Trigger Warning: Details of incest, childhood and adult sexual abuse and physical violence.
I ran away from my violent, abusive family 28 years ago. Last night I discovered that two of my worst abusers died – my mum and my eldest brother. I awoke from a nightmare about one of them, and then I did a ill-advised thing: I looked up my old surname on the internet. My old name was pretty unique, and I’d never met anyone with it unless we were related. Looking up my old name is something I have only ever did when I was drunk or petrified, but I still wish I’d never done it.
I always thought I’d feel a sense of relief when one of my abusive family members died. But I felt a howl of pain build up inside me instead. A few of my Alters went into a state of panic and dread. I started crying and couldn’t stop for hours.
My mum sexually abused me once. I’m trying hard to not say, “just the once,” because one time is too many. What she did far more was physical and emotional violence. I still have terrible flashbacks to a beating she administered to me on Christmas Eve in the middle of Ridley Road Market, as all the other shoppers looked on. She also set up weird ritual stuff that makes me want to vomit just thinking about it. I grew up terrified of her, and that I’d become just like her. Many people don’t want to acknowledge that a woman can sexually abuse someone. They don’t have a penis, right? Women don’t need a penis when they have fingers, hairbrush handles or bottles. The shame felt by survivors of abuse, where the perpetrator was a woman, is incredibly hurtful. We shouldn’t have to silence ourselves because so few will believe us.
Where my mum was pure rage, my eldest brother was totally charming. He was the rebel of my old family – a soldier, a painter, an open drinker, and non-religious in a community where church was only thing you did on a Sunday. He would give me booze and pills in secret. He would talk to me like we were equals, instead of 15 years apart. He also sexually abused me right up until I ran away.
There’s a page in my zine about surviving abuse, where I write of a time I once woke up in a pool of my own blood. That was his doing. The thing that stayed with me the most though, was of how neatly he’d adjusted my nightie, folding it under my armpits in a concertina, so none of my blood got on it. I realise how my Alters and my own brain employed amnesia to protect my fifteen-year-old self from the worst of that incident, but I still feel so messed up about that.
For most Black people, family is the most important thing in the world. For survivors who are Black, we face meagre support from medical and social services who don’t even think these things can happen to us. We also face ostracism from other Black people who see us as ‘deficient’ for not having a family or at least a good relationship with them. As survivors, we are often seen as broken and potential abusers instead of victims of terrible crimes that were done to us as children.
Support adult survivors of child abuse. Because right now it feels like nobody does.