Coming to terms with abuse

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Coming to Terms With an Abusive Past

By Allie Gledhill

Acknowledging that you’ve had an abusive past isn’t so easy, but it’s the first step that you’ve got to take if you want to come to terms with your past and move forward in your life. Healing from abuse is possible – it is a difficult road but it is definitely worth taking.

Recognising abuse

(Please note some readers may find the following a little disturbing)

Many forms of abuse are obvious to people who observe the abuse with an outsiders point of view. A slap or a punch in the face from a violent partner seems like an unmistakable form of physical abuse. Or, to the reasonable-minded outsider, an adult engaging in sexual activity with a child or young teenager is judged to be an unquestionable misuse of adult power. But if you are the one at the receiving end of it, abuse isn’t always so obvious.

From the moment I was touched by one of my uncles in an inappropriate way, I had a feeling that what was happening to me was wrong. But I couldn’t put my finger on what, exactly, was so wrong and why I hated it so much when Uncle Nathan would come into my room at night and have sex with me. Didn’t I love my uncle? Hadn’t he put so much effort into being the father that I’d never had? And hadn’t I soaked up his attention, his approval and his emotional support? Even when my uncle’s activities with me became violent and I was left bruised and bleeding I didn’t fully understand that what was happening to me was wrong. For years my uncle had been telling me that our relationship was right, that he loved me and that our sexual relationship was my doing because I had been too attractive for him to resist. I trusted him and I believed him.

Wanting to speak out but not knowing how

As the abuse continued, I developed an increasingly burning desire to speak out about what was happening to me. Fear prevented me from speaking out and so the burden of not telling the truth weighed heavily on my heart. It prevented me from living an open, truthful life. I hated that I carried a dark secret and that I had to lie about how I got my fat lip and why I felt so compelled to drink myself into oblivion. At the same time, the idea of telling the truth seemed impossible.

Years later, after the abuse finally stopped, I felt I’d been keeping the secret for so long that I didn’t know how to start telling the truth about it. The idea of telling the truth seemed so massive and confronting that I couldn’t face it. So I brushed it under the carpet, convinced myself that I didn’t need to talk about it and that it wasn’t important that my friends and partner knew about my past. But still the desire to tell the truth would come creeping up and niggle at me, manifesting itself as shortness of breath and sometimes full-blown panic attacks. Eventually the panic attacks became so bad that I reluctantly dragged myself along to an abuse counselor.

Counselling and writing as therapy

Initially, I didn’t share the full truth with my counselor because I felt too ashamed. I skipped over parts of my story, avoided discussing certain events and would lie about my feelings and state that I felt fine about things when I clearly didn’t. I was at the beginning of my healing journey, the start of a long and difficult road that would present me with as many challenges as it would rewards. I didn’t know that the people that I would meet on my healing journey would become my friends for life, that I’d meet other abuse survivors who would provide me with an endless source of love and support. I never expected that old friends who knew me during my years of difficulty would reach out to me with messages of encouragement and acceptance that would touch my heart.

In my early stages of counseling, I was encouraged to write letters to my abuser and to anyone else that I felt I needed to forgive for their part in my abuse. I would sit down and write pages of letters, feeling my anger dissipate and my fears dissolve as I wrote. I never imagined that this exercise would eventually lead me to write my first book, An Angel in the Corner, and that I would experience the joy of meeting and working with other authors and writers.

When I was at the beginning of my healing journey I hadn’t yet come to terms with my abusive past. I didn’t think that I could ever be free from my past and that I would always have to lie about who I really was. I am so happy that my counselors have proved me wrong.

A note of encouragement

After you have been abused, you can never go back to the person you were before. But I believe that personal transformation is possible and that there are wonderful life gifts that can emerge from an abusive past. I don’t know what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been abused and I’m not interested in knowing. My past has made me who I am and I am finally comfortable with that. I have given myself the gift that my teenage self so desperately wanted – the joy of living an abuse free life.

   Allie Gledhill is the author of ‘An Angel in the Corner’

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