The Darkest Shadows

Sexual abuse has cast a shadow over my family’s life. I was abused as a child and a teenager by three men I am too afraid to list, my mother was abused as a child, my siblings were abused and my young cousin was abused for years by our uncle. And somehow of all the stories, the last one is the story that has held the tightest grip on me. I didn’t think I could talk about it before, but now, with the encouragement from my cousin and my family, I am talking about this openly in hope it can help others. Often the hardest things to say are the things that need to be talked about the most.

This particular story has many parts and this is only mine. Not the most significant part, but nonetheless real.

It was a summer afternoon and I was sitting with my three girl cousins in a circle on my sister’s bedroom floor. I was visiting my hometown and I was so happy to be reunited with them again. Throughout my teen years I had looked after them almost every weekend and it was bittersweet to see how much they’d grown in the short time since I’d left home to chase my dreams.

They had something to tell me and I waited patiently while they gathered courage, whispering secrets in each other’s ears. Then the stories came tumbling out all at once, like nightmares retold in the middle of the night. Stories I can’t repeat. This sweet little girl I have loved and known her entire life had been hurt and raped for years by someone we all deeply trusted.

I felt sick but I calmly urged them to tell their Mother. The youngest of the sisters began crying, “I am scared I am next” and so I took her into my arms as I had so many times before and I promised her she wasn’t, that it wouldn’t ever happen again, that everything would be okay. My words felt empty in my mouth and I didn’t feel nearly as big or as strong as they saw me.

I am ashamed to say I so desperately wanted it not to be true that it took me weeks to call their Mother. I had kept my own abuse secret in the past, under the impression that it was my fault for being a ‘pretty’ girl. I thought the men just couldn’t help what they did and I didn’t want to hurt anyone by telling, besides, I thought it wasn’t such a big deal. But it dawned on me that this was much darker than anything I’d experienced and I needed to help stop it from ever happening again. Under the weight of the knowledge it would tear apart our family, I picked up the phone. When I finished speaking to my auntie I knew it was the right thing to do. They went to the police.

The detective on my cousin’s case sent me email after email begging me to testify and when I never replied she began calling me. I cried to M, that I was being torn apart and I couldn’t do anything about it. My silence was a betrayal to my cousin and my family and my words were a betrayal to my Uncle. My Mother cried to me that she just wanted to invite him around for coffee. In our heads we couldn’t separate the kind, sweet man we knew from the monster he had secretly been, because he was both. But we also felt great aching pain for the girl we loved with all our hearts. A little while later she did invite him around for coffee but the police were waiting for him there.

Then I stayed with Megan and their daughters. Earlier in my life she’d always been in my Uncle’s shadow and so I missed her light. Here was this unbelievably strong woman, who was pregnant with their third child when he was arrested for abusing her niece, now raising three girls on her own. Just by being with her and the girls made me realise I needed to be brave too, I needed to testify. It was the very least I could do. And so I answered the phone and before I knew it I was staying in a bare little hotel room across from the police station, terrified of what was to come.

During those days, memories played like films on repeat in my head. Late night drives with my arm dangling out the window, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth and my favourite songs playing too loudly on the radio. Bleaching one other’s hair bright yellow in the motel bathroom. Him throwing me high into the clouds above the pool, where time stood still for a magic moment. Staying up past midnight eating pizza and too many sweets and watching the movies I’d picked out at the video store. Him sneaking me wine on Christmas day and laughing about inside jokes only we understood.

He truly believed I could be anyone and he told me so. Once he promised if I wasn’t smoking by the time my 18th birthday came around he’d give me $500, but when I was 18 I knew nothing between us would ever be the same again.

He loved me and I loved him. He had been the coolest grown up I knew and here I was standing before a court room numbly reciting my statement to send him to jail. His lawyer asked me questions that confused me and they preyed on my love for him. I felt him watching me and I almost couldn’t go on.

Afterwards I snuck away from my family and found him in the smoking area. The light in his eyes was gone. He was like a hollowed out man, only a shadow of who I knew. As I ran at him a police officer grabbed me by the arm but I tore free and I buried myself in my Uncle’s chest, my arms wrapping around him desperately. I let the tears flood and I said “I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry” and he held me and said “it’s not your fault Roo. Maybe you can come visit me after this and everything will be okay.” But my arms dropped and now I was hollow too, he was acting as though he had done nothing wrong, as though this could all be forgotten.

