Welcome to Us Project

Tamara

Tamara

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My first experience of sexual abuse was when I was four. It was with a family member who was a few years older than me. I remember the way I felt when I was with him was different to the safe feeling I had with other male adults that I trusted. He made me feel weird and uncomfortable, even at that age. And then when I was nine another family member started sexually abusing me. That went on until I was seventeen. 

This woman came to work for my mom. She was an ex-detective and she picked up on something when I was about fifteen. She said to me, "I know that you're stressed about school and exams and stuff. Don't worry about it, it’s not the end of world." During the conversation I just kept on crying, and she said,"I think there's something else thats upsetting you." And so she was the first person I told. Obviously because she was an ex-detective she was very tuned in to what the process was, and so she turned to her GP who referred me to a sexual abuse clinic. 

They conducted a full screening which was really invasive and I think really unnecessary because I was never raped by him. I told them that, and they still did an internal. I felt that was really wrong. From there I was referred on to a counsellor. At this stage, my parents still didn't know, and, I was still being sexually abused. 

I had a really good counsellor back then, it was a really good experience. There wasn't ever any hurry from her, which I felt was really good. She really wanted to know if my siblings were being abused as well, and she kind of trained me around what kind of questions to ask them and how to ascertain whether or not they were safe. I knew 100 percent that they weren't, but the clinic couldn't take my word, so they asked me to do four hours per child, on a Sunday for four Sundays. She also worked with me to help me change my whole environment. Towards the end she did kind of put pressure on me to make those changes. She couldn't force the situation with police or anything, because I was seventeen I had to make the choices myself.

I showed my counsellor my journal, and she thought it was very good writing, so she asked me to speak at a launch for a book called, “Leave me alone at home”.  At that book launch, I stood up in front of a couple hundred people and told how I was being sexually abused. There were police, psychologists and medical professionals amongst them. My mom didn't even know that I was there. It was still happening, I was still living at home and I still hadn't told her about it yet, and here I was speaking to a room full of people with a microphone on a stage. 

I was interviewed by a journalist that night, and an article appeared in the NZ Herald the next day under a pseudonym. It felt weird because I was lying to my family. I eventually told my mum. I invited her to coffee and gave her a letter I had written her. She didn't take it overly well, she had a bit of a breakdown for a while and would call me often, in tears. I told her one of the things I really wanted to do was tell my dad and my brother, but she didn't allow it. Years later I found out she had told them, along with a lot of other people in my family. However the story had become a diluted version of events. My story had become something that was dismissed like it didn't matter. Like nothing really happened.

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Right now mum refuses to acknowledge anything has happened to me at all. It’s really hard for me to deal with. There has been the attitude within my family that I am trying to just upset mum, and that my abuser is the good guy, and I'm the baddie. I need that to change to get my power back. So doing this project publicly is how I am doing that. It will be really triggering, but it's also really empowering. I'm speaking for a lot of women that don't have a voice. There are so many women that have been abused and raped and they don't feel strong enough to speak out.

I remember disassociating and just kind of having these really crazy out of body experiences, from such a young age. It just became such a way of being for me, that I felt I could go back and live there and I had this complete protective barrier around me. Where I just didn't really care, I could just tune out. 

In the second year of being at uni, the whole family went to Europe for a month. While they were there I had a nervous breakdown. I was on medication, anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I went to a party and I overdosed on Panadol. I didn't tell my family, but then mum got the bill from the ambulance. Mum asked why I had an ambulance and I confessed I had tried to kill myself. Her reaction was, "But you didn't actually want to die did you?" and I said yeah, I did. That started a really bad spiral of pain and suffering, because I felt she didn't really care. We didn't really talk about it after that conversation. 

After that the self-harm started. I felt like I was not really living, just existing. I started to develop a meth addiction. My mom found out about it, she wanted to send me to rehab but I needed to finish my degree. I saw another counsellor, and was put on a different medication. Sleeping pills and anti-depressants. It wasn't really doing any good, but I did get off the P. Then I finished uni and went back to London. In London I spiralled even worse. I developed a cocaine addiction and I was really mixing with some bad people, some of which were a group of moroccan men. 

