The cycle of abuse and how I found my way out of it

by Amanda Englishby

I am here to tell you that a survivor of abuse can live a happy life and have a strong and loving relationship with themselves and others. I am proof.

Here I am at the innocent age of three. Full of fun and energy with a cheeky grin to warm anyone’s heart. I should remember what I presume most people would at this age: parties, rolling down hills, parks, days at the beach….

I did all this and more. Growing up on a council estate, we were always playing in each another’s houses, in the park and enjoying garden picnics and video nights in. We even had a video man who came round in a little van. We could choose three videos for a pound.  Actually, the age of three is when I found one of my first passions, “dance”, and attended my first ballet and tap classes. This would spiral into years of dance practice, competitions and a career in teaching. Reflecting now, dancing was my outlet and escape.

Told to be quiet

You see, in reality my first memory of being three is of “Sam” sexually abusing me at home on the upstairs landing. Like most young children being abused, I didn’t realize at the time what was happening. Who would at the age of three? All I knew is that it felt wrong, I didn’t like it and I needed the toilet. I also knew I shouldn’t tell anyone as I was told to be quiet when it happened. As a grown woman now, I find the toilet part disturbing as I can understand that ‘little Amanda’ needed the toilet because she was scared.

This abuse was repeated by another family member “Paul” and continued for eight years. For the purposes of confidentiality the real names of these two family members are not  used.

Humiliation and bullying

For eight years I was made to perform varied forms of sexual acts with Sam and Paul on a regular basis. Usually this would happen when I was left in their care while my parents went out to work or at captured times throughout the day or night when others were occupied in the house. Yes I cried, clung to my mother’s ankles and begged my parents not to go to work. Though like any other working class parents in the early 1980’s it was a struggle to feed three children and pay the bills and, after all, why shouldn’t they trust family to look after family?

Wearing an “everything is fine” mask

Sam’s abuse was always sexual and happened at the weekends and on holidays. Paul’s abuse occurred regularly and was both sexual and violent. I now understand that Paul’s violence was due to the anger he felt at himself. He hated himself for being abused and for what he was doing to me. So because of his inner anger/torment I was pinned down, threatened, kicked, trapped under blankets and beaten with glass bottles and more. I was bullied into doing tasks for him and humiliated in front of his friends for their amusement, making me do degrading things for them or simply belittling me in their company.

Observing other families having fun

My confidence and self-worth were diminished. However, I masked it well, accepted it all and allowed myself to be treated this way because I didn’t know any different. I actually believed that other families behaved in this way too. It was only in my early to mid-teenage years when I started to regularly stay over at school friends’ houses and witness other families in action that I realized this behavior was not “normal.”

I would marvel at the way other families were so relaxed and had fun. There was probably a pang of jealousy as I watched how they generally got on well and displayed their love for one another. Yes, they disagreed sometimes but even these times were a huge contrast to my family home. My home environment was very tense for varied reasons; stress, arguments, witnessing violence and rigid rules; no banging or shouting, no laughing too loud. So you can understand, as I grew older, I often chose to stay over at my friends’ houses. There I could play, be free, and let out the relaxed, fun Amanda.

   Why I kept quiet

The abuse from Sam stopped when he moved away, but with Paul it continued until I was eleven. You would think I could breathe a sigh of relief here, but Paul’s anger remained and he continued to inflict verbal and physical abuse for years. Often these attacks occurred at family gatherings or events, where I was targeted for humiliation. I was sworn at, insulted and spat at.

You may wonder “Why didn’t she say anything?” Well, there are many reasons, and maybe you can to relate to some of them:

  • I didn’t want to upset my family. I didn’t want to be responsible for breaking up our family.
  • I was confused about what the sexual abuse was, and felt embarrassed and ashamed. I didn’t know how to communicate my experiences.
  • I was scared of another beating from Paul.
  • I didn’t know if anyone would believe me.
  • I didn’t know an adult around me that I thought I could trust.
  • I had been trained to keep secrets.