I wanted to scream at him to stop lying, to apologise for fucking everything up. I thought: my family loved you, I loved you, you have three beautiful daughters, you lied to us all, we really trusted you, you were so important to me, how could you do this to us? At least be sorry. Please, please, please…

I ran away as quickly as I’d come and I found my cousin, her hair golden in the light and her blue eyes bright and wise. I cuddled her and as I cried again, she looked up at me and said gently “it’s okay Nirrimi, don’t cry.” And I was ashamed that I was the one falling apart and she was the strong one, when it was meant to be the other way around.

It was years later that I sat in the courtroom again, biting the inside of my cheek and digging my nails into my arms, waiting for the verdict. I was pregnant and just beginning to understand the intensity and vulnerability of being a Mother. I wanted to hear ‘guilty’ as much as anyone else. For my cousin, for my aunties, for his daughters, for my family and in a very strange way, for my own daughter growing in my womb. And he was guilty, on all counts, and I breathed a sigh of relief weighed down by sadness. Sad that this was the way it had to be.

My auntie, the Mother to his three girls, is one of my closest friends now. Another auntie has quit her job to write books and develop a website with resources on child sexual abuse.

When I was younger I felt completely alone with the weight of my experiences, nobody talked about abuse and so I didn’t either. But I am far from alone in having scars and there is power in uncovering them. Power in saying this is real and it hurts and it is okay to talk about. I hope we can help to create a world where if our children are ever hurt, they have the courage and support to talk about it too.

67 love notes

  1. This made me cry. Beautifully written, thank you so much. From all who have suffered abuse at some point in their lives x

  2. hey Nirrimi,
    I’m lucky enough to have never been sexually abused or molested or anything of that sort, at least yet (I of course hope I never will be). But I cannot put into words how much I admire you as a human being and how courageous and loving you are, you did the right thing and I very much appreciate you writing this blog post, as I now, have deeper knowledge on how it feels like to go through something like this. I really hope you’re well and happy, send my love to Alba and M. 🙂

  3. Such an important text. I am very happy that you chose to share this, although I am certain it required a lot of courage. But I really admire how you explain the two-faced and very complicated feelings. As an outsider it is so easy to judge, too easy to wonder WHY people don’t act sooner and contact the police, and I think the answer is here in your text. You cannot erase all the good memories, you cannot take back all the love you have for a person even though you know what they have done is tremendously wrong. You were (are!) brave, you did the right thing, even if it was hard. And you did yet another good deed in writing about it here. The more people talk about hard things, the easier it gets.

  4. I’m so sorry to read this, Nirrini. How can child abuse ever happen so often? It must have been very hard on you to choose between the loyalty and the love you felt towards your cousin and your uncle. One gets fooled because such people are very skilled at hiding their deeds and showing their better side. It must have been very hard on your aunt too. What is wrong with men, can someone explain to us?

  5. No one talks about this stuff and they need to, though I have never suffered such abuse i can totally understand the thinking of ‘men can’t control themselves so it’s not their fault’, thank you for being brave and strong enough to share something so personal with a load of strangers xxx

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this poignant and emotional story. You’ll never know just how timely this is for many of us who have repressed their experience for far too long. You are so very brave and I wish you well as you continue life’s journey.

  7. You know, I look at this blog, along with many others, in dull moments at my dreary office desk for a bit of a distraction. I mostly look at yours for the pretty (gorgeous, really) photos (not always reading the posts). In today’s trawl of my bookmarked blogs, I really wasn’t expecting to read such a candid and vulnerable story. So I was confronted, where normally I am not, with a subject and experience that is so incredibly important to try to better understand and consider in order to support people who do/have experienced sexual abuse and prevent it from continuing.
    Good on you for putting this story out there for others to discover. And good on your cousin and family for their encouragement. It’s incredibly brave. I can only imagine that it’s incredibly hard. I think it’s given me a better understanding of how complicated it can be to take action when necessary. But I like to think that if ever anyone shares the weight of such a terrible burden with me, reading this will have made me that little more understanding, and hopefully supportive.

  8. Hi Nirrimi, I hope you are feeling a little lighter after talking about this, it’s not easy, but sometimes we have to be brave so it won’t happen again. I’ve read an article that might interest you, specially because you said it was so hard to separate the good things and the person that you loved from the abuser and the criminal. I know the interview in the article can have a lot of impact in you because you were also abused, but I think it could be something to clarify your feelings. Here is the link for the article Hope you and Alba are great, xoxo.

