I have survived emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
I have gone on to have a wonderful marriage, three beautiful children and have a very fulfilling sex life.
I have found forgiveness and even empathy.
But the one thing I have really struggled with is breaking the silence. I don’t want the whole world to know the real me.
I don’t want people looking at me and thinking – “poor you”. I don’t want sympathy or pity. I have survived all of this without turning to alcohol or drugs (unlike some of my siblings) and whiIe I am not immune to the pain, hurt and anger the abuse has caused – and there have been real and major consequences in my life – I’m doing the best I can to lead a “normal” life.
(Partially) breaking my silence
There are many of us out there with this secret. This is my attempt to make a stand, to use my story to support other victims and to show the world what happens behind the veil of secrecy.
My earliest recollection of my childhood is 5 years of age. I was standing in the nursery school playground and watching my mother drive down the road. The image is imprinted in my mind. It is so clear that it could in fact have been yesterday. Other memories, however, are sketchy and confusing, and try as I might, I just cannot access that folder, and at the age of 44, I know it’s because I don’t want to.
The file has been opened once, and that was under hypnosis, so I know that there is stuff in there and I have been told what is in there, but still I can’t access it. I will not allow the gory details in my life, I will not allow it to surface, I will not allow it to destroy and haunt my life.
I have received therapy and I have been helped (or have I?), but even the therapy sessions are sketchy and vague. I have a photographic memory, and my close family will tell you that I remember everything, forget nothing, and can describe the setting, time and date in graphic detail, of almost any event in my life. But there are clearly thing my mind has opted to conceal from me.
This in itself haunts me because sometimes I wonder if it really happened or if I am just crazy. I have only ever told one person, and the reaction cut so deep, so very deep that I vowed never speak of it again.
So why the silence? Over the years I have discovered that I was not alone. My best friend and her sister have been very open and honest about the sexual abuse that they have suffered and sitting there listening tore my heart apart, yet I did not utter a word about my own.
My grandparents were staunch Afrikaans, bible reading, church going Christians
. They were hard working farmers and good upstanding citizens (where I was witness to horrific, unspeakable racial hatred and abuse – but that’s a different story). During school holidays my brother (who is three years older than me) and I would go to the farm.
My grandparents slept in the same room, but in separate beds. Each night before sleep time we would lay in bed with them. My brother with my grandmother, and me with my grandfather. I remember very very clearly how he touched me and how it hurt at times. This in the same room as my grandmother???????? And then the strangest thing would happen. We would swap sides and my brother would be with my grandfather and I with my grandmother. My grandmother never touched me, she hated me. I was the “rooi neck, kaffir boetie” (red neck – nigger lover) which is how she often referred to me in conversation with her friends.
I don’t remember ever saying anything to stop him, not even “ouch” or “its hurting”. I don’t even remember us going to our own beds. What I do remember though is that
at dusk every day while we were there I would have a sickening feeling in my stomach and dread the darkness of night.
My grandfather died when I was about 11 years old. I can’t tell you much about him; I cannot even conjure up an image of him in my mind. The only time I do see an image of him is when I recall some of the horrific acts that I had witnessed on the farm, (like him beating one of his workers with a sjambok (long whip), or the day he set his dogs on an African woman and they ripped her ear off.
My grandmother on the other hand, I see very very clearly. I see this horrible, miserable woman that treated me like dirt. My grandmother, a nurse, was cleaning the wound of the woman who had her ear ripped off. I was stroking the woman’s hand to comfort her, or maybe comfort myself. She hit me and called me the “rooi neck kaffir boetie”. (Red necked nigger lover)
The earliest recollection of my brother touching me was in grade 2 which would make me about 6 or 7 years old. (Writing this sucks, tears are streaming and I’m shaking as though I’m freezing, and I don’t really know why. I’m writing this in the hope that if I can reach one person, its worth it.)
My brother was a very aggressive person, and beat up on me nearly every day.
The only time he did not beat me, was when I gave myself to him.
I know I prostituted myself to avoid another beating. Its hard to endure a beating from both your brother and your mother every day of your life.
When I was about 11, my mom was doing the laundry one weekend, and we were all sitting near her. She asked me about the blood in my underwear, and I said I did not know. She asked if it happened every month, and I said no. Her response was “Well maybe I should take you to the doctor and ask him about this.” My brother turned a strange grey colour, and the next time he tried to touch me I told him that I would tell my mother the truth about the blood. My brother never touched me again.
