opinion

"For six years, I kept silent." Grace Tame has given me the courage to share my own story.

This post deals with sexual abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

“Trauma does not discriminate. Nor does it end when the abuse does.” - Grace Tame, Australian Of The Year 2021.

It’s the day after Australia Day; the first day back of the school year.

I kiss my children goodbye and wave them out the door. Make coffee and sit in the despondency of my exhaustion. I had plans today. So many plans. So many things I was looking forward to achieving on the first day to myself after six exceptionally long weeks of juggling part-time work and full-time parenting.

Watch Grace Tame's Australian Of The Year 2021 speech here. Post continues below.


Video via ABC

Except, I didn’t sleep last night. Again. I’m not sure I could tell you the last time I slept all night and woke feeling refreshed. I’m not sure I ever have. 

See, I’m a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I was abused and raped by someone within my home from the ages of seven to 12. Most days, and nights. Sometimes more than once each day. Because of this, I suffer from Complex-PTSD, a condition resulting from ongoing or repetitive exposure to traumatising and highly stressful situations.

More than 20 years later, sleep remains difficult for me because of the way childhood trauma affected my brain during the developing years. The amygdala, the brain’s centre responsible for detecting and processing fear, triggers a fight-or-flight response at the threat of danger. 

After trauma, the amygdala remains hypervigilant, meaning it continues to see threats everywhere, leading to panic attacks and anxiety. This fight-or-flight response can still occur decades later, either consciously or unconsciously, and often out of nowhere. 

There is also somatisation, which occurs when psychological distress is converted into physical symptoms such as muscle tension, migraines, digestive issues, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. This is seen often in trauma survivors who have unprocessed trauma, suppressed emotions or repressed memories, who experience chronic physical pain even though their pain may be unable to be medically diagnosed. It is even more common for survivors of trauma who have been unable to voice their experiences. The body remembers even if we choose to forget.

In the quiet of this post-summer morning, I struggle to find the energy and motivation to begin my day. I am, most days, strong in mind and body. I have overcome that which sought to overcome me. I have done the hard - impossible - work of healing. 

I am a woman with drive, determination, passion, and a willingness to work hard to achieve my goals. But today, I am defeated. Consistent lack of sleep and relentless pain leave me worn. Today, I have nothing.

There is a message from a friend, “You HAVE to see the speech the Australian Of The Year gave last night. Wow.”

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Having spent the final day of school holidays out with my children, I missed most of yesterday’s news cycle, only catching the briefest of headlines. I know my friend is referring to Grace Tame, but little beyond that. I make another coffee and search for her speech on the internet.

“I remember him towering over me, blocking the door. I remember him saying, 'Don't tell anybody.' I remember him saying, 'Don't make a sound.’ Well hear me now. Using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced. Let's make some noise, Australia.”

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. In this episode, we discuss what it's really like to be Australian Of The Year. Post continues below.

I weep in a way I have not wept in years. Even as I write this, I still weep.

These same words were spoken to me during my years of abuse. Words which left me afraid. Silent. Ashamed. Her story is my story. Is the story of every survivor left without a voice. 

Even, at age 12, when I finally summoned all my courage to speak of my abuse out loud, I was not believed, only further betrayed by those who should have protected me.

In my late twenties, for fear of my abuser repeating his offence on another innocent child, I reported my abuse. After a number of gruelling hours of depicting my story in graphic detail, I was told my statement was my word against his. I never heard about my case again. Further shamed, I retreated back into silence.

For six years, I kept silent about my abuse. For many years after, I continued to do the same. As a result, I have suffered mentally, emotionally and physically. Most people see a woman who is accomplished, successful and together. Only those closest to me see and understand the affects trauma has had, and continues to have, on my life.

When we lose our voice, we lose hope of ever being heard. We suppress our trauma and with this, continue to suffer years after the abuse has stopped. We store the trauma inside every cell of our body and it manifests into each part of our lives whether we realise it or not

We are the innocent victims yet we remain the ones imprisoned to our trauma while the perpetrators of our abuse more often than not walk free; unaffected by that which we will continue to carry our entire lives.

This is why Grace Tame’s speech matters to every victim of childhood sexual abuse. Because for the first time, hope feels tangible.

This is why the #letherspeak campaign, founded by Nina Funnell, matters to every victim of childhood sexual abuse. Because for the first time, survivors have a voice.

Despite my exhaustion today, I no longer sit in defeat. I feel seen. I feel heard. I feel hope that change is possible. That maybe, anything is possible.

“Survivors be proud, our voices are changing history.” 

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).

Feature image: Getty.

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