I have never kept my family background secret and in fact during my time at Darlington AOG I published my testimony in the Church newsletter. Over the years, God has used my testimony to bring healing and hope to many women and although I don’t thank God for the experience of abuse, I am grateful for the good that has come from it over the years.
I have decided not to go into intimate details of the abuse here, suffice to say that when I was seven years old, I was abducted by a neighbour and held captive for several hours. During that time, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted and threatened. I was given money (to keep me quiet) and told that my family would be killed if I told anyone. I came from a very poor family, so the first thing I did when released was spend the money I was given at the local travelling shop. I came home several hours later clutching a big bag of sweets. My mother said she took one look at me and knew that something bad had happened. Someone called the police and my dad. By the time they arrived my abuser had fled. It soon came to light however that he had abused many other children in the area, but the frightened parents had been too scared to inform the police. With him gone, they all came forward and shared their stories. It was a sad day for the town. My abuser was later hunted down and shot in the head by unknown persons and his body lays in an unmarked grave near to where we used to live.
The effects on my family and me were devastating. There are no words to sufficiently describe the aftermath of the events that occurred that day. I became very reclusive, wouldn’t talk to anyone, became frightened of, well everyone and everything. My parents struggled with terrible guilt issues, my dad raged silently for years afterwards. The knowledge that I was held captive in the house opposite ours and she didn´t know nearly destroyed my gentle and loving mum. That she was going about the normal business of daily life while I was being raped was something she never forgave herself for. Yes, we all suffered and we all hurt – albeit in different ways. Abuse doesn’t just affect the person violated, it affects the whole family. After some months, my mind blocked out all memory of those days and it wasn’t until I was almost seventeen and someone tried to rape me (unsuccessfully as it turns out because I kicked him hard in the ‘family jewels’ and ran into the shop for help) in broad daylight in the hedged front garden of a local shop, that my memory started to return. I asked my mum to explain to me what happened on that day all those years ago, she did and for the first time I took in the enormity of the situation – so many children raped or physically assaulted, so many families devastated, one man dead, his family torn apart. It was too much to take in. This time, I pushed it down deep inside. Unlike the first time, I knew what I was doing. This was something I never wanted to remember again…ever.
A couple of years later I met and married Chris. Life should have been a dream, but it wasn’t, not for either of us. Chris quickly found out what it was like to live with someone with a dark, overwhelming secret. Nightly nightmares, irrational fears of anything that moved and sad moods that would quickly turn into dark ones were the norm. But, somehow, I continued to push it down, until that is the birth of our two children. Watching them play happily in the garden one day, I suddenly became overwhelmed with anger that my childhood had been one of loneliness, unspeakable grief and emotional pain. From that time on, I gradually became more and more depressed, spiralling into a world of strange and scary thoughts.
Around this time, I had started to going to a craft club held by Darlington AOG. I went there for two years until the children started school. One day, I decided to go to the Sunday evening meeting. Everyone was surprised to see me there, I had never talked about the Church to anyone during the time I attended the craft club as, having been brought up in the Catholic Church, I had had my fill of religion (so I thought). As I stood in the meeting that Sunday evening I heard a voice clear as day that simply said ‘I love you’. I heard it as an audible voice and it was one that I recognised immediately. It was the same voice that I had heard as a seven year old, with my abusers hands tightly wrapped around my neck, we both heard someone call my name urgently. It was enough to break the evil spell we were both caught up in. He dropped me to the floor and let me leave. The sound of that voice had saved my life once and here it was saving me again. I immediately surrendered my life to Christ. I have never wavered or faltered in my faith since. Why would I? I have everything I need in my Lord.
My life changed dramatically after my conversion. My depression lifted, never to return. Even my body felt lighter, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted of my shoulders. I learned to laugh and to cry in turn. Most importantly for me, I learned to love without restraint. This was a new experience for me. After a lifetime of not trusting, not touching, I found myself trusting people, and myself, in situations that I could never have done before. Within months, I had applied for registered nurse training. When I qualified three years later in 1995, I began what would become an incredibly rewarding career within health, social care and academia.
Like most people, my life has been very much shaped by my experiences, both the good and the bad. They say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and in my case I think that’s actually true. If I hadn’t become a Christian when I did, I am sure my life would have turned out to be very different to the one I enjoy now. It sounds cliché I know, but in my case, my strength comes from my relationship with Christ. Without Him, I suspect the terrors of my past would overwhelm me. Like all people (saints or no) I am strong in some areas and weak in others.
I am strong in terms of being able to see any situation in its entirety while being able to pinpoint areas of concern, this is a skill I use all the time in my work, both secular and non-secular. I am strong in the sense that even if I make a mistake, I am not afraid to go back to the situation and make things right. I am, for example, quick to realise when I am wrong and willing always to put things right, even if I have to compromise my own rights. In a tight spot, I would much rather let someone think they are right, even if they are not, because I know from experience that God will show them the error of their ways at some point in the future. I have anyway always felt that ‘being in the right’ was over-rated. Having said that, some issues have to be fought over and won, it’s simply a matter of choosing which battles I really need to win day-to-day. I’m a great believer in that weaknesses are simply strength’s foil; you cannot have one without the other. It is how God made us. In our weakness we call out to Him, in our strength we give glory to Him, either way, it’s a win-win situation.
My life continues to be marked by adventures in God. At the moment I am completing a PhD in dementia research. Dementia is something that is very close to my heart for a number of reasons, both personal and professional. When completed, I hope to work in Iceland, sharing my knowledge and skills so that people with dementia and their care partners can look forward to services designed around their needs. I also hope to work with people who don’t have dementia to teach them how they can reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life. There is much to do and I fear so little time for people with dementia. I have a big God however whose very heart is to bless His children. Knowing that, I am encouraged to work as hard as I can to make a difference where He has placed me.
Now, what about those weaknesses I avoided talking about earlier…? Notwithstanding my penchant for cheap cookery books and kitchen gadgets, after 21 years of being in relationship with my God, I have few remaining (external) vices, plenty still on the inside though. I do however, have an aversion to exercise that borders on the pathological, although when we lived in England I did occasionally accompany Chris on his early morning walks. An event I’m ashamed to admit so rare that when our son James saw my side of the bed empty at 6.15 am one morning a couple of months ago, he assumed I had fallen out of bed and snuggled back to sleep on the floor on the opposite side of the bed. It never occurred to him that I may have got up early for a walk. Bless him!