Warning: this piece includes themes of rape, violence, self-harm, depression, anxiety and drug use.
In year twelve a man thrust himself into me. He ignored every word that whimpered its way out of my mouth, so I stopped whimpering. I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been, at an hour when I should’ve been in my bed. That was all I could think about, and when I got back home, back to my room, back to my bed, I didn’t leave it for six months. I stopped going to school, I lost almost all of my friends and I became introverted and petrified. When I stopped showing up to school, my mum took me to a psychologist. I sat on the floor of her office with my knees drawn up to my chest. I nervously played with the toys on the table, but I didn’t say anything.
I was 17 but I felt so beaten down and afraid that I had the autonomy of a seven-year-old. She told me it was normal to get increased anxiety in year twelve. We left it at that. Eventually I finished year twelve from home, but only after many months of routine nervous breakdowns and hysterical crying fits. After the school year ended, I burned my life to the ground. I began physically hurting myself and pushing away everyone around me. I started drinking and moved out of my parents’ home. I stopped sleeping at night, so I got an overnight job flipping burgers for drunk people so I could buy weed. I met someone whose bravado made me feel protected, and I stared up at them through rose colored glasses, while all the red flags blended into the background.
Within four months, after a drug induced fist through a window and a trip to the hospital at 4AM, we were kicked out of our rental and ended up in a dank hotel in the city. I remember lying on the stained sheets, staring up at the ceiling and grinding my teeth until my jaw locked, and resigning myself to the fact that this was my life now. We found someone who let us sleep on their couch, and within a month of being there one of the people in the house was jailed after breaking into the neighbour’s house and stabbing him repeatedly, while I had smoked my way into a state of near catatonia. Then after nearly a year, my application to rent a place was accepted and we moved into what I naively thought was a step forward in my life.
Instead, I lost half my body weight and ended up pawning all of my belongings to buy drugs and alcohol. We had always fought, but as it was just the two of us it began escalating from verbal arguments to physical arguments. They threw water on me, they punched and slapped me, kicked me and stomped on my stomach, they locked me in the shed and beat me with a baseball bat and at one point they held a kitchen knife to my throat. I remember sitting on the floor of the locked toilet with them screaming at me from the other side of the door, I was smacking my head against the wall until I heard it crack. At the end of almost two years hurting each other, one night I walked out of the house while they were in our bed with someone else, it was the middle of the night so I went to sleep under a bush in the park, I lay down and cried so hard I vomited. I tried to ring my mum from a payphone nearly 17 times, and when she didn’t answer I tried walking in front of traffic until I was picked up by the police and taken to the hospital.
I was severely underweight, couldn’t fully inflate my lungs and my liver function was appalling. Even though I was 19, the hospital would only release me into the care of my parents. I never saw that house or that person again. I came back to my parents’ home with nothing. I had suffered an acute mental breakdown and had abused my body and my brain so much that I was constantly shaking from frayed nerves and substance withdrawal. While at first, I was thrilled beyond words to be home, it didn’t last long before the ghosts started catching up to me. I was scared of everything, the smallest thing would send me into hysterics, curled up in the foetal position or rocking back and forth hitting my head on the wall until it bled. I started drinking more and more to escape myself. At my worst point, I was drinking two bottles of gin a day. I began cutting myself, and more than once my parents had to call an ambulance because I was blackout drunk and bleeding so severely I needed stitches.
My parents sent me to Glenside to detox, but a day after being released I was drunk again. I reconnected with people who were broken in their own way and would pump me full of alcohol in exchange for friendship. During this time, I met Les, who was scared like me. He had been abused and sought comfort in the same things I did. We found kindred spirits in each other, and although my parents sent me to numerous doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, the only one I felt comfortable talking to was him. He had such eloquence and optimism in spite of everything. He was everything I wanted to be. He was exceptionally smart, talented and funny. He was fearless and unashamedly himself, even though his mother scorned him and rejected his gender and he was abused by someone he thought he could trust. But then, suddenly, at the age of only 20, he decided he was too tired to fight anymore. My world shattered again.
I struggled to find reasons why I should keep fighting. Not long after, a friend of mine from high school lost her battle with Leukaemia. I felt so guilty over the fact we had drifted over the years, and that I was still alive whereas she, with all her potential and enthusiasm for the future, was not. I ruminated on the cruelty of everything, all my wasted years, all my lost potential. I took 200 lithium tablets and 30 aspirin washed down with some gin and closed my eyes. My mum heard me vomiting as she was getting dressed for work and came in to see if I was okay. She found the pill bottle and called the ambulance. My dad was out of town and she was by herself. I hate myself for that. They kept me in hospital for a week. I spent my days staring out the window, looking out at the sunrises and sunsets that I never wanted to see. On my third night, the lady in the bed opposite me passed away. I watched her flatline and remember feeling genuinely distressed that it wasn’t me. They diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Acute Anxiety and with presenting symptoms of Schizotypal personality.
They pumped me full of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers. They released me on Christmas eve. I woke up at 3PM on Christmas day and started drinking. My mum cried. I spent the next year getting drunk and writing down or drawing whatever came out of my brain. I put out cigarettes on my arm. I attempted suicide four more times. My dad yelled in my face in sheer exasperation that I was breaking his heart by throwing my life away. I was so ashamed that I had hurt him so badly. It took a long time and a lot of failures and slip-ups, but slowly, I started reconnecting with my old friends. I gradually started going out again, and I found comfort in writing. Ultimately, in the wake of a car crash and a particularly traumatic friendship break-up, I was able to discover my real friends. The ones who know all about me and love me all the same. The friends who build me up instead of drag me down. They celebrate Les’ death day and birthday with me every year, even though they never got to meet him, and that warms my heart. Most importantly, they don’t judge me but instead try to help me and understand me when I am in a crisis.
I moved out a second time, this time with my best friend and my partner. They encouraged me to pursue a career in art and to stick at university even when I feel as though I don’t deserve to be here. Last November, after six long years of severe abuse and a lot of intervention by my friends, I went teetotal. It has been incredibly difficult, but it has made so much difference in my life as it forces me to be present. I don’t have that hole to crawl into, so I have to attack my problems as they come. Which, I have finally learned, is the healing part. Recently, my psychiatrist cleared my decision to come off of all but the Anti-Depressant medications I was prescribed.
There are days when I feel despaired by the fact that I’m 24 and have accomplished very little compared to others my age. Then I think back to being a terrified 17-year-old victim or a 19-year-old homeless tweeker and I realise that, like me, everyone is at a different notch on their timeline depending on the route they’ve taken to get here. My timeline nearly ended a couple of years ago, and if it had ended then I never would’ve gotten past the worst part of my life. I would’ve robbed myself of any opportunities for change. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that unless I’m dead and buried there is always a way to persevere and find happiness. Some people are fresh out of school, some are married with kids, but we’re all here and we’re all terrified and we’re all just trying to get assignments done.
Words by Frances Cohen
Photography by Emma Carter