Disclaimer: This story has mentions of trauma and may be triggering for some.
“My struggles began when I was young. I was an only child and grew up with my mom and uncle. My father wasn’t in the picture; whoever’s fault that was, I still don’t fully understand.
Things were nice at home, but they weren’t perfect. My mom was an alcoholic and that gave me a lot of anxiety. I hated her drinking, especially because I knew people talked about us because of it. When I was 5, I was diagnosed with ADHD, and I hated knowing I needed medication to ‘function’ at such a young age. Everyone knew and it was one of the reasons people picked on me.
When I was 7, a single phone call changed everything. The life I knew and loved was gone. It happened while I was only a matter of feet away from my mom. I could tell something was wrong by the way she was talking to the woman on the phone, asking questions like, ‘Well, where will she be going?!’ and ”Who said that?’ I sat in the kitchen, listening, trying to figure it all out, but I knew it wasn’t good.
I was being placed in Foster Care, all because someone in my school reported my mom to Child Protective Services for her drinking. Unless you’ve been through that situation yourself, you would NEVER understand what it’s like, or what it does to a family, much less the child being taken away. I often wonder if the person who reported her ever thought of that. It felt like everything I knew was being ripped away.
In the span of 3-4 weeks, I went between 4 homes, mainly family ones, and in October 1998 they finally placed me into a home for the next 7.5 months. I hated where I was placed, the home, the school, everything. It was 2 women named Lisa and Kelly. Lisa was really nice, but Kelly wasn’t and I didn’t feel welcomed. A lot of times, I lived off TV dinners (I loved them, and still do). But I remember the feeling of loneliness, sitting in the kitchen, eating them alone. I was bullied horribly in the new school I was in. I was only allowed to see my mom and uncle on a Wednesday evening for about an hour. It was horrible having to leave them. I often wondered if my dad knew what was going on and what he would have thought.
I eventually got home in April 1999, and nothing felt the same, but was it somehow supposed to…straight away? Years on, I was growing up and trying to figure out who I was and what life was about, but I was still being bullied and couldn’t understand why. I honestly feel like I was just very misunderstood. I had developed trust issues and, at that age, I wasn’t a leader but a follower. It was during those 3 years in middle school when I promised myself life would be different than what I knew growing up – I wanted a life I would be proud of.
However, what I didn’t realize was how vulnerable I was at that age, and it’s something that haunts me even now. That time in our lives is a point that shapes who we are, the paths we go down, and I so wish sometimes that my story was different.
In 8th grade, I was 13. It was an especially hard birthday, and even harder after a surgery I’d had. Friends were allowed to make posters for your locker so others could sign them, except my ‘Get Well Soon’ poster was filled with very few well-wishers and 90% bullies. One person’s comment was ‘Hope you Die,’ and another’s was ‘Don’t Come Back.’ I didn’t feel wanted, and I just wanted to feel liked. I still don’t understand it.
Fast Forward to May 2005. The month that changed everything, including my innocence. I won’t go into the full story, but I wound up out with 2 girlfriends that evening. One of them brought her boyfriend, who was a few years older and he brought 2 of his friends. I didn’t know them, and they weren’t from our town.
It started off as a group of us hanging out at the local movie theater. One of our other friends left, its nearly like she could sense the trouble. Why couldn’t I? They pulled me into a driveway around the back of the theater and sexual assaulted me. I know it was definitely 2 of them that did what they did, but I can remember 3 voices. I told them to stop and was trying to get away, but they held a grip of me. They made me do what they wanted.
The light was on in the house we were behind. I know they would have heard me calling for my friend when I was trying to speak. My friend heard me too, but was too busy with her boyfriend to care. Eventually, I gave up trying to fight and speak and at some point I broke free, and ran, and kept running while they kept calling me to come back. I probably have never run that fast ever.
I never spoke a single word of it. How could I? I was 4 weeks shy of turning 14. Everything I knew was destroyed. I felt disgusting. I lost respect for myself, and believed I deserved it. I felt like no one cared enough, or they believed something that wasn’t the truth when I was the one who suffered through it.
Even 15 years later, I hate the thought of the very spot it happened. Although things have changed, I still know deep down about the one event that made me hate myself and that it began there. When I think back, I realize that’s where the spiral began.
The following Wednesday, I was in school and broke down to a friend and told them I no longer wanted to live. It was at this point that the school called the police, and my mother and it all came out. The rest seems like a blur now, but I can remember thinking, ‘What will everyone think of me now?’ That summer went by quick and I went through a lot of changes before I went into high school. I hated myself but smiled through it all, trying to push the bad to the back of my mind.
Throughout 2005-2006, at 14, I fell into a mentally and physically abusive relationship. I looked past all the bad at that age just to have someone who I thought ‘cared.’ I was in not one, but TWO bad relationships. The first person I met in school. My mom didn’t like him early on, and I thought she was just being mean. But when the hitting started and he was comfortable enough screaming at my mom, I should have ran for the hills.
That situation left things worse, and around this time my dad arranged with my mom to come and visit me. After all those years, I came home from therapy one evening and he was standing there. I literally couldn’t believe it. We sat and talked and got to know each other, and he gave me a photo of himself, which is the only photo I have of him to this very day.
The next day was a bad day in school and I was fighting with the person I was dating, this led to me and my dad having a disagreement and I told him I wanted him to leave and that I didn’t want to see him again. He left and, except for two letters apologizing I received a couple weeks later, I didn’t hear from him for another year or so. At the time, I didn’t reply to his letters, which I would regret years later.