A shattered heart
I had my first child at the age of 20, and I viewed the world very differently once I was a mother.
I wanted to be different to my mother, I wanted to protect my child at all costs, and not allow anybody to abuse him, physically, emotionally or sexually.
My brother and I got into an argument when I was about 22 and he beat me up again. My eldest sister (I have three, who are 17 years, 15 years and 12 years older than me) was there, and did nothing. It was a friend of hers who stepped up and defended me. This time I was not going to let it go. I reported the assault to the police, who were not very sympathetic and kept saying “He is your brother!” Just exactly what the f**k did they mean by that????? Did they think he had the right to do that? Did they think that it was not worthy to be reported? Did I deserve it??? This is still back in apartheid days when a woman was nothing and a man had more rights.
With the support of friends, I went for the medical examination and called in sick at work because I did not want them to see my face which was sporting a black eye, swollen nose and cut lip. The amount of hair that I lost during the assault filled the old bank bag that they used for coins. My middle sister, who I had a close relationship with, phoned to ask me not to pursue the case. We had a huge argument on the phone, and it was then that I blurted out that I had been sexually abused by my brother. There was a deafening silence on the other side. And then I said “Oupa (grandpa) abused me too!” Her response, – “Well don’t think you are special, he did that to all of us!” It was that moment that my heart shattered into little pieces. You knew, you all knew what he was doing to me! Nobody made any effort to protect me! At the time that he was violating me, my sisters were married and were adults – and they did nothing to protect me? Is that not abuse in itself??????
If you do nothing, I believe you are as guilty as the abuser. To this day, I am unable to find forgiveness for the people who turned a blind eye.
I have been through it a million times in my mind, and I understand the fear, the feeling of helplessness, but I can find a million things they could have done, even anonymously, so I just don’t get it.
…In the long run
My sisters comment has done more damage to my life than the sexual and physical abuse that I endured. This comment also helped me, because it motivated me to seek professional help. I also promised myself that I would never ever ever turn a blind eye to abuse! This comment and the abuse that I suffered has defined me, every part of my life, and especially my parenting.
I feel that nobody loved me enough to protect me. I have always asked myself how my sisters who endured physical abuse from my mother never intervened or took me away from her. I know its complicated and difficult, but somebody could have done something.
At some point in my therapy when dealing with my brother, it dawned on me that he could well have been abused sexually by my grandfather as well. My heart broke for him. And then I remembered something about our priest, who suddenly stopped coming to our home and disappeared from our church. I asked my mother about this, and she said that they had found a letter from him to my brother. This supposed Man of God regularly took the altar boys sailing for the weekend. I don’t know what really transpired, my family are very big secret keepers. What I do know is that my father gave him a good beating and reported him to the bishop. The haunting thing is that nothing probably happened to him, he moved to a new parish and just continued abusing young boys.
I can’t hate my brother for what he did – other than the physical abuse. He was probably sexually abused as well, by my grandfather and the family priest. And then I wondered about my mother – was she abused? I have to say that I think she was. I cannot ask her. Not one of my sisters have ever ever spoken to me about it. My middle sister who broke my heart, has just pretended that we never had the conversation.
My sexual abuse was not of a violent nature, and although I was told to keep it “our secret”, I was never really threatened into keeping quiet. So why did I keep quiet all these years?
Why did everybody else keep quiet? Are we conditioned to turn a blind eye to this? Are we conditioned that this is taboo? Is it because of the shame? Is this just normal behavior?
How does somebody turn a blind eye?
The “Inner Child”
I can ask that question. I have every right to ask that.
The abuse that I suffered during my childhood has defined who I am today
, and I made that realization this week when after 12 years of marriage I finally shared some of my memories of the physical abuse with my husband, primarily because I am struggling with some things, now that I am a mother.
When my children play, they screech and scream. To the average person it might be normal, but to me it is reminiscent of my brothers and my screams when we were being beaten with a piece of hosepipe or bicycle chain. I cannot explain what goes on in my body when I hear this. I want to curl up into a little ball. I am terrified that our neighbours will call the police. I know our childhood neighbors heard our screams; the children often spoke about it at school. Yet nobody did anything.
