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Resurrection moments: From abuse to healing

The central message of Easter is Christ’s resurrection and the promise of eternal life for all who believe in him. But we also live in the light of resurrection in our earthly lives. The light of resurrection shows us a new way of living, and gives us the courage to make different choices. Crystal Thomas, lived in a cycle of abuse until the day she chose begin a new journey for herself and her children. She recently participated in the Life Choices Family Affairs program and this is her story.

When I was 3 years old my dad left my mom, my sister and me. Although my dad left us, he continued to move in and out of our lives, disrupting us with his abuse and other dysfunctional behaviours.

When I was 5 years old, my sister (who was 14 at the time) left home because my dad beat her regularly. I remember living in constant fear that he might turn on me one day. She returned when I was 10 years old, after having broken up with her boyfriend.

She was a very angry young woman who used to stab her teachers with pencils. She used to slit her wrists in front of me and tried to stab my mom with a screwdriver. She had suffered so many emotional traumas and took her anger and pain out on me. She would lock me up in a dark room during the day and say demeaning things to me. I still hadn’t worked out that her behaviour was a direct result of the trauma our father had inflicted on her. I have since learnt that ‘Hurt people hurt people’.

When I was in Gr 10 I left school to care for my mom who subsequently died of cancer. Looking back on my developmental years, it feels like I lurched from one negative situation into the next.

Breaking point

I was 21 years old when I met and married my children’s father. Without realising it, I’d stepped into a similar abusive relationship. While we were still dating, he would hit me. Because of my dad’s abuse, I guess I thought this was normal. I thought he would be kinder when we got married but that was an illusion. The abuse worsened. We were together for 14 years and we had two children. Unfortunately my children witnessed the abuse I was living with and I fear the damage it has done to them.

I have since learnt that ‘Hurt people hurt people’.

Over the years I became more and more broken. My life changed radically on Christmas Eve  – my husband was drunk (again) and beat me up pretty badly. That night I realised I had to escape. I had no plan, but I had reached the end of my tolerance.

The next day, after Christmas lunch, I told my husband that I couldn’t stay in the house any longer. I had had enough of his abuse. This provoked him to climb into me in a blind rage, slamming my head against the wall, smashing my face with a speaker and saying he was going to kill me if I left him. He stood on my face with his boot shouting at me.

I managed to get up, grab my kids and run to the front gate where my husband’s cousin happened to be standing. He took me to the hospital where I passed out. I was in a coma for two days.

I needed to move to safety, I moved to Sisters Inc., a safe home for women with children. I was completely broken and bewildered when I got there. I had no idea what to do next.

Miracle intervention

While at Sisters Inc. a miracle intervention in the form of the Life Choices Family Affairs programme was offered to us. It was a 7-week parenting journey, which really helped me to look at myself, my past and the way I in which parent. It gave me an opportunity to start believing that there is a way out. It changed my life.

It was a 7-week parenting journey, which really helped me to look at myself, my past and the way I in which parent.

Family Affairs helped me to look within, meditate, slow down and breathe. I had been emotionally lost for years and had zero self-esteem. I had to find myself and start accepting myself.

We learnt so many skills like the “No Put-down zone.” In the past, I used to tell my son when he was being ‘naughty’ that he was a bad boy like his dad and that I would leave him. I would hit and shout at my kids if they didn’t listen to me, putting them in the naughty corner where they would scream and cry. I had no idea of the trauma I was inflicting on them. I used to think that by showing them that they should be scared of me, that they would listen to me.

Taking back control of my life

Family Affairs showed me how inappropriate my parenting style was. Now, instead of screaming or hitting them, I am able to put a boundary in place and encourage us to express our feelings in the situation. I have completely turned my relationship around with my kids and I am hoping that in time, I will be able to heal the emotional wounds that have been inflicted on them.

Another important lesson for me was to take back control of my life and my choices. I learned that blaming others gave away my power. I was able to reflect on how I had become a victim without even realising it. I got to see that by taking 100% responsibility got me to stop blaming and to start owning my life. I feel empowered that I am able to see my role in my past, to stand up and take responsibility for it. I have truly forgiven my abusers and feel free to start life again.

I am hoping that in time, I will be able to heal the emotional wounds that have been inflicted on my children.

Meditation was another important component of the course and we were encouraged to keep a gratitude diary. I started doing breathing exercises with my children morning and night, gently holding a happiness meditation – we blow out our frustrations and anger, and breathe in love and kindness. It has bought us closer and gives us a more positive way of being a family unit.

Family Affairs changed my life and my children’s lives – I have embraced all the principles learnt, and I intend to use the skills to enrich my children’s lives as they grow. The time has come for me to leave the safety of Sisters Inc. I feel stronger and confident and trust that everything will work out.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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