My name is Elizabeth, and I am a survivor of sexual child abuse and trauma. As a result, I know how much pain from torment and suffering can permeate every cell and follicle of a survivor’s body, without the survivor feeling anything because feeling is not possible. As a group, survivors understand that our pain receptors have been shut off by our brains to protect us. We lived in constant survival mode. Most forms of abuse usually happen for a prolonged period. Emotional abuse is almost always present with other types of abuse because that is how the abuser threatens and scares their victims into submission. Abuse victims get repeatedly crushed until they are beaten so far into the ground that they cannot breathe a word. We are silenced and, in this silence, we forget who we are. Our abusers rain insults and injuries onto us, showering us with hurt and pain. We start believing in them because there is nothing else. Our existence was stripped bare to only abuse.

Learning to live free

After years of suffering and just existing in space, we finally break free. Then what happens? Most people have someone they can go to as they kick-start their life back into the world of the living, like a broken-down car starting to run again. It might be a distant relative or a friend. Now that we are free, the real work begins. After a life riddled with abuse, we usually have no idea how to live and take care of ourselves and how to behave with other people. Social events are awkward and even a visit to the food market can be frightening as we are reminded of the threats from our abusers. Even though we have broken free, that “voice” is still in our heads stipulating our every move. It can take years for this voice to go away.



Self-care is something we have never truly understood because nobody has ever shown us care before. The word is as alien as a foreign language and carries no meaning. It simply did not exist in our abusive world. Growing up, I was immersed in rules of how to behave, how to dress, speak and act with others, how to eat, and even when to play. My life had until this point been a stipulation of rules that I couldn’t break, or I would be punished.

After breaking free, I realized very quickly that if I were to survive, I would have to start thinking of myself first. So, how do you do that when you have never been in control of your own life before? Luckily, as life would have it, just living free gave me my answers over time. I was an avid reader and I enjoyed watching movies and watching people. I could sit on a park bench for hours just watching and taking invisible notes of how people behaved in the park. I did the same on the beach. Watching people interact gave me ideas to how people interacted and socialized. I had always been hyper-vigilant, so I was able to put my skills to good use. I noticed that people did not shout hurtful words at each other. There were no insults or fights and when I saw parents hug their kids instead of being mean, something stirred deep within. I started to hope that the world was more like this. The more I saw affectionate and smiling people, the happier I became. I started smiling more even though I still felt very raw emotionally. With every day that passed, I smiled and gave myself little goals to achieve that day. Goals may seem silly to someone who has had free will, but they meant everything to me. 

My very first goal was to simply be in the moment and breathe. I started taking note of my own body and once a day I tried to just sit and breathe. It may seem weird that such a small change would help but for me, it turned my life around. I started paying close attention to my own body, which, in turn, led to me noticing if I was tense or relaxed. Once I had an understanding of what tense and relaxed “felt like,” I could do something about it. I could become aware of my own body more regularly. I had, until this point in time, copied others. In addition, not listening to my own body would make me pass out when I was exhausted.

Personal hygiene

My second goal was to join a gym. I enjoy running, and I learned from the gym that some women shower a lot and for a long time, so I gave a long shower a shot. Having never been in a shower for longer than necessary, a long shower was unexpectedly nice. At first, I was scared into panic mode that someone would notice that I had spent a minute longer than needed in the shower. However, not a single person said anything, and nobody said anything the next time either. In fact, nobody cared if I showered for 10 minutes or longer. I realized that it was all in my head. I noticed that some women would stay in a towel after their shower and moisturize their bodies afterward, bending and rubbing themselves all over. I have always hated being touched and decided that I didn’t like rubbing cream into my body after every shower. It was just a step too far for me, and yet it dawned on me that other people had different routines from me and that was okay. I made sure to buy deodorant and a good brush for my hair. I experimented with having my hair up or letting it out over my shoulders, relishing the freedom of choice to do what I wanted with my hair. The simplest of things meant the world to me.


Food is often a difficult topic to write about because everyone has a relationship with what they eat. My family was no different, but food was another way that was controlled. I was often forced to eat foods I hated or not given enough food, so I went hungry. I was never sure if there was going to be anything to eat and I would secretly steal crackers or bread from the kitchen. Snacks were rare and usually eaten in front of me to taunt me. A bag of chips would have me salivating at the crunch it made when my parents ate them in front of me. I was not given any because they would make me fat. Candy did not exist because it was considered evil. I remember that I once was given a huge round lollipop by a grandparent for my birthday, and it was locked away. I was given four licks of the lollipop every so often and then when it got moldy it was my fault. When my mother and I left to live away from my so-called father, she continued the food torment. Mother would give me money to buy candy, but it came with rules about how many to eat, even though I had very few pieces and was hungry. She would do the same with snacks. For example, when there was a bag of chips, I was given four, and then mother took the bag away. Everything to do with food was controlled.

Most abuse victims have similar stories involving food that was used as a point of control. I have always struggled with candy and snacks in my adult life. However, I have a better relationship with food because one of my goals was to learn to cook proper meals. I was determined to improve my life and not just live on canned meals. For example, I have made targeted visits to the food market where I have relished in picking and choosing my own fresh ingredients for healthy meals. 


Having clothes to wear is one of our basic needs. It is also another area that can easily be controlled by an abuser. My family was very strict about this issue to the extent that I had no voice in what I wore. When I was young, I did not worry much about it, but I started to notice my friends wearing nicer clothes that fitted their bodies better than mine did. My clothes would hang on me like a sack of potatoes and were often dirty. I had tears and holes in my clothes. I was well into my teens when I was finally given clothing options, but these options still came with rules. 


I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument as part of a program at my elementary school. I lived in a poor area of a big city and money was given to schools for music and art. I learned how to play the recorder to such a high level that my music teacher had me try the flute. I became proficient quickly, but, even more significantly, music became my outlet when I was sad or angry. I could play away my anger. I also learned how to play the guitar and sing when I was on my own. My other outlet was writing. I wrote every chance I could in my notebook and a diary.

Setting new habits

My first goal was to look after myself and never go hungry again. I promised that I would try to eat the best I could with the money I had earned. I would choose carefully what food to eat and to enjoy, but I also focused on balanced meals. I introduced more vegetables and fruit into my diet, which led to having more energy.

My second goal was to shower every day because it made me feel better. I took time to shampoo my hair and made sure to stay in the shower for as long as I wanted to. My complexion started to change quickly. My skin eventually looked less grey, and there was a new brightness in my cheeks.

My third goal was to buy myself better-fitting clothes so that no one would ever tease me about clothes again. I bought jeans and shirts that fit my body type. I bought more than two pairs of shoes, so I had different shoes to exercise in than what I wore to work.

These three simple changes may seem silly and basic to someone who has not been abused. However, to me, they led to the start of my life as a free woman. I experienced my own life, the way I wanted to, and I felt great!

My name is Elizabeth and I am a survivor.


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