‘There’s a problem in our relationship.’ My father stopped the car. I had an instant sick feeling. In a blink, my hero was gone.’: Woman overcomes abandonment issues, sexual trauma, ‘I can finally stand tall after 36 years’

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“In 1981, I was sexually abused by the restaurant owner who had befriended my family on a vacation overseas. I was 9 years old. I had no idea what had happened to me that night. I remember feeling scared, but I wasn’t sure what of. It was not something that affected me immediately, but, unbeknownst to me, something that was going to be a trigger later in life. I never shared this story again until I started therapy in my early twenties.

Little girl smiles for school picture
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

I lived with my mom and stepfather, my two brothers, and from time to time my step siblings would visit. Every other weekend I would spend it with my biological father. My parents separated when I was very young, when I was about 3 years old, and I was happy with my life. I knew no different. I remember being happy at school and had a nice group of friends. I was innocent; we all were, and the days were long and joyful.

Some of my earliest and happiest memories were of the weekends with my father. I idolized him; he was my prince, my hero, someone I couldn’t wait to see every other weekend. He was handsome, had a twinkle in his eye and would make me laugh. I loved him deeply. He used to pick me up and take me to our local sweet shop to buy our ¼ lb of gumdrops and then we would go home and laugh, enjoy Saturday night TV, and exchange lots of cuddles. It was a lovely time.

But that was about to change.

Little girl sits on scooter in yard of home
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

In 1984, shortly after starting Senior School, my father picked me up for the weekend as normal. I was 12 years old. After a short drive, he stopped the car. He told me there was a ‘problem in our relationship.’ I had an instant sick feeling. I wasn’t really sure what a ‘problem in our relationship’ meant until the next night when he called me at my home. He told me he couldn’t have a relationship with me again until I was older. I hung up the receiver and remember running out of the house with my mom and stepfather in hot pursuit behind me. They wrestled me and my hot tears to the ground. And that was that. In the blink of an eye, my hero was gone. I was devastated at losing my father from my life, and it turned out to be just that.

My father abandoning me out of the blue has affected my relationships ever since. That day haunted me. Within 24 hours I had gone from giggling with excitement seeing my father and the next minute I was broken, sobbing, shaking, nauseous, and nervous of everything.

I will never understand why this happened. I knew there were rumblings in the family but even now I can’t understand how any rumblings could lead you to give up on your children. Fight harder if you have to, but never give up on your children.

Young girl smiles for school picture after her father left
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

I struggled to make decisions for a very long time after my father left. Life became a sea of darkness and I was a nervous wreck that suffered with huge abandonment issues. Fear of being rejected stayed with me for most of my growing up and young adult years. I avoided personal conflict.

I wished he would come back into my life every day and hoped he might have gotten it wrong. Every birthday and Christmas I wished he would come and scoop me up in his arms and give me a hug, tell me he loved me and that everything would be ok. But he never did.

I watched shows like Surprise Surprise and prayed every week I would be the long-lost child re-united with her daddy. I felt so alone, scared, and isolated. I thought I had done something wrong and that was why he left. Naturally, I started to become more and more insecure. I didn’t talk to anyone about any of it. I internalized everything because it was easier for me to do this. I felt so much pain, so much hurt, and so much fear. It was drowning me.

Being sexually abused at nine years old and my father abandoning me really took its toll. I went off the rails at school, at home, and with myself. I was deeply insecure, vulnerable with low self-esteem, and desperate to be loved and needed. I started to have flashbacks of the incident that took place when I was nine years old and it made me feel dirty. I started remembering details and it started to scare me. But I still didn’t talk about it. I was starting to feel ashamed.

I was becoming more and more confused by the rejection, abandonment, and sexual abuse. I lost some of my memory and just cried all the time. The once happy child was fading away and, in her place, became a withdrawn, nervous, and sad girl. I was hollow and I lived on a knife’s edge. All that had happened triggered my need for cleanliness. I started having a bath before bed, I felt that by bathing before bed I could wash away the pain, the feeling of being dirty. I could sleep feeling clean and fresh. It is a ritual that I still do now, at age 46, only this time I can enjoy the relaxation of my bath.

High school was a troubling time. I failed miserably at school and I had no enthusiasm. Ironically, we had chosen the school I went to in Maidenhead, because it was close to where my father lived. I was a naughty child from the start, and it wasn’t long before I was labelled a juvenile delinquent and sent to the school psychologist. I was forced to have a meeting once a week with one of my teachers but, looking back, it was a waste of time. I just cried and skirted around the truth, too afraid to say anything to anyone.

Speaking openly about my story and my life was difficult. You live and breathe your own story. It becomes your normality and you don’t feel like you can speak out. This wasn’t because there weren’t good people in my life. I started feeling low and unsure where to turn to, so I spiraled out of control. I got used to being treated badly by men and the next incident happened very easily.

In 1985, aged 13, I fell into a sexually abusive relationship with a much older man. Up until this point, he had been known to my family and was someone I completely trusted. He took advantage of me, carefully groomed me, became my friend and the father figure I was missing. I suppose at this time I liked that someone showered me with affection and gifts. But there was a price to pay; I was degraded, tortured, raped and manipulated. He controlled my every move, he would follow my bus to school, and watch me get off and go in through the gates. He would be there when I got on the bus to come home and follow the bus back again. He was obsessed. He would manipulate me to sneak out from my house in the middle of the night. He would then drown me with alcohol and drugs and have his wicked way with me. I can still remember the smell on his breath, the smell in his car, the music he played. He would tell me not to speak about ‘our relationship’ with anyone, because no one would understand. He would say awful things about the people I loved and make me feel animosity.

