By Helen Sutthill, a veterinarian, mother, gardener, and reader — who says she is lucky enough to have wonderful friends and an amazing adoptive family
For a long time, I didn’t talk about my childhood – the hunger, the lack of clothing, the sexual abuse, the beatings, the constant battering of words meant to tear me down. Part of this stemmed from the way teachers and the parents of my friends responded to my answers when they asked if I’d eaten or where the bruise or cut came from.
My parents didn’t have to hide it; we were a middle class, educated family. Abuse and neglect simply didn’t happen in good homes.
The world changed when I was 15, in 1981, when my best friend told our school counselor, who was a mandatory reporter. Two social workers, a man and a woman, came and removed me from school, and from my home. It was awful.
At that point, I wasn’t speaking because what I needed to say had been denied so long, that I didn’t see the point. I couldn’t share the back seat with the male social worker because I’d been raped and molested by my father. Because one of my friend’s father’s had attempted to molest me. Because my experience of men was that they groped at me.
Better to avoid.
So this poor man opened the door to the back seat for me, and I got in. He walked around the other side of the car, opened the door to the back seat, and I got out. Repeat this three times with a mute 15-year-old, and even I thought it was funny.
But I wasn’t getting in that backseat with that man. He ended up driving, while the woman sat in the back with me.
That man was a hero. The woman with him was a hero. The lawyer that advocated for me was a hero. The counselor they took me to was a hero.
When people ask me about my childhood, I’m aware that I have memories that shock and hurt people. Every counselor wants to explore it. Being abused means that a lot of people see me as broken.
I’ve never been broken. I’ve always been a whole and complete human who has had to live with horrible people, and have experienced some things that no one should have to experience.
I consider myself incredibly lucky. Throughout my life, there have been people who saw what was happening, and worked to make sure that I was okay. A restaurant owner made sure I was safe, fed and clothed when I was a young child. A teacher who bought me some clothes, and made sure I was fed in elementary school. My friend got help for me. Another friend’s parents took me in for the last two years of high school.
When I go to the grocery store, when I buy clothes for myself, I am aware of how lucky I am to be able to do so. I can sleep in my bed, and control what happens to my body. I am safe.