TW: Descriptions of emotional/psychological abuse, sexual harassment, and suicidal ideation.
Hailey is an author, blogger, podcaster, and an aspiring life coach and entrepreneur. She is a current university student and a mental health advocate, and recently published her first book, See Me: Becoming Your Authentic Self. Through a series of guiding principles and the stories of others, See Me aims to inspire young adults to recognize and embrace the value of authenticity in their life. Hailey is also the host of the 'See Me Show' podcast.
In this intimate interview, Starts With Youth had the opportunity to sit down with both Hailey and her mom, Trisha, to speak more about the damage and hard truths of childhood abuse, its impact on the parent-child relationship, as well as the journey towards a more authentic, happy, and fulfilled life.
To read Trisha's interview, click this link.
SWY: If you don’t mind sharing – What is your story with abuse? How have your experiences with it changed your life?
H: It began when I was twelve years old. My mom and dad got divorced when I was quite young and my mom was soon in a relationship after. When I started developing during puberty, I started to get uncomfortable around her new partner.
He had been in my life since I was around four years old. When I was very young, I didn’t really notice anything wrong, wandering in my bubble of innocence. However, when I was twelve, I started feeling really icky around him. At the time, I didn’t know why. I truly believed there was something wrong with me. The first instance I can recall that sparked this feeling was when I was twelve. I was changing in my room and the door was slightly cracked open, and he walked in on me. I remember shrieking and jumping to the ground, hiding my body. He then said, “It’s not like I haven’t seen it before,” and he turned and walked away.
After that day, I had a really difficult time making eye contact with him. I believe I could not look at him because a part of me felt violated. I knew there was something wrong with this person and I did not trust him. For five years, I’d feel very uncomfortable.
I started to notice other things after that instance. It seemed that no one else in my family was noticing it except for me, so I actually believed there was something wrong with me. His behaviours were very inappropriate but everyone called him a “big kid”, justifying his inappropriate behaviour (their justification reminded me of the saying, “boys will be boys”). He had very sexual images displayed in areas where I could see them, him knowing that it made me uncomfortable. He would have books with very provocative covers on them. He was always watching movies with sexual innuendos in them and “R-rated” scenes...nothing a child should be watching with an adult. There was a lot more than this, I believe I’m still blocking a lot of it.
Being uncomfortable, I started reacting to what he was doing. No eye contact for example. As a result, this put a strain on my relationship with my mom, and I started staying in my room more often with the door shut, studying my life away hoping that high grades would buy me a ticket for a new life.
He started to label me as a bitch and a princess, which I was very much not. It was very much a grooming-like relationship, even between him and my mom. I think he did more grooming to her than to me because she didn’t resist it...whereas I did.
I started staying away in my room but each year, I would get a Christmas present that would say bitch on it; a t-shirt with bitch on it, a pillow that said bitch on it, and the worst one being a t-shirt that said, “I do have tits, but I don’t have an ass.” Unfortunately, I wore that shirt around, allowing him to label my body and even worse, believing that I was disgusting on the inside and out.
When I was also twelve, I had a birthday party and all my friends came over and as soon as they left, he started to tear down their bodies. After this occurrence, I wasn’t super conscious of it at the time, but I started to push away my friends because I didn’t want them to be torn apart like I was being torn apart. So, I ended up isolated at home and isolated at school because I lived in my room and pushed all my friends away. I didn’t know what to do.
Another instance I recall was when him and I were traveling somewhere alone. I remember talking about relationships, and the fact that I at 16 had never even kissed a boy. He would frequently ask me invasive questions about my intimate experiences with boys. His crude comments that would follow would make me extremely uncomfortable; I realized that his behaviour made me not trust men, and to this day, I still struggle with trusting men. I only ever see bad intentions, feeling as though every potential relationship I could have would destroy me. The amount of dates and interactions with men I’ve avoided cannot be counted on both hands.
In Grade 9, I started to get very bad anxiety and depression, which has honestly prolonged throughout my life, some years being better or worse than others. In Grade 10, I started having sleep insomnia for around four-ish months. I would sleep around four to six hours a night; I just couldn’t sleep because I was so afraid of going to school and also was so afraid of staying at home. My mom was the only person in my life who I felt like I could tell everything to, except for that one big thing. For me, it was like, she really really loves this guy, and it would break my heart to see her heart broken, so I wouldn’t say anything.
