‘A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor’: A Story of Childhood Abuse

Sailboat yacht sailing in blue seEditor’s note: This story contains sensitive material about abuse and suicide that may be triggering to some readers.

Hello. everyone. I’m a 26-year-old girl from Turkey. And this is the story of my journey.

Let me cut to the chase right away: I was molested by a relative from my mother’s side of family at age 7 … and 8 … and 9. Then I found out that it was a game I did not want to play and told him to stop. “Why so late,” you ask?

I grew up in a Muslim-majority country where everything related to human sexuality is hidden and not to be spoken of. It was way worse in the ’90s in Turkey. My parents did not even allow me to witness a kissing scene on TV till I was 23.

We never had “the talk” about my personal space or how to tell the difference between good and bad touch. And my mother is a psychologist and my father is a professor at a university. So I’m guessing it is not about how educated you are, but how culture shaped your perception. It was like this: “If we do not talk about bad things like abuse, poverty, or human rights violations, we can pretend they don’t exist.”

It was my aunt who opened my eyes and let me talk about the things that are considered taboo by our society. She let me sit through a mildly sexual movie scene and that’s when I figured it all out. I was 9.

I repressed the memory of being molested and carried on with my life until the age of 15. One day when I came home from school, I sat on the couch and it all came back to me, out of nowhere. All the scenes, all the thoughts, all the memories came back like they were never really gone in the first place. It was like a dark cloud weighing heavily on my shoulders and it felt so familiar that I did not know what to do with it. So I crushed underneath it.

That was when I showed my first signs of depression. Before that I was a grade-A student with the highest test scores and all that success. Then I started to write stories about how living in this world felt like being stuck in a cold coffin.

My mom found one of my stories and asked me if I wrote it. It was my handwriting but I denied and said it was a friend’s. Maybe she gave me a pass on that because she thought I was in adolescence or something. I don’t really know.

My grades decreased slowly. No one noticed something was off with me besides my adolescence. I was still managing to carry on like nothing happened, but there was a lack of something growing inside me. It was a feeling of “lack of”. I think it was the feeling of my shattered ego after all that I remembered.

I was 125 pounds at that time. I started eating without really thinking about it—to fill that hole, to feel good again, to feel whole again. It did work, for only couple of minutes, and then I’d be left with that “lack of” feeling once again. Then I ate again.

There was a possibility for our family to move to some other city when I was in the middle of high school and I jumped at the opportunity to leave everything behind. I should also mention that I was adopted and my parents shared that information with me when I was 6 or 7. The person who molested me was 17 years old at that time and also knew that I was not a blood relative.

I’m still unsure about the connection I possibly made between these two pieces of information when I was a child. You can tell that I’m still a “work-in-progress.” The story continues as I’m writing these words. Actually, it is part of my healing process.

The College Years

I left my city, my hometown, my friends, and my boyfriend without saying a goodbye. I did not want to look back. I felt that I could leave everything that happened to me behind and start with a fresh page. So I willingly moved and started another school in my new city. Things worked out for two years, and then I graduated and went back to my hometown for college—this time, alone. We thought that it would work for me since all my relatives are there, all my friends are there etc. Well, it did not.

I was highly motivated at the beginning; I studied hard, I made friends, and I was majoring in a very promising topic: Molecular Biology and Genetics. I was an honor student. After the first semester, I started feeling the pressure of that dark cloud again. I started to miss classes, skip midterms, and stop meeting with my friends. Even my roommates felt they needed to push me to go out and socialize more since I started living in my dorm room all the time.

At the end of first year, I had five failing grades, and I had to make an explanation to my parents. I told them it would be fine eventually; I said the courses were in English and it was hard for me to adjust, etc. They believed and supported me.

During the second year, I was not attending any class at all; I was not answering any calls from my parents or anyone in particular. That’s when the first suicidal thoughts appeared. I did not see a way out of this dark cloud. I did not think it was possible to heal and leave all that behind. To me, the only solution was to leave the world.

My mom noticed something was not right with me and advised me to go see a colleague of hers. I started seeing a psychiatrist and she diagnosed me with major depression. I started taking antidepressants, but something still was not right. I never told my psychiatrist about the childhood trauma that I had, or the suicidal thoughts that were growing stronger and stronger in my mind.

And then it happened. I’d had it planned a month before and when the day came, I tried to take my own life with pills—lots of them. It was the very last day of the semester, and I had failed all six of my classes. But as my body reacted to the pills, as my fingers and toes went numb, I panicked.

There was a screaming voice in my head saying, “This is NOT how it should have ended. There HAS to be another way.” It was a tiny voice before, but it became stronger and stronger until nothing else was heard. I called my friend and said what I was planning on doing and that I changed my mind.

