How do you move on from trauma?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

This week Insight examines how you move forward  from a traumatic event - what helps and what doesn’t when you’re trying to put yourself back together again.

According to experts, 70 per cent of us experience trauma in one way or another and most people recover through their own resources. Ten percent of those people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but in rape victims and people who have experienced the horrors of war the incidence of PTSD can be as high as 30-40 per cent.

We explore trauma recovery by speaking with Susan Berg,  who at the age of 15 was the sole survivor of a boating accident that claimed her parents and brother. Wracked by survivor’s guilt, Susan began to rebel against the world. Now 46, we find out why it took her decades to forgive herself.

We meet Manny Waks, a sexual abuse survivor who shattered a powerful code of silence in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In mid-2011 Manny went public about being sexually abused at the religious school across the road from where he lived. For his courage in speaking out, Manny and his family were intimidated and shunned by their community. Manny is now a tireless advocate for victims of child sexual abuse and we learn why this has slowed his recovery.

We gain a deeper understanding of extreme trauma with Yordanos Haile-Michael, who survived rape, torture and being forced to serve as a child soldier in Eritrea after being kidnapped off the street at age 5. Yordanos recently broke her silence about her past in a powerful documentary and stage play called The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, which she credits with taking 50 per cent of her trauma away.

And we get to know Doug Wright and Clyde Rowley, two men who collided in a devastating road accident in 2012. Despite years of arduous recovery and the breakdown of his marriage, Doug has faced his recovery with positivity while Clyde, who caused the accident, has spiralled into depression and guilt. We examine why two men involved in the same event can have such different reactions to trauma.

After the unimaginable events our guests have experienced, we ask them how they view themselves, victim or survivor? And does that language and what it symbolises matter on the road to recovery? 

 

Credits 

 

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Transcript

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome everyone, good to have you with us. Susan, here's a photo of you with your mum and your dad and your brother, I think you were fifteen when that was taken in the backyard? 

SUSAN:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was your life like then, who was that girl, what was she like?

SUSAN:  Innocent in comparison to what she was in the years later. But I grew up in a very close family so I was happy and safe. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And positive in your outlook? 

SUSAN:  Absolutely, so my parents had brought me up to, you know, be really comfortable within yourself and to have your own opinions and to, you know, voice your own thoughts. I loved life back then, it was terrific. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   We have another photo here.  What are you doing here? 

SUSAN:  So we went out in the boat twice, the first time which is this time, it actually broke down while we were…

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is the family boat? 

SUSAN:  Yes, this is the family both, yeah. And it broke down while we were out there and dad had to, we had to get towed back in and dad took it back to the boat builder who said it was in A1 condition and the next time we took it out it sank. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So tell us about what happened that day.  Was there a sense that second time you took it out that anything might go wrong? 

SUSAN:  No, and you know, as we were heading out I actually turned to mum and said to her do you feel nervous, you know, being out on the boat seeing first time it had broken down and she just said no, I feel quite safe now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you were with your mum, your dad? 

SUSAN:  And my brother. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And your brother. When did you realise that something was seriously wrong that day? 

SUSAN:  We went out late in the afternoon and fished for possibly about two, two hours or so, and then we were rocketing back over the waves to head back in as it was starting to get dark and I was the one driving the boat and the power suddenly cut.  And my brother turned around and yelled out that there was water in the boat. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And the boat was taking water really quickly? 

SUSAN:  Really quickly.  Like Bill got a bucket and tried to bail it, it went within like thirty seconds.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what time of day was it when that happened?  

SUSAN:  Oh, this is like 7 o'clock at night so it was, by the time we'd turned it over and were trying to do up each other's life jackets, it was dark. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Doug, what was your life like before the 18th of September 2012? 

DOUG:  Um, pretty good, yeah, I worked in the mining industry, fly in, fly out, seven days on, seven days off, and I had three beautiful children. Thought I had a really good marriage as well. Things were going very, very well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How active were you? 