I would allow him to do anything to me. I would feel nervous, but it seemed an easier option. I don’t know why I went with it, but I just did. I couldn’t get out and I knew that. My life was a blur and I felt suicidal at times. I didn’t think anyone loved me. I felt such pain and I wanted it all to end. I wanted it all to go away and I could not see a way out. I didn’t understand that this behavior wasn’t acceptable. After all, I had been treated badly by men since I was nine years old. It was exhausting.

I was a Grade A mess and worn out.

Young woman who was abused stands looking over her shoulder
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

My schooling suffered and I became addicted to pain killers to numb the hangovers. I drank heavily, smoked, took drugs, laxatives, and became bulimic. I was lost, broken with constant suicidal thoughts. I listened to Cliff Richards’ ‘Daddy’s Home’ in the constant hope that my daddy would come back. I found solace in love songs, dreaming about being taken away from the pain.

I know my family saw that I had gone off the rails. No one knew why, and everyone assumed it was because of my hormonal years and because my father had left me. But of course it ran deeper than this. My mother and stepfather were wonderful parents, and I don’t blame them. This was not their fault. They could not have known what was going on in my life, because I didn’t talk. I was a naughty girl at school, and they lost hope with me sometimes. They tried to get me to open up and talk, but I couldn’t. I was scared, afraid of hurting anymore and scared to lose any more people from my life, especially my mother and stepfather. With maturity, I understand this wouldn’t have been the case, but back then, running scared, that was my fear.

I trusted the older man and no one else. It was a terrifying time in my life. Hindsight is a great thing. I can now see how easily this all happened. I was a sitting duck. Lost child abandoned by her biological father, previous abuse, vulnerable and with no self-worth – bingo. I could be shaped any which way you needed me to be, so long as the attention was given to my emotional state.

But as I got older and started realizing what was going on, I found a little bit of strength.

In 1987, aged 15 or 16, I started to realize right from wrong and I mustered up my strength to step away from him, but it wasn’t easy. He was everywhere I went. He showered me with gifts (diamonds, money, clothes, perfume) to keep me quiet about ‘our secret’. He would threaten me and sometimes lock me in his car and travel at high speeds along dangerous roads. Some days I wasn’t sure I would survive his raging temper, but other days I didn’t care if I lived or died. I spiraled into an abyss of darkness, afraid to talk and scared to let go of the deep dark secrets inside of me.

I remember all of the music he played in his car, or music he played at his home, and the way he shouted at me, bullied me, and scared me. One of my earliest memories was when he took my virginity. He was laughing through his tears that had taken my innocence. I was terrified. I have had a lot of therapy to remove this image and sequence from my thoughts and now I can speak openly about it without feeling scared and unsure. I was only about 13 years old.

For many years I questioned why I let all of this happen to me, why I didn’t ever talk about it. But I have learned that abusers are good at making you feel like everything is okay. Even though I was scared of him and what was happening, I was more scared that no one would believe me. I was the crazy chick who drank, smoked, took drugs, was bulimic, addicted to pain killers, filled up with laxatives, who partied hard and failed at school.

Through my recovery years and therapy, I have learned to forgive. I now understood that my perpetrators needed help and I understand I am not a victim. I am a survivor. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Through it all, I have been taught valuable lessons that can now help many others. My journey is just beginning and through writing I am finding so much calm. I am open to therapy at any time, and I encourage others to speak up. It is okay not to be okay. We can’t fight pain with pain.

I did an A-Z of therapy over the years, and always had someone to talk to. For me, it was my hypnotherapy and psychotherapy sessions that helped me the most in the earlier days of my recovery. It took me about ten years after starting counselling to feel ready to start hypnotherapy/psychotherapy. It was tough. Some days my therapist would take me deep back into difficult situations (with my consent) to help me release some locked memories, and other days we did gentle sessions to aid my recovery. I remember one particular session where my therapist and I talked about going deeper down into my memories and unlocking them.  We talked about it and I agreed. It was one of the toughest days of my life, but equally the best day. So much pain was released and after a few quiet days of resting, I started to regain my strength.

If I had my life done over again, I would prefer to not experience what I have. But after nearly 36 years I have found my strength to speak up and stand tall. I have learned to use my voice to support others, to give back my opportunities and open doors for others to a better life through my life lessons. I don’t want anyone else to suffer in silence like I did.

Since my therapy in 1992, when I was 22, I have faced my fears, risen to many challenges, started a business, and published a self-help book called ‘Don’t Hold Back.’ My business gave me strength. It was my baby. I could nurture my business, look after my mental and emotional state, and be productive. Having gone through many years thinking no one liked me, I started understanding this wasn’t true. I was respected, people enjoyed my company. I nurtured my old friends, grew new friends, and my strength made its way back little by little. I found a new confidence, a new strength, and a new trust in myself that I never had before. I started to enjoy who I was, and I learned to understand more about people and what matters. I opened up to close friends, shared stories with my parents, and began to feel empowered.

Woman who escaped abusive relationship sits on man's shoulders in water with two other women standing beside him
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

As I healed, I found new opportunities both professionally and personally. I understood the power of forgiveness. I learned that HOPE (Hold On Pain Ends) gives you opportunities. I want everyone to know that it is ok and that you can get through this. You will be ok.

I am an entrepreneur running a series of lifestyle businesses and I now publicly speak and offer presentations that give thought provoking and motivational challenges. I am thoroughly enjoying my freedom.

If my story can help one person, then it will all be worth it.”

Woman who was once abused stands smiling in selfie with headphones in
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor
Woman who was once abused smiles for professional photo
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emma-Jane Taylor of London. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her websiteDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more empowering stories from sexual assault survivors:

‘I recall sitting in the dark on the couch after the worst of it all. I knew I was being hurt. It was the day where from beneath him I screamed, ‘DAD! STOOOOOPPPPP!’’

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