I won’t give you my love or forgive and forget, but I do thank you.
A strange sentence. What’s even stranger is that I find it coming from my own lips.
I was five when first sexually abused and I am thankful for the resiliency and strength that grew inside my soul.
I was sixteen when my abusive, alcoholic stepfather was finally out of my life and I am thankful for the empathy, strength of character and persistence that has woven its way into my being.
At seventeen I had my first ‘proper’ boyfriend. At the time, my self-esteem was pretty non-existent. In fact, I didn’t even know what self-esteem was. That’s not because I wasn’t bright — I worked hard at showing I could be good at something.
At ten years old I’d shut myself in my bedroom and studied like crazy so that I would pass the ‘Eleven Plus’, an exam which determined which kids would get a chance to go to a higher-level grammar school. I suppose that was one way I could prove I wasn’t ‘worthless’. My tenacity had already begun.
As it happened, I was only one of the four children that passed out of the ninety that took the exam in my primary school. From that day on, the other kids in the street saw me as a bit of a snob. I was no longer part of the gang. The area I lived in wasn’t used to its kids going to high school. Unbeknownst to me, I’d just played my first card in removing myself from a suffocating environment.
I was in the sixth form when I met my boyfriend. He was a year older and worked in the local shipyard. He was pretty good-looking, and I could not believe that he actually wanted to date me. I truly believed that no one would ever want to be with me. I’d been told one too many times that I was ‘worthless’, so it had kind of taken hold. Therefore, I clung to this boy believing he was my only saviour.
At eighteen, and still attending school, I got engaged. How did he propose? In the moments just after I’d lost my virginity. I think in retrospect, he probably just asked to make me feel better. But that then set the wheels in motion.
Not long after I finished school, we rented a flat and, a year or so later, we got a house and a mortgage. At twenty-one, I was married.
My Perfect Family
My dream, for as long as I could remember, was to have a family of my own. I had been a bastard child, brought up in an awful environment. I wanted to create a perfect family. My perfect family.
A year later, I gave birth to a baby boy. My dream was reality. I had left the abuse behind and had created what I had never had. I was over the moon and life couldn’t be better.
Three months later, as I sleepily came to, I saw my husband looking at me from the bedroom doorway. He’d been on a night out with the lads. With six simple words, my perfect family fractured.
“I’ve slept with someone else.”
To say my world fell apart would be an understated cliché, that has no bearing on the incredible sense of pain, failure, helplessness and despondency that fell upon my young shoulders.
It may have been just a hairline crack had the affair not continued, had I trusted him to not do it again. But the fracture wasn’t something that could be pinned or put in a cast to heal.
Although I felt completely defeated and dispirited, I was resilient. Resilient because I had been practising it my entire childhood. I am not thankful for the abuse, but I am thankful for the part it played in building my resiliency. I am thankful that my baby son had a resilient mother to care for him and to hold it together enough for them to flourish.
What does a resilient mother do when faced with the grief of losing a life she had dreamt of for so long? A life that defined her very existence? She applies to University to do a Law Degree. That’s what she does.
Doubts Versus Drive
It was incredibly scary. I had a million doubts as to whether I would be good enough, clever enough. Would I just get laughed at? But it was a way I could lift myself out of the situation that was suffocating me. If I was a lawyer, my baby and I wouldn’t need a man to survive. We would be self-sufficient. The desire for my independence was strong enough to counter all of my fears, reservations and doubt. We would be our own little family. I simply adjusted the idea of perfect — three had now become two.
I was surviving. Doing what now came naturally.
Facing my sexual abuser every day in the street and surviving the emotional onslaught at home, meant that every day I was strengthening my survival muscle. My subconscious just carried on doing what it had done for most of its life. Survive, move on, find a way out. Keep breathing.
Life as a law student and as a single mum wasn’t luxurious or unproblematic, but it kept me focused and relatively sane. Student life was similar to that of my peers, but my sleep deprivation wasn’t caused by drunken late nights and my missed lectures, weren’t due to hangovers.
It gave me hope and purpose. The times when I wasn’t on the kitchen floor hugging my knees and rocking, with a crying baby upstairs and an unfinished assignment begging for my attention, I was happy. I had a purpose.
