#IAmASurvivor are stories from women of all walks of life, telling their stories of survival. Everybody is a survivor and all stories deserve to be told. These stories are all in their own words.
I sit on the edge of the double bed, feeling lost and very alone.
I’m 17 years old and I’ve just moved into my own place. I guess I should be feeling excited, proud? But that isn’t how it feels at all.
I was moved here by my mum.
Willingly? Not exactly.
Things have been difficult at home since I told my stepdad about my first boyfriend. He has been incredibly moody since then, but we haven’t fought about it.
Just a sickening silence, punctuated by door slams.
The air has been heavy. Whispers, secret head shakes, “don’t mention anything”, “don’t make it awkward”. But we all know it is awkward. Really bloody awkward.
Is it healthy to avoid confrontation at ANY cost?
And I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Mandy. Will she be sad or relieved when she gets home from school? At least she has her own room now. And so do I.
The move happened abruptly. Mum was in a panic. Eyes wide. Frantically stuffing my possessions into a bag.
She’s bought me pots and pans. A plate, knife, fork, spoon, cup, glass…
And a tiny TV with a VCR combined.
But I don’t feel like cooking or watching TV.
And it suddenly strikes me as funny, that this room is now my whole house. My bedroom, kitchen, lounge. Well, apart from the bathroom.
There is one bathroom shared between the rooms. So it’s for 4 grown men and me.
I wonder, who’s going to clean it.
I wonder, how I’m going to relax enough to, you know, use the toilet.
I wonder, how I’m going to pay my rent.
Maybe mum will help. Nothing has been discussed. This wasn’t planned.
Looking back on that afternoon, I feel deep compassion for my mum and myself.
She didn’t know what else to do. Talking about the elephant in the room wasn’t her thing.
There’s no doubt this move was a turning point in my life. One that had already been troubled with divorced parents, sexual abuse and violated boundaries.
As I sat on the bed and took stock, there were no tears. No obvious signs of fear. Just a deep realisation that I was going to have to take care of myself from now on.
The following months saw a hardening of my shell and a chilling of my heart - as I stubbornly set out to thrive in this situation. And get out of this single room in which I didn’t feel safe.
I was still at college full time, so the first task was to earn some extra money where I could.
I’d worked at the local bakery for a couple of years already - so that was my Saturdays taken.
I quickly secured a job cleaning an office block from 5-7am weekdays. I cycled there in the dark.
And then at a shoe shop on Sundays. Catching the train to Guildford made me feel fancy.
Minimum wage. Urgh. But at least I didn’t have much time to sit in my room and wallow.
I saved up £350 and bought my first car. A light blue Fiat Panda. She was a slice of freedom. Add one ghetto blaster on the floor of the passenger seat and I had a personal oasis.
Life fell into a rhythm. I danced out my anger and frustrations at clubs 3 or 4 nights a week with my best friend - and worked and studied around the clock every day.
It was here that I learned how to set boundaries with men for the very first time.
I learned through trial and error. Hot tears and burning shame.
Once I pretended to be asleep and waited, willed him to leave.
The next time I knew better.
I learned to cook what I liked. And found solace in books. Ah, YouTube, you weren’t a thing then. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with minimum wage jobs forever. So, I decided to apply to University. Nobody in my family had attended so far.
I couldn’t decide what to study and settled for BA Business Management, to keep my options open. I thanked God for student loans.
University was a sweet breath of fresh air. I was normal again amongst my peers.