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Dear Jo: My Story to Tell Intro

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Dear Jo

Hope

This has been a difficult post to write. It was prompted by someone saying to me the other day ‘Oh, I blame my mother for what I am today. She was cold and hurtful and never really cared about me. So I grew up to be the person I am today.’

I call bullshit. Yes, of course, past events contribute to who you become and I’m not talking about the extreme ones causing grief, and fear and true emotional angst. No one can understand what the trauma of being raped, sexually abused, beaten, suffered another form of a traumatic experience, hurt emotionally and physically does to a person until you’ve been there. However, I do find it a cop-out that when someone grows up to be a douchebag or a nasty person, that they can use the supportive crutch of their past to blame everything on their current demeanour and way of life.

I believe some people CAN rise above their pasts. Let me qualify that statement so I don’t sound glib. Not everyone is strong enough and able to of course. Some are just unable to climb out of that terrible hole of depression, grief and tragedy they suffered. And that’s their right. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s human nature and character that comes into play when things go wrong. I feel incredible empathy with those people suffering, unable to put the past to rest. I want the world to be a happy one, filled with love, light and rainbows, unicorns prancing around every corner, cities made of Willy Wonka produce and people smiling and living in harmony. It’s not going to happen. I know that.

This is an intensely personal post and I’m baring my soul big time. I chose to remain anonymous because I’m not looking for sympathy or understanding, or platitudes. It’s an honest account of some of the things I’ve worked through and got past, so I know triumph over adversity can be done.

That’s the reason for this post. HOPE. Hope is what keeps us going, keeps us sane, gives us a reason to get up in the morning. HOPE and acceptance of what lies behind you are what helps someone move forward into the future. Here’s a very sobering thought. The future is all we ever have left of life. Every second that passes takes away some of that future and we’ll never get it back. So why to take up valuable seconds regretting and berating the past when you can enjoy the ones you have right now.

I’ve faced some bad stuff in my life. My parents divorced a few years after arriving in South Africa from the UK (where I was born) as my dad got a job offer he couldn’t turn down. My dad got custody of his three daughters because, at that time, my mother didn’t want us. She had a new man in her life, my stepdad BB. Dad remarried, to a woman with two kids of her own. My younger and my elder sister hated my stepmother –she was a tyrant admittedly, measuring the sauce bottles to make sure we didn’t use too much and throwing away everything my real mother gave us on our monthly custody visits- both got pregnant at sixteen and then left home.

I was sexually abused by my stepbrother when I was thirteen. He also tried it on with my other two sisters. My stepmother wasn’t very supportive. I’m not even sure she believed me. This incident made me feel physically sick and overwhelmed for a long time. It also affected my view of sex, making me frigid and scared. I went to therapy when I was older to try to get over it, but it didn’t really help. One thing did, though. Massively. Read on.

I met my now husband G when I was seventeen and we’ve now been married 33 years. Poor man. He’s been my biggest supporter but had a lot to put up with in the sexual hang-up department. We moved in together when I was eighteen and we’ve never looked back. I loved his family and G’s dad became my surrogate male parent.

My step dad BB developed leukaemia and the stress of this drove my mum to drinking even more. Suicide attempts, drinking binges –these were all things we as a family had to weather. My younger sister, Sister B, was also moving along these lines, having discovered her husband had an affair. She was a sensitive soul and it destroyed her. She loved romance novels, something I used to chuckle about. ‘I’ll never read that stuff,” I used to say laughingly. “I really can’t see the attraction.” You’ll get the irony to this later on in the story.

I come from a family of alcoholics. My father died the week before my wedding day. He got bitten by our dog, his liver couldn’t cope and he died of blood poisoning. I never even got the chance to say goodbye as my step mother never real told us how bad it was. She also expected said abusive step-brother to give me away. I point blank refused causing a bit of a family rift. Instead, I chose my- in the family opinion- ‘no good, Portuguese Mafia brother in law’ who was then married to my older sister, to do the honours. BB was too ill to stand at that point so he couldn’t do it.

Life carried on and it was pretty good. There were tragedies- many good friends died violently, and it hurt. Then in 1986, I had a horrific car accident which left me with a shattered femur, and a stint in ICU when I got an embolism in my chest. Apparently this happens a lot with long bone fractures and is close to 80% fatal. I never knew this at the time. While I was recovering in hospital, BB died in the Oncology Ward below me.