Regaining Hope Through Therapy

It felt like a weakness or a failure at that time to not successfully end what I started. But from where I’m standing now, I see it as my power source. It is now the side of me that always seeks alternative solutions, that does not give up easily, that tries to find a resolution in every challenging situation. It is the side of me that carries hope.

After my suicide attempt I spent the night at the ER. Many friends came to see how I was doing. After that, I spent two weeks in a psychiatric facility since my mother thought I still was at risk of doing it again. I took my medication; I attended psychotherapy and group therapy. I shared a room with a patient with schizophrenia. I read comic books and kept a journal while I was there. My friends and my parents came to visit me almost every day.

I felt different before I got into the facility. I was hopeful but afraid, since I did not know how to deal with all that when I got out. From where I am now, I can say that I did not have the tools to deal with it. Not just yet.

I quit college and returned to live with my parents. I changed my therapist. She was blaming herself because she thought she should have seen it coming. I don’t have the slightest amount of anger or resentment toward her. I don’t think it is possible for her to see what I have planned, since I decided not to share my inner thoughts and feelings with her from the very beginning of my therapy. I see now that it was a mistake, but I learned a huge deal out of it.

I’ve had four therapists in the last seven years, all specializing in different therapeutic approaches, and I never ever felt reluctant to share again. You can’t wait and wish someone to help you; it may never come. You have to ask for it. And you have to work hard to change, to grow, to become integrated. If you only hope that you’ll change, you get nothing. You need to get your hands dirty to learn how to use a new tool. So, this was the lesson I learned from this experience.

I started working in a local TV station. I was motivated and feeling good about myself again. My parents and I thought that it was best for me to start with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I needed to work on my schemas, my negative self perception, and my inability to decide what I wanted to with the rest of my life, now that it was back on the table again.

I continued with CBT for two months. It was mind altering. I learned a new tool to use for the rest of my life. My point of view shifted in a good way. That therapy guided me thorough the world of perceptions, schemas, and positive and negative outcomes of my behaviors. I started looking at the world so differently.

From that point on, it was a choice to act according to the positive or the negative outcomes, not a rule set in stone. It was a brand new toolbox for me to dig into. And from that I prospered and decided what to do with my life. What I always wanted to do. What I was already been doing without the proper tools: to figure out why humans act, feel, think the way they do.

I felt that it was already my source of energy and motivation, and that it should also be my source of expertise as well. I was not a doer; I was a thinker, an observer. I analyzed everyone in my own way to see if they had posed a threat or not to me since I was a little child.

The Other Side of Psychology

Jung said, “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” Well, this is what I chose to become. I wanted to learn the tools, learn how to use them on myself and then, when I feel like I’m whole again, I may share my experiences with other people. Maybe I’d even guide them into doing something similar that I’ve been doing since then: growing, integrating, and figuring out why you are born and here on this planet. I think it is the most profound cause one will ever make an effort to realize.

So I returned to college and changed my major to psychology. The head of the psychology department welcomed me with open arms and said that he went through a rough patch during college and changed his major, too!

I also started seeing a therapist who specialized in the Gestalt approach. It was not all pink and smooth—I tell you that much. But it gave me strength. It made me realize my own strength. I became aware of my potential, my initial skills, and my goals.

This awareness did not come cheap. I don’t mean financially, since it was the money best spent, but rather that the journey had its drawbacks. And that’s when I realize the importance of friends and family.

It is so easy to hold onto the old ways you’ve been used to for years. These automatic thought patterns emerge like they were never really gone. I repressed, ignored, and ran away from my problems for all my life, and then, while trying to learn a new way of doing things, I sometimes did choose to go with the familiar way.

This is where social support can help—by telling you that you achieved so much, by reminding you that you have the skills to get over it, or by simply being there when you needed it. I think it was, and is, a crucial part of my healing.

The Surprising Relief of Anger

I told my parents about the traumatic experience I had been through. They were shocked. I, on the other hand, was furious. I did not express my anger, at all, until I was 21. It seemed I buried it among all the memories. When it finally came out, when I really let myself feel it and express it, I really enjoyed it. I was enjoying the feeling of something other than sadness and happiness. Well, it was mostly sadness, to be honest.

Letting myself feel angry escalated quickly. I liked the feeling, the rush of blood, the tingling in my fingers, the sense of power and determination … it was something that I could use toward any threat in my life. Nothing could ever hurt me again—or so I thought.

I learned very quickly that expressing anger in an aggressive way had its consequences. So then came another challenge: controlling my anger and expressing it in a healthy way.

