How does a woman heal from sexual abuse, especially one that was inflicted by the very same people she entrusted with her life and who were supposed to protect her? And, as is the norm in society, she gets accused by her family of being a liar and the abuse is buried as a family secret. What Tami Mase went through as a teenager would have easily sent most women towards a downward spiral, but she survived to tell her tale.
BATTLE AGAINST SEXUAL ABUSE
In her book, Traces of Black and Blue, the 44-year-old mother of two chronicles her life as a young girl in a convent back in the mid-70s, where she battled sexual abuse by a female perpetrator, who took care of her.
She also opens up about sexual assault suffered at the hands of her stepfather. Relating her story to Move!, Tami says she was 14 years old when her mother had left her with a man she was married to and went home to visit the rest of the family.
“While my mother was away, my step-dad molested me. He would come to my bed at night and undress me. It was a painful experience. I told my family about it. But it was buried as a family secret and no charges were laid,” she says.
The following year, after she was molested by her stepfather, she was taken to the Cala Convent in the Eastern Cape, owned by nuns where she grew up. But, while she was hoping that the convent would provide some comfort and safety, her nightmare was just beginning. “It was there that the molestation by a mother-figure started.
My mother was working as a domestic worker in Mthatha. According to my mother, she was not allowed to stay with a child at work. A social worker then arranged that I be taken to the convent. The molestation happened until I left the convent. I never reported this to anyone as I never had the platform to.
“I was young, confused and battered,” she says. Her mother took her back after she managed to further her studies and attained a teacher’s qualification. After her stepfather’s abuse she had no courage to tell her family about being molested by a woman who was supposed to take care of her because she knew no one would believe her.
“I also kept that part of my life secret until 1999, when I landed in a psychiatric ward at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg. I had suffered a mental breakdown and severe depression. It took more than five admissions in different psychiatric clinics before I could get help from a psychologist,” she says.
“I was a complete mess, I had already attempted suicide countless times, by taking poison and overdosing medication. That was the time the psychologist encouraged me to write as a way of healing, and the result of that is this book.”
SURVIVAL OF HARDSHIPS
The writing process of the book has been a healing process, Tami says, and she has taken a stand to leave all the traces of her bruises behind and set herself free from the skeletons of her past. “My story is set around the survival of my hardships, my family tumult and the constant pervasive threat to my muted tomorrow.
As I paddled through the gruelling tides of my journey, I felt continuously and consciously trapped in nightmares, stuck in the magnet of abuse, one after the other,” Tami says.
Growing up on the countryside and at a time where there had never been any mention of this kind of abuse, Tami says she knew that she was alone in this fight and was fully aware that her perpetrators knew that she had nowhere to run.
“It is in the midst of that turbulence of emotions that somehow I built self-defence mechanisms in order to survive the pain. Interestingly, my belief system never lets me down. It truly delivered me from the haze of my ashes,” she says.
“Even though my body was battered and shattered, my soul kept strong and delivered its promise, that of ultimately healing my black and blue bruises.”
Tami says Traces of Black & Blue explores, in many ways, how women cover their gruelling past with masks of bruises from unspoken secrets while decorating their present with colourful facades to hide the pain.
“It challenges our cultural belief and value system, which pressures us to hide abuse in our families and keep it a secret at all costs, even at the expense of the victims.” Through the book she is hoping to evoke action for families to find a way to uproot, reconcile and heal past ills from deep within. She is also inviting men who are fathers, partners, brothers, lovers or friends to get to understand the women in their lives a little deeper.
“In essence Traces of Black & Blue implores women to leave the traces of their bruises behind and create a new path full of love, forgiveness and abundant peace from now into their brighter future; to navigate through their pain and prejudice of personal experiences,” she says.
Tami is also challenging women to never allow their past to determine their present and future. She pauses for a moment and looks up in the air when asked if she has healed from the abuse she endured. “How do you heal from abuse? How do you put your body, heart, and soul back together? It is rather a difficult exercise,” she says.
Tami says she only started healing when she took herself out of the situations that were hurting her and events that reminded her of abuse. One such event was the constant emotional abuse she endured in her marriage, which she later decided to walk out of.
“Ending my marriage was not easy because there are children involved. But I was relieved to think that I was doing this for them as well, for their well-being, for their health, for their future,” she says.
“It just didn’t make sense for me to expose them to a situation where they will be affected mentally, emotionally or even physically. I realised that if I stayed on, I was not going to be able to move on, nor was it going to be possible for my children to recover when they regularly see their father belittling their mother or their mother berating their father.”