Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Sarah Burleton’s New York Times bestselling child abuse memoir Why Me. The article contains sensitive detail about physical violence and abuse that some readers may wish to avoid.
My name is Sarah Burleton and I am the spokesperson for Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. Looking at me now, one would never guess that I endured such a horrific childhood—a childhood full of extreme physical beatings and mental abuse at the hands of my own mother. One would never guess that my own mother pushed me into an electric fence and watch me writhe on the ground in agony.
One would never guess that my beloved animals were murdered cruelly at the hands of my mother for her own sick enjoyment. And one would never guess that not once in my life did I hear my mother say the words “I love you” or feel her arms wrapped around me in a loving, warm, motherly embrace.
One would never guess this about me and my life because I made the conscious choice at a very young age not to let my child abuse define me. I refused to walk around like a victim and wear my child abuse as a badge for the world to see and pity me for.
As many of you can relate, the last thing a child abuse victim wants is pity from people who have no idea what we have had to endure. We don’t want anyone to know what we have been through because there is a shame attached to child abuse, a sense of self-blame, as if we deserved to be beaten or called names. Personally, I would bottle my emotions up inside and put on a tough façade to everyone around me, masking my true feelings of pain with sarcasm and aloofness.emotions anymore, I opened my laptop and poured out my life story into a Word document, self-published it, and fell over the day I found out my little book had made the New York Times. Being on the list was great; however, the most rewarding part of my job has been traveling and speaking to adult survivors, CPS workers, and foster children.
I realize that there are many of us out there, thousands of us who have been hurt by people who were supposed to love and protect us the most. But I’m here to tell you that we are not victims; we are survivors. We are here today because of our will to survive and our determination to overcome the demons from our childhood.
Each of us has the power to use our horrible pasts as stepping stones to our bright, positive futures and as examples of how not to act. Every story matters and every voice should be heard. I love you all.
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