In the spring of 2022 I came into contact with a small-scale care institution in Assen, where very specific attention is being paid to the residents’ background, which often involves early childhood trauma. The employees and trainees also regularly have a history of adverse events that made or make life difficult. One of the trainees last year was ‘Joy’ (pseudonym). She asked me if I was willing to give a lesson at her school together with her. That happened and in May and June of 2022 we blogged about it.
Now Joy and I are preparing a meeting for the institution’s care team together. That is a good reason to highlight Joy’s story. We are happy to share it with you below!
“For the first thirteen years of my life I grew up with my mother in an unsafe situation. She lived in her own bubble and if she came out of it or we came into hers, she would yell at us, my brother and sister and me. She was always negative; she was never into anything and never wanted to do something nice, for example swimming or walking. She did not have time and attention for us; we were rather a burden. She used to say: “You are worth nothing; you are stupid and you have the same rotten face as your father.” If I said anything about my father, my mother would go crazy and scream. It usually resulted in me getting spanked and going to bed without having had dinner. I hardly ever took a shower; I was always dirty and walked around in torn clothes. Because of my parents’ messy divorce, I was hardly ever allowed to see my father. If he was allowed to pick me up, my father felt bad for me for the way I looked. I often showered at his house first and then got fresh clothes.
My mother’s friend, my stepfather, came from a large family of fifteen. He used to be regularly beaten with a belt. Those were the norms and values he grew up with. After drinking, he would turn into a beast. He committed violent crimes and hit us with a curtain rail or with his hand. He regularly smashed the entire house to pieces. As a child I was very scared; I felt victimised. Especially when my stepfather had smashed everything and the police came to the door, I thought: “Why aren’t they doing anything? Don’t they see me?” I sat on the stairs crying and thought: “Help me, do something!” They did nothing; they simply turned and disappeared. Also in this situation I felt not seen and not heard and this was confirmation for me that I was worth nothing.
At primary school I was excluded and bullied for how I looked in my dirty clothes with holes, but also because my stepfather was regularly in jail. I was not allowed to play with anyone and no one was allowed to come to my place. As a child I actually felt like a prisoner, too. I felt dirty, lonely and sad. When I said about my stepfather: “He is not my father”, nobody believed me, because my biological father was barely in the picture. No one saw who and what he was like. This felt really bad, like I was not seen and heard. I was very proud of my real dad, but I could not share my pride with anyone.
Because of my parents’ messy divorce, I got a supervision order. My mother duped the family guardian with manipulation and lies. As a result, my biological father was accused of everything, including assault and abuse. My confidence in myself was already gone, but I also lost confidence in the guardian and the police. My mother always said: “You have the same rotten face as your father; you have ‘father marks’ instead of birthmarks.” * She said I was stupid and I was not capable of anything and I thought it must be true; after all, no one helped me. Not seen not heard… every time everything felt like confirmation that I was worth nothing.
I felt terribly lonely and sad; I often lay in bed crying and then I missed my real father. I wanted to live with Dad, but most often, I was not allowed to see him. I did not dare say I wanted to live with him; I had done that once and then I was hit so hard with a plastic curtain rail that my body was purple with welts. My entire closet had been smashed and my clothes had been thrown out the window. I could not flee for fear of getting more blows, so I fled in my own head. There I was completely in my own bubble. In my primary school report this can be read every year: “Joy is absent and often seems to be far away in dreamland.”
When I was thirteen I decided that I was going to say that I wanted to live with daddy. It took me two days to finally tell. I was terrified of getting some big, hard blows. That indeed happened, but I still got dad’s phone number. My stepfather’s brother helped me reach my father. He was there in half an hour; he had never driven so fast to pick me up. My mother was devastated because I chose my father and so were my brother and sister. I went and was going to live with Dad; adrenaline rushed through my body. I was happy because I was finally with Dad, but at the same time I felt, however wrongly, guilty about how I left the home situation behind.
My father had a very different, safe family situation; I had never known such a thing. I was insecurely attached and could not handle the peace and security at all. Because of my attachment problems, I went to great lengths to see where my father’s boundaries lay. I lied about everything, because with my mother always had to. I was not allowed anything; I had to come home straight from school. My stepfather would often picket at school to see if I actually went straight home. If not, I was punished for it. I started stealing, and at a very young age I also started smoking and blowing. I used violence if I did not like something, because that was also an approach I had been taught. I was unbearable at my father’s house; he quickly enlisted help. He wanted to try to get me into an assisted living situation or into a boarding school, because he was at a loos as to what to do with me at home. I was so far gone by then that I did not care. Like my father, I too did not know what to do with the circumstances at his place. I struggled with the fact that I had been abused and neglected for the first thirteen years of my life and that screaming, violence, alcohol abuse and fighting were the only ‘norms’ and ‘values’ I had inherited. And at the same time I struggled with enormous guilt towards my mother, brother and sister: I had abandoned them in a terrible situation.
My birth father organised help and he has taken a long breath and come a long way with me. He went gray early on; I always say that that happened thanks to me and then we laugh about it together. My recovery process was a very rough ride. I have had trauma treatment and EMDR and eventually I found myself and grew into how I am today. I have chosen to do a course to guide people in similar situations or problems, namely ‘Social care for specific target groups’ with the elective ‘Experience expert’. On my way to this diploma I have learned a lot and I have gone through powerful personal growth. It was fun and educational, also in the field. It gives me a lot of energy and I am proud of the woman I am now.”
Childhood is often described as the most beautiful time of a person’s life, in which carefree play and enjoyment are paramount. Joy’s story is one of many examples of children for whom this is certainly not the case. It takes tremendous courage and perseverance to transform a situation like Joy’s. Whether a young person is unlucky or lucky with the people who appear on their personal path can make a world of difference. If there is a helping hand and a safe haven to relax and develop, someone who believes in you, healing can gently start. Joy has now completed her education and in the coming years, through her work she will make a difference for others, whose background she understands better than anyone else!
Next week we will follow up on Joy’s story and report on this week’s team meeting.
*In Duth, birthmarks are called ‘moedervlekken’, ‘mother spots’. Here, the author illustrates how her mother tried to blame literally everything on the father, her ex-partner.