Jacquie Love: We believe that there are so many women out there who have accomplished such incredible things in their lives. These women are just everyday women like you and me but have such inspiring stories to tell. We don’t usually get to hear these stories; however Secret Sisterhood wants to celebrate these women and also give them a platform to share their life. We hope that their stories will empower, uplift and inspire you through your daily life.
I am so excited to announce Melinda who is such an inspiring Sister and definitely a hero to so many people. I believe that many of you will be able to relate to Melinda’s story and it will also show you that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Throughout her childhood and teenage years she had experienced many horrific traumatic experiences. By the age of 20 she had been sexually abused by 9 different people, suffered severe asthma and also lost her home to a bush fire. To do deal with her traumatic childhood she turned to drugs and alcohol, which ultimately turned into an addiction. She managed to get sober and after all that has happened in her life, she has been able to turn her life around. She was strong enough realise that she is worth it and that she was put on this earth for a greater purpose. She has now committed her life to helping people who have been through similar experiences as her.
Can you give a little snapshot of what life was like for you growing up?
In the really early years, up until I was about 8, life was great! Dad was working, Mum was a stay-at-home Mum; always there for me and with me. We had great holidays over on the sapphire coast (Merimbula/Pambula) and I enjoyed school, and had lots of friends. I loved being in the suburbs with all the shops and tram rides and the hustle and bustle. I was a confident and happy little girl. It all changed though, when we moved from Melbourne to Macedon.
What type of trauma did you experience as a child?
So, when we moved, it was in the heart of winter, just before my 9th birthday and suddenly I didn’t know anyone and was the ‘new kid’. For whatever reason I became a target for the bullies at school, because of my asthma – they treated me like I was a freak, and would keep away from me, in case they ‘caught’ asthma, as if it was contagious. I also became a target for sexual abuse. That abuse went on for about 7 or 8 years – there was nine of them altogether, and in the middle of all the abuse was the Ash Wednesday bushfires in which we lost everything, and had been unable to evacuate in time, which meant that we spent the night trapped in a burning building where the top floor was on fire.
I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be abused by nine different people starting at such a young age. How did you view yourself during that time?
Until then I was a confident, happy kid. But then I began to feel unsure of myself and …… dirty. Yeah, that’s how I saw myself; as a dirty little girl who had done something dreadfully wrong at some time, although I had no idea what it was. I began to live in a fantasy world in my mind, always wanting to be someone else, somewhere else. Reality was just too hard. I became very introverted and just clammed up.
Not only were you going through all that turmoil but you also lost your house during that time? What was that experience like?
Bushfires happen so much faster than people realise, and we couldn’t get out in time because the road had melted, and so we ended up spending the night trapped in a burning building, laying under wet blankets, waiting for the main front of the fire to pass. And when we finally returned to our property, we found we’d lost everything. Even the stuff we packed up and evacuated with, we lost, because that venue also caught on fire. I really don’t know how we survived. That was the most awful experience, and most depressing years of my life. It was just so horrific. I became DEEPLY depressed and suicidal, even making my first attempt at suicide at age 12. I just did not know how to cope or what to do and wanted to throw myself in front of a truck on the highway.
By the age of 12 you had been through what most adults do not even go through their whole lives. How did you cope?
Well, I didn’t cope very well at all. In fact, I made my first attempt at suicide at that age – I was going to try and throw myself in front of a truck on the highway …. obviously, that didn’t happen …. I was such a mess, I couldn’t even make it back up the driveway, and ended up falling down and laying in the dirt, crying for hours and hours until Mum got home from work and found me laying on the ground, all messy and incoherent.
I think the only thing that kept me going was that fact that I could see, what I perceived to be a ‘solution’ (albeit a somewhat twisted one); sometime not long after the fires, I developed an obsession for the booze, and became convinced that would be the answer; that alcohol would be the one thing that would help to stop me from feeling and thinking ……. And what I wanted more than anything was just to be numb. I began to experience the first of many serious bouts of depression, anxiety and PTSD. However, my parents could see that there was a problem, and so I began seeing a psychiatrist at the age of about 13 or 14. It was the beginning of YEARS of being in and out of therapy. I also did lots of journaling. I’ve always found writing to be such a wonderfully cathartic tool.
