Transparency Will Ignite Unity
My name is Zoe van Zyl. Life has been a struggle, and in the last year, I have started coming to terms with it.
Only now have I begun to share my story, because I have come to realize that sharing our experiences is invaluable. Knowing that we are not alone is a very powerful thing.
I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in the year 1993. I was born into what might seem a normal family. I have an older brother and my father was a preacher. We were poor, but we always had something to eat.
What no one knew was that under the surface, our family life was a living nightmare.
My first childhood memory was of being sexually abused by my father. This is what I grew up with. I never had a childhood, and I never felt safe. This was not the only place where these atrocities were committed. My grandfather also sexually abused me. The first time I was raped was at the age of four, after which I tried to kill myself. I remember walking through the garden eating from every plant in the hope that something would kill me. My father raped me for the first time when I was six years old.
When I was 16 years old, a young man of 18 also raped me, after which he committed suicide. The guilt and shame drove me to my second suicide attempt. I tried drowning myself in our pool. I remember inhaling the water—and the next thing I remember, I was waking up next to the pool.
I then got into a very abusive relationship. My boyfriend at the time was physically and sexually very violent. He threatened my life if I didn’t do as I was told. Then I was raped again by one of his friends under my boyfriend’s watchful eye. This happened in the bathroom of a public pool. My life was a mess. After the end of this relationship, I went into a time of extreme promiscuity, damaging my body even more. I simply did not care anymore.
Life dealt me a terrible hand and I did not escape the strings of abuse until I was 18, when I met my husband. It was one of the biggest changes of my life. He was the opposite of every other man I had ever had in my life. He was soft, caring, and so, so gentle. He refused to have sex with me until we got married. By that time, I was 19 years old.
When I turned 21, my mother fell ill with ovarian cancer. The year that followed was one of the toughest years of my life, as I dealt with her illness and inevitable death. She passed away on January 8, 2015. My father proceeded to get married two months later. He had no regard for me and my brother, calling us weak for mourning her death. When I was 24, he disowned me, calling a broken little girl that was nothing of him. He then fell ill and passed away three months later. That day was terrible, but it was the day I gained freedom from my oppressor.
This was also the start of the toughest year of my life. Three months after his death, I attempted suicide for the third time. I just couldn’t cope with the reality of my life, so I slit my wrists. I was then admitted to a psychiatric clinic. Six moths later, I attempted suicide for the fourth time. At that point, I wasn’t eating and I was stuck in serious self-harm. I walked around with a kitchen knife in my backpack for a week. I was then admitted to the same clinic for the second time.
After my discharge, the process was in motion to have me admitted to a psychiatric hospital. In the three weeks that followed, I attempted suicide again—and the self-harm got so bad that I ended up in a hospital for emergency reconstructive surgery. I was then admitted to Tara H. Morross Psychiatry Hospital. Here, I was able to disclose my life story for the first time. I spent two months there, and I was discharged a month ago. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, complex-post traumatic stress disorder, and persistent depressive disorder.
After my discharge, my recovery started. It has been incredibly difficult. I see my start in recovery as a wall I chose to build—one I cannot climb back over. I am learning to live all over again. I am starting to understand that I am not my shadows or the things that have happened to me. One day at a time, I am getting to know myself. I have realized that the power of trying, regardless of success or failure, is a power no one can take from me.
So today, I wake up and I try. Today, I wake up and fight for my life, because I am worth it. This is what I wish to leave you with: No matter what the past was, you are not your past. You are worthy of fighting for. You are worth trying for. Perhaps the day will come that you will be able to stand separate from the horrors of your past. So keep trying, keep fighting, and don’t stop—you are allowed to give yourself that gift.