Sexually abused as a child, I finally (as an adult) took the man to court and won my case. But the scars are always with me.
At a controlling church I met my husband, but intimacy was a big problem. So he decided to boost my ‘self-esteem’ by putting me on a dating website. Hesitant at first, I became addicted to the excitement, coming alive for the first time in years. My husband dated others, too; our marriage was ‘open’. He even had sex with a woman in our house while our children were asleep in their beds.
Through the site I fell for Lee, a married man. He left his wife and encouraged me to leave. I no longer wanted the open marriage. Lee moved to a lovely house and I believed this was the start of a better life, so I ended my marriage, despite my husband’s pleas.
He said I was being manipulated. I moved to what I thought were temporary lodgings. But three years later Lee still kept me a secret from his family and he became controlling, moody and upset me.
I regretted leaving my marriage but it was too late. My husband had met someone new and was happy. I tried to make my new relationship work, but couldn’t.
Divorced, I bought my small house and lived alone. Now I’m seeing a man (also met online) who is separated. Divorce has been agreed and things are reasonably amicable with his ex. He wants us to build a life together but, despite meeting most of his family, I still haven’t met his adult children and don’t know when that will happen.
He says he doesn’t want to annoy his ex while sorting stuff out. The situation with the children reminds me of how it was with Lee.
Bel, I have made such a mess of everything. I have apologised to my ex but he has never said sorry to me. I apologised to Lee for how I split with him, but he won’t talk and has never said sorry either.
I feel my world was rocked from the moment I was put on the dating website and my husband typed all the messages, kept records of my dates and how far I went sexually. He expected me to report back.
What I’m asking is, how do I reconcile myself to all this? I just want to be settled, with no more secrets. Scared of heartache, I want to progress with the new man.
All I’ve known is abuse, from when I was a girl at the hands of a man the same age as my father, to being in a draconian church, to what happened in my marriage and the controlling relationship with Lee. Should I accept people like me don’t deserve to find love and happiness?
This week Bel answers a question from a woman who wonders whether she deserves to find love after being abused all her life
You should no more ‘accept’ unhappiness than you should agree that it was somehow your fault that you were sexually abused as a child. No, no, no!
What is meant by the defeated phrase ‘people like me’? Your distressed, confused letter (the original over three times as long as the edited version printed here) reveals you are shouldering the burden of a guilt that is not yours.
Thought of the day
Now is the time to give me roses,
Not to keep them
For my grave to come.
Give them to me, While my heart beats,
Give them today . . .
Mzwakhe Mbuli (South African poet and singer, b 1959)
You have been the victim of men all through your life (and you know that), so it’s time to stop blaming yourself. Time to stop saying ‘sorry’, unless it is to the sad face you see in the mirror.
You reveal in your longer letter that you did have help with the consequences of the sexual abuse, yet such wounds can probably never be healed. The secret self-disgust you probably felt then still marks you now, making you vulnerable to exploitation.
I hope you have researched the long-term effects of abuse online; there are websites that give information and help, and may even encourage you to find therapeutic help at this stage, when you so desperately long to create a new life (see sexualabusesupport.campaign.gov.uk).
Try to find the positives that can make you proud. It’s not your fault you came to enjoy the controlled extra-marital sex that was entirely your husband’s shocking idea.
It’s not your fault that you fell in love and wished to escape the marriage. It’s not your fault that Lee lied about his intentions and kept you as his shameful (as it seemed to you) secret.
You are more sinned against than sinning and it’s important for you to know that — not so you feel sorry for yourself, but because you should acknowledge the strength that has kept you going and brought you to this spot. Don’t let the past spoil the present by assuming your new love will behave as Lee did.
It makes sense that he should finalise his divorce before progressing to a life shared with you, so try to be patient. Issuing needy demands to meet his adult children is not the way forward. You have your own home, so make it the tower from which you survey the world; a sanctuary you deserve.
Can you ‘reconcile’ yourself to the past? Only by accepting that somebody damaged you long ago and (I repeat) none of what happened was your fault.
Every time you’re on the verge of self-blame, look in the mirror, take some deep breaths (with long exhales), put your hands on the mirror for support and say aloud: ‘I’m going to make things different now.’
Let your new man know you are now in charge of your own life, and as worthy as anyone of happiness.
My mum is a toxic, nasty woman
I’m 26 and have realised I don’t like my mother as a person. She is argumentative, nasty and bitter.
I’m a nurse working on a Covid intensive care unit in London and was visiting her when my boyfriend sent me flowers. All she said was: ‘I think you’re really nasty to him sometimes.’ Why so negative?
