Mel’s Story – Who I was does not define Who I am
From the outside, we looked like a typical family. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. It’s a typical Australian house on an average suburban street. The early years of my childhood were spent playing in our neighbourhood with friends and my brother and two sisters.
Church was a very big part of my family’s life. My parents were both involved in leadership and so much of our social life revolved around that community and my parent’s responsibilities there. I enjoyed church but when I was in the early years of high school we stopped attending regularly. At the time, all I knew was that my parents were hurt, angry and very upset. I have since come to discover that they experienced deep betrayal and disappointment from people whom they had served and trusted for many years. That hurt triggered unresolved issues from both my parents’ past and affected our whole family in a profound way.
Over the next few years, the unprocessed pain that both my parents carried manifested itself in outbursts of anger and verbal and physical abuse. My parents’ marriage was under significant strain. It seemed like they were constantly fighting and my siblings and I were caught in the crossfire.
By the time I was 13 years old, I despised my parents. With no healthy example of how to handle conflict or anger, I became what I saw. I was an angry, violent and frustrated teenager. Life became so intolerable at home that for a few months I moved out to live with a friend from school and her family. This move gave me a temporary sense of stability and normality but when I moved back home nothing had changed. Life was hard but I didn’t realise how bad it was going to get.
One evening my cousin was visiting and she and I went for a walk, eventually ending up at the park around the corner. It was about 10pm and when we got there we were approached by two guys we didn’t know. They were very friendly and attentive. Within a very short time, one of them had focused all of his attention on me, drawing me away from my cousin and the other boy. He began touching me and telling me how beautiful I was. I was totally captivated. This was the first time any boy had ever shown any interest in me and he made me feel so special. A few minutes later we were on the ground together. The next thing I knew we were having sex. When he had finished, we stood up and he asked me for my phone number. I didn’t have a mobile phone so I gave him my home number. As far as I was concerned I now had a boyfriend.
When I found my cousin, she was hysterical. She was worried about what my parents would say and furious that I had allowed this boy to have sex with me.
I was 14 years old. What did I know?
I do remember that I went home, I had a shower, washed the blood out of my underwear, went to bed and cried till I fell asleep.
A week later my new ‘boyfriend’ called and asked if he could see me again. I told my parents that I was going to youth group and then sleeping over at friend’s house. I walked to the address that I had been given but when I got there I was faced with a group of men drinking and taking drugs. I have very little memory of what happened next. At some point, I woke up in a bed. I knew that I had had sex but was unsure with whom and how many times. In the midst of my brain fog I thought to myself I need to prove that I was here. I grabbed my hairbrush out of my handbag and threw it under the bed. The next time I woke up was as my body hit the dirt on the side of the road. My ‘boyfriend’ had thrown me out of his car in the middle of suburbia. What’s more he had robbed me. I had no phone, no money and no way of getting home.
I wandered around the streets with no idea of where I was. Eventually I stumbled across a house where people were having a party in their front yard. I approached these strangers and through tears asked if somebody could take me home. I got home well after midnight. I was terrified of what my parents would say and 100% convinced that everything that had happened to me was my fault. When I told my mother that I had been raped she called the police. I went to the hospital to do a ‘rape kit’ and was interviewed by the police at home. Two male officers asked me lots of detailed questions but because I was speaking in front of both my parents I felt very unsure, embarrassed and guilty. I asked if I could speak to them without my parents being present and was told ‘No, you’re under age, they have to be here.’ It was an awful experience.
The police went to the home of my rapist and discovered the hairbrush that I had left there. They also informed me that he was not 17 years old like he had told me. He was 24! Despite all of these facts I was strongly encouraged to not pursue any charges. The best I could hope for was to have an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) issued against him. I felt bullied, confused and guilty.
Despite the shock and trauma of that experience I received no formal counselling or ongoing support.
My parents were ill equipped to help me deal with what had happened and so life went on without any further reference to that night.
Although my parents had left the church, they were still keen that my siblings and I attended a local Christian school. Sadly, this school was not a great fit for someone as broken and hurting as I was. I had a learning disability that went undiagnosed for many years and I struggled to make friends amongst my peers. I eventually drifted into a group of fellow misfits. I found acceptance there but it was also the place that I was introduced to alcohol and drugs. Within a matter of months, I was drinking most days. I came to class drunk and my behaviour continued to deteriorate. I knew that I was ‘hard work’ yet no one took the time to ask about what was going on at home or why I was so defiant. Through my new circle of friends, I was also introduced to my first real boyfriend. He was no longer at school and was a local drug dealer. One of the benefits of being his girlfriend was free and unlimited access to crystal meth. Between the drinking and drugs, I existed in a state of numb detachment from my life. Fortunately, when my boyfriend suddenly disappeared to avoid the police my supply of drugs also disappeared and I stopped using.
Through much of this time I was still attending church youth group, albeit on the fringes. I was so desperate for a place to belong that at one point I was going to two different youth groups each week. I lived in such a state of inner turmoil where, as much as I longed for community, I struggled to connect with God and others in a meaningful way. My experiences with men had been so traumatising and exploitative that by the time I was 18 years old I decided that men could not be trusted.
I began questioning my sexual orientation. I wondered whether relationships with women would be safer and more fulfilling.
