Stories from Adults Looking Back on Abuse
Many adults grew up with abuse or domestic violence. We asked adults who experienced this: How did they deal with the abuse, and what have they learnt? What advice do they have for young people? These are all true stories:
You can also read Stories from Young People; and Stories from Famous People who grew up with abuse at home.
‘I was too scared to leave home and too scared to stay’
As a young child, as soon as my dad started yelling when he was drunk, I was locked in my bedroom in the dark, crying while my dad belted my mum. I could hear everything – the yelling, the crying. As I got older I would get my little brother and sister, hide them in my room, then run out of my room to help my mum. Sometimes I would get hit trying to protect her.
I hated going to school - I couldn’t concentrate. Who could be bothered with it – everyone sitting up nicely doing their work and me pretending I wasn't worried about going home to protect my mum and siblings again.
One day my mum arrived at school to pick me up in a strange car with my little brother and sister and all my toys in the back. Mum said we were going to stay at a different house for a little while and that was all I was told. I was scared. We all slept in one room that had three sets of bunks. I was scared and I wanted to go home but didn’t because I knew we would get it. My mum would walk around the house crying and watching out the window… she told me she was scared that dad would find us. I just wanted to go home. I loved dad and hated him at the same time.
I felt heaps of different emotions. I was scared, angry, guilty, shameful and jealous of everyone I knew that didn’t have to go through this, but at the same time I loved both my parents and wasn’t aware of how wrong our lives were. I took drugs and I got drunk every chance I could. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop my dad from hitting us. I was too scared to leave home and too scared to stay. I kept all friends at a distance, and I avoided having anyone over to my house.
I left school in year 11, got a job and moved out of home to live with my boyfriend. Dad's control over mum happened more often but the hitting was less. I just wanted them to get divorced. It wasn’t until I left home that I realised how wrong my dad was and that what he was doing had a name: domestic violence.
One night my dad went right off his tree. He belted my mum, and ripped the phone of the wall so we couldn’t ring police. My brother witnessed this and came to get me. I went looking for mum and told her, ‘I can’t do this any more, it’s time to leave’. I made her stay at my house and I told my father he has to leave, this is wrong. Nobody cared how I was feeling.
A newly found friend said to me, ‘has something happened to you in the past?’ I avoided this question for months until I felt safe enough to say what had been happening, but then he supported me to seek help. It was the hardest but best thing that I could have done. To talk and read about people going through what I was going through was a great help for me. To know I was not alone any more and realising that it wasn’t my fault was a good feeling.
I'm now 25 years old and I am working in a women's refuge for domestic violence. I work with the children who come in to the refuge. It’s a rewarding job, being able to assist the children in living with and leaving domestic violence. I love life – I have a gorgeous husband and son with another baby on the way.
I believe if I can come from the lowest place possible to achieving my goals and believing life really is a good thing, then it is possible for other young people too. Seek help from someone you trust or a professional. There are people out there who care even if it doesn't feel like it right now. It's okay to feel the way you feel because of the situation you are in.
‘My trust was broken by a person who I trusted’…
The purpose of this information is to give an insight into my mind as a male child who experienced what now would be considered as ‘sexual assault of a minor’. I hope it highlights how I recovered to be myself again.
Every victim’s story is a story of the silent crime in our society. Humans are a social being. Sexual assault affects this child’s social being. It is very confusing, stressful and creates internal conflict.
My experiences as a boy and how they affected me:
My experience continues to affect my life all the time. It continues to haunt every choice I choose. My trust was broken by a person who I trusted who was an extended family member.
I stood up to him when he broke dad’s rule. Nobody is allowed downstairs after the children have gone to bed. Nobody!!!!! I told him, “Nobody is allowed down stairs.”
I refused to get out of my bed. Instead he got someone else out of their bed then forced that person naked on top of me. Then, not finished with that, the assaulter got on top of me in my bed and forced himself on me.
When I screamed for “HELP” my mother came downstairs and saw him on top of me in my bed.
In the morning, I was in the kitchen and I asked my mum, “What happened?” She told me to go and speak to my dad. My dad just walked in the door from work. But he did not say anything.
My blue elephant money box had been taken from under my bed and placed in the kitchen upstairs.
There was silence from the boy for along time. I was left alone to sort out my conflict of emotion, and the confusion of the sensation of physical touch.
Silence has many meanings. It does not mean I agree or disagree. It does not mean I am happy or sad. It does not mean I am OK or not OK. Silence does mean I don’t know how to express myself - my thoughts, my emotions, my feelings, my trust, my respect, my confidence, my confusion -
I don’t know!!
Who do I trust? Who do I speak to? Who do I listen to? Is touching OK or not OK?
If touching is OK, is it OK to touch others that I care about?
What is OK and what is not OK?
All my boundaries were in conflict with each other. In this boy life, everything is conflicting. I felt emotional pain, physical pain, emotional connection (this person I trusted until now, this person cared until now), yet emotional disconnection (this person I don’t trust anymore, this person does not care).
