Child playing on swing

Living freely after abuse

In Children and Family, Community and Relationship by Allie Gledhill0 Comments

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The healing road isn’t an easy one but it’s definitely a journey that’s worth taking. You don’t need to know where you’re going to or even where you’ve been. You just need the courage to take your first step.

 

Recovering from my years of abuse is something that I thought I’d never do. It’s not that I didn’t want to feel free of my past; it’s more that I believed it wasn’t possible for me to ever get over what I’d been through. I believed that the black feelings of hopelessness and despair would haunt me forever and that the painful memories of those years would always have the power to creep out from the shadows when I was alone at night and cause me to have full-blown panic attacks which wouldn’t subside for hours and hours.

I thought that my abuse was a secret that I would take to my grave. Like most abuse survivors, I had been threatened against speaking out about my abuse from a young age. I was abused at an age when my young, teenage mind had not yet learned to question adult power. If I hadn’t have had such gifted counsellors, then the beliefs that I held during my years of abuse might still have power over me now. Abuse does not discriminate against age.

For years I didn’t understand that what I was experiencing was sexual abuse and misuse of adult power. Groomers set their traps slowly and ensure that it is very well disguised. The child sees an adult that they trust, a parental-type figure who fills a need for attention and love.

I remember how good it felt when a distant uncle first started paying me extra special attention. He was visiting from overseas and wore blue Levi jeans and a black leather jacket. I thought he was cool and I felt so honoured that he seemed interested in me. Uncle Nathan started taking me to school and to my music lessons and we slowly formed a secret alliance. I told him my secrets and he made me feel appreciated, understood and valued in a way that I never had before.

I can’t put my finger on when, exactly, the special attention that had initially felt so good first started to feel threatening, but slowly, the special relationship that had made me feel so safe and secure to begin with began to make me feel isolated and alone. The admiration and respect for my uncle turned to unease and fear.

From what I have learned through my years of counselling, groomers often don’t sexualise a relationship immediately. They will slowly build up to intercourse or sexual torture by taking their victim through a desensitisation process. My uncle started by questioning me about sex and sexual acts. He asked me questions that I had never been asked before. Like most people, when I was growing up I was naturally curious about sex and relationships; so when my uncle started asking me questions about my own sexual experience (which was limited to kissing a ‘boyfriend’), I was flattered that he considered me grown up enough to broach such an adult subject with me. I was 14 and inexperienced – so I didn’t understand many of his questions but, in order to maintain his good approval, I tried to act cool and pretended that I did.

Uncle Nathan would often create opportunities for us to be alone together by offering to take me on an outing to do something that I liked. Swimming was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, and Uncle Nathan regularly took me swimming and used time in the pool as a means to give me special attention. He’d ask me to take a piggyback ride in the pool, or play a game that involved touching in some way. I didn’t like it when he accidentally touched my breasts but I trusted him and so I tried to ignore his ‘accidents’.

By the time the relationship progressed to intercourse and then sexual torture I was entangled in a complex mental web. That’s when the feelings of guilt and shame started to set in. I hated what he was doing to me but I didn’t know how I could stop it. There were times when I thought about telling someone, but I could never sum up the courage. I was afraid, and after all, what was happening between my uncle and me was my fault. I knew that I was to blame because my uncle had told me that I was. I had been ‘too beautiful for him to resist’. Although I trusted Uncle Nathan I was also fearful of him and it didn’t take much for me to be threatened into silence by him.

Uncle Nathan eventually moved away, but I remained trapped in the mental web that he’d created in my mind. It wasn’t until much later, when I fell in love for the first time, that I started to understand the extent of the hold that my uncle had had on me. I didn’t tell my boyfriend about what had happened. I didn’t tell anyone until many years later and, when I finally did, I didn’t tell them the full story because I couldn’t face the enormity of what I’d been through. I kept hoping that my past would fade away, that if I drank enough alcohol then I’d kill the memories and the pain associated with them – but there was never enough booze. The memories would come back and haunt me and I’d be thrown into a mental pit of despair.

I distracted myself with the other aspects of my life. I had a good circle of girlfriends and they knew how to have a good time. We danced, partied, travelled and somewhere along the way I managed to get my first degree and secure myself a job.

The distraction of everyday life would mask my hurt and anger for a few weeks or months and then the panic attacks would return, their grip on me stronger than ever. When they became unbearable I dragged myself along to a counsellor. Initially, I was reluctant to share details about my past and I soon realised, that, if I wanted to heal, then I was going to have to start unravelling the knotted ball of emotions that I’d carried inside of me for so long. And so I took my first baby steps on what would be a long but worthwhile journey towards healing.

I’m now 34 and I’ve worked with wonderful counsellors who’ve restored within me a strong sense of self-worth and self-respect. I’ve met other abuse survivors whose stories have touched my heart and I’ve experienced the relief and freedom that comes from fully opening up to the innate healing powers that are inside of us all.

When I started writing and recording my memories as part of my healing journey, I never dreamt that, one day, my notes would form the basis for my first book, An Angel in the Corner. I’m not grateful or thankful that I have gone through what I have, but I love where my journey has taken me. I’ve had the joy of meeting amazing healers and writers who can uplift and inspire with their words. I understand that immense healing power can come through sharing a story – by sharing our stories we learn that we are not alone. We break down the barriers of isolation that kept us trapped during our years of abuse, the same isolation that haunts us for years after the abuse has stopped.

Before my counselling sessions I couldn’t think about my past without a sense of fear and shame. I don’t feel that way any more. I feel safe, loved and happy. I finally know who I am. I have cultivated a sense of excitement and anticipation about my future.

The healing road isn’t an easy one but it’s definitely a journey that’s worth taking. You don’t need to know where you’re going to or even where you’ve been. You just need the courage to take your first step.

 

This article is based on the author’s book, ‘An Angel in the Corner’ (Panoma Press).

Allie Gledhill is the author of ‘An Angel in the Corner’ (£9.99 Panoma Press).

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