Cathy's children speak their truth
- Daunted but empowered
- A new experience for a first time author
We all have a story to tell and this book is mine. It’s the story of a past that I’d rather not have had and of a journey I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yet it is my past and it is my journey and as such it can’t be changed. And besides all of my experiences have brought me to the point at which I find myself today… and I’m pleased to say that it’s a point of acceptance, hope and celebration.
And so I’d like to thank you all for joining me here in what is truly a celebration, a celebration for me and for my family. Being able to celebrate however does mean acknowledging that past and that journey.
The book in part seeks to encapsulate the nightmare that I and those dear to me have endured over this last decade or so. For many years I was so subsumed by the trauma of my childhood that I could barely engage in my life in the present. In fact there were many occasions on which feelings of desperation completely overwhelmed me as this small passage from the book attests.
“One desolate Wednesday evening at dusk I strode to my spot, resolute. Trembling, with my knees pressed hard against the rusty wire of the white painted fence, images of my family paraded before my eye. I reached inside my handbag and rummaged through tissues, biros and the clink of keys for my wallet. Sequestered behind a flimsy plastic flap inside my wallet was a set of pint-sized photos; one of each of the children I had cared for, including one of my niece, Angie taken a year before she had died. I slid Angie’s photo out first and remembered.
I had seen Angie lying in the bottom of her rosewood coffin on the night before she was cremated. I bent forward to kiss her; I always kissed Angie’s when I saw her, but this time as soon as my lips touched her cheek I shuddered and recoiled. The icy chill of death had crept in and snatched my Angie away when I wasn’t watching.
Standing on my spot I envisaged my body laid out in a dank wooden box as my children bent forward for their farewell kiss. “Stop, don’t touch me!” I screamed as a seagull screeched in the buffeting sky above, swooped down, then back up and away.”
At times my struggle became a living hell for my family. I very much wish that it could have been different. Sadly however trying to deny the realities we don’t like does not make them magically disappear and heaven knows I’ve tried! Whatever we do has an effect on those close to us and each and every member of my family has been caught up in the fall-out of my struggle. Yet as I’ve worked through my issues and learned to be more nurturing and available so too our family has grown stronger and more connected.
To my life partner, my darling husband Dan thank you for your unconditional support, for standing by me even when I pushed you away, through times when I was forlorn and desperate and had lost all hope. To my four wonderful children, Mars, Juj, Sar and Gin and yes they do have whole names as well and to my extra big boy, Adam, despite everything you’ve had to contend with, each and every one of you has a inner strength and resilience which I greatly admire. And together you have a camaraderie which has not only sustained you but also fed my resolve to survive.
Yet the book is about a lot more than my struggle. It’s about a future made possible because the noxious effects of the past have been put to rest, and it’s about a present which can now be lived to the full. Through the horror and the pain and the tears and now the launch of this book, our family has broken many of the insidious patterns of prior generations. As we continue to move forward with our lives both individually and collectively we will do so with greater awareness, openness and authenticity. There will undoubtedly be more hurdles but hopefully there will also be many more of the precious and incredible times we have shared.
My journey while unique also embodies a more universal struggle and that is to move past mere survival and learn how to live well. In so doing one must negotiate a path within a society which would rather keep the lid on truths which are untoward, and preserve traditional beliefs without questioning them. Despite all of the stats and the stories we hear and read about child abuse, the taboo and stigma live on and that is no more marked than in relation to abuse within the home and family.
As the German philosopher Arthur Shopenhauer so eloquently pointed out: All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Secondly it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as being self-evident. As my truth was questioned and I grappled to accept and integrate the diverse and often abhorrent parts of my tale, I was blessed to have a therapist who could sit by and patiently bear witness to my trauma, no matter how disturbing. She was not only insightful and skilled, but compassionate and giving. For, she walked alongside me every step of the way, guiding me from confusion and terror, through chaos, onto stability and understanding. Without her and my family, there would have been no book and no launch. My story would never have been told.
As I reflect on the insanity of what was done to me and for that matter what was not done, I stand in awe of the capacity of the mind to protect itself, of the creative and ingenious defences which allow a young and innocent child to withstand unspeakable trauma. I hope that my book will in some part serve to demystify some of those processes and so help erode the fear and judgement which foster disbelief and so readily block the empathy and understanding all human beings need and deserve. While some readers may find the mental processes of my journey difficult to comprehend I was blessed that a number of friends were equal to the task.
To those friends who were able to be with me on my journey thank you so very much. There were times I’m sure when you wondered what on earth you’d signed up for. There is one friend I’d like to publicly acknowledge because she has been an unerring source of support for me and my whole family. Sue, you have hung on in there through thick and thin and through times when I was an absolute pain. Yet somehow you knew on some level that eventually I would emerge afresh. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to you for being there…always.
At this point I’d also like to thank Prof Freda Briggs. Sadly Freda could not make it here from Adelaide today. For all of you who don’t know Freda, she is an irrepressibly outspoken warrior in the child protection field and her poignant words of support for my book are very much appreciated. To Suzanne Gervay, thank you for your generosity of spirit and for your most affirming words. Your standing in both the literary world, and in the area of child development, add enormous credibility to my book as well. Thank you again.
I have spoken a little of the process of therapy but have not as yet referred to the process of writing. Some of you may be aware that I always dreamed of writing. Some 7 or 8 years ago I became part of a writers group. That writers’ group met religiously for several years and no doubt helped foster my skills. Susie, a published author is currently living in Argentina but I’m thrilled to have Lorraine, an incredibly talented yet to be discovered author here today. Thank you Lorraine.
Not having written a large number of books before, in fact none at all…the process of publishing was new to me and hence rather daunting. I would like to thank the team from Jo Jo’s for helping me through it – to Barry and Jo for believing in this book, Riima and Charlotte for their editorial advice, and Liz for her efforts in promoting the book against a steady current of resistance and taboo. Jo Jo’s motto is to publish books which make a difference. I sincerely hope that mine achieves precisely that.
What began as a good old-fashioned purge evolved over the years into an integrated personal narrative of ever-increasing clarity. I could of course have chosen to keep the book to myself. Heaven knows it would have been considerably more comfortable. But survivors don’t give up so easily and so I stand here, feeling utterly exposed and yet emboldened. If reading my story helps even one survivor to make sense of their own history, to reach out and seek help then my psychic nakedness will have been worth it. And if reading my story means that one extra person in our community will be able to sit alongside a survivor, and listen empathically then I will have achieved my goal.
For too long victims in our community have been ignored, ostracised, and silenced. It is high time that we, a so-called civilised society, acknowledge the reality of abuse and its impacts, shatter the secrecy, erode the shame and support those whose childhoods betrayed them.