  9. I find this story a bit confusing but you’ve been so courageous to tell us 🙂 I know maybe you don’t need any advice… but take care your little Alba, make sure she never never suffer this kind of abuse…don’t trust too much even your own related as , as much as i understood, this abuse were made in your own family.

  10. Braveheart nirrimi…you are a voice to the voiceless, and I know your words will give strength to many who need to speak out against this rampant atrocity. This deep wound I carry too for my daughters who were molested by their sick, perverted father. He has served time, but not enough…it should have been a life sentence. My girls too have been in confused love for him, as well as disgust. It has torn our family in many ways, and every sacred, holy thing has been ripped away. Light must expose this gross darkness. Christ even said that “if anyone offend one one of these little ones, it would be better for a milestone to be hung around their neck, and for them to be thrown into the sea”…I believe True justice will be served in the end by Him.
    But for now we must speak the Truth, as it sets us free and heals, more and more each day. Love & blessings on you and your family, nirrimi.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this. I repressed all my memories of abuse. 20-30 years later, my abuser will never be brought to justice. I fear and loathe and love him. I destroyed my family when I shared what had happened, but what family was it really anyway? Most of my family doesn’t believe me, so I’m the one being punished, while he walks free. He is my father.

  12. Nirrimi!
    Thank you for being so honest! And for sharing such a heartbreaking experience.
    Your writing and honesty touches me every single time, but this time it stuck with me all day through. I admire your courage so much!
    And I am truly thankful for your existence!
    Lots of Love from Norway

  13. I have never commented on your blog, I have just adored you super talented photography and beautiful stories but this time the text was so touching and ever so beautifully written, I had to comment. You are a strong woman, I love your photography and you are a brilliant writer too, keep going the way you are, lot’s of loves 🙂

  14. thank you for sharing this. your story gives me courage to continue confronting my own history of abuse. sending strength to you on this path.

  15. Thank you for sharing. It is so inspirational how you always manage to be so honest and your post really makes me think. I am sure your braveness will help many.

  16. hi. Thank you for this, thank you so so so much. My whole body shakes after reading this. I was never that brave, never enough strong to sit in the court and accusing the one who took everything that was mine. I sometimes wish that I had, but i still blame myself and I could never sit in court and see him, ever again.

    But thank you, for sharing this, for making it a little bit easier to breath.

  17. Amazing story. Respect for writing this. More people need to speak out and pull their heads out of the sand. Well done for doing this.

  18. Hello Nirrimi
    I read your blog since several years, we are the same age. This is the first time I write something. I would like to say to you that I admire your courage and your dignity. You seem to be a very beautiful person, well, in french we say “une belle personne”, means that your “inside you” is very deep, and interesting.
    This blog note is a hope note.
    I wish you the best.


  19. Seriously are you for real?
    As someone who was also physically, mentally and sexually abused as a child, I read your story and struggled to understand how you could “bury your head in the sand” and not support your cousin? You of all people should had been in her corner, wanting justice for her. Not hugging her abuser and telling him how you love him? I mean wtff? How would YOU feel if your cousin/ sister hugged one of your abusers and told them that they loved them?? No matter who that person was to you, the moment an innocent broken child has the strength and courage to speak out against their abuser, that “evil sick person” has no place in your life.
    I have followed your blog for a long time and until now admired your talent and the love you have for your daughter. But for you to sum up ” oh yes, practically my whole family has been abused but I still love my Uncle despite the fact he abused my young cousin” made me feel ill and so angry. These monsters are sick and disgusting individuals, they have their “normal face” that hides their true evil mask. They are masters of manipulations and feed off your fear. Fear of their touch, fear of “bad things happening to people you love if you tell anyone, fear of no-one believing you if you found the courage to speak out. If such evil had really happened to you, then hearing that another helpless child had also suffered, that should make you want to help in any way that you can to stop that monster. That ” broken sad man” is evil and rotten to the core and your cousin by bringing charges against him is showing him that he can show the world his sad pitiful face but she knows the truth and to her he has only 1 face. The face of a sick twisted man who no longer can hurt her.
    I hope that your cousin will be able to close the door to her demons and always have the strength to believe in herself and be the amazing strong beautiful person that she is.

  20. I’ve never been able to write anything about it. You are so brave. So brave. You are reaching people with the same experience, I promise you. I’m not sure I’ll ever write about it, it still hurts. But thank you, Nirrimi. I love your heart and admire your courage.

