by Yvonne Ellis
I’d finally hit bottom. There was nowhere else to go. The reality I didn’t want to face was now in my face. I’d spent the best part of ten years running away from the pain of my sexual abuse. Finally, at twenty-two years old, my past caught up with me when I had a nervous breakdown and ended up being hospitalised.
It was a succession of bad events and years of avoiding my past that left me at my lowest ebb. My sister told me that she had found suggestive pictures of my mum, dad and nan. I felt sick to my stomach. This revelation made me feel like I was part of some sick child abuse ring and confirmed all my worst fears that they had known all along what my dad was doing. That same week, someone sent me a card on my birthday saying very derogatory things. It was malicious and sent me into a deep depression.
I could not cope and felt worthless. I ended up cutting myself very badly. I just wanted to die. I wanted the pain to go away.
I thought I was a bad person to have ended up being hospitalised. What had I done to deserve this? I was on three different medications to help me get through the day and found it difficult to do the simplest of tasks. In between arts and crafts and relaxation classes, I was sent back to my room, where I would stare out of the window with white bars obscuring the view. I thought my life I was finished. I was depressed, fragmented, broken and without hope.
I was sexually abused by my natural father from the time I was nine until I was thirteen years old. It started one day when I lied to stay off school. I wanted to spend time with my mum but instead my father said he would stay home and look after me. I was watching cartoons when I heard him call me into their bedroom. Naked under the sheets, he told me to get into the bed.
For five years on Friday and Saturday night he would come into my bedroom that I shared with my sisters. In the dead of night, he whispered to me to get my coat and shoes on so he could take me over my gran’s house (my mum’s mother) to sexually abuse and rape me. On weekdays while I had my evening wash he would sexually abuse me in the bathroom.
In my early teens, I was taken into government care. I was angry that I was ostracised from my family who helped my dad to conceal his crimes (Mum and her mum helped him get rid of evidence and rallied against me to say I was an attention seeking liar). I was angry that I did not defend myself or say anything sooner and I was angry that I was weak.
My way of dealing with the pain was to act out, drink, smoke cigarettes and drugs and to self harm. I was defensive and manipulated situations to my advantage because I feared not being in control. When I felt threatened, I would hit out first and ask questions later. I became a liar. I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I allowed myself to become an object to males because I thought if I let them touch me sexually they would love me. I even called my father, my stepfather for a number of years as as way to control the reality that someone who was supposed to be my protector could do this terrible thing to me—and that I must have instigated his cruel behaviour as he did not abuse my brother or sister.
With help from a few people who cared, courage and my faith in God, I began the work needed to get me back up on my feet again and know the real Yvonne for the first time in my life.
There have been many times during the twenty-eight years since I was first abused that I never thought I would make it. With each new revelation, disturbing memory or feeling that would arise, I recognised that I had a choice to make. I could either let each discovery swallow me into an abyss of despair or ride through the pain clinging on for dear life hoping that tomorrow would bring fresh hope.
The first steps in being able to find my freedom was acknowledging that I was not to blame for the abuse happening to me. As a child I could not have controlled the choices or actions of my dad. I had to let go of the guilt and shame that had affected me since childhood. I allowed myself a lot of time to grieve over the years of loss—the loss of my childhood, my innocence, my family and so many other things that were important to me. I learned to forgive myself for decisions I made with the limited knowledge that I had about love, relationships and trust (for example, ending up in an abusive relationship with my first child’s father) that stemmed from my belief that being treated badly was what I deserved.
I have learned over the years that I am worthy of all the good things God has in store for me. I am worthy of love and I am acceptable the way I am; I began to like me, Yvonne. I spent so many years people pleasing; believing that to receive love was based on my performance only to be hurt, betrayed and humiliated. I have learned it is acceptable to be me because I have chosen to stop rejecting myself.
The journey to healing is a lifelong process and I need to continue to be patient with myself and forgive myself when I fall down along the way. Dealing with the challenges head on has been a difficult task and now I deal with it by getting support and help from a loving husband and a small good network of close friends. Stepping out of the shadow of my past, I rightly enjoy all the wonderful things I have; loving family, the ability to love and accept love, to make decisions based on what I decide rather that out of my experience of being sexually abused. These things seem so small but are precious to me. I am learning to live a new life of freedom.
Yvonne Ellis is the founder of Daughter Arise, an organisation that supports women and men in the aftermath of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. In her book of the same name, Yvonne shares her journey of healing from sexual abuse. She finds fulfilment in encouraging others that there is hope and life after abuse. Yvonne lives in South West London, England with her husband, Stephen Ellis, and is the mother of two.
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