Months went by and in late 2006, I wound up in the worst situation of my life. The second experience is very hard to talk about. I met this person within weeks of the other relationship falling apart. I heard this person was trouble, but laughed it off. I was called horrible names, told I was worth nothing, that my family would be hurt or killed if I ever left and told anyone. I was physically and mentally abused for 4 years for no reason, sometime for the smallest of reasons. Maybe I didn’t answer them right, or I didn’t get up quick enough to do something. The amount of times I was punched in my lungs and felt the wind come out of me would scare you alone.
I moved out at 15 to escape my mother’s drinking habits and I wound up dropping out of school at 16, one of the biggest regrets I have now. I moved out with the person I referred to above.
The environment was traumatizing. I endured years of mental abuse, brain washing, and the worst physical abuse I have ever felt. I wasn’t going to school properly and I was drinking. I thought I couldn’t leave, I had tried a few times, and I paid the price for it. Eventually, I gave up. I might have looked happy in photos, but I was literally living in hell. Plenty of times I wished that God would take me. It was all too much for me to deal with, but I was too scared to leave for my own safety.
It was around this time I heard from my dad again, but that conversation also ended in an argument. This time, the argument wasn’t just involving me though, but others around me. I can’t remember what was said now, but it was the last time I would ever hear my father’s voice. I wish now that things really had been different. I was so foolish.
In 2008, in the middle of my chaos, I met someone who had changed my entire life. I barely knew myself at that point. I was drinking a lot, and around the wrong company. That person? I am now blessed and lucky enough to say she is my wife. I can honestly say, hand on my heart that if it wasn’t for her, I would NOT be here today to tell my story. She was my saving grace.
Aine came into my life at a time when there was so much chaos. We met through mutual online friends and began chatting. I wasn’t looking for anything at the time; I was just living my life and partying. But something clicked. She didn’t judge me, she just talked to me and we got to know each other. I found myself looking forward to the time she would be online and I was constantly thinking about her. I could trust her. She made me feel normal. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy at first. My God the first few years of our relationship were rocky. I put her through hell and I knew most days I didn’t deserve her. But she never gave up on me, which was something I wasn’t used to. It was real, genuine love and I didn’t have a clue what to do with it.
In August 2009, two months after I turned 18, I decided it was time to mend the relationship with my father. I was desperate to find him. I never told my mom I decided to call his mother and leave her a voicemail, asking for his contact details. However, a few days later, she was standing next to me on the subway when my phone rang with another phone call that changed my life on a whole different level.
‘Did you not get my letter? Your father died on the 9th of February. He committed suicide by overdosing on his medication.’
7 months beforehand? Imagine how it felt to be told over the phone, months later. I don’t know what sound came out of me, but I know I started screaming, crying, and shaking. I ran to the bathroom and sat on the floor for about a half hour before I could even stand up. I still feel that pain every single day, 10 years later.
About a year later, in September 2010, I reached my breaking point. I knew I needed to fix my life, and start again. I had known it deep down for a long time, but didn’t have the strength. So, I took a flight to Ireland to live with Aine and I never looked back.
I will never forget the first time I actually met her. I had to fly to Ireland on a plane and so far from home. I could have wound up being catfished, but thankfully we had video chatted before that day. It was about 8 months after we started dating that I walked into the Dublin airport. Looking around, I was dumbstruck at all the people and the accents, and I couldn’t find her. Then, bam! I could hear her all of a sudden say, ‘Hello, I’m over here.’ I turned around and there she was, standing at 5 foot 5 with the most beautiful long, brown hair I’d ever seen. She had the bluest eyes you could find, pure Irish. And what did my stupid self do? I only opened my mouth and said, ‘Oh my god. You’re so short.’ I literally did not even say hello. Talk about nerves!
The rest is history. We fought our way through thick and thin to be together. She watched me at my worst and stuck by my side. She saved my life, she taught me what I deserved, how to feel loved, and that I belonged somewhere.
I was blessed because her family welcomed me with open arms and it was then that I began to heal. Aine showed me what love was and how to respect and love myself, too. But there was a lot of damage to fix. Over the years, I worked on myself but fell into a depression and gained a lot of weight, suffered from panic attacks and anxiety, and deep down hated myself. I was full of guilt and blame, but I knew I had a purpose in this life and that it all wasn’t for no reason.
In December 2012, Aine and myself got married. It was one of the most important days of our lives. I felt like I finally had my happy ending, and that I found my place of belonging. In 2013, I decided to take my interest in photography further and practiced over the year, then applied to college in 2014 and was accepted!
While still finding myself and this ‘purpose’ I began school and learned that we would have to do an exhibition in May 2015, on something we had knowledge in. I knew my topic would be Mental Health & Suicide Prevention, and that’s how The Beautifully Broken Project was born. I found my purpose with this project.
In May 2015, 10 years after I had lost the will to live after being assaulted, something beautiful was launched. This project was a testament to my story and the story of all those suffering in silence. I have been blessed with the success my project has had to date. I am changing lives with what I do, the foundation of my project being my father’s suicide as well as my two childhood friends, Chelsea and Kenny.
I still struggle some days, but my life is better now. God tested me for a long time, but I found love when I wasn’t expecting too. I know Aine and I found each other for a reason. It is because of her that I’m able to continue telling my story. Am I ashamed? No. Scared of releasing this story? Absolutely. I am still discovering myself, but right now I am living my life day by day.
I am currently battling 15 years of guilt and pain in relation to all the trauma I’ve endured, I am in counseling and on medication. With my father guiding me from above and the love of my friends and family, I will get there. I will be okay. I have scars and stories and I know what heartache feels like, but one thing I HAVE learned is that I am UNBREAKABLE.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brittany McEnteggart. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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