DOUG:  Very. Danced, danced, you know, practiced once a week and danced on the weekends. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You were driving on an outback road? 

DOUG:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Straight as a dye on that day in September 2012. It was around 6 am? 

DOUG:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened? 

DOUG:  Um, I was veering around a slight bend and out of the corner of my eye I saw a vehicle approaching and I'd just put the vehicle into, into cruise control so I'm doing about 100 kilometres an hour and I just saw this vehicle out of the corner of my eye veer off the side of the road and it sort of fishtailed a little bit and I thought oh, God, this isn't quite right. And I thought it's coming up to a culvert and I thought oh this guy's going to go across the culvert and have a crash. Next thing I notice bang, he's hit me.

JENNY BROCKIE:   How fast were you both going when it happened? 

DOUG:  About 100 K's each. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you collided head on? 

DOUG:  Head on, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what happened to you? You were trapped in your truck? 

DOUG:  Yeah, I was trapped for about three and a half hours so it took Emergency Services, took the Ambulance Service about oh, 45 minutes to get there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I mean the truck just looked extraordinary? 

DOUG:  Absolutely, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And so in those three and a half hours, what sort of things went through your mind? 

DOUG:  Ha, ha. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I mean presumably you were in a lot of pain? 

DOUG:  I was, yes, that was biggest thing, you know, the pain and I was sort of hanging out the door.  So the door, that door it opened and I was hanging out the door and I couldn't get comfortable because what had happened was the dash had pushed against my leg and it had broken my hip so it was pushing all the time and I couldn't get any weight off it.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you think about things during that time? 

DOUG:  Yeah, I thought about my kids, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And when you were finally freed from that truck, what sort of injuries did you have? 

DOUG:  Um, so I had three broken ribs, from the waist down I had an open book pelvis so the pelvis was busted in half. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Split in half? 

DOUG:  Split in half, yes.  I probably had thirty or forty fractures on the right leg, the right ankle was gone as well and as well as the left ankle, had a broken leg on the left. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how many hours of operations did you end up with? 

DOUG:  About 120. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Susan, the boat you were on that day when it sank, what happened after that? 

SUSAN:  We, we left the boat or the hull of the boat and dad got into difficulty pretty soon afterwards so my brother went to help dad, which mum didn't want him to, she wanted him to go ahead and save himself but you know, he refused, he said dad needed his help. I told mum to keep up with me but I just was getting further and further ahead so…

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is trying to swim to shore.  How far were you from the shore? 

SUSAN:  About three and a half kilometres. But I got further ahead from mum and in the end said that I'd go ahead for help so over the next hour I lost contact with all of them. Initially mum and I would yell out to each other but yeah, after an hour I realised I hadn't heard from her for a while and I turned around and it was like the moon just started at me and shone out on the water and all you could see was waves and nothing. I couldn't see them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you made it to shore? 

SUSAN:  Eventually, it took a long time, I had different obstacles to go through in the process such as at one stage I had all these birds that were just circling above me and screeching and I was sure that they were waiting for the sharks to attack me.  So I got, I just had to tell myself to keep on getting through that, not to think about the sharks. But then it got to the point where the water did get shallow, but it was, I tried to walk but the mud was too thick so I had to crawl.  Eventually I got to a sand bank and yelled out to my family that if they  could make it to the sand bank that they could rest but I didn't hear anything further from them so I had to get off the sand bank and keep swimming and…

JENNY BROCKIE:  And this is all in the dark? 

SUSAN:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you got to an island and you found a house? 

SUSAN:  I did.   I managed to get onto land and it ended up being French Island. So basically a deserted old prison island that only sixty people lived there so I was very lucky to find a house in about two or three kilometres. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And then you got help and then you…

SUSAN:  Yes, then they called the emergency services and they came over in the helicopter and they took me up to see if I could locate them in the water, which I couldn't. So then they took me back to Hastings Police Station. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened to your parents and your brother? 