Sometimes my son will say “You don’t love me”. I suppose this is normal behaviour when kids feel like being a brat, but all I heard from my mother was that if she could have had her life over she would “never have had children, because they are horrible.” I know what it is like to feel unloved.
I never sat on my mother’s lap, she never read to me, or sang to me, or played with me, I never felt loved. I felt loved by my father, but not my mother. I try my best to give my children everything that I did not get from her, and I reckon I get it right 90% of the time. There is no physical punishment in our house, although I do yell a lot, but I make sure that I give lots of hugs and kisses, play games with them, help them with homework, and give them lots of praise. I have wonderful children.
Another big trigger for me is when my kids start squabbling. It takes me back to my brother beating me. They never get physical with each other. When my daughter was little and she bit my son, someone told him to either bite her back, or hit her. I was mortified and was very firm in telling both my son and this stupid, stupid woman that this will not be tolerated in my home. I have taught my son to manage his anger and to walk away when his sister drives him crazy.
The thing that I really struggle with the most, is that I have a really hard time playing with my children. I play board games with them, I will push them on a swing or throw a ball and I have even been on the trampoline with them, but that is really it. I avoid it, mostly because the squeal and screech sounds they make when they are having fun make me quiver inside.
I read loads of parenting books and articles and I recently went on a positive parenting course. The facilitator was talking about the importance of playing with our children. Clearly my face said it all. She suggested I find my inner child! This is the moment it went pear shaped and I began shaking and tears began streaming. I excused myself, and have not been back.
It’s not the first time I react this way. If I see an article on the “inner child” I skip to the next one. I will never never never allow the inner child to surface! I just can’t. Its an unhappy, badly bruised, heart sore child that is now in a safe place where nobody can hurt her. I will protect her at all costs!
Perhaps you may feel that I am avoiding healing by keeping her safe from the world, but I have healed and I have been through the therapy where I was surrounded by a ring of fire to keep me safe and was allowed to bring one person in with me to keep me safe and to help me confront those who hurt me.
On another level I admit that I won’t allow her out because I don’t want to go through all that again and yes I am scared of the chaos that will ensue if she is allowed out. I take care of her of her now and she is safe! I wear a mask every single day of my life giving the impression that this never happened and only three people and I know about it. Its my way of dealing with it. Its my way of surviving it. Its the only way I know how to cope. I will not let it destroy my life, even though it has a massive impact on my life.
How it defines me
Bunny rabbits and nightgowns
I know that people are sometime perplexed and confused by things I do as an adult, even my husband sometimes thinks I am over reacting or maybe just plain crazy. When I see a bunny in the park being terrorised by children, I see nobody telling these children to stop, the parents are either chatting or ignoring it and nobody is doing anything!!!! Well, to hell with that, I will protect it – I have issues with the fact that nobody protected me – I will protect others – even the bunny! So I get up and I very firmly tell these children to leave the bunny alone.
My best friend (who I love dearly), who is a trauma councellor, and my husband sometimes make snide comments along the lines of “there she goes, saving the world again”. This really makes me angry. I never say anything to them, but what I want to say is “Well what the f**k are you doing?” Are they really ok to watch children do this? I wanted to ask my friend what she was going to do if the bunny died. Was she then going to offer trauma counselling? Its not just a bunny! Its is a living breathing creature with feelings and a heartbeat but no voice to scream out. If some human was terrorising a child like that would you turn a blind eye too? No creature deserves to be hurt or traumatised just the same as no human deserves to be. As adult human beings we have a duty to protect every living creature (including spiders – as much as I am terrified of them).
A similar event occurred when I was in Cape Town with some friends. We heard a woman screaming. We all looked out of the window and here was a woman with something about the size of a tea towel around her waist and no shirt to speak of. A jogger stopped to help her, and we were all just looking out the window. This woman was hysterical, and using language I have only heard about. We all immediately suspected that she had been raped. The comments ranged from “poor woman” to “well they drink like fish and then this happens” to “she is probably a prostitute”. It was about 5pm and it was cold, there was actually snow on the mountain.
I moved to take her something to keep her warm and covered and I certainly I did not expect these woman around me, my supposed friends, to tell me not to do it. They told me I was crazy and putting myself in danger. If that was me I would want somebody to help me cover up, rather than having the entire neighborhood staring at my tits. So I grabbed my gown and slippers and marched down the driveway. I suspect that I was walking with purpose, because I was angry, so maybe I intimidated her a little and she swore at me like you can’t believe. She did not know my mother but called her all sorts of things. When I handed her the gown and slippers, the tears flowed and I could see the thanks in her eyes and she covered herself very very quickly.
