Addasa Donaldson* never had the opportunity to disclose the abuse she witnessed as a child. In the fifth of our 16 Blogs for 16 Days, she talks about the devastating effect that DVA has had on her life and how vital healthcare professionals are to affirming long-term effects of domestic abuse and providing a basis for healing and recovery.
*name has been changed
In 2015, a report from SafeLives estimated that 100,000 British adults are at high risk from homicide or being seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse. It was also estimated that over 130,000 children form part of these households. I was one of those 130,000.
Up to the age of 11 years old, I slipped under the radar because on the face of it, I had good grades in school and never got into trouble. However, under the surface I suffered from severe sleep deprivation caused by my need to listen at the top of the stairs in case my mother was severely hurt or my father ended up hurt by her in self-defence. I also had to try to protect and comfort my brother.
During the years that followed my parent’s separation, I was coerced into choosing to live with my father, to lie about the abuse I had witnessed to officials and to reject my mother. I began self-harming at the age of 13. My anxiety was through the roof, I was socially awkward, and I had begun to develop a self-hatred which would consume me well into my late 20’s. By the age of 15 I had seriously considered suicide and was crying almost every night. I had suppressed every ounce of myself and forgone my own emotional self-discovery to placate my father’s ever-changing moods and paranoia about loyalty. I was a puppet, tap dancing for the world to prove that my father was a good man and to convince myself that if only I did everything right, if he was emotionally secure enough, he would let my brother and I see our mother again. Those of you reading this who have lived with abuse and come out the other side will know how this ultimately turned out, but I continued dancing to this tune for the next half of my life.
I didn’t realise my anxiety, depression, self-harm and other mental health issues were anything to do with my childhood. I had been convinced that it was my own self failings and my own inability to get over the past. In fact, I approached my GP to seek an ADHD diagnosis as my presenting symptoms reflected this, but it was this health practitioner who first used the term “trauma” and it shook me to my core. When the scars of abuse are psychological and you’ve been told over and over that what happened was all in your head, it’s almost impossible to convince yourself of what’s real.
I have read articles referencing research into whether ADHD can be caused by childhood trauma. It was not conclusive by any means. What I know is that my ability to choose how and when to concentrate is not like that of my peers. I still do not have the ability to control my “executive function”. Whether I had the susceptibility for ADHD and the trauma present in the formative years of brain development is beyond my scope of understanding and ability to research. However, that medical professional, that day, uttering those words, helped shift the course of my life, my mental and cognitive health, and began the process of reconciling with my mother, seeing my father for who he really was.
I no longer blame myself and I no longer hate myself for my inability to just move on from what I had witnessed and experienced from my abusive father. Mental health is more widely understood in society but the weight that professionals in the health service have in affirming your experience and the reality you live is immense. As a society we heed their advice and their prognosis in a way we do not with friends and family. This affirmation is, for so many of us, a gateway to starting the healing process for the scars of abuse both physical and psychological. My experience appears to be rare, but this only shows how important it is that health professionals are aware of domestic abuse and how it presents as, for many of us, it is our only lifeline to taking back our lives and our identities.
Addasa is an AVA Peer Researcher. For more information on the vital work that AVA do, please click here.