  21. I’m so sorry for what you and your family have gone through. Thanks for posting this, it’s incredibly strong of you Nirrimi! I’m sure it will help many ❤️

  22. I am so sorry. I was going to write the whole story of my family but I ended up deleting it because I feel like I just want to sum it up.
    Unprocessed things, they might be burried and denied and seem as if they werent even there anymore, but they are and they will come back, maybe twice as intense, seeking to be finally looked at and acknoledged and healed.
    There is hardly a person on this planet to never have experienced any kind of trauma. We are only ever victims of victims. That may be the reason why I don’t believe in evil.
    If you had everything you ever wanted and enough of it always, there was no reason to take from other people. I hope you don’t despise me for saying that but instead take from it all the love I truly want you to receive with this message. I wish for you and your family as well as every being on this planet to find healing. I care so deeply. Though never having met you, I like you a lot, Nirrimi.

  23. Hey beautiful.
    I am at the hospital right now, having struggled with an “atypical eating disorder” for almost all my life and I’m feeling quite hopeless at times. I then go back to your photos and blog and instragram and the color in your life encourages me so much to stay strong for there will be a moment when I will start to paint my life in all the colors I always wanted it to be.
    I wouldnt have expected this story, you know you’re this quirky smiley girl, this couldnt happen to you. But it did and thats part of the point, it does happen. You cant really walk around in streets and point out whos a victim. I feel kind of bad for putting it that way. I dont even know where I’m going with this, so caught up in my own dark shadows. I think what really got me to read your blog and follow you online, apart from your incredible writing and artwork, would have to be that you seem like a person who actually lives. Like you dropped out of school, had a baby young, you travel, live the natural kind of freedomish life I always would have wished for. Thats it there, you seem to just go for it. You did so many of the things I never allowed myself to. Thats a kind of freedom thats priceless. And keep it girl. Keep heading towards joy, thats what lifes about really isnt it? Joy. Like you. Like Alba.

  24. nirrimi-
    every time you write, i get chills. please never stop telling your story in word and image. you have such a gift! your honesty and candor gives me hope.
    much love and peace,

  25. WOW! Nirrimi, my daughter Carly told me about this blog as she is one of your photography followers. She sent me your link so I could read your blog as she knows the pain that I have endured for more than 40yrs. I was molested by my stepfather. My mother called me a liar & told me that she would never love me. I found the courage to report his abuse to the police some 40yrs after the event but sadly it was too late for a conviction as he claimed he had dementure & was unfit for trial. We have since discover that more than 6 other family members suffered at the hands of this evil person. My mother doesn’t speak with me and my family now consists of my husband of 40 yrs and my three adult daughters. Everyday I am reminded in some small way of how my mother deserted me for my abuser. Thank you for sharing your story. It makes me feel a little less alone.

  26. Wow.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    I don’t really know what to say – I’m speechless. This touched me.

    I send all my love your way. Keep strong.

  27. My partner and I are going through a court battle right now against the father her 8 year old, who came forward last year revealing a lifetime of sexual abuse. We are terrified the case will be thrown out because of “no evidence” and “biased testimonies of a single mother who is ‘coaching’ her daughter”. All we want is for this to be over. Court is next week, but it’s already been delayed a couple of times and I find myself wondering when it will actually be over. She says that she feels sorry for the man because he missed out on truly getting to known an amazing little girl. I only feel hate.

  28. Sending strength + love to you and yours–like you, I hope that the speaking can help others feel they are not alone, not at fault, and not any less worthy for their perpetrator’s acts. <3

  29. Thank you for writing this, Nirrimi. I am a recent survivor of sexual abuse as well (just typing it out is making me quake) and my inner body was shaking as I read this. You are so brave and resilient and your bravery in testifying is astounding. It gives me the courage to maybe do so as well, for my sake and my sisters and my future daughter(s). I pray your family has come out of this even more loving and strong as a whole unit. Sending love, light, and peace.

  30. Sending light, love and strength. You are a brave and lovely soul, Nirrimi. As hard as this was to write for you, these words will help so many xxxx

  31. Nirrimi, you never cease to amaze me. Your strength, beauty and good-heartedness, are beyond any other person I’ve ever come across. Even in your saddest hour, when the darkness seeps in, you find a way to shine through. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of strength and courage it took to do what you did. And then to share it to helps others. My great grandmother always said, “its always darkest just before sunrise.”

    Living is difficult but being alive can be the hardest road to follow. Thank you for spreading beauty, for carrying burden, and helping preserve peace. Your voice will and has help many – even if you aren’t aware of it or feel it.