SUSAN:  Um, it was, the Coroner said they had all drowned. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   They were found the next morning? 

SUSAN:  Found the next morning.  So mum first at about 7 am, she was found on Crawfish Rocks and dad and Bill were found an hour, an hour and a half afterwards within a kilometre of each other. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you were a sole survivor at fifteen? 

SUSAN:  Yes, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And where did that leave you compared to that girl we saw in that earlier picture? 

SUSAN:  Oh, she's a totally different girl. I, from there, I suffered from survivor guilt. I felt it was my fault that my family had died considering I was the one that was driving the boat at the time it sank, considering that I'd left them to go ahead for help and I couldn't find them from the helicopter and that I'd been the one to live. Yeah, I just, went on this huge guilt trip. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Manny, here's a photo of you at eleven with your siblings. What sort of kid were you at that stage? 

MANNY:   A typical child who was raised in an ultra-orthodox environment in which we grew up. I have sixteen brothers and sisters, I'm the second oldest, the oldest boy, so there was always chaos and things happening around the house, never a dull moment and generally very positive, very happy type of child. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And it was very tight knit community that ultra orthodox community, yeah? 

MANNY:   Absolutely, it's very closed.  We generally interact with each other only, with gentiles you only really interact in the bank, in the Post Office, just necessities. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How many trust did you place then in the leaders in that community? 

MANNY:   You trust any Rabbi, any elder, anyone who is older than you really in that community, that's what you're raised to believe and to follow. So certainly there was a lot of respect.

JENNY BROCKIE:   When did that change for you? 

MANNY:   It's a good question because it didn't necessarily change immediately after or at the time of the sexual abuse that I endured by two different paedophiles within the institution. But at the age of eleven or twelve, that's when the first perpetrator struck and he used to read the bible every week in synagogue where I used to go and there was a grooming process, I didn't understand what that was back then. Now I understand and ultimately he sexually abused me the first time inside a synagogue on a very holy night when you're supposed to be staying up studying the bible. 

And then about six months later David Cyprus was the security guard, a karate teacher, really probably a hero for many younger, you know, early teenage kids who look at him, he used to fight off the anti-Semites and the like.  He sexually abused me many, many, many times. Mostly on the lower end of the scale, just molestation over the clothes, but then it did escalate with the most significant incident that I remember where I blacked out, was inside the male ritual bath called the michva, again it's supposed to be a whole spiritual experience, instead it was anything but. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how did you change as a child during that period compared to that boy we saw before all that happened? 

MANNY:   I rebelled in the home and at school.  I was never a model student or a model child but I was certainly someone who was, who was okay and reasonable and my whole attitude towards religion, towards the Rabbi, towards the leaders, towards my family, everything changed.  I forced myself to, to give up as much as I could from the religion, I used to force myself to desecrate the Sabbath. I forced myself to eat non-kosher food even though it disgusted me but I was just so angry and at that time I didn't really, I wasn't mature enough to reflect on what I was angry at or who I was angry, and it was really just instinctive response to a very difficult situation. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Yordy, you grew up in Eritrea, what happened to you when you were about four? 

YORDANOS:  My father killed my mum and then I was in the street from early on, in my childhood and  then I was kidnapped so I couldn't, I'm trying to work out in my mind did I meant to have mum and dad or did I meant to have, how I been here or who am I? Like what…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well you were tiny, how old were you, four or five? 

YORDANOS:  I could be four, I have, I mean now that I done a lot of healing, I can reflect back.  I knew from early on that I was really searching to what is happening here, it feel is not right. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tell me a little bit about that time because you were held by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front for ten years, around ten years? 

YORDANOS:  Ten or more, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was going on during that time? How were you treated and what were you being made to do? 

YORDANOS:  Well, I mean there's a place that took us a lot of children, I'm not the only one, we are thousands of us.  So what happened is they would train us according to what they want you to be. They can train you to be a nurse, they can train you to be anything that they think you can be useful, but sexual abuse, it is a daily thing.

