By Elizabeth Shane
Look up. Two simple words that were once said to me and resonated. I never realised until
recently, that I have spent nearly my whole life looking down. Looking down through shame,
through fear, through self-loathing and feeling too vulnerable for people to look into my eyes
and heart in case they see the darkness I felt.
I am the youngest of five children, three from my dad’s first wife, who he divorced.
Due to her severe mental health problems and child neglect, the three children were placed in
foster care from a young age and tragically their mother committed suicide. My dad took
custody of them and moved in with him when he married my mother. She hated them from
day one. From the time I was born, I entered a world not only full of hatred, but also physical,
emotional, and sexual abuse. From a young age I had no idea my dad had started sexually
abusing my siblings and at that time, he had also began abusing me. I was never completely
sure until a few years ago when I began to get flashbacks and memories of the abuse after he
died. I was filled with such conflicting emotions from the grief of having lost my dad, but
also loving and hating him at the same time.
When I was three or four my half-brother began to sexually abuse me as well, up until
the age of about nine or ten. I don’t know how but I knew it wasn’t safe to show any emotion
or tears in front of my parents. Both were cold, detached, emotionless and extremely critical,
angry, people, especially my mother. She suffered from severe post-natal depression after I
was born and seemed to vanish from existence in my world, except when she was physically
and emotionally abusive towards me. I was petrified of both parents and could feel the anger
and hatred aimed towards me from my mother, just for being born. Even though I feared my
dad especially as I didn’t feel safe around him, I was desperate for him to love me and would
do my best to make him smile and win his approval. I never gave up hope even into
adulthood and would be rewarded in snippets, with memories of him reading me to me which
was the only positive memory I can recall between us.
When I started school, I looked down even more. Feeling different from the other kids
I thought they would see the abuse in my eyes if I looked up. I became a complete loner and
would walk around the playground on my own thinking I was a rebel by swearing out loud. I
became a target for other children to bully me for being different; they didn’t like how I
looked and was often beaten up. I never had the kind of relationship where it felt safe to tell
my parents anything as I knew they would blame me so I could never tell them what was
going on at school. I went from being bullied at school to going home and being sexually
abused by my half-brother. The highlight of my childhood was food with all my fond
memories relating to places I visited and what I had eaten.
I never spoke of my sexual abuse until I started secondary school and had watched a
TV programme where they had spoken about abuse and realised things that had happened to
me were not supposed to. I only told the basics to a few close friends but at the time it was
like reciting lines, I felt so detached from what I was saying. They didn’t know the emotional
shame behind how I felt. I never could tell them some of the sexual abuse felt enjoyable, that
I craved the attention from my half-brother and what I thought at the time was love, which I
was so desperate for. I could never share that I felt special and important at times from what
happened. The shame from this felt bigger than the actual abuse and knew this was something
I felt too humiliated to speak about, which also made me feel like an evil bad person that
would be punished.
Around the age of ten, my half-brother moved out. My whole world dropped, I had
lost the only person who had even noticed me in the house and now had nothing. I started to
experience a lot of suicidal thoughts and kept praying for my life to end and not be kept alive
into adulthood. I had the beginning of an incredibly conflicting relationship with God
thinking he was testing me with all these horrible things I was experiencing and that I failed
by not listening.