Five years later I graduated with honours.
Thank you to my abusers, for helping me build not only resiliency, but a dogged determination to carry on whatever. As I child I had no choice. As an adult, I used that spirit of buoyancy to keep me afloat. To endure. I had gotten a Law Degree. Who’d have thought?
A Mother’s Love
In the same year I graduated, I met my second husband. I also realised that although law interested me, my heart didn’t belong in that world. I did a post-grad and became a teacher instead. The idea of motivating little minds to intrinsically fall in love with education touched the core of what had helped me shape my life.
We married and emigrated to Australia from the UK. Arriving in Australia, I had the normal homesickness that many suffer when moving countries, along with ante-natal depression all while living with my in-laws for three months…I wouldn’t recommend having all these three together!
I had two more boys and carried on life as a busy mum, and did more study, Forensic Science, just for fun! Still trying to prove myself worthy!
My childhood taught me what kind of life I didn’t want for my own children. Another reason to be thankful to my abusers. Sometimes knowing what we don’t want is a bigger driver for making what we do want to happen. We know the pain and never want that repeated for our own children.
From my sexual abuse, I was much more aware of the potential dangers for my own children. My experience of emotional abuse meant I put every effort into my relationship with my sons so as they would learn to love themselves, be proud of themselves and learn that they are enough.
So, dear Abusers, I thank you. The lives of my own children have been better because I was shown how not to raise them. I knew first-hand the feelings I never wanted them to feel, so I was much more aware of the mother I needed to be because of it.
Choosing to Love Me
Five years ago, my second marriage came to an end. Twenty years had passed. This one is a sad tale that cannot be told in full. But needless to say, as, in any marriage which has prevailed so long, grief is inevitable.
It’s difficult to convey the synchronicity of both heartbreak and relief, of confusion and clarity. A myriad of emotions flitting like crazed butterflies around in your head. But, in the end, it is simply a matter of making one decision. To continue or to conclude. I chose to conclude.
I had to leave my marriage, and I had to choose me. Thankful for my past experiences because, through overcoming them, I learnt how important I am. I am not worthless, and the path my life takes is solely down to me. Changing the path is never easy. Strengthening your resilience is never easy. But if you put the effort in, you get the rewards of a life that is better than the one you leave behind.
The Paths We Choose
I have been choosing my path all along, I just didn’t see it.
The path I am on now is one which fleetingly passed through my consciousness at various times of my life, as it does many of us. A ‘one-day’ idea that is more of fairy tale dream, rather than anything we actually realistically plan for. Travelling the world.
I have fallen in love again. Fallen in love with a man who loves me just as I am. We have sold all of our belongings and have been travelling the world for two years now. Quite the adventure for that little girl whose only life dream was to get married and have a baby. As for my perfect family? I have three gorgeous sons of whom I could not be prouder. My family is perfect.
Throughout my life I have used the tools I acquired so painfully as a child. They have made my life as an adult so much easier to bear. They grew alongside my once skinny limbs, and they are as much a part of me as my greying hair, and my fine lines and wrinkles.
I continue to choose my path and continue to learn, grow and improve myself every day. But I owe some of this dogged desire and passion to my abusers.
Thank you. You gave me a reason to want to escape, a reason to delve into myself, a reason to find ways to survive whatever the situation. I do not give you my love or my forgiveness, I save that for those who are deserving, but I do thank you because you have played a part in who I am today.
And dear reader, thank you for reading this article. It is through writing my stories that I have realised I have reason to be proud of myself. I thought my resilience was something that only occurred later in my life but it was there all along . It was developing along with my fine motor skills. I am proud of that little girl.
I hope this story can give hope, can prompt you to look at your strengths, and can remind you to be proud of all of your achievements. They can often get lost in the quagmire of life as we struggle through to the next episode, just happy to come out the other side. But it is our very struggles that build us up, our struggles that bring forth our strongest qualities. and it is our struggles that make us who we are.
Appreciate what you have done to get through them.
Appreciate who you are.
First published on PS I Love you