This is a story that was sent to me from one of the readers of our newsletter. She gave me permission to share it with you anonymously. It’s a story about her growth in learning how to trust again from a painful and unfortunate childhood. I think we could all learn something from it and be inspired by the courage that it even took to tell this story.
A few weeks ago, you sent out an email asking us to consider what obstacles and challenges we have overcome in order to achieve what we have in our lives. It took me a while to do this, because looking to the past is painful for me. But here it is, wrapped in a letter of thanks to you. It’s a long email, so you may wish to come back to it later, or have some chai to sip on while you read!
Thank you for reaching out to me, a stranger to a stranger, and offering encouragement and support. To give you an understanding of how much this means to me, I want to share a little of my story, so you’ll understand the impact you’ve had on me and my growth in learning to trust people.
I was raised in an environment of extremely orthodox Christianity. It was a punitive and restrictive existence. From infancy, I was sexually and psychologically abused by my father, whom I now know is diagnosable as a sociopath. I was my mother’s confidant and helper from the time I could walk and talk – a parentified child. My mother also sexually abused me under the coercion of her husband. Growing up, I assisted her in taking care of the nuclear and extended family such as cooking and cleaning for my brother and father and tending to my two alcoholic uncles. When I was 14 years old my brother tried to rape me. I was labeled as ‘painfully introverted’ and was afraid of everyone and everything. In school I was quiet and conscientious and relieved to be in class, where no-one could hurt me and I had no responsibilities, except to concentrate on my work. Although my teachers regularly complained of my excessive daydreaming, I was a compliant student and gave them no grief so they tended to ignore me. It was never expected that I would ‘amount to much’ and I was constantly derided and chastised for being ‘stupid’, ‘ugly’, ‘useless’ and the like.
Since adolescence I have fought recurring depression and suicidal thoughts. When as an adult, I finally had the courage to talk to someone about the tortures of my past, my story was questioned and disbelieved (by a psychiatrist and a church elder). It took me a long time after that, to share my story again. When my eldest niece was born and I warned the family never to leave her alone with her grandfather, again I was disbelieved and dismissed. My brother called me a witch. When I reported my concerns for my niece’s safety, to the child protection unit at the local police department, the investigation went no further than an interview with my brother who happened to be friends with the police officer and who chose to believe my brother rather than me. It was an issue that tortured me for many years – because I wanted to do all that I could to ensure my nieces would not endure the abuse that I had suffered.
Over the years I have fought my way through life, never regarding myself as a victim or even a survivor; in my mind I was always a fighter. I’ve had to learn to ‘raise myself’ and learn to do things that my peers take for granted. Many developmental tasks were unmet throughout my childhood, despite the fact I behaved in ‘grown up’ ways. As an ‘adult child’ I took care of things because I had to, my mother and my survival depended on it. However, I had to sacrifice my psychological and emotional development to do so.
I have been known to wonder, over the years, why I didn’t succumb to a life of drug addiction or prostitution or some other such demise. Why I’m not dying in a gutter somewhere, as is the fate of many with a history like mine. Perhaps it’s the two saving graces of books and dogs! Although I was a late developer academically speaking, I have a keen intelligence, and have always found solitude in books. Whenever I could, I would escape into a world of fantasy and adventure, taken there by my modest library (provided by my mother whenever she could afford it). It was the one gift my mother gave me, in spite of her troubles and her emotional dependency on me, she taught me to read and write before I began school at age four. Also, despite my inability to relate to and connect with other children, I could always count on my dogs. My dogs were my confidants and close companions. I have continued to adopt rescue dogs over the years as my way of giving to them as they have given to me – unconditional acceptance. We bring love and nurturing and unspoken understanding into one another’s lives. I have worked with many disturbed and damaged dogs over the years and they have been my most powerful teachers.
Despite my chaotic start to life, I have made some achievements in my career, first gaining a nursing qualification, then returning to university to study psychology and eventually obtaining a doctorate in clinical psychology and also becoming a yoga teacher. My studies in yoga and psychology are always ongoing as I expand my repertoire as a therapist and explore the depths of spirituality as a yoga student.
My approach to life has been scrappy at times, usually because while I’ve been trying to live my life, I’ve also been tending to the wounds of the little girl inside me who needs love and reassurance and comfort. However, against the odds, I’ve made it this far and I’m determined to keep going. I’ve been blessed with good teachers, in martial arts, in yoga, in meditation – who have guided me and shown me great forgiveness and patience. They have instructed me in ways that my parents could/ did not, and I’m grateful for all of them.
There are many layers of healing to be done. Thus is true for all of us. At one time, I naively thought I could spend a year in intense therapy, do the work that needed to be done and then having ticked all the boxes, get on with the rest of my life (as if none of the cruelty had ever happened). I’ve learned the hard way, that childhood wounds do not heal that way. They have their own timing and their own lessons to teach and I must respect that. So I get on with my life the best I can, and I get on with healing the best I can. Each day is a new challenge and a new lesson to be lived.
So, you see when you reached out to me, two strangers on the internet, I was surprised that anyone would do something so selfless for someone they did not know. Especially since you never asked for anything in return. Now that you know a little of my story, you will understand that trusting others is a big deal for me. Perhaps it was your willingness to be genuine, authentic and straightforward that prompted me to trust you and respond to that initial email you sent.
I hope you can appreciate the extent of my gratitude. I continue to be encouraged by your emails. You have a gift for getting right to the core of what’s important in life and expressing that in a way that inspires people.
If you do decide to share my story with your other readers, please do so anonymously. My father, despite his elder years continues to be a vengeful man and I moved out of my country of origin and took a new name so I could begin a new life. I do not wish to have any connection with him or give him any opportunity to locate me. But if you feel my story will be of help or inspiration to others, then I don’t want to deny them that gift.
Know that I greatly appreciate the work that you do. It’s your humanness and your willingness to share your authentic self with others that has greatly inspired me. You believed in me when I doubted myself. And while I’m still finding my courage, I know each day will take me further along the road to inner freedom and living an inspired life. My hope is and has always been that I can inspire and encourage others to find their place in the world and to find inner freedom, whatever that may mean for them.
If there is ever a time I can be of help to you, please ask and I will gladly offer my support.
With immense gratitude,
While I certainly don’t come from the same type of abusive background that the writer of this story does, I can still relate to a lot of what she said. I’ve had my own struggles around trusting people and being willing and brave enough to open up and share myself with others.
If you have a story that you think would inspire or benefit others, please feel free to contact me, even if you’d like it to be shared anonymously or not shared at all. It’s healthy to express yourself and what is going on deep inside. It can bring about a lot of healing.
I’ll speak with you again soon.