How I recovered from abuse

Roughly 1 in 4 women living in the UK will experience serious sexual assault at some point during their lifetime. That’s a heartbreaking statistic and this is a heartbreaking story. But it’s not all sad all the time. Clare shares how she’s managed to recover from her abuse and start planning for the bright future she undoubtedly has.

True Stories

A young woman is staring onto a meadow. She is thinking about how she survived sexual abuse. This is a wide-angle image.

T/W: This article contains references to sexual abuse, self-harm and depression

My life was relatively ordinary before the abuse started. I was 14 years-old, living with my parents and sister. That’s not to say I had an easy life. I was bullied quite badly at school because of my sexuality – I’m bisexual and I came out when I was quite young. Unfortunately I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents about what was happening, so I basically bottled everything inside. That probably made me more willing to open up to others.

My abuser was my music teacher from church. He told me he was the only one who cared about me and that I would get into trouble if I told anyone what was happening. According to him, God was okay with our ‘relationship’. He lured me in with kindness and brainwashed me into believing that this was normal. He forced me to look at all sorts of pornography, perform sexual acts on him in his car, and have sex at his home.

Starting to self-harm 

The abuse went on for almost a year and keeping it a secret tore me apart. I started to cut any part of my body with a compass or nail scissors up to three times a day as a way of coping. I was always tired because he would keep me up for hours wanting to have phone sex. My close friends knew what was happening and did their best to help, but they didn’t have a clue what to do. We were only kids, after all. In the end I was strong enough to say “No” and withdraw completely from him. I knew I couldn’t continue to live my life in that way.

Moving away from home to go to university was far more traumatic than I thought it would be. Being alone just gave me time to dwell on the past. Four years after the abuse first began my mental health was at an all time low. I had counselling, but instead of it helping, I became more depressed. I started compulsively cutting myself again and couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed, wash, or even eat. My only interest was getting black-out drunk.

I didn’t tell my parents about the abuse until last year and when I did, they cried. At the time it was happening some of my friends confided in our church leaders, but my abuser forced me to deny it if anyone asked me what was happening.

A message from The Mix: If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with self-harm don’t hesitate to reach out to our confidential support services at any time.

Treatment for depression 

My doctor prescribed Citalopram, which is an SSRI antidepressant, but it didn’t work. One side effect of this drug in young people is an increase in suicidal thoughts; I tried to kill myself twice last year. I became very angry and detached. My behaviour was often dangerous to myself and to others. I threw knives around my bedroom, bit and kicked myself, banged my head on the wall, attempted to throw myself out of windows and swore at the top of my lungs

Incidents of self-harm became much more frequent and violent. I felt like I was close to going mad because I was entirely incapable of rational thought. And let me tell you, that’s a really scary feeling.  My best friend, who’s now my boyfriend, looked after me and rescued me from some dangerous situations. A lot of my friends banded together. They took away anything that I could injure myself with and even sat with me while I had a bath so I wouldn’t cut myself.

The doctor who prescribed my medication insisted I stay on it while I was still a danger to myself. This was until it became obvious I would keep trying to kill myself as long as I kept taking it. Once the drug was out of my system I felt much better, but I wasn’t offered any further help.

Moving on with my life

There’s still an enormous stigma attached to depression and sexual abuse. People often think that young adults will grow out of depression and that it isn’t as serious as ‘grown-up depression’.

I’ll never be the same person as I was before the abuse. I lost my virginity and my innocence to a much older man who, with hindsight, had been preying on me for a while. As much as I wish it hadn’t happened, the experience has made me stronger. It takes a lot to break me now. 

I had to grow up fast and although I’ll always regret losing that last bit of my childhood, I don’t cry myself to sleep anymore. That’s progress and growth. Abuse can only destroy you if you let it take over your life. I truly believe that you shouldn’t be defined by your experiences, but by who you are.

I have a lot of people who care about me and will do anything they can not to see me go down that road again. I’m doing work to confront my past because I refuse to let what happened dictate my future. I finally feel free from that cloud of unhappiness and shame that surrounded me for so long.

The Mix popping in again : Although Clare is in recovery, we know that there are plenty of young people who still self-harm and are actively seeking help. If that sounds like you, click here to access our self-harm hub page.

Next Steps

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abuse| recovery

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Oct-2021

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