I would help them cut up the cocaine from these big blocks, into smaller bags, I had as much as I wanted, and they would have as much of me as they wanted. Even if I didn’t want it and tried to push them away, they would have me anyway. It was a really bad situation. 

Thankfully, my previous drug dealer, who was a friend, told my brother, who was also in London. My brother came to me and said, I'm walking you to work every day, and I am walking you home from work every day. And you can't stop me. That pretty much saved my life. 

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I was pretty much wanting to self-destruct. I just did not give a shit about myself at all. I wanted to die. And being with those people was me trying to die. I cut myself really badly. I have some permanent scars. But, you know with self-harm, you’re doing it because it makes you actually feel something that you can identify and understand, because you are just so distant and confused about your feelings. 

I met a girl there, Emma, who you could probably say was my first love. We travelled and lived together for about 3 years.  I guess being with Emma taught me to look at myself, and see how erratic and irrational I was. How my moods were all over the place, the medication wasn't working. I really decreased how much I was drinking, how many drugs I was taking, which was a good thing. I switched over to exercising, that was my new addiction. We weren't in a relationship with each other, we were just friends. I realised a few years later that I was in love with her. She eventually fell in love with someone else, and I moved back to New Zealand, devastated. 

After a short and very turbulent relationship with my daughters’ father I ended up becoming bankrupt. 28 years old, bankrupt and a single parent to a 10-month old. The relationship sucked everything left I had in me, it just left me with absolutely nothing mentally and emotionally and physically. I felt like I had nothing inside, I felt like I was completely dead. It just really, really broke me. 

Luckily for me, my dad offered for me to come and live with him, which ended up being the best experience ever.  I didn't really know my dad growing up, we only really went to his place every second weekend and we never really became close. Now, living with him, it really allowed me to be in a very safe space, for both me and my daughter. I was still quite self-destructive, running around and just generally being a ratbag. I guess it all came to a head when again at my 30th birthday party I overindulged, and I ended up in hospital this time. My dad brought my daughter to see me and there was this look on her face, that basically said, you're the only person I have. You know? You're my mum. Your my person. 

It really made me think, fuck, on a big level, something has to change. On that day I decided that I would no longer take any more medication, I would find holistic ways to keep myself stable. I had been diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and a nervous breakdown, so I wasn't even living. Only about a week later, a friend challenged me to 100 days of writing down 3 good things, and 13 minutes of meditation every day. I had never meditated in my life, but it was only after two weeks it began to change my whole outlook on life. At the same time I invested in a good psychologist. The best I’ve ever had, and being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and learning Cognitive therapies my mind opened up to all the good things.

Doing a gratitude practice starts to change your life as you write 3 good things down every night. You start thinking about more and more things that you're grateful for in your life. It starts becoming an interactive mindfulness practice, because you're thinking, 'Oh this could be one of my good things tonight'. And then you start becoming gratuitous in the moment that it is happening, which I know now creates a neural-pathway shift in your brain to a more solutions based, positive mind set. To keep myself accountable I posted it on Facebook every night, because 100 days is a long time, and I wasn't very good at being consistent. I’m still not amazing at consistency! As I did it, it kind of inspired people to start the practice themselves. 

My friend and I decided to start a page so that we could have a platform for people that we weren't necessarily friends with on Facebook. It now has 5000 global followers. I think that there is about a thousand from India and about 800 from brazil on it, so that was really interesting. That started a really huge transformation for me, and to this day, five years and how many months, I have not taken medication. I did three good things for about two and a half years straight, and I still meditate every day. 

In the last five years I've developed workshops that I put into schools. I've spoken at positive psychology conferences and I've done workshops for corporates, I’ve fundraised to get to Wisdom conference in San Francisco. I had realised that I had such a fascination with neuroscience and psychology, and asking the question why. Why was this working for me after so many years of everything else not working? I went on this really inspired mission to find out why. I studied mindfulness, meditation, Buddhism, neuroscience, psychology and positive psychology, and I just really wanted to figure why it had such an amazing affect on not only me, but lots of other people.

People don't need to understand all of the neuroscience behind it and how it works, for it to make a difference for them, they just have to do it, daily for at least 21 days. It’s a really simple tool, that has such big benefits, and it's become my purpose, to build resilience through gratitude.

Melisa

Melisa