My first relationship with a woman was short-lived and awkward. I felt ashamed and guilty and was terrified that somebody would find out. When she dumped me, she told me that our relationship wasn’t part of God’s plan. This reinforced my growing feeling that I was not welcome or wanted at church.
I was still involved in church and loved serving as a volunteer in youth ministry. I really enjoyed it but also felt conflicted about my sexuality and how it would be handled by the church. I spoke to my leader and his response crushed me. I anticipated being asked to step down from any leadership responsibilities, what I didn’t expect was being told to leave the church. His position was that I had a lot to sort out in my life and that I should do that elsewhere. I was shattered. The one place that should have helped me was shutting me out.
Shortly after this, I began dating a girl named Jessica. I loved her. We were together on and off for years. She kept cheating on me and I kept looking the other way. When I was with her I felt safe, warm and giddy with love. I loved her and I thought she loved me too. When our relationship eventually ended, I was devastated.
Around the same time, I wrote a ‘coming out’ letter to my parents. I was so nervous about their reaction that I left it on my mum’s pillow and waited downstairs. I still remember hearing her scream as she raced downstairs. ‘We can’t tell your father. We will fix this, we can find a cure for this!’ she cried.
When my father eventually found out that I was gay his response was even more hurtful than my mum’s. ‘I don’t know how to love you anymore’ he said.
I was 20 years old and, not for the first time, it felt like my world was falling apart.
I felt rejected by my family and my church and so I began looking for community and purpose elsewhere. Through friends I was introduced to the practice of Wicca. I was fascinated by the emphasis on feminine divinity and celebration of nature. The more I explored it the more I believed that it could offer me the answers that I was looking for yet at the same time I became more and more depressed. I began a relationship with a fellow Wiccan that was intense. We were deeply in love but we were also both dealing with a lot of baggage from our respective pasts. At times the weight of the relationship was suffocating and I realised that I was going to have to end the relationship.
One night it all became too much to bear. I was alone in my bedroom at my parents’ place and all I wanted was for the pain to stop, and the struggle to be over. I swallowed every pill that I could find in my room. Fortunately, because I took so many at once, I began to cough and vomit. I remember my mum yelling and knocking on the locked door. I opened the door, ran to the bathroom and vomited again. I felt dreadful but I was alive.
After I felt a bit more stable I rang a mate to come and get me, while I was there a friend called me, the same friend whose family I had lived with many years earlier. She was a Christian and as we chatted on the phone I poured out my heart. I told her things that I had not shared with anyone else; the trauma of the sexual assaults, drugs, abuse, and years of living with guilt and shame. Over the course of our conversation she showed me that I was not the guilty party, I was the victim. The guilt I had carried about the rape was not mine to carry. It felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders. She asked if she could pray for me but I said ‘No.’ I had no interest in the faith that had shamed and rejected me.
She was graciously persistent, however, and asked me if I would like to come to church with her sometime. For some reason, I said ‘yes’.
I turned up to an evening service at my friend’s church wearing a pentagram necklace, a t-shirt from the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and with two of my gay friends for moral support. I remember feeling like I had even more questions, even more doubts. I felt shame and fear all at once. Strangely, sitting with my friend, I also felt like I was home. I came back the next week but when a man got up to pray against homosexuality, because of legislation that was being debated in parliament, I began to cry. I felt shamed and stormed out of the church. Many others left the service too; I’m grateful it wasn’t just me. Seeing that I was not the only one in pain helped me stay connected to church.
My Christian friend continued to meet with me, encourage me and helped me to begin my journey back to God. In 2012, I attended Soul Survivor Camp. It was while I was there that I sensed Jesus speaking to me. I sensed him saying, ‘remember me, remember who I am, remember what I have done.’ I realised that in all of the chaos of my life I had not asked for forgiveness. That night in my tent I found real freedom as I experienced the forgiveness that only God can give.
I came home from camp encouraged and strengthened in my relationship with Jesus. I became more involved in church. My church leaders were aware of my sexuality and welcomed me, included me and loved me. Their only request was that I remain celibate. I did my best to stay faithful to that commitment but relapsed a few times. When my leaders found out they were gracious and reminded me that I was loved and part of the family!
Over the years that followed, I continued to wrestle with my sexuality and the commitment to celibacy. It was during a rained out, solo camping trip that God and I had another life shaping conversation. After praying and crying for what felt like hours, I felt prompted to call one of my leaders from church. They reminded me of this verse.
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 (NIV)
I realised that all of the things that had identified me in the past, the abuse, the trauma, my sexuality, these were not my true identity. My identity is ‘child of God’.
I now have this verse tattooed on my arm, a permanent reminder that who I was, no longer defines who I am.
It has been three years since that breakthrough. I have remained celibate and continue to allow God to heal the deepest parts of my heart. My mistrust of men is being restored and I have reconnected with my Dad. I have realised that men are not the enemy, it is humanity that is broken. I still long for physical intimacy but God pours out his love to me through the incredible community that I am part of. I have beautiful pets that I love taking care of, I am blessed with amazing friends and I love being aunty to my nephews. Whether marriage is in my future or not I know that God is my ultimate source of love and belonging.