Very good at secret-keeping

I was very good at keeping secrets, like many people who are abused, I wore the “everything’s fine” mask, keeping up the smile and act for everyone else. I still went out on the family meals I dreaded, actually feeling sick on the way, sometimes sitting next to my abusers and even buying them presents. I carried on with my dance competitions and tried hard to concentrate on my studies.

Nobody would have known. I still had fun with my friends and partied like the rest when I started college. However, as you can imagine, keeping silent about the childhood abuse had a huge impact and resulted in a continuation of keeping secrets, abusive relationships and now, I realize, also caused me to also abuse myself in a different, self-destructive form.

Relationship – a new phase of abuse

At 18, I thought I had met the love of my life, my Adonis. Oh and he was an Adonis; blessed with a muscular build, handsome face and charming personality. He was the life and soul of every party; he was everyone’s best friend (they usually are). Sadly, the package on the outside did not match the inside and over time he became physically and emotionally abusive. He managed to slowly isolate me from my friends and family through his controlling and manipulative behavior. I had to account for and explain my every move. If I was five minutes late, I was suspected of being with another man; if a male voice was in the background on a phone call, I was cheating.

I became very good at studying the place mats when out eating so that he didn’t think I was looking at other men. I started to dress differently, in clothes older than my years. He thought these clothes looked nicer and he often bought them, so I felt obliged to wear them. I took regular beatings, was held up to the wall with a knife on my throat, told how fat, ugly and worthless I was and that nobody else would ever want me or love me as much as him. I still have a faint scar, which he purposefully inflicted to remind me of him, on my eyelid.

I started to dislike bunches of flowers, as they were delivered to work often and to me symbolized an apology. My work colleagues smiled and said I was lucky to have such a loving boyfriend. If only they knew.

A warning from my inner voice

This relationship lasted for nearly two years. After a particularly bad beating where I was dragged from one room to another by my hair, slapped, scratched and punched, I literally looked in the mirror and said “no more.” I remember thinking “Amanda, you were brought into this world to live and be loved. You deserve more than this.” I now know this was my inner voice (intuition), which I should have listened to more. So, shaking on the outside and inside, I fled.

When we first met I had been a confident, strong and living-life-to-the-full girl. I was no meek lady in the corner. So how did this happen? Well, the behaviors were what I was used to and I thought I could help/change him. Despite my journey and pain, my heart and empathy remained and I wanted to help him. Why did I not tell anyone? The reasons were similar to the sexual abuse really. Though this time there was more fear as the beatings had been worse due to his strength and I was also embarrassed. As I have said I was viewed as strong, happy and confident and I was ashamed that people would see me as weak. Also, again I didn’t want to upset my parents. This Adonis had chipped away at my confidence so much that he managed to make me believe many times that it was my fault; that my fun conversation, smiling and dancing at the party had been flirty and wanting attention, and a friendly chat with any male meant I wanted to sleep with them.

In the workplace – the abuse continues

At 30 years of age I was subjected to four years of intensive workplace bullying. Again, why didn’t I speak out? Sadly, I reverted to reacting in the only way I knew: keeping secrets, as I didn’t want to cause trouble, I kept hoping people would change, I didn’t think I would be believed, I didn’t want my situation to get worsen if I said something and the bullies found out. I was also going through some big life changes at the time too (early menopause, which took away my choice to have my own child; the end of a relationship; and cancelling my wedding). I felt I didn’t have the strength for another battle. Oh how I underestimated myself.

So how did I find my way out of this cycle?

Seeking help for my eating disorder paved the way to healing

Everything came to a head four years ago when I accessed and accepted help and support for my eating disorder, which had developed 13 years earlier. Suddenly, everything began to make sense. My unhealthy relationship with food and my body had given me what I craved, what I needed – a feeling of “total control.” The abuse and other life events had all been out of my control, but what I ate, how much, where, when, what time, and how my body looked, this was all my choice.