She didn’t want me to move to London and refused to give me any furniture (some mine), saying I should buy my own and if I can’t afford it I shouldn’t be going. No help, no interest, constant criticism.
Self-employed, she relied on me to do her invoices. I said I’d teach her, as I wouldn’t be able to do them in London.
She snapped: ‘Yes you can’ and refused to learn. During lockdown she couldn’t work, so my brother and I supported her without the need of her paying us back.
Instead of ‘thank you’, she implies we were merely paying her back for all she’d done for us.
My parents split ten years ago, yet she still abuses my father. I ask her to stop but she says I’m ‘forgetting’ what Dad did (gambling, an affair) and have moved on.
She lied to us about their settlement and now has a large house with no mortgage, yet acts like the most unfortunate person you could meet.
You can’t have a conversation with her; she shouts, says she’s bored and storms off. Do I give up and keep my distance or take it all because she’s my mother?
Just recently I’ve noticed an increase in family problems, and wonder why.
Could it be that the cumulative pressures of Covid and lockdowns have magnified the faults of those closest to us and made us more intolerant?
In your case, your stressful job must have made this period exhausting and frightening. Your longer letter explains that the boyfriend’s flowers were to say: ‘You’re doing great.’ We’ll all second that.
But not your difficult mother. When I made a television series called Mothers By Daughters for the first Channel 4 season (1982), I had a ‘trick’ question for my well-known interviewees: ‘If she hadn’t been your mother, would you have chosen her as a friend?’
You’d be surprised how often I saw confusion on their faces, then heard the hesitant: ‘Er . . . no.’
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail...
There’s no law saying we have to like our family, still less love them. Of course, it’s possible to love without liking, too. You apologised for the length of your email, but your tsunami of feelings had to be written out.
I’ll remind others it’s often a good therapy to write out woes and moans, even if the document is ripped up or burned.
But what can you do? Surely you need to throw yourself into your job, your life in London and fun with your boyfriend, working on that relationship.
At 26, you should be more detached from Mum, I think. You can keep in regular contact by phone, text or email, but do you have to listen to all her complaints? I don’t think so.
To be frank, none of your examples seemed heinous to me — not when this column forces me to confront much meanness and unhappiness. There’s nothing unusual in a young person feeling exasperated by a selfish, demanding parent whose need for attention manifests itself in maddening behaviour.
After her marriage, your mother may have felt like a lonely failure and harboured resentments that gave her energy. Who knows? What’s clear is that she chooses to be an unhappy, intolerant person.
My answer to your final two questions is . . . both. I suggest you step back and put yourself in control.
At the same time, don’t make yourself feel guilty for neglecting her. The woman who gave birth to you is simultaneously the only mother you’ll have and a very annoying and disappointing human being.
So you can be the daughter who wishes she had a different kind of mother and one who is in consistent, breezy contact, fulfilling a duty. Later, you may be surprised by underlying love.
And finally... The times aren’t really changing . . .
A couple of Sundays ago, something made me smile as I reflected that while things change, they somehow stay the same — an old universal human truth.
It happened when one of my grandsons (just turned nine) and my granddaughter (a few months younger) were moping and flouncing on the first warm, sunny day of the year (or so it seemed) and saying they were bored. Bored!
Bel answers readers' questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
And all the family at our place, and a barbecue to look forward to, and ten acres to roam, and swings, etc. Lucky kids!
Like any wise grandmother, I keep quiet when a parent is in the room — but on cue my daughter went ballistic.
She berated them for being so spoilt, unimaginative and tedious — and told them that when she was their age she played outside endlessly with her friend next door, making dens, inventing games and so on.
In an instant, I remembered times I sniffily told my children they didn’t know they were born, having so much, living in a big house, etc — and that when I was a child we were content to play hopscotch on the pavement behind the flats until our mothers called over the balconies to say tea was ready.
And of course, in turn, my father lectured me about how people in the 1930s were poor but happy and made their own entertainment and felt grateful. No bad things happened then! I wonder if, in turn, Grandad told him of the camaraderie he felt heading off to France with his fellow soldiers in 1914.
It reminds me of that pre-Monty Python sketch The Four Yorkshiremen, in which four comedians, including John Cleese, vie with each other to tell ludicrous lies about deprivation — ‘We lived in a hole in the ground’, etc. Memory can work the other way too, deceiving us that life was perfect in comparison with today.
So on it goes, through the generations. Nostalgia makes utopians of us all, but it’s important to realise that maligned young people have yearnings we’d recognise.