Things then began to turn around; you were told that your family was moving back to Melbourne?
Yes, oh yeah, I was so elated!!!! I couldn’t WAIT to get back to the city and to a life of more excitement, less allergies and asthma attacks (although I still kept having them at fairly regular intervals) and just ‘better people’. I had really hated Macedon and was more than happy to let it go.
What were things like when you got to Melbourne?
Melbourne was great! I met and made friends with this awesome girl named Sally, who was also an asthmatic like me, so she really understood what it was like when I was having a bad day. Of course, I had also gone from being a little girl to a young woman in the time I had been in Macedon, so Melbourne was also a time of discovering boys and discos, and alcohol and other drugs. I began to feel I was invincible.
Why do you think you took drugs and drank so heavily?
I think just because I had thought that alcohol would make me numb, and when I drank, it kind of did exactly that. It seemed to dissolve all my feelings of being dirty and being not good enough. And the more I drank, the better and more invincible I felt. Why would I NOT drink, when drink made me feel so great?! I just wanted to party my life away! My drinking did change though, when my best friend Sally was killed in a car accident, and once again I couldn’t cope with the grief of losing her. She was just 22 years old and was killed on impact. I was 21 at that time, and it was after that, that I began to drink in the mornings.
I recall having a moment of awareness that there was something wrong with drinking in the morning, sitting by myself on a concrete step, and being unemployed; I had lost a job some six months earlier because of my drinking. But at the time, that’s all it was; a moment of awareness that something was wrong. I did NOT, unfortunately, go on to have any kind of thought about doing something about it. I just knew, for a brief moment that something was wrong. Plus, alcohol (and drugs) were still doing what I wanted them to do; they shut my head up, and turned my heart off.
How had drugs and alcohol affected your life?
I really didn’t realise that it was having any kind of dramatic effect on my life – my focus had always been on what the booze did FOR me, rather than what it did TO me. It wasn’t until I made a big mistake at work one day, because I was drunk on the job, that I realised it wasn’t just about me anymore; my choices and behavior were impacting others in a bad way, and I just hadn’t been able to see that.
Sometimes people get to that breaking point where they say not another day, not another hour, not another minute. Did that happen to you with your drinking?
Yeah, for sure. Like I said, I made that big mistake at work, and I knew it had only happened because of my drinking …… and even though I drank on for another 2 months after it, it was only then that I realised I had big problems, and that drink was a big part of that. I knew that if I ever wanted, or even could, get any dignity back in my life, then the booze just HAD to go. And when I say big mistake, I mean a BIG mistake; I wasn’t able to concentrate on what I was doing and ruined thousands upon thousands of these books we were binding. It ended up costing the company $750,000 and 12 people their jobs
I really hope that I never forget that feeling of having to watch those 12 people pack up their bags and their lockers and walk out the door, because of me. Of course, I lied about it for a bit. I lied and convinced and manipulated so that the blame didn’t fall squarely on me ….. but I knew it was me. Even though there’d been a rotational roster in place on that machine, I just knew it was me.
How did you stay sober?
I got help. I got LOTS of help. From family, from professionals, from support groups ….. basically from anyone and anywhere I could. One thing I have found is that it is a lot easier, I think, to stay sober if you are hanging out with sober people. I had to change my whole environment, and change my thinking as well. But I didn’t have to do it all alone. There is so much help out there these days, and I encourage people to use every bit of what is available. EVERY bit of it. Turning your life around from alcohol and drug abuse and trauma is not, by any means, an easy process. But it is certainly the MOST worthwhile.
How was life after you made that decision not to drink?
