I’m a survivor of sexual child abuse and horrific trauma. My start in life was difficult and painful and I grew up not knowing “how to live”. I didn’t know how to be a human being. I had no identity. I had not traveled and had no passport. Those of you who have suffered from CSA know what this feels like. What happens after you leave home? After you leave your abusers and head to college or work. How do you integrate into society? A constantly changing society full of people from all walks of life. Where do you go at first for those brand-new nights alone? The answer is not always as simple as where you go but more appropriately, how do you know where to go? Who do you trust in those first vital few days?

If you grow up in a loving family, you meet family friends and you build friendships like a wide net around you. It’s a bit like a spider’s web of networks all around you, supporting you. The more you socialize, the better you become at it. As an abused child, communication and socializing do not happen as it does in a loving and supporting environment. Most often there is no communication at all or it is manipulative and one-sided. A relationship based on threats and fear can never blossom into a good relationship. Therefore, as a victim of abuse, you have no net, no spider’s web of amazing network friends who can help you as you are ready to take that first leap into society. That leap is scary for anyone but as a victim of abuse, it is like leaping into a black hole. You have no idea what is coming next but you put yourself on the line because it can never be as bad as where you have been.

A Fresh Start

I had to start all over again when I took my leap, and I was absolutely terrified. I got a passport to prove my identity, in secret and I had saved up money to buy a plane ticket as far away as possible. I wanted to get as far away as possible from my family so they could never hurt me again. I felt like I was completely alone, which in fact – I was! It felt like I had to take on the whole world one step at a time. I trusted no one and I was ready to sleep rough if I had to. First, I had to learn social cues and how to talk and be around people after I had cut ties with my family. I had done my research over the years and learned to ask my way forwards to where I wanted to be. It was not easy and I practiced in front of the mirror a lot. I knew where to go and get a job to make enough money for a studio apartment. I also knew that the apartment would be located in one of the worst places to live in the city, but I had no possessions other than a few old clothes, my notebooks, and my guitar. I didn’t really care where I was, I was away from THEM. When I closed my own front door that first day, I closed my eyes and sank down onto the floor, and sobbed. Relief and terror are all catching up with me. I had made it somehow. I was free and I had a job as a dishwasher/cleaner in a restaurant. Things were looking up.

I did my best to wash and clean whilst I was constantly on edge. My colleagues were teasing me as the new girl. It was just harmless banter from young adults my own age, but I didn’t respond the way the others did to the jokes. I was jumpy and soon became “weird”. One of the lads touched my shoulder once. It was harmless but I screamed so loud the whole room went deathly quiet. He had startled me. I was constantly exhausted those first few weeks, overlooking my shoulders for danger. I wasn’t used to working hard labour and I was fully alert for anything and everything. I had no idea then that I was suffering from Complex PTSD. I was having nightmares most nights, but my dreams were so full of terror they didn’t make sense. I was worried my abusers would find me and drag me back to my old life.

My stay in the apartment was short-lived because I just couldn’t make the rent. My meager savings ran out and as a dishwasher, I had miscalculated the rent and bills even for the hovel studio I got to call home. I was lucky and fell into an ad agency looking for live-in nannies. I relished the opportunity because by the end of that week I would be homeless. I was hired and suddenly I had upgraded my hovel for a room in a huge house in the suburbs. I thought I had struck gold!

As the reality of my zip code kept dazzling my brain that I was safe and in the perfect family home, I slowly started to fall back to earth. My landing was hard and painful. I was a nanny to the snobbiest, spoilt little rascals who abused me with endless teasing using their parents to make my life into a new nightmare. The parents hated me and felt threatened by me. ME!? Why on earth would anyone be threatened by me? I wouldn’t hurt anyone! The family asked me to clean their house as well as all their washing and childcare. This included the parents washing and sheets. My job was as a nanny but I ended up being a slave. The family had the heating turned off in my room so I ended up sleeping in full clothing and a hat and gloves when it was winter. My hands and lips were blue as I shivered in the cold. My room was on the end of a wing and had two outside windows, so I felt the cold all right. On top of that, the family chose to not heat the house and only heated the main room where they all spent their evenings. I was not invited. I was the help. Nothing more and once my “duties” has been done, I was expected to leave the house. I lived there! They wanted me gone because the parents thought I was listening to their conversation. They were important figures in society and my presence was not welcome. The family refused to give me their spare car and so I had no option but to walk to wherever, every single night. My trust in other human beings was at that point on an all-time “rock bottom”. I was cold and wet pacing the streets and avoiding being arrested in the winter. In the summer I could hide in the parks for hours and write. You probably wonder why I didn’t leave. I guess the answer is that as bad as it was, I had somewhere to go to call “home”. The kids were horrible because all their previous nannies had left and until I had stayed with them a while, they wouldn’t trust me. I stayed because I felt I couldn’t sink any lower or do better. Until I came up with a plan, I would put on my smile, get up each day and be the best nanny I could be. The house was beautiful, the shower was a new power shower, and no one timed me in the bathroom. The family allowed me to bake and I got the kids to help me. It opened up a bond with them and slowly they began to trust me. I played my guitar with them and got them to sing and practice for their school play.

As a thank, you, the mother in the family helped me to sign up for college night classes in the city. It was a college with a great reputation and I couldn’t believe my luck. I discovered I could get a train into the city. My classes got me out of the house for longer, giving the family their privacy, they wanted. My first class was hard because I was too nervous to join in. I found it difficult to speak other than my name. As those first few weeks went by, I found that I was more than capable to do the work. In fact, it was too easy, so I got bumped up to the advanced class. After a few months, I was teaching that class on my own. In those months, I learned how to communicate with people. I still had my “spidey sense” about people. Somehow, I knew straight away if I was going to be able to trust them eventually or if they would hurt me. The little hairs at the back of my neck would never lie as they stood to full alert if I felt something was off. I learned that all of society is not bad and out to hurt you. Most people have no idea what you have been through as a survivor. It is not written on my forehead in invisible ink. I never had a tattoo that said worthless and stupid like I believed, ignoring my common sense. I was the right age for a college student, and I made new friends who were my own age. My little friend network was starting to form.

My friends realised I had lived a hard life and they helped me buy clothes that fit me and were trendy. They helped me open a bank account for my hard-earned cash and I was able to get a volunteer job on the side which turned into paid work. After 18 months I had opened enough doors to manage my own life so I left the family and I could stand on my own two feet. I rented a room from a little old lady who just wanted company after her husband had died.

How did you manage that first year away from your abusive family? Who did you turn to? Where did you go? Life does carry on. It is one of the hardest things you will do but if you are like me, you have no other option. There are many of us out there, still surviving after abuse. You can do it too. Hang in there!

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