I’ve gotten very good at controlling it now, but I’m still working on it in my relations with my parents. I’m still having problems expressing my anger in a nonaggressive way to them sometimes. When I’m angry with them, 20 years’ worth of unspoken anger comes out of my mouth. As I said, I’m a work in progress.

After I told my parents of my history and they expressed their shock, they immediately wanted to participate in a session with my therapist. I wanted to tell all of the relatives on my mother’s side about what kind of a person my abuser really was. My therapist and I agreed to have them on our session, as well. We acted carefully and with the guidance of the therapist and decided that my parents should be the ones who faced him, and I should be the one to tell my relatives. And we did that.

There were tears, pain, shock, anger, and disgust involved. I did not tell the specifics, of course—just that I’d been molested many times, in many places, by him when I was only a child, and the only justice I hoped for was social exclusion by my extended family.

In Turkey, the laws are still symbolic. I can tell you what happens to child molesters legally: absolutely nothing! They were allowed to walk as free men, are still allowed to do so, and probably will always, without any charge. It still breaks my heart.

My relatives supported me and told me that they would do everything they could. So the justice I did gain was my relatives’ actions towards him. Not all my relatives had the courage to face him, since everyone in the family is afraid of him. But that’s ok. I can’t expect everyone to be as strong as I am. They just might not be. So, this is how I’m trying to let go of my anger.

I then started seeing a therapist who specialized in a psychodynamic dominated eclectic approach. I worked with my new therapist for all the pain, all the anger that I felt. I worked on my anger controlling skills. And with my psychology major in progress, I was able to gain different perspectives and learn new theories and approaches, all while working on my own therapeutic journey. Those were the nicest things I’ve done for myself. And I also graduated!

New Me, New Perspectives

I returned to live with my parents, since I still was not ready to face the world alone. It was really nice at first. They were really supporting me; they still are. Maybe having such supporting parents is my luck after all.

I started working in a bank, since there were no other jobs on the market. The old me would have stayed at home, feeling depressed over how bad life really is. I could see myself change and become who I was before all that happened. Seeing that, experiencing that, gave me motivation that I needed to go further on this journey.

When I was working, I realized that I did not want to provide banking services to mostly angry and impatient customers for the rest of my life. I did not use most of my skills. I have excellent computer skills and observational skills; my English is really good; and I have all these psychological theories and perspectives to see, evaluate, and experience the world I’m living in. So I decided to quit.

I started working as a psychologist in a rehabilitation center for children with disabilities. I worked with mothers especially, what they’ve been going through, and how they’ve been feeling about having a child with disabilities. I realized I was suited for this kind of job, but lacked the skills to help these people.

So I joined a family therapy training program, which still continues today. I quit my job at the center because of some administrational problems, and I did not want to put the mothers at risk to my under-qualified therapeutic skills. I directed the mothers to a mental health professional and thanked the administrator for the job opportunity.

My professor is supporting me to continue my education, take training courses, get on the field, do projects, and make connections with the local authorities and the university for a family therapy application. He is always there when I need advice. I’m taking supervision from him and he said that I’m the most promising family therapy intern he has ever had.

With his other colleagues, we are starting a Family Therapy Association in our city. I’m working as an intern on a family therapy intervention project prepared by this association about divorced mothers and their adolescent children.

Now I’m at the very end of my training. As a part of my training, I’m going through an analysis of myself from a systemic therapy point of view with a new therapist. She is a family therapist, psychodramatist, and psychiatrist. We are working at the very core. I think I’m finally ready to work on that. All of the outer layers have been stripped, processed, and organized inside of me.

We are working on my anger toward my parents and my self-perception and self-acceptance. We have also worked on my avoidant-attachment style, my problem solving skills, my resources, what it means to me to be adopted, and what is it that keeps me from taking action. These sessions brought up the topic of rejection and acceptance.

Loss for Gain

Now I’m in the therapeutic process of accepting myself and others. Maybe even forgiving … later.

I feel that all the weight I gained throughout these years were a just a shield to distance myself from any kind of romantic relationship. Now I feel like I could meet someone and I just now started to think about losing weight, fitness, and dieting. I think that I don’t need that shield; I don’t need to use the excuse that “I became fat; no one would find me attractive”. I’m starting to feel the need to be attractive and healthy again. I never put serious thought into losing weight before, but I think it was mainly because of my fear of rejection. It is the very core of my inner obstacles—I can feel it.

I also believe that when I process that and accept myself as who I am now, I think there is nothing to stop me from self-actualization. Now that I’m walking toward a healthier mind, I also feel the need to have a healthier body. Writing this story helped me to take a few steps in that direction.