The abuse continued at the hands of other men. My uncle molested me when I was
eleven and the age of fourteen, this happened again with the boss at my first ever job,
molesting me on a regular basis. I began to wonder if I had a big neon sign on my head
saying I’m available to be abused. I had to endure this for the whole time I worked there
without saying anything to my parents yet again, as I still thought they would blame me and
was too ashamed to mention anything personal to them. I silenced myself even more, pushing
down everything I was feeling most of the time. When feelings did come out, they were
extremely self-sabotaging and full of anger and hatred towards me and the world. When I
turned eighteen my dad was arrested on suspicion of rape against my half siblings, but they
pulled out and never went through with pressing formal charges. At that time, I hoped the
police would question me too as I had decided I needed to tell them what happened but didn’t
think they would believe me, so bottled out once my dad got released. I continued to look
I never realised the impact of my abuse until I was married. I took all the anger that I
was too scared to display as a child from all the controlling, bullying behaviour shown
against me and acted the same way but to the extreme. I had no idea at the time I was
suffering with complex PTSD and a form of OCD. After 9 years together, we tried to have
children through IVF which resulted in a failed miscarriage. I was beyond devastated and
blamed my body and myself for the miscarriage. Fast forward several months and we decided
to adopt a child. Nowadays, getting a new job probably would have been less stressful and
cheaper! Going through the adoption process kicked off my PTSD to the extreme, after
reading the social workers interpretation of my life where she said I had suffered trauma. Did
I? I had no idea I did; I thought this was just my life and the only one I knew. Well, the rage
came again overnight. I thought I would explode; I just knew I had to confront my parents
and tell them. Well, that conversation went down well! Not! My dad called me a liar and my
mother couldn’t understand why I didn’t tell them and why did I move back home if they
were such awful parents? We were still going through the adoption process at this point and
had to hide it from the social workers as they would have stopped us from going any further.
By the time we adopted our son, it was two years from applying and having to hide all my
PTSD symptoms from them.
I struggled from day one to be a mother and not to feel like I was evil. I became
paranoid being around him, I would get flashbacks cleaning him and would get such intrusive
dark thoughts, I began self-harming. I knew I needed to try and deal with my trauma; it was
affecting my life with our son and was so scared of abusing him I went to the police. I knew I
had to speak my truth and finally reported my half-brother after thirty-four years. The police
believed me and did their best to try and get my half-brother arrested but as he lived abroad it
was impossible to extradite him due to the statute of limitations expiring. But he knows I
looked up and spoke the truth.
During the whole process I have been in counselling and still am. At the time, my
previous counsellor suggested I needed an outlet for my anger rather than smashing plates
and said how about joining a choir! I said no way, I had no desire to sing in front of people, I
didn’t even sing in the shower! She nagged me until I finally went and joined one. And it was
the start of a continuous positive life changing journey. For the first time I felt like I could
look up and have a voice and kept going back each week. When they had their first concert, I
sang with two other ladies. I knew next time I wanted to shine on my own and do a solo! My
choir teacher at the time also suggested I should have vocal lessons (not quite sure what she
was hinting at)! But I did, and that’s when I met my amazing inspirational singing and drama
teachers who have got me to where I am today.
I keep persevering on my journey to find myself despite suffering from extreme
anxiety, PTSD and OCD around lots of things. After twelve years of being in an office job, I
finally said that’s it. I handed my resignation in January 2020 to explore what else is out there
for me and how I can contribute positively to help other people. I had no idea I would enter in
a global pandemic with the coronavirus which affected me like it has for so many others.
My mental health nose-dived from day one of lockdown, after spending months at
home, I felt so lost. I had no direction, I had no confidence again, nothing to offer anyone and
my mental health struggled so much. After reaching my lowest point last year I had the
opportunity to go on a short family holiday to the coast. I have never felt such a connection to
the sea as I did at that point. I gave all my emotional pain to the power of the ocean. What
came back was clarity. Not only was I meant to survive the storm but walk through it with
my head held high, with acceptance and recognition of my own inner strength.
Through the support of my drama teacher, she encouraged me to discover my life
through the power of writing and gave me a safe space to explore my emotions. I began using
it as a tool to process some of my painful thoughts and feelings through poems. Poetry has
been one of my mechanisms of helping me cope with some of my emotional scars left from
childhood sexual abuse and to find my voice again. It is quite terrifying and scary to open my
heart so publicly with my poems as I’d never imagined sharing these, but it feels the right
time to do this.
Since then, my confidence started to grow. My proudest moment came when I selfpublished my poems, Silhouette of a Songbird, written about my journey through abuse, to help support others who have experienced similar trauma. I hope by sharing my journey, it gives help to others to know they are not alone. To this day, I have continued to look up.
*We have added ‘Silhouette of a Songbird’ to our Resources https://isurvive.org/helpful-resources/books-you-may-find-helpful/