Sam's story of perseverance, grit, and ultimately, forgiveness

Sam’s story is one of perseverance, grit, and ultimately, forgiveness.

Most of what I am going to share of my childhood is based on bits and pieces of information I got from my files and what officers have told me. I don’t really have much memory of my childhood. Growing up, I lived with my mother and stepfather. When I was about 1 or 2 years old, my mother (who was mentally unstable at that time) had a big argument with my stepfather. The fight only stopped because my neighbours called the police after they realized that it was an ongoing domestic violence situation in my home. For my own safety, the authorities took me from my home and placed me in the care of my relatives, and eventually a registered babysitter. I lived with that babysitter till I started my first year in primary school and had a great relationship with them. Even up till now, I’m still in contact with them.

Eventually, my aunt and Uncle requested to take caretaking responsibilities for me, so I moved out of the babysitters’ home and into theirs. The authorities thought it would be good to reconnect with a part of my family again. At first, that period of stay was pretty decent, aside from the occasional bouts of my aunt hitting me due to how mischievous I was. But, in primary 3, my aunt burnt me on my left arm, resulting in second degree burns. When I went to school, the teachers noticed that the burn and told me that I could not go home. I was really confused as to why, but eventually they told me that I had to go see the school counselor. When I walked into the councilor’s room, I was completely taken aback. There were councilors, police officers and other authority figures waiting for me in there. They sent me to the hospital where I stayed for 3 entire months.  

I was moved out of that home and placed into the system, where I stayed at Home A till primary 6. I thought that I finally could get some semblance of peace and safety. I thought wrong. During my stay at Home A, my parents requested to take me home for a day (due to religious purposes). Home A asked if I was comfortable with that request and I agreed to it. They reassured me that should I become uncomfortable at any point of time, I could return to the home. What happened next was something that would scar me for the rest of my life. When I was with my parents, my stepfather tried to sexually assault me. The most egregious part of this is that my mother did not side with me. After the incident, I requested to leave and my parents agreed to take me back to Home A. We stopped at a 7-11 on the way back, and my stepfather offered to buy me whatever ice cream I wanted if I didn’t tell anyone what happened. This traumatic experience was a big part of why my memories of my childhood are repressed.

After a while, they moved me to the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre (DRTC), where I stayed for about 2years. On top of that, the staff at the DRTC made me feel safe and were very emotionally supportive. It got to the point where a fight broke out between myself and some residents because of how emotionally invested we were in our value coaches. In a space filled with women with nowhere to go and nothing to their names, we became extremely protective of our value coaches. They were just staff, but the amount of support and care they gave us made us incredibly emotionally invested in them.  

During the course of my stay, HCSA also tried to facilitate a better relationship between my family and I, which really did help. While my relationship with my parents started improving, my trust in them did not last very long. My father kept being very inappropriate with me while playing it off as casual fun.
After 2years, I graduated from DRTC and moved into a different Home, B, but the harassment from my stepfather continued. Whenever I would stay with my parents for homestay periods, my father would use greeting as an excuse to pressure me into getting close to him. On one of the nights I was staying at their place, I left my room door open while I was trying to get some sleep. My stepfather came in and sat by my bed to watch me sleep. I was extremely creeped out by him because of what had happened in the past, and also because he kept staring at me the entire time. I got up and asked him what he was doing, to which he replied that he was just watching over me. He asked that I went back to sleep, but I really couldn’t because of how creepy the entire interaction was. I pretended to fall asleep, and eventually left. At this point, I was 15 years old and capable of articulating how uncomfortable and unsafe I felt around my stepfather. I told Home B that I no longer wanted to stay in my parents’ home, and they agreed to cease the homestay period.

Bear in mind, all my past emotions and trauma were still with me, albeit repressed. The funny thing is, when I had a fight with a resident in Home B and hit my head pretty hard, I suddenly started recollecting these repressed memories. The doctor explained when children experience trauma, their brains tend to repress the traumatic experience in order to protect them. These memories can come back should there be a trigger. I guess that head trauma I got was my trigger point (which is hilariously dramatic to me). I was completely overwhelmed by it and started blaming myself for the incident. How could I have forgotten something so significant? I started spiraling, blaming myself for having not done anything about that incident. The depression that followed culminated in multiple suicide attempts which led to myself being requested to leave Home B due to them not having the facilities to take care of a high-risk resident.

Thankfully, HCSA DRTC took me back in the aftercare section. They had a specific section which was meant for alumni looking for a safe transitory space. I was there for a year and a half, and eventually felt that I was well enough to leave. I “self-discharged” (which was something that I was absolutely not supposed todo) and left the space. The next few years was just a blur of struggles –trying to find accommodation, meeting who I thought was the love of my life and getting cheated on, and trying to repair my relationship with my mother.