It was tough in those early years, I gotta be honest. This may sound weird, but I really grieved for the booze. I felt like I’d lost a family member; like there’d been a death in the family. And because I was young I also felt a bit ‘ripped off’ to some degree, because I couldn’t go out and party like other young people could; I was only 26 at the time, but I had lost my right to do that.
It did get easier though, over time. I began to really enjoy waking up without a hangover, and with knowing where I was, what I’d been doing, and who I’d been with. I was getting my dignity back, and it was great! I began to be able to look at myself in the mirror again, and to look at people’s faces, instead of looking shamefully at the ground.
What would be your advice to people out there who are struggling with alcohol and don’t know how to stop?
The best advice I can offer is not so much advice, but more something to consider; “Would you rather been seen doing something about a problem, or losing your self-respect time and again?” There’s no shame in getting help. But I can tell you that there most certainly IS shame in waking up and having the feeling of “Holy crap, I’ve done it again.” It was the ‘agains’ that got me. That bloody merry-go-round of the same crap over and over. I do not miss THAT at all.
My advice? Get help. Bring it out into the open and who knows, you might just have a whole new life. And even if you don’t get a whole new life, at least give it a red hot go. Better than doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – that’s just madness. And even though YOU ALONE can decide whether or not things need to change, you don’t have to actually do it alone. There is always someone out there who CAN help ….. but you gotta make at least some of the effort.
With you taking control of your life you the started dating a man 18 years your senior and got engaged? How was life in a de-facto relationship?
It was ….. interesting. I had thought he was wonderful and charming and so ‘together’, you know? I was so in love and really enjoying life, but I was also keenly aware of the age gap, and always wondered why a man so much older than me, would want me? I was often confused as to why he seemed to love kids so much …. It just seemed wrong somehow. It was like he loved kids more than me. Turned out that in a way, he actually did ‘love’ kids more than me. About 2 or three months after we got engaged, he was charged with molesting a little girl, just 8 years old.
What was your thought process after you found out what your Fiancé had done?
My thought process was full of self-doubt and guilt and feeling dirty all over again, and blaming myself for not having been able to see it. When he was charged with molesting that little girl, I was just broken. Absolutely broken through to the very core of my being. I plummeted quickly into a deep, DEEP hole of depression and suicidal thoughts. I just could not see that I would ever be free from abusers. Ever. There was not a day that went by in the six months that followed his arrest, and subsequent charges and sentencing, that I did not think about killing myself, or him, for that matter. I just didn’t want to live at all. I couldn’t function at work, couldn’t eat properly, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even carry on a conversation with anyone. I was in the deepest, darkest, most debilitating depression I had ever experienced.
How did you get yourself out of that dark place?
I did not do it myself, that’s for sure. To be honest, I mainly put it down to a Higher Power. Thankfully I had never really stopped attending therapy, and was still actively engaged in mental health services, but really, I think it is God that saved me. I don’t want to go getting all religious or anything, but I just know that I didn’t do it on my own, you know? There is a power out there in the universe that is amazing, and I don’t know how else to explain it. I also reached a point where I was just sick and tired of feeling all the hatred and the ‘drowning’ for something that I hadn’t done – I wanted HIM to suffer ….. but hating him was as though I was drinking the poison, expecting him to be the one to die from it.
In a nutshell, I just had to be willing to let go of the anger and move on with my life as best I could. Hating him was never gonna change what happened. I simply asked my Higher Power – whom I do call God – to take it away from me, and He did. It sounds really simple, but it’s not. It took a long long time, and lots of help from lots of people. I really believe that my Higher Power/God works through people. And music! Lots of loud angry music!
What do you think is the most important thing to do when you are experiencing depression?