When police arrived I dont know if they told her to return my stuff or if it was her choice, but she started taking them off and pointed to us. I went off again walking down the driveway with serious purpose. The policeman handed me the slippers. I tell him I don’t want them and she may have them. She walks forward and holds my hand and says “dankie madam” (thank you madam – In South Africa ‘madam’ is a term used to denote superiority). I’m not your f**king Madam! We are so alike, in various ways, but we are alike. The tears are steaming down my face and all I want to do is take her in my arms and hold her, I can’t do this because I am a little terrified at what she will do. Has anybody ever held her, has anybody ever made her feel loved, has anybody ever protected her or shown her any kindness? (this woman had appeared to be homeless) The hardships and hurts that she has endured in her lifetime, I suspect are ten times worse than mine, and she is probably looking at me and thinking this woman is so lucky that she has never had pain like mine. No I have not had the same pain as her, but we share a pain, mine is hidden and she is “bare” to the entire community, but the pain is still pain!
My friends thought (and probably still think) that I am crazy. “You will never get the gown and slippers back” seemed to be the only important thing to them. I wanted to scream and shout and say “I DON’T GIVE A F**K ABOUT A STUPID PAIR OF SLIPPERS OR F**KING GOWN”. Those are stupid materialistic things that can be replaced. You cannot replace your feelings, you cannot undo rape, and you cannot undo hurt or abuse! Seriously!
I could not take her pain away, I could not give her dignity back, I could not help her keep warm, but I did help her keep what little dignity she had left and I kept her warm. I know that she is grateful and thankful, and that’s all I need.
And there have been many, many other similar occasions. I have asked therapists and counselllors and even questioned God as to why I am placed in these situations. I have seen a man beating up a woman in a parking lot, she was screaming for help and everybody just stood by and watched. I have witnessed a pharmacist holding a woman by the throat and marching her out of his shop, and everybody just watched despite the woman saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t hurt me”. I have seen a blind friend’s wife take a brick and smash his music equipment and then hit him in the face with an iron rod that he could not see coming.
People think I’m crazy because I don’t think of the possible danger. Something inside me snaps in these situations and I just react, and after that the spectators get a serious piece of my mind, and trust me, its not pretty. I don’t have time to be an observer, I don’t have time to analyse the situation, I don’t have time to think, I need to just do something! If I don’t, I believe I am as guilty as the abuser. One explanation from a therapist is that I am not alone in this kind of behaviour, and that I just see things differently and react differently, but the big issue is that I have a major major issue with the spectators! Yes it is about the abuse and the abuser, but my inability to forgive those who knew about my abuse and did nothing is the reason behind my crazy behaviour. I know why I do it, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Crazy or not, I will still do it. I despise abusers and bullies! Actually that’s not right, I love bullies! I love taking them on and cutting them down to size.
I got a call from my eldest sister once to ask me not to attend a family gathering because my brother had beaten his wife! They did not want me there because they knew that I would not shut up and that I would probably call the police. Beautiful, f**king beautiful! They were more concerned about the scene I would create than the actual bruises and broken nose my sister-in-law had. I do not get it. Can you honestly look at a person whose husband has beaten her and still have a fun day with family around the pool and braai (barbeque)? Is your soul really that void of emotion, empathy and compassion????????????????????? He beat her up regularly, and then at some point it got too much for her and she called the police. They arrested him and put him in jail for a night. My sisters unashamedly tell me what a horrible bitch this woman is and that its all her fault that he got raped in jail. That experience must have been horrible, and I don’t jump for joy at hearing what happened to him, but WTF?????? She had no right having him arrested? She had no right to do something to stop him abusing her? Not once did I ever hear those f**king bitches (my sisters) show any compassion for our sister-in-law. Keep your hands to yourself and you won’t end up in Jail.
Most recently, I saw a teacher bulling a 9 year old child in her class, not my child, just some total stranger that I was assisting with reading. There was no way I was going to keep quiet.