In the 2ndyear of my relationship, I called my mother and told her that I wanted to take her out for a meal. During our meal, I told her that I forgave her. Funnily enough, she didn’t reply at all. In fact, she just started crying, which was really embarrassing. From my point of view, my resentment for everything that happened to me laid with my mother because she was not the pillar of support that I needed. Instead, she was everything a daughter would have hated her mother to be. It took me a really long time to forgive her, and I decided that the best way to go about it was to tell her physically.

One day, I left the house and was shocked to find my mother waiting for me at the void deck of my home, distraught and in tattered clothing. She was carrying large bags and was holding onto her phone which was completely broken. She had bruises all over her face. To give context, my mother eventually divorced my stepfather and got married to another man. It dawned on me then that this man was extremely violent and had abused her. I immediately went over to the man’s house and phoned the police. One thing that completely caught me off guard was when the officer asked me if I was willing to take full caretaking responsibility for my mother. Begrudgingly, I told the officer that I was, and I would. Thankfully, I had quite a bit of savings from working and living independently. This allowed me to get a new place where my mum and I moved into. That didn’t last long though, as we were evicted in light of the pandemic. We couldn’t find a space and had to rent individual rooms for us to stay in.

Throughout that period of time, my mother had to grapple with her legal proceedings. The contention revolved around the rights to the home that she shared with my stepfather. Essentially, my aunt, who was one of the listed owners of that space, sold the house without giving my mother her fair share. My mother’s lack of English proficiency meant that I had to step in on her behalf because of the complications of the proceedings.  In one of these meetings, I met my stepfather again. You would think that meeting him would fill me with emotions of fear, resentment or even anger. But no, I instead just felt pity for him. Based on my sparse memory as a child, my stepfather was a big burly man. Now, he was a shell of what he once was. He was really skinny, fragile even, and very old. He was so much weaker than what I remembered, but then again, I only had an image of him from when I was very small. I found out then that he had finally decided to stay sober.

One thing about my trauma with my stepfather is that it was never explicitly addressed or even mentioned. I’ve wondered to myself if I was ok with that, and after deliberating and confiding in people, I realized that I preferred it that way. A big part of how I was able to move past from all that trauma was because of the work I put into myself. I didn’t tell my stepfather that I forgave him (as opposed to how that conversation went down with my mother), but instead told him that he was not the great father he thought he was. This came from our past where he would constantly remind me that he loved me despite me merely being his stepdaughter, as though it were some sort of privilege.

At the end of this legal battle, my aunt finally agreed to sell the home. But she dropped a bombshell that she no longer wanted to stay with my stepfather, rendering him homeless. I found it in me to try to care for him the way he never did for me. We had an agreement where I would let him stay in a 4-room flat I found if he does not touch alcohol and pays rent on time. My decision to take him in was born from my principles of being a Christian, and not because I was his stepdaughter.

Everything went smoothly for a month, then my stepfather started drinking again. I came to terms that he had his own demons to battle, and we agreed that he will not bring his drunkenness home. When he then started lagging behind on his payments, I had to ask him to leave because the house was no longer financially viable for me. I didn’t leave him on his lonesome, I found a halfway home for him. Recently, he started contacting me asking if he could come back home, but I don’t think I can find it in me to let him do that.

That is my story. Right now, there are a lot of aspects of my life that aren’t that great. But everyone has their problems, right? At least I’m doing what I love, which is working with children. My class is definitely one of my biggest loves. I absolutely adore all 43 of them. I’ve also just completed my property agent course and am waiting for the exam, which means that I’m about to do something else that I love that will also pay me better. I met someone who is really nice, which is a stark contrast to my past experiences with men. He supports and affirms me daily, which I really appreciate. I’ve also made a few very close friends. One of them was a resident at HCSA DRTC who has since graduated from the program as well. For me, it was the people that I met at DRTC that made me feel safe and comfortable. I still meet most of the staff that took care of us there at church.

A quote that someone once told me and has stuck with me was: “As long as you look at yourself as a victim, you will continue being one”. That quote made me realise that, yes, I am a victim, but I am also so much more than that. Being a victim is part of who I am, but not my entire identity. It made me realise I did not want to be a victim for the rest of my life.

HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre offers a caring, safe and therapeutic environment to help teenage girls who have suffered the complex trauma of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Through the application of effective clinical therapies, the centre strives to help these girls become healthy individuals who can successfully reintegrate into their schools, families and society.

In 2017, HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre successfully upgraded its quality of care by transiting to a Therapeutic Group Home service model for older girls with high needs and risks. The model consists of two evidence-based practices namely Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) and Residential Management System (RMS).

As of August 2020, HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre is a certified Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) organisation.