked me if he could have dad there. I felt I had to say ‘yes’ to keep people happy. My half-brother’s wife had shared the whole story with her family and other people I didn’t even know, so I ended up having random strangers who had come out from Holland, tell me how good it was that I let dad come to the party. And dad spent the party sitting by himself. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

The situation with my dad has also put a lot of strain on my relationship with my husband. I was upfront with him and told him what had happened when we started going out. He has been very patient but it hasn’t been easy. I also think I’ve been overprotective with my children as a result of what happened to me.

My turning point

I dealt with things very slowly over the years but everything came to a head when someone attempted to abduct my then 14-year-old daughter.

We had reported it to the police but they wanted her to go into the city to do the face identikit of the perpetrator. She didn’t want to go because she didn’t want to face what had happened. I told her she had to go so they could identify him. That’s when she said, “well, you didn’t go to the police”. (She knew about my abuse). I couldn’t argue with that.

That was when I decided to go to the police and report my dad for what he did all those years ago.

How could I teach my children to stand up for themselves when I hadn’t done it myself?

Before I went to the police, I told my mum what I was doing. She asked me why I was doing it now. I told her I can’t expect my daughter to do something that I wasn’t willing to do. That helped mum understand I think. I warned the whole family and I told my dad as well. He said nothing. He didn’t even ask me not to report him. I think he knew it was coming.

So I went to the police and reported my dad. I was 40 years old.

I spent 20 hours giving statements.

Gaining a conviction

After my statement, the police went to my brother, my sister, my mum, my friend who he had also abused, and another woman, who was a little girl who lived in my street when I was young. Apparently, he had done something to her years ago when my brother was a baby. As a result, none of the neighbourhood kids were allowed to sleepover at our house. Mum knew about that, so I don’t know why she didn’t suspect anything was going on at home.

My mum was annoyed with the way the police were dealing with her, but I told her that they were probably making sure they weren’t going to charge her as an accessory. By this time, I was so over it that I was prepared for her to admit she knew. She never did.

They got my father’s statement and he was arrested and charged with 40-odd offences.

I went to the police around June/July 2009. We went to court in 2010. I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t have to testify, but I was prepared to go as a witness and face a jury. So was my girlfriend. My victim impact statement was read out in court instead. My dad didn’t deny anything. There was no jury. He was convicted of around 22 or 23 offences.

Sentencing was done according to the sentencing which was relevant to the time that the offences took place. In this case, it was the 70s. The judge read through each assault charge and announced how much time he got for that. After reading through all the accounts, the judge added up the time, and my dad was given 18 years. Today, it would have been a life sentence.

However, he was given a reduced sentence because he was a ‘model’ citizen after the abuse. In other words, he did ‘everything a responsible citizen’ was supposed to do. My sister and my mum’s friend also wrote him a character reference which was probably taken into account. I still have trouble getting my head around the character reference.

All up the sentence came to 13 years with nine years non-parole. I couldn’t complain about that sentence, because I thought he got what he deserved. He ended up getting out six months early because he was sick. And then he went to live with my half-brother until he died.

Grieving a loss

The last time I saw my dad was in the courtroom. I never saw him in jail but he sent me a few letters, even though he wasn’t allowed to. I didn’t report him though.

Mum didn’t visit him in jail either and we had no funeral. It’s been hard on my younger brother who has supported me from the beginning. He has really struggled with what his dad was like and he loved his mum dearly.

When dad got out of prison, I felt indifferent. When he died, I felt relieved because he wasn’t around anymore. I had a good cry – not because he died – but because of the damage that he’d done to the whole family.

He had affected my relationship with my mum and my sister and everyone else in our family. He stuffed up his relationship with my kids — his grandchildren. He could have had so much more. We all could have had so much more. I felt grief for what could have been.

How the abuse impacted me

My victim impact statement outlined how his abuse had affected me. I have been on medication for depression for 20 years. I’ve been suicidal, suffered from anxiety, still living with flashbacks, had difficult relationships with my family, I felt angry and resentful towards them, and I wasn’t emotionally available to my husband. I had also put my guard up very early on in my teenage years.

Since then, my mindset has changed a lot.

I’m not as angry as I used to be. I am more accepting of what has happened. However, things will always be with me and there are still triggers that upset me. I actually feel very anxious telling this story.

I’m starting to find closure around some things and I even told my sister to tell my dad on his deathbed, that I forgave him. Forgiveness is the key to happiness and resolve.

How has transformation helped

Transformation with Imani Tribe Transformations has helped me enormously. For one thing, I’m a lot less angry and resentful towards my family.

My mum actually died earlier this year and without transformation, I would have coped with it quite differently — and not in a good way.

I no longer worry or think about what could have been. I can now accept things for what they are. I don’t have a victim mentality like I used to and I don’t blame other people like I did. I’m also learning to be more vulnerable and trusting of other people.

