Shame is the biggest obstacle to the healing of sexual abuse. When the abuse occurs in the midst of a family structure it affects everyone. The combined shame of those who perpetrate, those who don't stop it, and the victim/s is generally what keeps the enormous family lie in place. This is what has happened in my own family in Northern Ireland.
Until 2009, I was involved in a police investigation into my father and his friends for their pedophilic activity. Unfortunately other victims have yet to come forward so the police have been unable to build a strong enough case to prosecute. Not finding 'justice' after so many years of struggling has not been easy, but I know now that my job was not to find personal justice but to tell my story in order to protect myself and others.
I grew up in my father’s house in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Both the culture in which I was immersed and the tormented mind of my father created a permanently volatile environment. Bombs went off, town centers were blown up, teenagers were shot, and I was raped and tortured by my father and, later, his friends.
I would see my mother from time to time, but she was prone to nervous breakdowns, big highs and lows, and disappearing for sometimes years at a time. We lived with her for the two years around my transitioning into secondary school when my father had a nervous breakdown. After this period she had another breakdown and we went back to living with him. This ping-pong game between two unbalanced people was the ground on which I tried to stand as a girl.
My father started raping and torturing me when I was five years old. It stopped for the two years I lived with my mother, when I was going through puberty.
When I returned to live with him and refused to let him touch me he pushed me down the stairs. He would have left me bleeding there had my brothers not come home and forced him to ring an ambulance. I suffered a broken leg, neck damage, and a lot of bruising. In the hospital he brought me red carnations and threated to kill me if I told anyone. I could see that the nurses knew something was going on but I had become mute with terror. He had been threatening to kill me for years and now I knew he was capable of following through.
After this he resumed raping me periodically until I was in my mid teens, when he then introduced me to other men who I can see now were part of a pedophile ring. I became pregnant at this time and was brought to England for an abortion. After this I became very depressed and unable to walk or talk. My father's cure was to bring his most repulsive friend to 'sort me out'. At the hands of this man I suffered the most horrific and humiliating experiences of my life. After this I became more compliant and my father seemed satisfied that I had been put 'back in my place'.
Depression was no refuge from his tormented mind and sleep wasn't either. When I was between 5 and 10 my father would randomly come into my room at night and either rape me and then push me on to the floor or just tell me to stand up in the middle of the room for the rest of the night. He said if I sat or lay down he would know as he could 'read my mind and see me' from his room. He would then leave my room and go to his own bed. I would stand there as long as I could and wake up in the morning on the floor.
In my late teens I had various medical problems that meant I was in hospital a lot which, although painful, was a wonderful break from home. My father then had a serious girlfriend so spent very little time with us. It was a relief to not be near him but also meant the house rarely had food or heating. Throughout my childhood hunger and cold were very real and present dangers. I also remember being smelly at school and very conscious of other 'clean' girls. Shame was just a part of my identity until I started meditating and it all started to melt away.
The day I found meditation was like seeing sunshine for the first time, breathing clean fresh air, drinking cool clear water, and feeling the love of the earth envelop me.
Although I lived surrounded by the hell of my parents’ minds I was always deeply devoted inside to God and Nature. I loved the stories of saints such as St. Francis at school. In nature I always felt loved and cherished. Sitting surrounded by trees, flowers, and animals I could hear all of life humming, buzzing, reminding me that I belonged, that there was a reason for me to be here. When my father raped me I would 'become' Mary the Mother and be enveloped in blue robes, pure and sweet smelling like roses. I was brought out of the hellish reality to a different realm, one where my physical body endured pain but this part of my heart and mind was intact, impossible to be defiled. [paging] My meditation practice has made this sense of belonging my everyday experience of reality instead of a rare retreat from it found only in nature. It has also given me an unshakeable strength, the type of strength that can only come from facing the horrors that human beings are capable of—facing it and moving onward.
When I was 18 years old I almost couldn't believe that my father was letting me go to university in England. It was like he had forgotten his obsession with destroying me. I ran in case he remembered and stopped me. But he didn't and after that the memories faded and an uneasy tension took over our relating, like I had something 'on him'.
This unconscious power over him lasted until I was 26 years old and started having flashbacks. At the same time he started telephoning me ranting and paranoid, accusing me of being crazy 'just like your mother'. So I left my Masters program in Dublin, moved to Donegal to be around gentle and kind people and immersed myself in nature beside the wild Atlantic.
I told members of my family about the abuse then. The abusive phone calls stopped when I told my father I would go to the police if he came near me. He was dealing with an adult woman now not a frightened child.
I got on with my life after this, so relieved that he had lost his power over me—that he was afraid of me now. Fast forward to 2005, a trip around the world later, and I went on my first 10-day meditation retreat. Like opening an unfinished compost bin, thick and smelly, all the memories flooded back and I trawled through them, turning them all to black gold with my newfound meditation ability.
The 'body scanning' technique of meditation is a wonderful tool for unraveling knots and allowing tensions to melt away. It is the perfect tool for healing trauma as it allows you to address the feelings without going too much into the story.
It felt like a miracle to have found this simple, easy meditation. For the first few years of meditating at home and on many retreats I was in utter bliss from the dissolving of all the painful body sensations that had been twisting me up my whole life. My body had been in such constant pain that I always had to gently pat myself dry after a bath. I couldn't bear to even rub a towel on my legs or arms. The relief from all this pain was divine.
Trust is an enormous issue for people who have suffered such extreme betrayal in formative years. Because meditation is a solitary and self-administered healing tool it doesn't challenge boundaries in the way other person-to-person healing techniques do. It allows trust to be built up from the inside out, which I have found to be a much more gentle way of dealing with what I went through.
On my first retreat the teacher said that the amount of pain one feels will be equal to the amount of ease one experiences after practicing this meditation for some time. I have found this to be very true. The joy I feel now is the same size as the terror I felt as a child. It is vast and deep.
This healing was only possible with the help of some very good friends, family members, and therapists. I have found a therapeutic relationship vital in my more recent stages of healing. The free counseling offered by the HSE in Ireland for survivors of abuse is a wonderful resource and I encourage anyone on a healing path to avail of it.
I am still in Donegal, the wild Atlantic in the distance, the mountains surrounding me. I am here doing all I can to stay in balance, love myself, and help others transform their hells into heavens. I teach meditation classes and retreats weekly and have had so many people contact me saying they feel less alone for having read my story.
I wish everyone who reads this a greater understanding for their own pain, for when we understand our pain, like magic, it disappears and leaves behind the deep well-spring of ease that resides in us all.
Since publishing this account of my life on my website I have been threatened with legal action by my father. I told his lawyers that I have no intention of taking down my story and shutting up. While there is breath in this body I will speak the truth.