One of the most harmful effects of abuse is the tendency of victims to blame themselves -- an outcome that Shelly Ann Wieringa seeks to help others avoid.
© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Author and public speaker Shelly Ann Wieringa stopped by Prince Albert on Wednesday to discuss her book I Never Lied: A True Story About Survival, which details her childhood experiences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and the lengthy healing process that followed later in life.
Today an anger resolution therapist, life skills coach and published author, Wieringa’s present success and fulfilment contrasts with a dark past.
As a girl, Wieringa suffered severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse at her home in rural Saskatchewan and was accused of being a liar when she sought help, only managing to turn her life around after many years of emotional distress.
Channelling her experiences into print, the title of Wieringa’s first book -- I Never Lied: A True Story About Survival -- is a direct rebuttal to the victim-blaming she encountered in her youth.
“This book is meant to show other victims of abuse that … you’re not alone, that although the action of abuse in our lives is different, all of our reactions are exactly the same,” Wieringa said.
“The book is meant to inspire people to look at themselves differently. It’s meant to show them that you can forgive yourself and that you can make change.”
The contents of the book are extensively supported by child welfare records, mental health records and court documents.
In sharing her personal journey, Wieringa avoided graphic details of rape and other abuse in favour of an emphasis on the self-abusive behaviours and patterns that victims experience and the tools that can help them begin to heal.
“I grew up in an era where they said ‘Good girls don’t talk about things like that’ … I saw how I suffered and didn’t realize I was causing that suffering upon myself,” she said.
“When I was able to begin working my way out of it and start rationalizing and thinking of myself as somebody with value and somebody who was necessary in this world, then I started making those changes … Have you ever heard people say, ‘Nothing good ever comes out of bad’? I am here to prove that something really good can come out of something really bad.”
Emotional abuse was a constant of Wieringa’s childhood even before she began experiencing physical abuse.
“In my case, I was the attempted abortion that lived … I was raised by the woman who attempted to abort me, and then she gave her common-law access to me,” she recalled.
While Wieringa sustained harsh physical and emotional abuse up to the age of 12, from age 12 to 14 she began suffering sexual abuse.
She described her father as a “very, very violent man” who told her in no uncertain terms that he would kill her if she ever told anyone.
“It wasn’t a question of would he kill me -- it was a question of when,” Wieringa said. “When was he going to do it? And I came to a point at 14 where I said, ‘If I’m going to go out of this world, it’s going to be on my own say-so, my own timing.”
At 14, Wieringa made a serious attempt to commit suicide.
“It didn’t work, thank God,” she said. “But when I told the psychologist what was happening in our home, they didn’t do anything to my dad.”
Far from taking action against her abuser, the response of authorities was to send Wieringa to Kilburn Hall, a detention facility for young offenders.
“They put me in lockup and I was there for over six months,” she said. “And they kept telling me, ‘If you tell the truth, we’ll let you go. You’re a liar, you’re a homewrecker,’ you’re this, you’re that.”
The refusal of anyone to believe her -- an outcome predicted by Wieringa’s abuser -- further reinforced her sense that she was utterly alone.
For years after her release from Kilburn, she carried a sense of guilt with her, suffering from low self-esteem and blaming herself for what had happened.
“From the age of 15 when they released me until the age of 30, I knew it didn’t matter because it was just me, and it was my fault because I went to jail for it, it was my fault because I should have told … and so for that bunker of years, I lived my life meaning nothing,” she said.
“I drank a lot of alcohol because I couldn’t look at myself … I went through that whole gamut -- multiple marriages just looking for somebody to love me.”
When I told the psychologist what was happening in our home, they didn’t do anything to my dad. They put me in lockup and I was there for over six months, and they kept telling me, ‘If you tell the truth, we’ll let you go. You’re a liar, you’re a homewrecker,’ you’re this, you’re that. Shelly Ann Wieringa
Such feelings, she noted, are common among abuse victims.
Ironically, the healing process for Wieringa began when past horror threatened to re-emerge.
“When I was 30 years old and I had two children, my dad attempted to come back into my life,” she said. “But not for me, because he’s not a threat to women, right? But I had two children.
“So I went to a lawyer and I got custody papers drawn up and gave custody to my husband of my kids to make sure nobody could do anything, and I went to the police station, and I said to (an officer), ‘I know I’m going to jail, but I’ve got to do whatever I’ve got to do to protect my kids.’
“I mean, at 30 years old, I still thought I was guilty, right? And so when I started talking to him about it, he started to cry, and he was the first person in the world who ever cried for me, ever -- and something in my head snapped, and just for that little bitty moment I thought maybe I have a little bit of value.”
With the case taking a long time to make it to court, Wieringa and her husband took their children and went on the run in fear of her abuser’s continuing threats.
Though facing some ridicule for her decision to take flight, when police finally found her abuser, they found him with a sawed-off shotgun and a list of her addresses.
The abuser subsequently served two and a half years in prison, during which Wieringa continued her healing process.
“In that time period I reconnected with my Métis community, worked with some elders, started learning some valuable lessons and over a very long span of time, started to understand that I had value, that I was a person worth loving, that I should love myself, that I should forgive myself for the things that I had done to myself -- and then it just progressed from there.”
Working with unemployed aboriginal residents in Edmonton, Wieringa found the experience of helping others to look at themselves differently highly fulfilling.
When the opportunity to take part in an anger resolution program came up, she took the chance and applied the lessons to herself before further enhancing her skills through an advanced life skills course.
Her book did not start out as a serious project until her son told her, “It matters and you matter. But you’ve got to tell the whole story.”
Re-writing the book with more details and published it independently, Wieringa’s work led to her being named a recipient of the 2014 Esquao Award for arts and literature.
The author’s efforts to create a self-described Awareness Movement gained a significant boost when Midlite Powerline Construction offered to sponsor her for $25,000.
Taking her book on the road, Wieringa considers herself a woman on a mission. Among the positive responses, she cited one case in particular.
“I gave the book to a young woman in a drive-thru restaurant because she read my car and was very curious,” the author said. “I signed it, gave her my website address, and never heard anything for two weeks, and (then) I got a letter from her friend that said, ‘You just saved her life.’
“She said, ‘For the first time ever, she saw her life through the voice of somebody else and knew she wasn’t alone’ and stopped cutting herself and stopped contemplating suicide, and now she’s in therapy because she got it.”
Wieringa is currently writing a follow-up, I Killed The Boogeyman, that details a four-step healing program for abuse victims -- “see it, feel it, own it and move on.”
“I just want victims to know that they don’t have to be victims anymore, that we can think about ourselves differently,” she said.
“Once we think about ourselves differently, then our whole world changes.”
Copies of I Never Lied are available for purchase at www.ineverlied.ca.