‘I remember saying the very words, ‘Not her.’ That was my breaking point. Hurt me, but not my sister. I threatened to tell my mommy what they did.’: After surviving abuse, cancer woman says ‘sometimes just having someone to talk to is enough’

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“I was a very happy child. I wanted nothing more than to make people smile. I loved all things girly and always wore bows in my hair and dresses my mother had sewn for me. I made friends easily and would always talk to strangers, much to the horror of my very protective mother. Whenever I saw a pregnant woman, I would run from my mother’s side to talk to her and ask her all about her baby and ask if she would mind if I put my hands on her tummy. My mother tried to warn me about strangers. She tried in vain to teach me I should be wary of adults I didn’t know. I was never to go with someone I didn’t know, even if they told me they knew her or my daddy. Unless I knew the person, they were not safe to be with. I thought she was being silly. Why would anyone want to hurt me? People were nice! People were kind. I loved to make friends, why did my mommy not want me to make friends?

My mother noticed the change in me first. I stopped wanting to eat. I didn’t want to wear dresses. I didn’t smile anymore. I had horrible nightmares that woke her up at night. I would scream and cry. When my mother would try to leave me with her best friend and our babysitter, I would go into hysterics and make myself sick. I didn’t want to be alone. I no longer tried to talk to strangers. I no longer tried to talk to anyone. I became withdrawn. I wasn’t the normal, happy, bubbly little girl my parents knew and loved. Something had changed. Something had happened.

It’s hard for me to talk about, even now. I don’t remember my 5th birthday and yet I still remember everything about the abuse. I remember how I felt: I was bad, I was dirty, I was no good. I thought it was all my fault.

I tried to hide it from my parents but their child had changed and they knew something had happened. Eventually, I told them. My abuser had started to show interest in my younger sister. That was the breaking point. Hurt me, do this to me, but not her. I remember saying those very words to them. ‘Not her,’ I told them. I said I would tell my mommy what they did. Finally, their threats became empty. I no longer cared about what they did to me. I was useless, I was trash, but I would be damned if someone I loved was going to feel this way. I don’t remember much else after that. I don’t remember what happened, except that my abuser ‘moved away’ and finally, I was free.

I wish I could say this was the end of my story. That happy, carefree, bubbly little girl never came back. The feeling of being useless, unloved, of being trash had taken the place of my joy. As I got older, the feeling became worse and worse. The dark voice in my head said ‘No one loves you, no one wants you here’ and became louder and louder. Eventually, I felt like I had no other release than to self-harm. This was the only thing that kept the dark voice quiet. Only when I hurt myself did it finally retreat and give me peace. Soon, that wasn’t enough. The pain didn’t stop, the voice didn’t stop. This resulted in my first suicide attempt. I received stitches and had my stomach pumped. Being my first ‘attempt,’ I was released and sent home. It was my first attempt, but not my last.

Eventually, my mother had to hide all sharp objects and lock up all medications. I was watched like a hawk. My mom tried to get my father to talk some sense into me, to make me see I was loved. I didn’t believe them. How could they love me? Didn’t they know I was broken? I was garbage? I began to listen to the Dark Voice more and more, believing it when it told me they would be happier with me gone.

Trips to the hospital became more and more frequent. There was ‘talk’ of admitting me, and yet there was never a bed, never enough space. I was sent home, time and again. My mother’s own mental health was beginning to suffer. She had a 14-year-old she couldn’t leave alone, even to use the bathroom. I was hell-bent on hurting myself, on ending my life. I was put on a waiting list to see a therapist, so in the meantime, my parents had to pay out of pocket for me to see a private psychiatrist. This cost them $120 dollars an hour. It was recommended I go to therapy every two days. I’m sure you can do the math on that. My care was draining my parents emotionally, financially, and physically.

After an almost successful suicide attempt, I was admitted to hospital for 2 days and then fast-tracked to see a therapist. I was prescribed anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, all of which I refused to take. Finally, my mother told me she could no longer take care of me. I was going to be admitted to the hospital full time. I promised her I would change, I would be good, I wouldn’t hurt myself anymore. I begged her not to send me away. I cried. I pleaded. Finally, she gave in. She didn’t want to send me away, but she feared for my safety. I promised I would be better. I would do better.

Around this time, I started dating my first boyfriend. When he saw the marks on my arms, he made me promise not to do it again. Maybe this was the kick I needed. He told me I was beautiful, and he couldn’t live without me. I was in love. He had some really cool friends, friends who drank and did drugs. I wanted to be cool too, so I did what they did. I exchanged self-harm for drugs. I became numb in a different way. I stayed out late, broke curfew, shoplifted, and got drunk, all at the tender age of 16.

When I turned 18, I moved in with my boyfriend and some of our friends to our own apartment. We stayed up for days, doing drugs and talking. Not eating, not sleeping. I thought I was finally happy. My parents were at a loss. They knew I was in a bad place, but I was no longer a minor. They had no say in what I did. I told them they were lucky I wasn’t trying to kill myself anymore. They should be happy! I didn’t understand their concern. I was in control. I could stop whenever I wanted.