  32. i’m lost for words. it’s so sad and i’m with you and your family. this post was the right decision and will hopefully give many people strength.

  33. a wonderful article ! such emotions i could feel you felt. i was abused as a child too and i know many friends who were abused too. i have made it my life goal to becoming a therapist for abused children and i m working towards it. like you said, everybody should have the courage to talk about it and support when they do.

  34. This is beautiful. The weight of silences like these are too much for anyone to bear. My family has walked through a difficult situation like this over the last couple of years with families that we knew and loved. It was the hardest thing we ever had to face. Just being brave enough to speak out when everyone else had remained silent.
    Thank you for being another beautiful voice.

  35. Your writing and honesty is beautiful. Thank you for being so strong and writing this! People like you make the world a better place. God bless you in your days to come 🙂

  36. Thank you for being so brave. This is a story that is going to hit close to home for many, unfortunately. But I hope it inspires people to be just as brave.

  37. Thank you, Nirrimi. I’m the only woman in my family who hasn’t been abused physically and or sexually. It’s a very real and horribly common occurrence.
    But setting aside the memories or love for a family member for the good of others IS something I’m familiar with. It takes courage.
    I’ll be praying for the healing of your family members, you, and all the other victims of abuse.
    I love you.

  38. Your name: Nirrmi.
    Your eyes,
    Your mind,
    light air
    Your bones,
    as adamant as cotton clouds
    Oh so sweet, hair,
    stem of delicate flowers
    O you, the youngest of all ancient trees
    Your heart, your blood:

  39. Thank you for sharing this powerful story. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to talk about. But you are right, the most difficult things to say are usually the ones that need to be said. Thank you thank you.

  40. Thamks for sharing this… I’ve not experienced such abuse in my life but my mum has. And I’m glad that she shared with me and my sisters her dark secret, and to be careful of who we hang out with. I also hope that parents will be share such “dirty secrets” with their own kids, as it’ll help to break the cycle of abuse.

  41. reading this, i can identify with a lot of what you say. everything seems muddled for me, too, looking back. i’ve gained a lot of peace realizing two opposites can be true. it helps.
    much love to you and admiration for your strength. you are a light in this world!

  42. I have no words to describe how this makes me feel. I want to tell you how much I love you, your courage, your youth, your wisdom, your strength, but I don’t want you to think that it’s “creepy”. You are one of the lights of my days. Reading your life stories, following your exploits, getting to see your incredible talent, all make my days a little brighter. The thought of someone hurting you, or any other beautiful child is horrible, but it happens far too often. Thank you for sharing what must have been a very hard experience to relate. Much love.

  43. i’m so sorry that this has happened to you and your family, it hurts My insides reading this. you are so strong and brave for sharing. it Will help many. and your feelings can never be wrong. i send you all My strength, energy and Love from across the world. in the north of sweden you have a sister.

  44. Thank you, dear soul, for writing this. For hitting the publish button. For creating dialogue and support for the many who feel isolated and weary and afraid. For speaking up even if your voice trembled. I hope there was some healing in this for you. Sending you and your family so much love.

  45. How incredibly brave of you to share this. Well done for speaking up even though it must have been terribly difficult to do so. I hope that this inspires others to talk openly about this issue too. What a wonderful mentor your cousins have.

  46. You did such an incredible job describing the complexities within the situation, and it is a gift. I pray others would be empowered by the gift of your words. Have you ever received counseling for these experiences. I had counseling this year for other things, it was so freeing–one day he told me that when someone is abused, it’s hard for them to feel like a whole person, but half of one. I told my friend who was abused for 5 years as a child, and once she began, she visibly began a new person, lighter and free.

    Thanks again for sharing your story, it has great purpose and will help many.

  47. Such brave words, I feel every single one of them. I went through this myself, by my own parent. But I loved him dearly and it was like my heart was split into two.

    The hardest thing I did was testify in court, but I know I did the right thing, because I saved many more people. Just like you have too.

    I never speak about what happened, so I only praise you for having the courage to post it here!


  48. Nirrimi you are the bravest person I know, thank you having the courage to share something so difficult to talk about. Bless your loving heart xo

  49. Your story is a testament to the lessons humanity has yet to learn… that we hold the power to cause much pain and suffering when we act selfishly… that we must be conscious that only selfless actions stand the test of time.

    I would like to say I am sorry for what occurs, but that would not negate the fact… I will say that your story is a compelling message that might be used to evolve the thoughts about what and who we are.

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