I am currently working on an ethics assignment for my Bachelor Degree, and although I am having difficulty with all the theorising and waffle, it has had me thinking about how we make decisions and be true, or authentic, to ourselves.
Being true, unfortunately, also has the consequence of being vulnerable.
In 2010, on receiving confirmation that my father had abused a fourth victim, one much younger who had been abused much more recently than the other three, I felt I had been forced into a dilemma – do I remain silent, or do I take action? Typical of all dilemmas, I had the capacity to choose either option, but only one of them. Both choices had severe consequences attached.
Although my journey towards speaking out had, in hindsight, begun much earlier than the catalytic phone call I received, it was not until during that phone that I took the first step that really left me no option but to act. you see, it was only during that phone call, that I actually stood up and said, “What about me? What about what I have been through? What about my life?” It from these three small statements that I came to understand that for the previous thirty-eight years I had believed I, me, did not matter. Whatever had happened to me didn’t matter, because it was just me. Whatever my father had done to me did not matter, because it was just me. Whenever anyone told me I was volatile, volcanic, miserable etc., did not matter, because it was just me.
I cried, really cried, for the first time that night – for me, for the little girl I had been, for all the things I had lost and could never get back, for the others that I knew my father had abused, and for the desperate hopelessness that had followed me all of my life. Crying left me exhausted, but that exhausted state gave me time to think about my father’s life at that moment. He still had regular and prolonged access to young girls in what appeared to be his target age group. His wife (not my mother) had a number of nieces that would visit and stay at their house, their friends had young girls who would visit and stay at their house, and his family had young girls who, although at that time too young, would one day hit that ‘golden’ age and who would visit and stay at their house. What was I going to do about that?
My options, as I saw them was to do nothing and stay silent, to confront my father directly, or to make a stand and go to the police.
Doing nothing really wasn’t an option. I was already feeling guilt, because if I had spoken out sooner, the other three victims may have been saved. This was no longer just about me. Confronting my father directly, I felt, was not an option, because it did not guarantee the safety of those young girls he still had regular contact with. That left going to the police.
I had first seen a counsellor when I was twenty-one – I had been almost literally dragged their by a co-worker because I had a ‘melt down’ (now known to be a panic attack) at work one day, and I had blurted some of the story out to her in the bathroom. Anyway, that counsellor told me that because I was twenty-one, if I didn’t make a complaint to the police at that time, I would never be able to. Being in crisis at the time, I was in no fit state to make any major decisions, so i never made a complaint to the police.
So, twenty-odd years on, when the only choice I seemed to be to take action and go to the police, I remembered that first counselling session, and thought there was nothing I could do.
I already had plans to pick my friend up from the hospital the following morning, so, after a sleepless night I tried explain what had happened and what I was thinking to my somewhat bewildered partner, I collected my friend and we have breakfast together at a cafe near the hospital. I explained to my friend what had happened the previous night, telling him for the first time about what had happened to me as a child. I explained how I felt I only had three choices, and how two of those were not really an option. We sat for an hour, him listening, me talking. Then, he said he would support me in whatever I decided to do. He suggested, however, that I should consider those young girls who may currently be in danger of my father.
I was already beginning to focus my thoughts along those lines, but I was terrified of actually doing something, of going to the police and putting into motion who-knows-what type of consequences.
My friend was very aware that I am an ‘if-it’s-meant-to-be-it-will-be’ type of person, so he suggested that we stop at the first police station on the way to his place, and if it didn’t feel right, we could stop at the next one etc.
I don’t know how many stations we drove past that morning, but we got to the very last station and I knew it was now or never. We walked to the door and immediately I was drawn to a poster that had my birthday on it (good sign), then we walked inside and there were posters everywhere about protecting children from sexual abuse (good sign), then I rang the bell on the counter and waited for an officer to arrive. When he did I almost ran back out the door! It took me five minutes to say, “I need to talk to someone – my father sexually abused me as a child.”
As luck would have it (or fate, or the Universe, or God, or whatever), the Child Protection Officer just happened to be at that particular station, at that moment (GOOD sign).
That momentous step was my first public acknowledgement of me being true to myself. It didn’t matter if I was going to be killed. It didn’t matter what anyone thought. It didn’t matter if the world was going to disintegrate into a thousand different pieces. All that mattered was that I was making a stand and saying, “I WILL NOT BE SILENT ANY LONGER. I WILL NOT PROTECT CHILD ABUSERS. I WILL NOT LET MY INACTION LEAD TO ANOTHER CHILD BEING ABUSED!” And yes, it felt like I was screaming it from every fibre of my being.
Since then, I have been learning every day how to be true to me, to my values, and to what I think is morally right. I do still find myself saying and doing things that aren’t ‘really’ me – for example, in a recent conversation with a friend I made a comment about how we might not have a ‘normal’ friendship. She responded by saying, “It seems pretty normal to me.” This made me stop and look at what I had said – did I think it was abnormal? No. Then why did I say that? Because I was still holding onto someone else’s idea of friendship that was masquerading as my own. Time to get rid of that and embrace my own ideas, thank you.
So, how does all this make me vulnerable?
Being true makes me vulnerable because I can no longer use the excuse that these are not my thoughts, that these are not my feelings, that these are not my beliefs. I am putting myself out there in the world, and that’s quite scary. For so long, I didn’t matter, but I do matter, and every day I have to prove that by being ME. For so long, I believed everyone hated me, so by being me, and putting myself out there, I have to be able to accept that others may disagree with me, and might not even like me, but that’s okay because I am who I am, and if someone doesn’t like me, it’s no reflection on me as much as a reflection of them and their values, their morals, and their beliefs.
As long I am being true, being honest, behaving with integrity, and being open and vulnerable, that is all that can be asked of me.