As survivors of abusive childhoods, we have all at some point suffered from survivor’s guilt. Some of us even feel a strong bond with our abusers, for others, those bonds are complicated and fragile. For weeks, months, or even years, we suffered under the hands of our cruel abuser’s relentless devastation of our bodies. The physical injuries and bruises healed, and new ones came and went. Our brains silently recorded everything as our bodies stored and soaked up every hurt and painful memory like a sponge. We survived through coping mechanisms and sheer determination that life will become something else. Hope that it would eventually stop. That something else is just a fantasy during the pain because many of us have no idea what life can be at that point. If you are a child, abuse is often all that you know. I am no different and I wanted to share with you how I put my demons to rest.

My story is like so many of you out there. In my memoir: The Sex-Offender’s Daughter: A True story of survival against all odds, I tell my story to society in the hope to expose abuse for what it is. It is far too painful to describe in just one word or even a sentence but knows this, abuse is the worst kind of torture any living human being should ever have to endure. It most often happens to young children or innocent young women and men who cannot defend themselves. So why do we feel guilty when we do manage to get away from the abuse? Why should we feel guilty at all?

When I had just turned 8 years old, I witnessed two very cruel sex murders during the same summer. They both happened right next to me. I should have died too in the same way but somehow, I was allowed to live afterward. Why? Why me? Why was I spared when the person next to me was not? The first murder was a little girl who was only just older than me at the time. She looked like I did, just taller. We could have been sisters. The second was a young woman my mother’s age or thereabouts. Both murders are deeply ingrained within me. Their last moments in life snuffed out in front of me. I cannot begin to explain how those events have affected me throughout my life. Despite years of counseling and going to the police to tell all, I still suffer from guilt. I survived.

I carried the young girl with me wherever I went. For years she was on my back, like a backpack you just don’t want to take off. I wanted her there. She grounded me, talked to me, and guided me like a big sister. She was with me at school when we learned how to read and write. We played and talked all the time. I didn’t know the girl before that day. She told me what she wanted to do and as I survived, I felt like I had to live for her too. The older woman also came back to haunt me in my vivid nightmares. She kept telling me over and over that I had to tell people how she died. I did, I told everyone. I told my parents, my family and eventually the police. No one took me seriously and the police didn’t have enough evidence to build a court case. It was my word against my abusers.

As an 8-year-old, I couldn’t write well enough to satisfy my deep emotional need to let my feelings out. I started drawing comics. I made long complex stories about my trauma to give the girl and the woman meaning. I told them about my own life and what kept happening to me. They listened. I wanted them to matter because I was sure they had families and friends out there who knew them. It was a huge responsibility for me to carry them. Me, who was already suffering so much abuse. Yet, I carried them. I took it upon myself to breathe for them and in some way, this may have saved my life when the sexual abuse I suffered was unbearable. I decided that summer, that if I lived to be a grown-up, I would live the best life that I could. I was a survivor. I had to be strong, for them.

Before I left my abusive past, I was forced to witness another sex murder. Like the other two, it happened right next to me and I was almost strangled again. This time it was a teenager just older than me looking for a job. She fought them until the end and her fight against her murderer convicted him in a court of law. I didn’t know until years later that he was convicted because she fought him. I had been unconscious at “the end”. At the time, I shut down. I couldn’t feel anything after it happened. It was a blank. All I wanted was to get away from them all. I was too young to leave but not too young to plan my escape. I owed it to the fighter girl and the other two, to have a life.

I escaped from everything and everyone I knew. I got a plane ticket to freedom. I survived three sex murders and a childhood riddled with sexual abuse. I carried the girl and the woman for years and then to safety. I lived for them. I felt I owed my life to them because I lived. The fighter girl was brave to hurt her murderer so much that he was convicted. She could take care of herself. I was determined to be more like her even when I did not feel brave. I owed her at least a try. I went out in the world and believe me; the world is huge for someone who has only been in one place all her life! I got a job and I worked hard for everything I had in those early days. I was determined to survive and live a good life and to do that I needed to look after myself first. I started eating better than junk food because I deserved to feel good. I replaced burgers and fries, chips and candy with vegetables and a rich and varied diet.

The fighter girl kept pushing me to do more and when I was almost homeless due to lack of money, I found a nanny job. I know, it doesn’t sound like much but at the time, for me, it was a lifeline. From there I managed to grab onto life firmly. As a nanny, I played and had fun with the kids because I owed the little girl who died more happy play memories. Notice how I was never thinking about myself? I got into college because the fighter girl wanted an education. She was driven and so I became driven too.

I have done a lot of journalling in my life. I think writing saved me in a lot of ways. It was an outlet, pouring out all my hurt into black ink. I ran and did sports, pushing my body for the fighter girl. I took care of myself like the young woman would have wanted me to. She was so pretty, and she taught me to look out for myself. I’ve never really cared that much about how I look. It’s a vain way of living. I am who I am and no make-up will ever change me into someone I’m not. I am proud of the woman I am today because I made it. I am someone who does matter. The fighter girl told me that. I have listened to those three a lot over the years. They pushed me to succeed. They gave me the courage to survive and start healing.

After years of counseling, I am still feeling guilty over surviving. Murder is not something that one can ever forget, nor is abuse. The memories can be restored in the brain in the right place and once they are, they don’t hurt quite so much. I can look at myself in the mirror and know that it was not my fault that I survived. I have seen photos from the times of the murders, and I was so young and thin back then. There was no way, I could have changed the outcome of those murders. I was a victim myself and I almost died three times from strangulation and the scars inflicted on me. I no longer carry the three victims. I don’t need to because I have my own life to live. So, I do whatever I can do to have a good life. I get up each day with a happy and positive attitude because normal life is great. I am in a good place, and I have a little family of my own. I am proud to be alive and the future will forever be bright for me.

If you feel guilty over surviving your past, know that you are not alone in this world to feel this way. There are lots of us out there. Some are struggling and some are not. Life is a bit like a rollercoaster with ups and downs, but we survive. Hang in there if you feel stuck in a dark place. The sun will come out and you will find that strength to carry on. If I could do it, so can you.

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