Once all this was over, I had children, lived a good life for the most part. The most distressing thing was G’s dad developing skin cancer. He lingered a long while but eventually succumbed to it. I was distraught because every father figure I’d loved was now no more.

In December 2000, we moved to the UK. The constant threat of living with violence, robberies and home invasions in South Africa got too much and we had young kids to think about. My sister had moved to the UK six months previously, having been threatened with a hit on her life by her now ex-husband, and my ‘no good, Portuguese Mafia brother in law’ and fled.

My younger sister and her family moved over a year later followed by Mum. About a year after Mum got here, she had what they call a ‘varices bleed’ which means your liver is so solid from years of abuse that it cannot filter anymore. Mum exploded with blood from the inside. It was a terrible thing to see and we rushed her to the hospital where she stayed in ICU for weeks. She survived against the odds. It looks like the women in our family are fighters. When she left the hospital, she gave up drinking and healed and it was a bit of a miracle.

In the meantime, Sister B was drinking herself into an early grave. She and her husband had now separated. She told me she’d decided to die but didn’t want ‘suicide’ on her death certificate. She chose to drink more instead so that ‘liver failure’ could be the stated cause of death. Nothing we did could persuade her from her self-destructive path. She deteriorated to the point where my elderly mother became her official carer. He mental health declined and my older Sister A was beside herself. She and my mother are the closest of all the siblings and Mum’s health was suffering badly. One night, Sister A lost it. I can’t tell you too much, but suffice it to say I had to convince the police not to put her in jail. My threats of going to the newspapers with the story of the lacking of the UK social services seemed to work and all charges were dropped.

A few months later Sister B was admitted to hospital and she never left. She died in 2007 of liver failure two days before her 42nd birthday. I never got to say goodbye to her either. I was so pissed off with her, so devastated by what she was doing, that I did the whole ‘tough love’ thing and didn’t visit much. I regret it. She died alone and I can’t ever really forgive myself for that, no matter what. I still tear up about this, eight years later.

I was treated for depression soon after her death –we were close regardless; she was my little sister- and the doctor put me on tablets which did help a lot. I weaned myself off them after a couple of years. I had to move along, on my own. And now- there’s me. The person you see, the Romance novelist who writes about true love and happy ever afters. I think part of my past contributed to this. Maybe somewhere deep down, I needed to do this for my sister, the woman who only wanted everyone to have their HEA.

There’s been another huge benefit to me writing sexy stories. I’ve become more confident in my own sexuality, not seeing it as something to be kept secret, or made into something dirty. Writing about sex has been the best therapy I could ever have had and I think more people should do it. Talk about chalk and cheese. My life has changed radically as a result of me starting to write. I am overwhelmed sometimes at just how much better it has become in many ways.

My two most incredible accomplishments are my children, who are my world. I don’t tell them enough, but I think they know. My husband – ditto. At least I hope they do. My mum and my older sister now live back in South Africa, but they are still very special to me. I miss them.

I could have chosen a different path. I didn’t become a bitter, twisted person. I didn’t become a serial killer, shaped by past events. I didn’t hunker down in my own negativity and hide. Instead, I blossomed, even more determined to overcome.

I did this because I believe in HOPE. I believe in events shaping me, making me stronger. I believe in not letting the bastards grind you down, in other people not being able to influence MY life to the extent that their reactions and opinions control me, make me less than what I am.

You are strong, you are YOU and everyone deserves that chance. So please try not to allow misfortunate and grief to shape you in any way other than a good way. Embrace it, look back on what you’ve overcome, or survived and utter a heartfelt sigh of thanks that you are still YOU. No matter what. It won’t work for all. I hope to reach those few that it will.

 

Anonymous Reader

 

2 Comments
  1. Valerie DeGeorge says

    Ty so much for this article I totally agree with you on so many outlets here
    We are our own person and we decide what oath we will take yes it is hard but not impossible
    I’ve been there and survived
    God Bless you for your strength

    1. jo says

      I agree with you Valerie. The writer of this letter has had great courage to tell this story.

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