Thank you for reading. I hope you write one for yourself, too. It’s an enlivening experience.

Take care of you.

anonymous author smooth sailingThis author has chosen to remain anonymous, and offers the following explanation: I do not wish to share my full name, since the story contains very delicate and sensitive information about my personal life. I wrote it because I’m ready to share it with GoodTherapy.org readers, and I see it as a part of my therapeutic healing process. But I’m not ready for someone to Google my name and read all about my past—not just yet! I’ve read that three out of four people with a mental illness reported that they had experienced stigma. I hope that one day we can openly share our mental health stories with each other, especially here in Turkey.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Denver

    March 17th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    A very moving story, sad yet uplifting all at the same time.

    When I read personal narratives here and in other resources I am constantly reminded of the resiliency of human nature and that in itself gives me so much hope and belief in the goodness that life can actually be.

    I hate it so much when childhood is taken from one so young by one who should and does know better, and yet you have been able to overcome that evil. The journey has not been easy, but it has been emotional and cleansing for you, and now you are helping others.

  • Georgette

    March 18th, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    I know that for many people depression stems from a chemical imbalance and a whole host of other issues, but I wonder if like this writer there are alos those who find that much of their depression comes from repressing and stuffing down painful memories for a very long time. That can be so hard in life because there comes a time where you will want to do something with them and talk about them, but what happens when you still feel that you have to keep all of that inside? That very thing has to weigh quite heavily on you and must make anyone with depression feel even worse.

  • ginny

    March 19th, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    I love the title that you gace this because you are right, when things are always easy, you don’t learn to navigate life in the same way that you most certainly do when things are a little hard.

    No that doesn’t mean that it makes things pleasant or easy, but it does tend to make you a little more resilient and a little more tough, and well, that’s a little better prepared to handle all of life’s ups and downs if you ask me.

  • gg

    March 20th, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    I am so glad that throughout all of this you have made the conscious choice and decision to live and live life to the fullest.

    Eventually you have been able to find your calling, find and follow your own dreams and spread your message of resilience and survival to others.

    This is inspiring because too many times all we veer hear are the horror stories of abuse and while I know that yours is terrible too, you have come out the other side with something positive to say as well.

    Thank you for that.

  • Mike Breas

    March 20th, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    I am guessing that so much of the anger that you felt (and sometimes still do feel) comes from a buried feeling that the parents could have protected and saved you and they didn’t. I don’t suppose that this is true and you know this deep inside but I know that it is hard to always have your subconscious realize that. Keep working and trying and I am sure that eventually you will get there.

  • Katerina

    March 22nd, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    Coming from a conservative background myself, I can imagine how difficult facing your family must have been. There is no family who is ever going to take news like this well, but I think that families who are ultra conservative like that have an even harder time with it. Sometimes I even think that they blame the victim even more (I could be wrong that just seems to be the impression that I get) and we all know that this is unacceptable. Victims of any kind of abuse need compassion and acceptance and not blame and made to feel guilty, and who better to give you that than your own family?

  • cathy

    June 29th, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    thank you for your story. I am just doing a little research. I work in a group home in nj and I have a resident that was sexually abused. She has all the symptoms that are written in your story. I am just trying to figure out how I can help her through this, rather than her being drugged up for “her behaviors”. regards CJ

  • Tracy H.

    November 11th, 2016 at 9:25 PM

    I know a wonderful source of help. A very simplistic book intitled, “A DOOR OF HOPE” by JAN FRANK. Read it. It’s only about 200 pages. But it’s packed with a great understanding of sexual abuse! It was so instrumental in helping me. I found my Door of Hope, and now, I use this book to help others. Most bookstores carry the book.

  • Steph

    January 8th, 2017 at 6:25 AM

    I can relate to so much it’s uncanning. I want to thank you so much for sharing your story! Reading this has also made me realize all the tools I learned when I was in an intensive outpatient program I enrolled myself in because of suicidal thoughts and depression and seeing no way past the darkness…. I have forgotten how to use those tools, I have stopped talking about the things that happened to me and using it to help others which made me thrive. I have still not got the issues with the family member molesting me as a young child figured out. Part of my family knows but nothing has ever been done and I have carried around guilt like it’s my fault for far too long. You have inspired me to keep going. That there is hope even if I can just say I’m a work in progress atleast it’s progression. I myself have wanted to go to school for psychology but fear of failure stands heavy in my path. I know my job of 10 years that I hate and am miserable at is not where I’m supposed to be. I hope I can be “fearless” as you seem to be and as strong as you have become!! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Spak

    June 11th, 2017 at 4:58 AM

    I’m really sorry about your experience. Great post. I’m thankful to you for writing this.

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