Stephanie* told her story at our Hidden Hurt seminar. Her speech is below:
Hello, I’m Stephanie and I’m a survivor and I’m here to tell you my story. I’ve been through a lot of things – just about everything you could imagine and I have overcome many challenges in my life.
I have experienced homelessness, Mental Health issues, problems around substance use and domestic violence. I have also had my brushes with the Law.
From a little child, I witnessed domestic violence and alcohol abuse from my parents. I was neglected as a child. As I grew up, I was bullied at school for being different and there was a lot of court orders going on with my parents and a lot of moving around. My life with my parents was hectic. I saw my mum’s involvement in prostitution and this made me upset and miserable. Seeing her let men use her and be abusive was difficult to understand as a child. I suffered mental health issues but my mum didn’t believe me and she made fun of me and she encouraged my siblings to as well. My dad was arrested repeatedly for drunk and disorderly behaviour and domestic violence there were lots court orders – one weekend after contact we went to my mum’s and she didn’t open the door and I have never seen her since. I was in Year 3.
We went to live with my father and he made me do all the cleaning, cooking and stuff and this was me not my siblings and I felt like a slave in the house. I started to run away from home – my dad didn’t understand why my grades at school were bad and he was abusive and eventually I didn’t go back.
I went into Care at the age of 13. From then I started to take drugs and because of this my foster carers could not handle me. I moved several times and started to get into trouble with the Law so social services decided to put me in a Children’s Home. The ladies in there were not so nice to me as I was different. I started self-harming and overdosing. I was very poor at the time so I started stealing. After a couple of years, I was moved to a semi-independent flat.
I started at PRU to finish my GCSE’s. That’s when I met this boy that blew me away. I fell very deeply in love with him. We started dating. He was very abusive and very violent as he was a leader in a gang in South London.
I couldn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone. I was very afraid of him. Any time he would start to be abusive I would run away and he didn’t understand and thought I was cheating on him or up to no good just because I didn’t cover and wasn’t a Muslim. I started selling drugs for him, robbing people and robbing houses. We made a lot of money but he always got the most. That’s when I was imprisoned.
I got 28 months for what I did and when I tried to write him a letter, he was still abusive, calling me names. I knew then that I had to change my life. I had to stop going out with gang members and I didn’t want to hurt anyone anymore.
I cried a lot about what he made me do and how foolish I was. After I came out, all my other relationships were abusive and controlling and I thought ‘Why me? Why is this happening to me? I was never a bad person. I was a victim of love. I didn’t understand how evil people could be. One day, one of my partners beat me up so bad I was covered in blood. I had to call the police. He got me on Coke, weed and even drinking so much that I couldn’t live without any of them. They became my friends. I became the abuser, I became the bully. My eyes were blinded by the drugs and drinking for a good 3-4 years.
After that, I was homeless. Sleeping with strangers, walking the streets at night begging for money. I still can’t believe that was me.
Then my ex called me and I told him I was homeless and he told me he would help me and, like an idiot, I trusted him.
So we started living in his car. He was also a drug dealer and very abusive but at the time, I had no choice. At night we would park in a car park and he would sexually abuse me. Because I have been raped before, inside is very damaged and the last time he sexually abused me I was bleeding so much that I couldn’t even walk.
He told me he didn’t want to be with me anymore, that he had got another girl pregnant. I started getting flashes of my first partner and what he done to me because he too left me for another woman. So I attacked him. Police drove past and tried to calm me down. I was crying so much as I was homeless, alone, used and using so much substances. I felt so depressed and so sad. I have suffered from mental health issues throughout my life and this was an especially difficult time for me.
Police took me to a nearby station and questioned me and I told them the truth and they said they will not leave me helpless. They will help me. I felt so happy because I wasn’t so nice to the police and, let me be honest, people have a certain picture of the police.
And I can say that the police have helped me so many times and I am so thankful to them that they referred me to Solace, even though I broke the Law and I wasn’t always nice to them in the past, they still helped me. Police are really humane people.
After the Haven and statements and pictures, they took me to a refuge run by Solace, for women with multiple needs. I was very scared. I thought ‘omg, another Children’s Home’. When I got there, I was walked into the office where I was told all the rules and had to sign a lot of papers. When I got to my room, I sat inside and felt so lost and I didn’t know how to start fixing myself. The refuge helped me stop drinking, drugs and doing anything that could put me in danger. I found their groups very helpful and also speaking to them, hearing other people’s stories and advice helped me a lot.
Being supported by Solace has been important in my personal recovery. Having a place of safety has been very important to give me space to think about my options and choices. I have been able to work with external agencies and also there is a lot of support from keyworkers and all the staff at the refuge. I am working with services around my mental health needs and also my substance use We have explored my triggers and developed a support plan. I feel listened to and understood and my views are sought and I am learning not to blame myself for the abuse I have experienced. I am beginning the process of moving on as I am now ready for this and will be supported throughout this process.
I have stopped drinking now for 7 months. I am studying acting, English, making choices and ‘Girls Like us’, a young women’s programme. I have stopped dating for the time being and I’m making new friends with positive and stable backgrounds.
Now I am studying, doing accredited courses, hoping to get into theatre and also I want to be a Youth Worker as I feel I have a lot to give and young people will be able to relate to me. I am looking for volunteer places. I love to act. It grounds me. It makes me happy.
I want to thank everyone that helped me and didn’t judge me. No matter how hard I was to handle, they were determined to help me and all my thanks goes to the police and Solace.