One night when I was experiencing insomnia, I was crying in the bathroom and she wasn’t awake, but he came in and said to me, “You’re disturbing everybody in the house, go sleep in the basement.” So, I started to sleep in the basement. I started hanging out in the basement and being by myself, and it was a very isolating thing.
He would also make me feel guilty about being uncomfortable around him. Specifically, he got everyone to make me feel bad about not wanting to hug him. Anytime he would buy me something, I had to give him a hug. I’m not a touchy person, and I was very explicit about that. He knew that, so he would literally force me to hug him. Not once did I ask for anything, except to spend time with my mom. That wasn’t really an option. So he would buy me things I never asked for and there was a condition attached that I had to hug him. I hated it. When I was vocal about not wanting to, family members would say something like, “Hailey what the heck is wrong with you? You’re not looking at him or hugging him!” I felt really guilty about it, but I still resisted doing it. That was the thing, I was so resistant even though I was apologetic, so it was a very confusing experience for me.
In Grade 11, we went to Belize for a trip. My mom had already gone down before us, so I had to go with him and my brother. On the plane, he said to me, “I know you don’t have a beach body like your mom, but you’re still pretty.” My mom is about 40-lbs lighter than me, and she’s a very pretty woman. It was just so horrible being compared to my own mother. To this day, I still avoid wearing bikinis to the beach, this comment being a deep wound that has not yet healed.
The way he said this comment could come across as kind and genuine. But the manipulation behind it was repulsive. Additionally, when he would laugh and call me a bitch, it was labeled as a joke. When you constantly say something to someone it’s inevitable, they will internalize it...to me it wasn’t a joke and yes I internalized being the biggest bitch on the planet. Because I was constantly feeling like a bad person, I had anxiety, I had depression, and I had this incessant need to be perfect all the time. No matter how well I did, he would find something in me and start cutting it up. There was a point too where I questioned my life. I remember saying to my mom after running to the basement after a bad day at school, “I don’t want to live anymore.” Today this makes me sad. I feel sad for the girl who did not think she had a way out. I’m glad she was strong enough to get through it because her life is so beautiful today.
Near the end of high school, I started dating a guy. Boys were so off my radar. It wasn’t because I had to do well in school, it was because he would dehumanize girls who had boyfriends. He would “slut shame” so I was so afraid that he was going to label me as one even if I hugged a guy. But anyways, I developed the courage to start dating this guy, and it was kind of like this massive breath of fresh air because I was never around at home. I was never with him, I was always with my boyfriend. The pain was gone.
However, I did not realize that my boyfriend at the time was just a bandage covering a deep wound that would not heal without acknowledging its existence. All he was doing was covering it up. How I felt about myself and the pain I endured began to slowly trickle in and negatively affect the relationship. So when we broke up in the middle of my first year at university, this wound became exposed and it was much deeper and painful than before.
I had not realized why I was in so much pain until I went to therapy. In therapy I became aware of my wound that I had been ignoring for years.
Bringing this to my family (particularly my dad) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They were heartbroken that they never saw what I saw. In my opinion, they are not at fault. They simply did not know.
Therapy did help a lot. It allowed me to acknowledge the wounds and it gave me the tools to heal. But my healing journey was not linear. In the beginning of my second year, I consumed myself back in grades like I did in high school.
However, what I didn’t realize is that it was pretty much impossible to get a 97% average in university like I did in high school. Having only ever pursued academia, I was very lost. I felt like I had lost my identity completely.
I was all over the place, and I felt super lonely. I was still heartbroken about the breakup, and I felt super angry about what had happened to me. I felt like my life was going to be consumed with heartbreak and pain indefinitely.
However, I realized I was in control of my thoughts and feelings and giving in. Half way through second year, right around New Year’s Eve, I decided that something needed to change. I knew that I couldn’t keep living like this...I wanted to live, but something needed to change, and it came down to me.
So, I kind of put it out to the universe: something is going to happen to me in 2019, I don’t know what it is, but it’s going to change something in me and make some things better. A couple weeks later, I got the opportunity to write a book. I didn’t know initially what I was going to write about, with very minimal expectations. But what I did know was that something was going to be created, and it was going to help me heal my soul.
I never actually intended to put my story in my book until the very last minute. At the end of the book, I realized how much others’ stories have helped me change my life. Perhaps I could share my story to help someone else. I thought this could be a way I could show that you can find meaning in absolutely anything, despite how horrible it may be. So, I decided to share my story.