Those early childhood secrets had led to long-term damaging effects on my mental health and precious body. I will never regain the full thickness of my hair, am now at risk of osteoporosis and most recently have been diagnosed with CFS (formally known as ME), which is often linked to trauma.

This is often the case with people who have been abused; they survive as best they can, in ways that seem to help them to control or escape to “get through” their experiences. Unaware of what they are doing, a “self-destructive” coping mechanism develops; one which causes them further pain and which can be detrimental to their future mental and physical health and well-being. Mine was an eating disorder; others may start to self-harm, form an addiction to drugs, alcohol, and exercise or emotionally abuse themselves with negative self-talk.

To heal, I had to confront those secrets

The therapy helped me to understand that the eating disorder was a behavior I had formed to cope with my abuse, life traumas and adversities. It was the tip of the iceberg, cherry on top of the cake so to speak. Therefore, to start recovering from my eating disorder I had to deal with and work through the traumas underneath. Yes, I had to confront and work through those secrets, and do the “self-work” on the abuse.

I deserved to get those Latino curves back, start living again and not just exist in this regimented, sad, lonely world I had created. It was time to get my power and self-worth back and take control.

Learning skills for “self-work”

Eventually, when I was able to accept and voice my abuse, my healing journey began. This has involved years of self-work and training; seeking different analysts, exploring varied forms of alternative therapy and taking myself away on a year’s sabbatical in Australia, New Zealand and Bali. I now share the tools and techniques I have found have worked for me to help others (one to one coaching, group training, teaching).

Starting on the self-work path in healing from abuse is never easy! Though please know that this is vital for you to find inner peace, and embrace the happy life you deserve. After a while, with practice, some of the tools and techniques will become part of your daily routine and you begin to enjoy them as you learn to understand and honor your true self.

Four messages

I am here to tell you that a survivor of abuse can live a happy life, and have a strong and loving relationship with themselves and others. I am proof.

I now live in a much better place in mind and body; I am grateful for this life, I socialize more, have had loving relationships with males and can see the positives in life. I have learnt to love myself again and have been in recovery from my eating disorder for more than three years.

I wish to honor the little Amanda and the woman I am today by sharing four messages:

  • Take back control: The abusers may have controlled you and had a huge impact on your past but don’t give them the power to ruin your future years of happiness.
  • Reveal your secret: Speak out and accept help now to save years of more abuse from others or yourself.
  • Being abused does not make you any less of a person: Don’t let the abuse define you, make you believe you are damaged or not good enough. You are a precious human being and deserve love, safety and respect.
  • Empower yourself: It was never your fault!

   About Amanda

A happy, strong, resilient and positive young woman is how I would be described by most people today, and it is with great pride that I can say “yes! They are correct”. However, for the most part of my life this has been an exhausting veneer to maintain as my positive exterior and desire to help others masked many years of trauma, challenges and periods of extreme adversity and resulted in the development of my thirteen yearlong eating disorder.

My life began in a pretty county named ‘Lancashire’ in the North West of England, where I have enjoyed a very rewarding career as a teacher for most of my working years. However, being a natural healer and having a high level of emotional intelligence my interest in helping others naturally never stops when the school bell rings. It was this awareness (alongside my own personal ‘spiritual awakening’ as Brene Brown would term it) which led me onto my own rugged path of self-discovery and spurred me to set up my own business as a Coach and Reiki Healer.

I  help people to change their lives via one-to-one coaching, teaching, group workshops, Reiki Healing and writing pieces for websites based upon my adversities.  I help them to shed any limiting beliefs which are holding them back and move forward to live the life they desire and more importantly deserve.

Outside of my career my lifelong passion has always been ‘The Arts’; dance in particular. I am spiritually minded and have a simple life, enjoying mindful walks in nature, good coffee, eating out and meditate on a regular basis. Spending time with family and friends is highly important to me and now that I have honored and worked through my adversities I realize even more how precious and nourishing this time is. Connection is vital to well-being as its lots of continuous self-care.

Recovery is possible and you deserve it!