Everything that this person did complicated my understanding of what is OK and what is not OK.
Why does everyone else treat this person, who assaulted me, with respect? Why do they allow him to be the authority of the entire extended family?
This person is still an authority to others. Nobody stood up to him for several years. When my mum did she was not supported by my dad nor other family members, nor by our extended family.
To rebel or not rebel?
When I stood up to his authority, I was crushed.
I learnt to hide my pain, my suffering, my internal conflict. I had a secret. After a serious attempt to end my life, I still hid the secret.
I had no support. I was trapped in the situation. I ran away only to turn back and decide to wait patiently, submissively, but internally self destructing. I felt dead on the inside. I put a brave face on and co-operated with the enemy, the forces that don’t respect others.
What can I learn from my recovery?
I can learn to re-establish that the boy can trust someone. Never let that trust be broken.
I can learn to agree and disagree in an appropriate manner.
I can learn that it’s OK to be happy, sad and all the in-between.
I can learn to win, lose and enjoy the game.
Life is not always a game.
It can hurt.
I know I need nurturing, comforting, calming, caring, hugging. I need to have healthy role models for all the human characteristics and attributes. We all need these things.
What does it mean to care? I can speak words to care. I can give someone time when I care. I can give someone gifts when I care. I can do things for them when I care. I can feel my senses when I care.
I can hear words when someone cares for me. I can be given time when they care. I can receive gifts when they care. They do things for me when they care. They have feelings when they care.
I now choose who is in my circle of friends and they choose me. Mutual friends who care, respect, communicate regularly, appreciate each other, acknowledge each other and each others feelings, respect every person on their merits.
This boy is me. He has passed through this nightmare and now dreams of a pleasant future.
I thank all the people at CASA - Centre Against Sexual Assault (a counselling service - see services). They listen to victims all the time. They listen to me. In my own time. I stepped out from the pain, anguish, internal torture, self destruction, and then “I moved on.”
My advice to any parent who has a child:
There are supports available for children that many people are aware of. But at what point does the child become aware of the support that is available? What happens when people who could support a child don’t believe, or when those who do believe don’t act, or when those who believe and act are not supported others?
Parents can communicate to children in every way - emotionally, physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, respectfully, and enjoy life. They will be adults one day and will be in need of all the skills to be parents to their children. One day their children will be parents too.
As a child, my toy red elephant teddy was my safe security coping comfort. But this was taken from me when I was 12. Parents should never FORCE a child to grow up. They should allow the child to let go of the toy red elephant in his own time, allow the child to grow up at his own pace. Encourage healthy growth and guide the next step, but please don’t force it.
Communicate to children. Not just talk, small talk, all kinds of talk.
Listen don’t just hear. Give time to each other.
Help children to learn the boundaries of personal space, shared space, respecting others space. Help them to learn boundaries of friends and trust, levels of trust, confidence, and responsibility. Help them to learn to agree and disagree in an appropriate manner, to learn that it’s OK to be happy, sad and all the in-between. Help them to learn to win, lose and enjoy the game.
Written by another person who cares about you and our healthy lives.
‘The violence, fear and anxiety were part of our life…’
I was born in 1948. Ages ago now. I have two sisters who are quite a bit older than me. We all have kids of our own and some grandchildren. When we were growing up our mother did everything she could to keep us safe, but our father was violent and we were all frightened of him. He was physically and verbally violent with my mother and my sisters, and we all suffered emotionally because of his behaviour.
I think I was worried in my child’s mind that one day my father would kill my mother or my sisters. I was especially anxious at meal times – about the only time when we all sat down together. Who would he start on? What would happen? Who would get hurt? What could I do to distract him? What could I do to escape? I think like any little kid I just lived from moment to moment; hoping my Dad wouldn’t come home after work, hoping he would die – or at least hoping the violent part of him would die. When it wasn’t happening we never talked about it and I think I tried never to think of it. The violence, fear and anxiety were part of our life, part of my life, part of me.
It’s taken me a long time to really understand the devastating effect it can have to grow up in fear, in a confusion of violence, love, anxiety and fear. By the time I was about 13 or 14, I knew Dad wasn’t going to hit me. One day I stepped in between my parents and told Dad to leave Mum alone. I’m 57 now and looking back it could have been dangerous, so I wouldn’t recommend it, but it felt much better than sitting back and pretending it wasn’t happening. Looking back I suppose for the first time I was naming what was happening. When I went with Mum to the police station the officer said that there really wasn’t really anything he could do.
Other people must have known something was wrong, maybe guessed that Dad was violent. Maybe it would have been good for me if someone outside our family had said something to me, said that what my father was doing was wrong. I know that these days there are people you can talk to, people who are supportive and helpful when children and women talk about family violence, including some police. I think it would have helped me then.
You can also read Stories from Young People; and Stories from Famous People who grew up with abuse at home.