Not a victim, a survivor

Date: January 1, 1970
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My story is about culture, belief systems, early marriage and alcohol abuse that negatively affected my life as a teenager. My children paid the price as well. My story however has a happy ending. Allow me to give voice to my story.

When I was 16, young and vulnerable, had not even experienced puppy love as yet, I was chosen while at a wedding, to be married to a man 10 years older than myself. While growing up as a typical South African Indian girl, deeply held morals, values, and belief systems were passed on to me. I had to fulfill my parents wishes. That mainly meant I had to get married, have children, be a slave to my husband and his family. I did this for 17 long, dreadful and painful years.
After marriage at the tender age of 16 years, I had 2 children, a boy at 17 and a girl at 19. I had to cook, clean, take care of 10 people in his family, my children and myself, whom I had little time for. During my marriage, I realised that my husband was an alcoholic, but it did not bother me because we lived with his family and I felt safe. He used to have terrible fights with his mum.
He had a wonderful family whom used to care for my children and myself. We did not go out much because I used to stay home and be the maid. I sometimes visited my family. I was not allowed to speak to people that I grew up with. Thinking that my husband loved me, I accepted his rules and had no social life. I thought this was his way of showing that he loved me. Due to his abusive behavior towards his mum we were thrown out of his house a few times until we found a place to rent.
We moved into an outbuilding and here I thought this would bring my family bliss with no outsiders but our little family. The reality was that his mum was not around but I was. We did not have it all but we lived comfortably regarding the rent, food, children’s clothes and school. He could not miss his weekend binges of alcohol. When he opened a bottle, he had to finish it and if it is still the weekend, he had to get more alcohol. I used to buy and pour his drinks believing that’s what I had to do as a good Indian wife.
I did not finish school; I had poor knowledge of the outside world. I did what I knew best on how to be a good wife, who loved her husband despite his insults, physical and verbal abuse. He drank the whole weekend, he could not even eat, he vomited all over the place and I had to clean up after him. I still did not complain because both sides of the families said that “he will change as the children grow older.” This is what most Indian parents say – I later found out.
We moved to a home that we applied for, which I had forced him to initiate the process. We moved in with my mum’s assistance and not his, but nothing changed. In fact, our lives got worst. He drank more often, locking the children and myself out of the house a few times. My neighbour, an elderly woman always stood by me. We never opened the door during weekends and we rarely attended functions, because we were too embarrassed of his drunken state. I had never put him down to the children; I was father and mother to them. We did not have proper meals or slept on weekends, due to his abusive behavior. He was however a good man when he was sober, which was rarely. I convinced him that I should get a job so that we could live a better life, while the auntie next door looked after the children.
I went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He wanted to know where I went with his sister and brother-in-law and this is how he attended the meetings. This failed after six months. He refused help from Social Services and the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) until I spoke to a lawyer, who advised me to take legal steps. I applied for a divorce with the lawyers assistance, put it on hold when he fell and broke his leg.
He left home which was what he did often that I eventually lost count of. This was the last of many times that I was accepting him back. I signed the divorce papers, he tried to oppose it but it was too late and I was granted the custody of the children and the house. He had to be evicted from the house. My life changed with many years of new challenges.
I was depressed for two years, but had to wake up and smell the coffee, because I realised that my children needed me. I worked long and hard hours in a clothing company, while maintaining the house; I had to fend for my children and myself. I was an extreme introvert until my daughter assisted me in getting out of my shell, by changing my style of dressing, meeting other people, most importantly talking to men, which I had never done previously unless they were relatives.
While working in the factory I volunteered my services to assist women and children of Domestic violence. I was trained by Social Department at that time, which helped broaden my horizons.
I grew from strength to strength with now my 8th year of counseling. The programmes and workshops have helped me heal tremendously. My children and I have dealt with our past and have moved forward with positivity and prosperity. I now work as a mediator assisting many people with similar problems. My children are responsible and reliable adults, working and independent. With positive thinking and most importantly prayer, I have never looked back but progressed abundantly. To the women out there, I did it so can you; let’s build bridges instead of walls.
* not her real name
This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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