The next few years went by in a blur. I went from place to place, sometimes coming back to my mom’s and staying with her, but only until she would start to try and stop my self-destructive behavior. Then I was gone again, staying with friends, not sleeping, not eating, numbing myself anyway I could. My boyfriend and I took turns trying to get clean. When he would try, I sucked him back in, playing on his weaknesses, afraid he would leave me for someone else. Eventually, he did just that. He changed his life and left me behind. I went off the rails, convinced I would never love someone as much as I loved him. My heart was broken. I drank and did drugs every day. I lost my job, I was homeless, I was a mess.

At this point, there was only one thing I could do. I went home. My mother took me in with open arms and tears in her eyes. I knew I had a problem and I needed to change. No one would ever love me again if I didn’t love myself. I got clean, met someone new, and got a new job. My life was finally starting to get better. I opened up to my new boyfriend about the abuse I suffered as a child. This was the first time I had told anyone. He cried when I told him. He hugged me and told me he was sorry I went through that. He was there for me when I didn’t know how to be there for myself. When I would have a night terror, he would hold me until I stopped shaking. He told me everything would be okay.

We planned on being together forever. He asked me to marry him and I said yes. Finally, I would be normal! I would have a happy ending! Of course, things don’t always work out that way. We moved too quickly, and when the dust settled, I was afraid. He had his own mental health issues, and I wasn’t equipped to deal with them. I didn’t know how to love someone with mental health problems, because I still didn’t love myself. We parted ways, on good terms, with mutual love and respect for each other.

After our relationship ended, I began to spiral again, using drugs, drinking and making very poor choices. I had become very skilled at hiding this from my family. I maintained a job, paid my rent, and lived what seemed like a normal life. Eventually, one day I made up my mind once and for all, I was going to end my life. I was tired of feeling this way, tired of listening to the Dark Voice in my head. I told my boss at work I wasn’t feeling well and had to leave. I left work and began to walk. I walked and thought about how I would do this. Eventually, I walked towards the MacKay Bridge. It seemed like destiny. This was how I would do it. I walked onto the bridge with tears in my eyes. Finally, I would be free.

A jogger saw me and stopped to ask if I was okay. Someone walking onto the bridge with tears in their eyes isn’t usually a good sign. I just smiled at her and kept walking. This woman, I truly believe, was an angel. She was MY angel. She watched me, and through the grace of God, decided she should call the police.

Most of what happened after that is a blur. I know the police came, I know I was taken to the hospital, and I know eventually, I was released into the care of my mother. I remember pulling up to her house in the back of a cop car. She was standing in the doorway, crying. She held me tighter than she may have ever held me, and I held her back just as tight. We cried for what seemed like hours. Even now as I write this, tears are streaming down my face as I remember. I finally got it. My mother, through all the headaches I had caused her, through all the sh*t I put her through, loved me, needed me, and would be sad if I was gone. If I didn’t want to live for myself, I had to at least live for her.

I was put on disability through work and started going to therapy. I was prescribed medications and this time, I actually took them! I remember the day they finally started working. I was walking outside, and I remember looking up and realizing it was fall. The leaves were changing color and the smell in the air was crisp. And I smiled. I smiled because, for the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt happy, genuinely happy. I cried happy tears. I dropped to my knees and kissed the ground. I was here. I was alive. I felt good!

The road to mental wellness is bumpy, messy, painful, scary and hard. Do I still have days where I think about suicide? Yes. I would be lying if I said otherwise. When I feel those thoughts creep in, I reach out to people I love, people I trust and talk to them. I might not always tell them, ‘Oh hey, I feel really down and am thinking that I should probably kill myself, what are you up to?’ Sometimes just having someone to talk to and take your mind off things is enough.

Cancer has also changed the way I think about life in a big way. Once you’ve been given a diagnosis of cancer, you inevitably think of death. I fought against cancer and I won. Why would I throw that fight away? So many people lose their fight against the disease, I would be doing them a HUGE disservice if I didn’t at least try to live life to its fullest. So that’s what I do. I live. I have a man who loves me, and who wants to marry me. I have adoring parents, family, and friends I cherish. I have my fur babies, a roof over my head, and food to eat. Yes, I still struggle, and yes, it’s hard. A big part of my well-being now is believing in a Higher Power, and knowing whatever I face, He is with me and will walk beside me through the fire. I have also forgiven my abuser. That one definitely took a lot of work and therapy, but in the end, holding onto that pain and hate only hurts me, it doesn’t serve me.

I know this was a long story, and if you’re still with me, thank you for reading my story. It’s not an easy story to tell but today, with all the brave people who have shared their own struggles, I figured it was as good a time as any.

I want to dedicate this post to my parents, Nicolette and Jackie – Daddy, you never gave up on me, always knew God had a plan for me, thank you for keeping the faith. Mama, thank you always being there with open arms and for loving your baby girl even when I didn’t love myself.”

[[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]]

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melanie Harvie. Visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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