I sometimes wish I was not so passionate. I sometimes wish I could be a duck and let the water slide off my back. I sometimes wish I had blinkers. Its not easy being me sometimes. I hate these situations and the range of emotions that come with them. Each one haunts me for weeks after and as hard as I try, I just can’t change. Why why why can’t I be normal? What is normal?
I will do everything I can to protect my children, yet I know that even this may not be enough. And no-one is safe in my path, no-one. Not my husband, not my mother, not uncles and aunts and definitely not teachers. I trust no-one!
I can pick a pedophile out in a room.
I promise you I can. I have met people through friends and family and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I can’t stand the person. And for some strange reason, these people will do stupid things like touch my children, or call them off to a corner to have a chat. I was not welcome in my sister’s home for a year because I told a particular f**ker NOT TO TOUCH MY CHILD. A year later she called me to tell me how this fool had shoved his tongue down her daughter’s mouth and since he was no longer welcome in her house I was invited to visit. And then there was the time a 16 year old boy told me he would babysit my children for free anytime! He was even encouraging my 9 year old to tell us we needed a weekend away and he would look after them. I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT HIS INTENTIONS WERE!!!! I just had a feeling about this child. It turned out that he unblocked my sons play station and told him how to access porn. I caught my child, and then discovered that my child took a photo of another child’s penis. My child was wrong – there is no dispute – but there is also no mistaking that these events occurred right after any visit with the 16 year old and his family.
All of this is such a mind f**k for me that over holidays or weekends sometimes my kids want to watch a movie together and my daughter often asks if she can sleep in her brother’s room. I don’t know if this is normal, but to me, it scares the shit out of me. Most times I say no, but there have been a few occasions where I have said yes. Imagine the scene, every 20 minutes or so I get up and creep up to the bedroom door on my tip toes so that no one can hear me. I swear I don’t even breathe! I have even crawled in on my hands and knees to peer into the room to check on them. Its really not worth even agreeing to let them sleep in the same bed, because I can’t sleep!!!!! So its just not allowed at all. I feel like a horrible mother!!!!! Do I not trust my own son?????? This kills me!!!!! How do ever ever get over this shit?
No uncles or nephews or male friends are allowed to babysit. I did break the rule once and let my nephew look after them because I had no option and the kids wanted him rather than my mom. Its not that he did anything to deserve my distrust, but I am just distrusting. He arrived late and he had had a couple of drinks. I threw my toys and cancelled my plans. I know, it was not the right way to deal with it, but I could not leave my kids. I feel bad because I picked a fight for a stupid reason, but what should I rather have done – blurted out all this crap?
I went away once and left my children with my husband. Unfortunately my husband drinks way too much on occasion. I called repeatedly and there was no answer. I knew he was drunk! I cannot explain the fear that gripped me! Would he do something to my children in his drunken state? In my heart I know he would not, and I’m ashamed to admit that I thought this, but knowing my story maybe you would understand. I was terrified that somebody would break in (this was a common occurrence in our neighborhood) and he would not be in a state to defend my babies. What if they raped my children. I know normal people don’t think like this, but I’m not normal. I feel horrible that I did not trust my own husband and the father of my children!!!!! I don’t know how to change these feelings!!!! I hate them, I hate being distrusting!!!!!!! I don’t know how to change!!!!!
I called my best friend very late that night in a total state and asked to her to please go and fetch my children. I know that she probably thought I was crazy and did not understand why I wanted her to do this, and I can’t blame her because she did not know my past. Being the amazing person she is, she took my babies and kept them safe. In the morning I boarded the first plane back home to my babies.
My husband and I had the hugest fight the next day and I blurted out the absolute fear that I had and I know he thought that I was crazy and he probably thought that I was the biggest bitch in the world! I can’t blame him, he does not know the truth.
I feel terrible about keeping the horrors of my life from my husband, but how do you share this with someone, especially your husband? This very week, after 12 years of marriage I shared a little – just a little of the physical abuse with him and how it affects and impacts my parenting. Exposing myself has left me feeling very vulnerable, almost naked in a room full of strangers.
I don’t think I ever can tell him everything.
I survived – not unscathed, but I survived it. It has defined who I am and affects every part of my life. It influences every emotion, every thought, every action and every reaction.
(Editorial note: This submission was minimally edited to retain the integrity of the writers account. The writer has since shared this account with her husband who has proven himself to be the loving and supportive man she always knew he was)