I have let go of a lot of things, and I now have the energy to work on myself.

What I’ve learned

The biggest thing I’ve learned is how our habits impact our lives and often perpetuate situations or make them worse. There are several that come to mind in relation to my story.

People-pleasing

People-pleasing is a dangerous thing that can end up hurting you a lot. I continued to stay quiet about my abuse to keep my family happy, to protect mum, and to keep their marriage together. I gave permission for my dad to attend my half-brother’s 50th birthday because I felt I had to keep everyone happy. I avoided talking about difficult things with my family because it upset them and made our relationships even more difficult.

However, these actions only hurt me more. By doing what everyone else wanted and putting their needs before my own, I denied myself and I perpetuated the belief that I wasn’t important. If I had spoken up earlier, or was able to stand up for myself, then my story may have been different.

Low self-worth

When you have low self-worth, you will put up with anything. In my case, I put up with people telling me to be quiet about the abuse. I allowed other people’s actions and reactions to reinforce the belief that I wasn’t important, and I kept running away from difficult conversations. This meant that I tried to deal with all of this on my own. When I told people who didn’t believe me or wouldn’t let me speak, I went along with what they said, instead of doing what was right for me.

Control

For a long time, I was very hung up on how I thought other people should react to this situation. When they didn’t react how I wanted them to or expected them to, I became angry and resentful. What I’ve learned is that I can’t control everything and I can’t control what other people do or how they react.

Trying to control how other people felt ended up with me repressing my feelings and not dealing with them, which caused more problems, including thinking about taking my own life.

What I’m currently working on

I’ve learned that the key to moving on is to own and accept my own story.

When mum died, I realised that I was still repressing a lot of things. This was out of my love for her, and my desire to protect her. I love my Mum dearly and miss her every day. She brought so much joy to our lives and taught me to be the person I am today. We are very similar.

It’s only now after she’s gone, that I feel free to be myself.

People-pleasing

I’m now learning to put myself first. For years I denied my truth and put other people’s needs before my own. But it’s time to look after myself and to stop worrying about making other people happy.

When there is tension in my family, especially between my sister and I, I still feel like it’s my fault because I bring things up that make other people unhappy. I’m getting better at this habit, but those thoughts are still there.

Self-worth

I’m also working on improving my self-worth. For years I felt I was unimportant. That I didn’t matter and my feelings didn’t matter. I am now learning that I am important and that my feelings are just as valid as someone else’s.

Low self-worth is lack of confidence and doubting your abilities. But the only way to get better at something is continuing to do it, and taking action. For me, that means I need to get better at speaking up and talking about what happened, even though other people may not like it.

Most people think that transformation is all about changing what you eat, exercising and losing weight. But they are just by-products of the real transformation that happens.

Transformation is about addressing the habits that don’t serve us well. And we all have them. All these habits — whether it’s people-pleasing, trying to control things, low self-worth, or putting other people first — affect us in more ways than we imagine. Yes, they affect your weight, but they also affect many other areas of your life.

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react and how we deal with it. And what we do is based around the habits that we have.

If I wasn’t such a people-pleaser or didn’t suffer from low self-worth, my story may have been different.

My advice for someone in a similar situation

If you’re reading this and you are in a similar situation to me, or you know someone who is, my advice is this —

You are not what happened to you. You are who you chose to be.

Transformation has taught me that to find ourselves, we need to confront our fears and strip back the layers of habits, mindsets and beliefs that we have acquired over the years. It’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming your true self.

You should also remember:

  1. You are important. — Even if you feel unworthy, you need to know you’re important. When you think you matter, you’ll have the courage to speak up and not go along with what other people think you should do. YOU are not the problem. The problem is the abuser.
  1. You can’t control how others react Let go of control and realise that you’re not responsible for how people react. People don’t speak up because they want to protect the family and control how others react. But you can never control what other people do.
  1. Keep speaking up — Keep speaking up. Keep asking for help. If you tell someone who doesn’t believe you, keep speaking until you find someone who does. You must speak up even if you’re shaking and even at the cost of protecting the family. Be prepared that you will get backlash, but that’s okay. Not speaking up will only make the problem worse.
  1. Put yourself first — You have to think of yourself. You are worthy regardless of what happened. Stop being quiet because other people don’t like what you have to say. This is about you, not them.

I thought I’d have closure when my dad was convicted and went to prison. I thought I’d be done with what happened to me and I’d live happily ever after. But I’ve learned that I will never get closure until I deal with what has happened, and then let it go.

It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy, but you can do it with the right support around you.

Imani Tribe Transformations and my psychologist are both helping me continue this work and are providing me with a safe, supportive space while I work towards getting this closure, and ultimately, the peace that I deserve.

 

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