Katie’s story of tranforming a childhood of abuse and neglect

Growing up in Cardiff, Katie’s childhood was tarnished with poverty, neglect and emotional abuse. For years she has fought to forge a new life path.

The catalyst for my awakening, or breakdown as some might put it, came in 2005 when I tried to commit suicide by climbing the railings of a local beauty spot. I can still recall the painstaking moments of climbing those railings and balancing there with all of my life. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to die. It was everything; it was the only way I felt I could free myself from my suffering.

This action came in response to being repeatedly sexually assaulted (raped), by my biological father. It was the second time that I had met him and stayed with him in his home in Ireland.  I was subjected to an assault over a two-day period. I don’t think I could have felt anymore rejected as a human being. I was 29 at the time, a mother, a partner, a daughter.

My father had lived for the majority of his adult life as an alcoholic living on the streets of Cardiff before being hospitalised and returned home to Ireland. He was the one who initiated contact with me when I was 21 years old. I had spent eight years prior to meeting him writing to him, building a relationship. I felt so angry with him. Why nothing for all this time?  Why now? In learning to trust my father, he had showed me pictures he’d kept of me as a little girl and told me stories of what he knew. As our relationship grew through letters and phone calls my sense of authenticity radiated within me, I felt accepted and whole hearted. My father opened the door to the child that had become cut off, suppressed.

I forgave him for leaving in my childhood and met successfully with him the first time when I was 29. I believe looking back now that my father’s life had been pretty tormented. On reflection, the metal bars he had in the corner of the rooms all make sense, maybe a sign of his paranoia from years living on the streets or maybe a mental health condition unknown to me. Finding self-forgiveness has been hardest thing to do as I wanted to believe it had all been my fault. I must have encouraged him; I must have allowed it to happen.  If only, I wasn’t so open, if only I could see how vulnerable I was. This man had raped me but he was the man that co-created me. It destroyed any sense I had of myself.

My life became Pandora’s Box for a while with no part left unturned by me, everything came out. I don’t totally understand why, but I still found hope. I still found a fragment of belief in myself that I could help myself. I started going to therapy; sometimes I don’t know how I carried my body through the door, the pain was so immense for me.

The ‘gift in the wound’ was ‘finding me’ and I discovered in myself that I was an incredibly strong woman who likes to help other people. I realise that – despite everything – I was undiminished. It has taken me eight years to find a space where I can make peace with my father, I would even go as far as to say I have forgiven him – mainly for what he was totally unable to do — and that is treat me with humanity. It made me want to realise how he experienced life. What had led the man to lose something he had only just gained, not to value or recognise what this relationship meant?

At one point he went back to Ireland, to give a statement to the police. I had decided to press charges but the CPS threw it out. The reasons they gave me for taking no further action was that it was my word against his, that I didn’t report it immediately and that I had experienced a sexual assault earlier in my childhood too by a family member. This just compounded my sense of worthlessness and shame. Looking back the injustice was in the not knowing why they had thrown it out.

One thing I know now is that I’m not a victim anymore, I’m a survivor. I have found a sense of reconciliation within myself by finding peace and rebuilding my life. The head of my counselling course at university once told me that ‘if she had felt just a little of my pain with me – then it had been a privilege’. I was so touched by her and so many other people who tried to reach out to me in my pain. Sometimes the pain still comes but the memories are comforted by my sense of self forgiveness and compassion towards me.