"It is important to look forward with positivity and work on building your self-belief rather than looking back and constantly reliving the pain."
Joileen Mischel was born in Murwillumbah in New South Wales, Australia. She is the author of Broken Past Heals Dreams. Her book is an inspirational story of how she was able to transcend feelings of abandonment and betrayal over so many years to eventually become the person she believes she was meant to be. Joileen attributes her resilience and a strong desire to fulfill her long-held aspirations, in enabling her to endure and overcome her early years of abuse and shattered dreams. After an inauspicious and abusive early life, she managed to forge a 30-year hairdressing career, married and had three children, and is now the proud grandmother of six delightful grandchildren.
SWY: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your story with childhood abuse and trauma?
JM: I am, as I call myself, an ‘experiencer’. Due to my father being an unskilled labourer, our lifestyle was semi-nomadic and over time I experienced around 26 different schools. Many of these schools were when my parents worked for a traveling carnival and I attended for a few days only. I left school just a few months before my 12th birthday. During the following three years, I taught myself grades 7/8 with the Victorian Correspondence School. My working life as a seasonal worker began just before my 12th birthday. We traveled throughout the many states of Australia following the seasons and the different crops. From the age of four, I started experiencing sexual abuse. By the time I was 19 years old, I had experienced 14 years of sexual and psychological abuse. One of the worst aspects of sexual abuse, as with many other forms of abuse, is the constant anxiety, the secrets, and the fear of being found out.
I presented a happy face to the world, telling nothing about myself, trying my best to protect my brother from knowledge of the abuse (not knowing he had witnessed it for many years).
SWY: You are an author of the book Broken Past Heals Dreams, how did writing this book help you in your journey to healing from your past experiences?
JM: Writing my story was not too difficult because I had over time processed and -through self-help literature, professional counseling, and time - healed from the abuse and trauma of my past experiences. Writing was my way of reflecting on where I had come from, seeing the abuse I had suffered as a part of my journey, and then despite this acknowledging how much I had achieved in my life. I feel a sense of pride and gratitude that I had the strength to avoid succumbing to the extreme downward spiral that so many other abuse victims do.
SWY: What do you want others to gain and learn from reading your story?
JM: I want to show others that we need not be the victim of our past experiences. I want my story to show others that having dreams and aspirations, and never giving up on them, is important. While my journey has at times not been easy, I have shown that through seeking help and working on healing, it is possible to transcend the pain of the past. It is important to look forward with positivity and work on building your self-belief rather than looking back and constantly reliving the pain.
"I want my story to show others that having dreams and aspirations, and never giving up on them, is important."
SWY: Can you explain how your physical environment (such as working at a young age or frequently changing schools), impacted your childhood, mentally and socially?
JM: I was a child who loved school and learning and although I attended many schools, I did well. However, within me, there was always a high level of anxiety when I went to a new school. Consequently, I never learned the skill of developing close friendships because I was always saying goodbye. By the time I began to know and trust someone, I would be moving on. During my formative years, there were no birthday parties to attend or social gatherings with school friends or the wider community. It was a lonely world where connections were constantly being broken.
It was the saddest time of my young life when at the end of grade six I was informed by my parents that school would no longer be a part of my life. As I grew older, I felt that my lack of education meant I did not ‘measure up’. There was always that feeling that others were smarter than me because they were educated. I always felt different and less than others.
At such a young age I joined the working world of adults. It was physically and emotionally demanding work from sunup till sundown which meant that there was no social life. For a small immature child (I was small for my age) to be in the adult workforce was difficult. And my father’s expectations were high, he did not consider the impact the seasonal work had on my young body. I was only ever praised for my work ethic so throughout my life I have only seen myself as worthy if I was working. Complements were nonexistent thus I have struggled to really believe people who have said they admire and genuinely care for me. I lived a very lonely, isolated existence where my father was ever vigilant thus making certain I did not develop any significant friendships. I presented an outer friendly vibrant persona but inside I was constantly on guard wondering who ‘knew’ what was happening after dark.
SWY: What were some of the coping strategies that you used in your early childhood to survive the abuse? What are some coping strategies that you suggest for other people experiencing sexual abuse or neglect?
JM: I was always a child who loved reading. I loved stories and always had a book from the school library. During the time I was experiencing the abuse, I would read every spare moment I had. Reading helped me to avoid thinking about what I was being subjected to. I lived in a book fantasy world of boarding school and happy friendships. While I experienced a quiet secret desperation, I told myself ‘one day’ this would not be happening to me, one day it would be over. What helped me to get through the desperate and lonely times was having a positive thought process where I kept telling myself that it would not always be happening. It would end one day. Even then I think subconsciously I believed that it would not be possible to get through the trauma if I didn’t believe in my ability to one day help myself. The most important attitude that an abused person needs to have is that they are not a victim. The way I see it, it is not up to others to fix you, feeling sorry for yourself will not get you where you want to go. Optimism and positivity and a deep desire to create your self will start you on your way. These are different times today where such abuse is acknowledged, and victims are more supported. My advice would be to seek someone who you can trust to tell your story to, be it a family member, counselor, or therapist. Keep looking for the person who can help. And never give up on your healing journey.
SWY: You discuss not victimizing yourself and taking control over our own lives. Why do you think this is so important for others trying to heal their own trauma?
JM: Thinking back on my past, I know I never thought I was a victim. That was not in our vocabulary back then. It was simply that I felt alone, frightened, and desperately sad. As I grew into adulthood, I decided I would never let anyone have control of my life again - to that extent anyway. While I had no confidence or self-esteem when I started on my adult journey, I tried to not blame the past for who I had become. I worked hard at becoming what and who I wanted to be. I knew what was right and wrong and at times made wrong choices, but I accepted they were my choices; I felt I could not blame anyone else for them. I believe we must take responsibility and accept the consequences for the choices we make in life. Bad things happen to good people, they always have. Once we accept that we are halfway there.
SWY: In one of your previous interviews, you talk about the concept of not judging your abuser. Could you expand on how this has helped in your healing journey?
JM: It took time to get to that stage where I let go of judgment. I am not aligned to any religious order, but I believe that trying to understand and forgive someone for their behaviour, (I’m not always successful by the way) is a start to moving on with your life.
Unfortunately, research shows us that abusers were very often victims of abuse themselves. If, like me, the abused person does not know the life story or history behind their abuser’s actions, then it is not always easy to see what the underlying reasons behind their actions are. Overanalyzing the reason for the abuse will not lessen the pain it will only keep you stuck in the pain and anger cycle. Once I began to understand this, I was more able let go of the hurt and resentment I had toward my parents (Dad was the abuser while Mum failed to protect and in fact turned a blind eye to the abuse). I could finally complete my own healing process.