A story of hope and triumph – the journey of a woman abuse survivor
Today, 32-year-old Sarah* is a thriving career woman, who is surrounded by a support network of loving friends and family. She is confident in the purpose for which she was born. But it hasn’t always been this way.
At three years old, Sarah was an outgoing little girl, who spent her days in carefree bliss, just the way children should. But the bright light that twinkled in her eyes was dulled when men she knew took advantage of her innocence and destroyed it. Like millions of women around the world, she is a survivor of abuse.
On the outside, Sarah’s life was just what any little girl could wish for. She lived in a lovely home in suburbia, and as the youngest by 13 years, she was doted on by her much older siblings. Her parents were career-driven and she was mostly raised by nannies in her early childhood. Everyone loved her dearly but between her travelling parents and her pre-occupied teenage siblings, no one noticed that at around the age of three, Sarah began to change. It was during this year, and part of the following one that Sarah was raped, repeatedly, by three different men. While she knew what was happening to her was wrong, she never told anyone. In a lonely world of her own, Sarah suffered feelings of fear, guilt and shame.
When she was five years old, Sarah’s family moved to a new neighbourhood, where her perpetrators would no longer have any access to her. Her parents hired a new nanny, who Sarah describes as nothing less than a Godsend. Between her new nanny, and her sister, Sarah was loved and protected, and would never have to experience rape again. But still Sarah kept quiet about the trauma she survived.
The years flew by and it wasn’t until early adulthood that she began battling with depression, and became reckless and self-sabotaging. When she started struggling at university, she decided to seek counselling but dredging up the past only seemed to make things worse. So she stopped but her aggression and carelessness only escalated. The immense pressure from her family however forced her to take charge of her studies again and she completed her degree. It was shortly thereafter that Sarah met her first love.
The relationship was good but when her boyfriend broke things off, it sent her into a downward spiral. Suddenly Sarah was drowning. The breakup felt like confirmation of all the terrible things she thought about herself:
“You’re not good enough and never will be.”
“Why would anyone truly love you?”
“You are only good for one thing.”
“You are not beautiful in any way, shape or form.”
Sarah spent the next few years constantly seeking validation from others and working relentlessly to prove people (and herself) wrong.
“I wanted to be better and be good enough,” she says.
But every time Sarah took one step forward, she would do something that would take her two steps back. She became obsessed with her weight to a point where she stared death in the face.
After overdosing on weight-loss drugs and waking up in hospital, Sarah remembers two significant events that would change the course of her life. The first was saying a prayer, and the second was rediscovering what truly made her happy.
The two coincided in a way Sarah never could have imagined. Singing as a child in her school choir had brought Sarah great joy, so she began looking for a choir to join. The only ones she could find however were church choirs – and she wasn’t Christian – so when she found a church choir which welcomed her irrespective of her religious beliefs, she was overjoyed.
“I went with the intention to sing only. No religious stuff,” Sarah recalls, “but after the first service I attended I felt an instant connection with God.”
Two weeks later Sarah’s father passed away, suddenly. Instead of the downward spiral that a loss like this would have triggered in the past, Sarah prayed for strength and took in all the love and support of her family and friends, and her new-found church group.
Sarah not only survived the ordeal but began to thrive.
At a women’s camp, arranged by the church, not long after her father’s passing, Sarah opened up about her past through prayer. “I shared everything with God, from being raped to every reckless decision I ever made,” Sarah says. The experience was like magic. “I could stand still and breathe for the very first time in my life.”
Sarah says the experience not only changed her but empowered her to help other woman abuse survivors. Truly understanding the emotional, mental and physical damage of abuse has allowed her to connect with these women and to help them rebuild their lives.
For Sarah, song and prayer were central to regaining her confidence, and forgiving her perpetrators, and herself. “It took me a long time to forgive myself,” says Sarah. “I would often think: why didn’t I just say no?”
Knowing how long and hard she fought to finally believe that the abuse was not her fault, has allowed Sarah to encourage other women to realise and embrace their true value. Sarah wants every women who has ever been subjected to abuse, or is in an abusive situation, to know this:
“You can be happy, you are good enough, you are loved, you are worthy, you do belong, and you are beautiful.”
Through sheer determination and with the help of friends, family and the church community, Sarah took back control of her life. Having a strong support network has played a critical role in her journey of hope and triumph. Every woman who has survived abuse, or is being abused, deserves the same, and that network can grow far beyond their immediate circle because when we come together we are stronger than we are alone.
This is the sentiment that inspired 1st for Women to launch ForWomen – a place where woman abuse fighting efforts come together and where those who need help can find it, quickly, and those who want to help can lend a hand. Visit www.for-women.co.za to get help or give help through ForWomen’s growing support network and let’s work together to end woman abuse. #GiveAbuseTheBoot
(*name changed for anonymity)