What Survivors Say About Heartfelt House
If I could tell you what Heartfelt House has given me it would take me all morning or all afternoon to tell you. What Heartfelt House has done for me has been immeasurable.
My dad died when I was little and I never got to confront him on issues I had with him. I didn’t know the depth of my anger that I had with dad until I came to Heartfelt House and started working with the material.
The leaders allowed me to express my anger with them in the role of my dad, I said all the things I wanted to say for years and how his actions had affected me.
It was very liberating to do that. The fact that the leaders took the full fury of my anger for the time it took me to get it out without batting an eye lid and not judging me was fantastic. They helped me to realise I was shutting people out of my life and my heart.
They have supported me.
They supported me through a torrent of tears. I am so glad I came to Heartfelt House. I owe Heartfelt House a lot and I would advise every survivor to come.
They have given me hope.
My name is Jacqui. I am 54 years old and have recently completed the Heartfelt House program called Taking the First Steps. Oh what a journey I had!!
But back to the beginning.
I grew up in Sydney with 2 sisters and an abusive father and stepmother. My birth mother was an alcoholic and drug addict and she gave my sisters and myself over to our father when I was 6 years old. The woman he lived with at that time was to become our first stepmother. This stepmother repeatedly told me I was worthless and no-one loved or wanted me and definitely no-one cared about what happened to me – she was a little kinder to my two older sisters – though not much. She brutally bashed us and we were too afraid to tell our father. This began my life experience of being afraid and when my father began physically touching me at the age of 9, all I knew was that at least I was receiving affection and tenderness, not violence. I didn’t know at the age of 9 what sexual abuse was – I only knew I wasn’t being bashed.
The sexual abuse continued until I was 14 years old when my father stopped raping me, but he also stopped any real form of parenting, stopped communicating with me and began denigrating me to my teachers, all family members and I assume every person who had a role to play in my life. I know now this was to protect himself in case I spoke out about what he had been doing to me for the past 5 years.
My life went on when I ran away from home at age 16. I had no place to live, no job, but I did have $200 saved up. At least I was away from Dad and the last stepmother. Life moved so swiftly and I just always lived with these awful memories and experiences that even though I spoke to many different counsellors and did many positive things with my life, the bad thoughts and beliefs I had were always more a part of me than I wanted.
So at age 53 I knew I had to deal with my past because I was slowly going deeper into a depression I didn’t have the strength to pull out of. I had to learn that I wasn’t a victim, but I was a survivor and this is where Heartfelt House came into my life.
Taking The First Steps is a structured, well managed, supportive and progressive group work program running for 18 weeks. At first I thought what on earth could a group of 5 child sexual assault victims have in common enough to attend a 2 hour session every week for 18 weeks. But what I found was that each week was a new discovery of feelings and thoughts to spite my many years previous recovery work. Each session I learnt something about myself and I learnt to put the blame for my abuse where it belonged – onto my father. I learnt to trust in other people, especially my 2 sisters who were also abused. I learnt to trust friends with my story and my pain. I learnt people can love you no matter what has happened to you and no matter how you look – and more important than anything Heartfelt House taught me to look at myself and see the real me – the survivor – the innocent one in this story. Heartfelt House gave me strength and courage to face some of the very painful experiences that I had never been able to face. I talked about feelings and hurts and I came out on top – sometimes it was a very shaky top, but at least I was there.
One of our group members called “our” Thursdays “Thoughtful Thursdays” and the following day “Fragile Friday” because we were extremely fragile while opening up our wounds that had to be opened so that they could be cleansed and then closed up properly. We had hard times as a group working together occasionally, but our team of supporters, Vicki and Heidi, were always available to help us understand what was happening.
Now I am genuinely recovered. I know I will always have some pain in my heart for what I lost because of my father’s actions, but what I have gained far surpasses what I have lost. I have gained strength, honesty, love and a peace that I have never in my whole life experienced because at last I truly believe I was the innocent one in this part of my life.
My name is Wendy.
My husband pushed for me to do the Taking the First Steps course at Heartfelt House after he heard of it from a counsellor. As the date approached, I tried to worm out of it by saying I could just jump to the ‘advanced’ course as I knew all the stuff that would be covered in the first one. Luckily he was very insistent. How wrong could I have been! The Taking The First Steps course was an eye opener from start to finish. It shone a torch on how the abuse affected nearly every aspect of my life. For example, ‘ambivalence’…I didn’t even know what this word meant but I now refer to it as ‘flip-flopping’…feeling one way about something one day and completely opposite the next…without any idea that I was even doing that. It really is crazy-making stuff, both for me and anyone I’m close to but it was a survival technique that kept complete despair at bay….I was always one step ahead of it.
I was raped by an older cousin when I was 13, not that I thought of it that way until I was an adult. I spent my years after that incident carrying labels of ‘panic attacks’, ‘clinical depression’, ‘disintegrated personality’ (what the…?), ‘epileptic’ (when terror came bursting out of my body and I tried to prevent it, it was considered an epileptic fit by the medical profession and I was on epilepsy medication for 2 years). I spent time in a psychiatric ward in my early twenties. My life became a very slow form of suicide…I was sitting very still, waiting to die.
At the age of 15 I was sexually abused by another cousin and when just 16, a much older ‘cousin-in-law’ came on very strong to me and I ended up having sex with him in a motel. For all of my life, until recently, I saw those two episodes as my fault and carried mountains of shame and a sense of disgust in myself…as though, where my soul should be there was a pile of (excuse the phrase) dogshit instead, for all to see. My husband has fought hard for me to see that those men were in the wrong. Heartfelt House has consolidated this and I feel free of any wrong-doing now. I realise that, having grown up with a completely indifferent father, I was like a person dying of thirst in a desert and I HAD TO take any attention offered, no matter what form it came in…like drinking from a dirty puddle. I believed I came from a ‘good’ family and the problem was all and only mine…they believed this too. Heartfelt House has shown me what a toxic environment I was actually raised in. It has given me the courage to talk to my mum about all that happened and one of my happiest most healing moments recently was when she said she wished she’d known about it all when I was a teenager as she would have gone around and bashed them (my mum is tiny and wouldn’t hurt a fly but it feels very good to hear it anyway).
I cannot thank the people at Heartfelt House enough for providing the groundwork for me to go on with. A huge wall of denial has been lifted, I have been able to apologise to my partner for years of controlling behaviour, which has eased much of his resentment towards me and our relationship now stands a much better chance of survival. And I am much kinder to myself when I identify these protective behaviours in action. I now live much more on the surface of my body, which means I can feel all the wonderful sensations of life, like breezes, and someone else’s skin, and sand between my toes…before, I was buried way deep inside myself and my body was like a huge, hated puppet that was exhausting to lug around everywhere. It also means I am feeling the pain of what happened to me in intense bouts, instead of just dull, everlasting misery. That’s hard but worth it for the new sensations of joy and hope that come with it.