I grew up in Australia in a middle-class home in a suburb in Sydney. I was adopted as a young infant. My earliest memory was around three. I was having a bath. And my father came into the bathroom and got into the bath with me.
Sexual abuse messes up your whole sense of right and wrong, guilt and shame. My overall sense of my childhood was one of being constantly on the watch.
When you’re in that situation, it becomes just about surviving and getting through the next day. You aren’t able to say anything to anyone because you’re afraid. That really leads to a downward spiral. For me, it led to wanting to end my life. I tried that a few times.
My father ruined so much of my life and made me so unhappy, but I wasn’t going to let him beat me. I’ve got nothing to lose in trying to live the biggest life I can.
After years of climbing the corporate ladder, I left Australia to travel the world. Being out in nature and being moved by something that was so alive—I’d never felt that before. I discovered that there’s something more to life. There’s another option for me.
I realized that if I really wanted to give the most back, I could do that by helping girls who had been victims of sexual abuse. I settled in Miami, where I started a support group for survivors of sex trafficking.
I first met Jay in the group. She was pregnant at the time. She told me that before she joined the group, she never wanted to share her story because she didn’t want others to judge her. But when she was with the group of women who had been through similar things, it was easier to relate to other people and to open up.
When bad things happen, especially when it’s around abuse, if you can’t share or find a way to tell people what’s happening, then you can’t break through. You’re keeping yourself in that prison of silence. And the thing that I could have done differently was the thing that was most terrifying: to tell my mother.
When I told her, she was obviously horribly upset and disturbed, but it was a relief. It opened the door to a real relationship for us.
Even though my choices were taken away from me when I was a child, I can now as an adult make choices for myself. We can dig deep and we can find that magic. And we can find that sense of “Oh, this is what life is.” We can also say, “I’m just going to live it.”
Learn more about Kathy’s story in her book, Change Your Shoes.