When I look back there are so many times I could have lost my life, but I am here today and I know I am pure, beautiful and whole. I have been given a second chance, a new beginning. My heart’s desire is for other women to know they can make this healing journey too, even if it’s a long journey.
I come from South Africa. The place where I grew up was filled with violence. I used to dread Fridays when my stepfather came home drunk. Once I smelt alcohol in the air I knew he was going to smash the house up and become violent. I can remember shaking with fear, hiding from him behind a sofa and running to a neighbour, begging her to hide me away so he couldn’t find me. My childhood years were memories of instability and constant worry.
I was sent away to boarding school when I was seven years old. I thought it was a great moment; I would be safe. Instead, I was abused by a prefect. I was woken up, taken to the bathroom and abused. This is the story of my childhood. The very people who were in authority, who should have protected me, abused me. I remember being so broken.
I could not speak about the abuse or violence for a long time. At school I used to act out, get in trouble and no one understood why. I remember teachers shouting at me, beating me, telling me I would amount to nothing. Only the Head Teacher of my high school gave me hope. She was the first one to recognise leadership and greatness inside me, despite my brokenness.
I left school early. I was broken, filled with pain and had no idea how to manage the internal turmoil. To stay numb, I started to abuse drugs. I had a string of abusive relationships and eventually ended up on the streets as a drug addict. I had two children. They were the best gift I could ever ask for. My mum took in my children, looked after them and she has never lost hope in me. But I lost hope in myself.
I was kidnapped twice and raped four times. I remember one of the kidnappers telling me that I would not live to see the next morning. He beat me so badly I was relieved that I might die. I had given up all hope of ever surviving. One of the kidnappers took me to a casino. I had to act as cover while he stole handbags. I was too scared to say anything but he was spotted and stopped. The police came. A turning point for me was when one of the policemen asked if I was alright and I told him I was not. I was taken to a safe house and given a place at a rehabilitation centre to begin my healing journey from addiction to transformation.
While I was in rehabilitation, a man who came to speak to us gave me hope. He had been abused, had lived on the streets and now he was clean. I felt a light go on inside me. If he could make it, so could I. I came off drugs, drink and tobacco and I stayed clean. Withdrawal was a very hard time for me, but I know God kept me going all the way through.
During that time I became a Christian. I remember going to church for the first time and listening to a story from the Bible, about a woman who many judged and looked down upon. I felt that story was talking directly to me. A man prayed over me and that day I knew God was real.
Although I came out of the rehabilitation centre clean, I was still trapped in another way. I had not dealt with the pain and violence I had gone through. I knew I needed help and I went into counselling.
That was the start of another journey for me. I had to face my past experiences and deal with them. My counsellor encouraged me to forgive my abusers which I found very hard. Gradually, I began to forgive those who had hurt and harmed me. It took a long time but when I did, I felt free. The profound impact of forgiveness was the start of walking in complete healing.
One day, at a bus stop, I encountered a man who had raped me. We recognised each other. I told him I forgave him. It was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had and I went home feeling light and free!
I found the strength to walk away from my last abusive relationship and shortly after that I met my husband at church. He was different from any man I had ever known. He believed in me, cared for me and loved me. I had to tell him about my past. I could not believe he would still love me despite all my baggage. He told me we would make it through together. I walked down the aisle in a white wedding gown feeling pure and beautiful and my shame was gone!
I still had to work on myself as the abuse I had experienced still impacted the way I related to people, especially my husband and children. I was abusive and aggressive myself. I had to face up to the darkest things inside myself and ask forgiveness of my children. They also needed time to heal.
Looking back, I feel so strong now. As a survivor of abuse, I want to pass a baton of hope to anyone who has experienced abuse. Find a safe space to heal. Don’t you dare die with a broken heart when there IS healing available! There is a plan and purpose for your life. I pray my story gives you hope to change yours.