Learning about it would have to be the most important thing: I have, or have had Situational depression, or, as I recently learned from a Google search (lol, “Dr Google”!) it is also called ‘adjustment disorder’ ….. anyway, learning about exactly what sort of depression I have, is/has been the most important, most helpful thing. Because that means I am closer to getting the right treatment for me. There are different types of depression, and I think that the most useful thing is to learn exactly what type of depression you have, and then seek treatment accordingly. I don’t think it should be treated as a ‘one size fit’s all’ type thing. It’s kind of like having a head cold versus having hayfever; both may present with sinus issues, but Panadol will do very little to help allergic sneezing, as would an antihistamine do to help a head cold and body aches. You really do need the correct treatment for the condition.
And get PROFESSIONAL help, as well as support from family and friends. And if there are people in your life who just don’t get it, and who say unhelpful things like ‘just pull your socks up and get your act together’, don’t be shy about letting go of those people. Until or unless they have walked in your shoes, they are just not worth what little energy you have to fight to get through each day.
For someone that has had thoughts about committing suicide what would you say to them?
It wasn’t just thoughts that I had – I took action on those thoughts. I think I made about a half dozen attempts at taking my life over a 15-year period. In fact, in 1987 or ’88, I made 3 attempts in the one year – that’s when I was gang raped at gunpoint, and had failed year 11 at school. My mental health was at an extremely low and dangerous point then.
And what I have said to many other people whom I’ve tried to help over the years is this: “Do you really want to die forever? Or do you just want the pain to stop, and then come back when it’s all better?” And usually the answer is that they just want the pain to stop. They don’t really want to die. And probably four out of the six attempts that I made, I too just wanted the pain to stop. I want to tell people emphatically to TALK IT OUT. Talk to someone. Ring a friend. Ring lifeline or beyond blue, or go to a church or a counselor or someone. ANYONE. But talk it out, don’t keep it in. Because a problem shared, really fair-dinkum IS a problem halved. All suicide does, when someone succeeds at doing it, is just transfers the pain to the family and friends left behind. It is really NOT the answer. There are people out there who want to help, and who can actually help.
Helping others is such a blessing and an honor. When you reach out to someone else, it benefits both people. It’s how we are made. Think of it this way; when you see some sort of disaster on TV, what you also see is an outpouring of love and helpers. There are always helpers. Focus on the helpers, not the disaster. We had so many people helping us after Ash Wednesday, and these days it’s what remains in my heart; that love and that support. People WANT to help, and if we would only let them, it really can save lives.
Surprisingly enough, I have also found some online support – such as groups in Facebook – to be really helpful, and the groups on Facebook are worldwide, which pretty much means that there is almost always someone listening; it may be 3am here in Eastern Australia, but for someone else, somewhere else it is 3pm in the afternoon. It is amazing how many people have been ‘carried’ through a rough patch, simply by sharing about it in a safe group online. Some people don’t like social media, or even having an online presence at all, and I get that, but I can tell you that it has helped to keep me going many times.
What is your life like now? Why have you committed your life to helping people?
My life now is the best it’s been in …… well, in forever!! I have a great home, a great job, and great friends ….. and to think that all that stuff I went through I can now actually use to help others …. Well, it is just an awesome feeling. Instead of feeling useless, and hopeless, I now feel useful and hopeful.
Every day is a day I get to go out into the world and make a difference. I just love seeing people light up with a smile, by being my nerdy self! My partner (ex-partner …. for now) says that the only ‘fault’ he could find about me, when we first met, is that I was ‘so damn happy’ all the time! I even got a supposed complaint at work one time from a customer, for being ‘too happy’??!!! Can you imagine that? Me, being too happy? Thirty short years ago I was slashing my wrists, and now here I am ‘annoyingly happy’!! I’d rather be that any day, than what I used to be. Paying it forward is just the best. Being able to help someone get out of a bad spot is just the best feeling ever. And all I ever wanted was to feel good.
If you could go back and tell your 12-year-old self one piece of advice what would you say?
This question made me cry when I first saw it, because I clearly remember the desperation and hopelessness that I felt back then. It just makes me so sad that such a young person could feel that way. But anyway, what I would say is this: “Don’t worry, you won’t be 12 forever. This WILL pass, and you WILL prevail. You just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other, one little day at a time.”