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is from the time you were how old? 

YORDANOS:  Oh, very little, very little, the time that I can remember.  My sexual abuse actually start from very much early. And the day that I was kidnapped by them, that's where it start, by the same man for five years by him and then I was controlled only by him. He make sure that he takes me with him if he's travelling, he was one of the leaders, and then if he's not around then I will be exposed to the rest of them. I thought I couldn't fight any more, even internally because I was so confused because it start very early and I start to feel well, maybe that's what it's supposed to be. I don't know. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You had nothing to measure it against? 

YORDANOS:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   As a child? 

YORDANOS:  No.

JENNY BROCKIE:   You've described about trying to be outside yourself a bit during that time to survive in your head. Can you explain that a little bit to me, what …

YORDANOS:  Well, I think I can see that something is not right here. The only way I can escape it was I run away from them and I stay in the bush for three days or something and then I get hungry and then I come back, but when they start, especially the verbal abuse that I usually just let it go. They can call me as much they want to call me, I don't let it in, and then I become like my own best friend kind of thing and I become quite imaginative in my head and then they usually punishment as well they will wake me up at 4 o'clock and they will ask me to go to fetch water. So if you're going to fetch water it's like it takes up one hour to go down the hills and then to come back will take me the same thing. So what happened was I make my own friends with the trees, I just go down and then there's specific trees in that area, I will be sitting down and it feels really beautiful and I felt like I was understood by those three trees. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  There were pregnancies and abortions during that time. Did you understand what was going on in your body?

YORDANOS:  No, but what happened was I will be lying down, there's woman's and men’s and they will do whatever they need to and mind you they don't give you pain killer or anything, and then after whatever they have done, they will view us to sit in the corner and I hadn't seen, there is no emotion, there is no explanation.  I don't know what is happening, what is, what they took.

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you when you had your daughter? 

YORDANOS:  I think I was fourteen or fifteen when I have my daughter. They try to do the same thing so he took me to Sudan and he asked the doctor.  Look, I want to abort the baby and the doctor said no, she's seven months pregnant and they will both died and then he said well, just let them survived. And I just totally wanted, I really wanted, once he said that they can die I really want to die. I just asked the doctor to get it done, I really want to go. I couldn't see any life for her or me anyway and then he refused, so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you had your daughter, what happened after that? 

YORDANOS:  When I had my daughter and then he didn't want me afterwards. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is the man that had taken you? 

YORDANOS:  Yeah, he didn't care whether, what happened to her or to me. So he asked me to go to, to the border which is the opposition we were fighting. I was quite shocked that he, knowingly he will want me to go to the opposition with the child and so I refused. That's the first time that I stood for him and I say no, I'm not going. And then he felt quite of shamed among his friends and he said oh, well, you know, I got a sister, she might be willing to take you in and then I say yes.  And when I went there I was massively rejected and outcast by his family, but what I chose to do was I could not see any life my daughter with me and I chose to leave her there with them and then I escaped from there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yordy, you eventually arrived in New Zealand as a refugee? 

YORDANOS:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was that like, arriving in New Zealand? 

YORDANOS:  Well it felt like almost like I'm in heaven but I don't know what to do with this heaven, you know, I don't know, what does it mean? So I know that I'm free now, I'm not worrying for the basic need, food and clothes or housing, but I didn't know what to do so really, I felt lost because I don't, I'm not numb, I can feel now. But what I am feeling is, it's confusing, it's a lot of pain and I couldn't relate with anyone. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you tell anyone when you went to New Zealand about what you'd been through? 

YORDANOS:  No, no, no, I couldn't. First of all I didn't know that you meant to tell anyone or who I supposed to tell?

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you when you arrived in New Zealand? 

YORDANOS:   I think I was nineteen. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You then moved to Australia? 

YORDANOS:  Mmm. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You've seen a counsellor in Australia for seven years?

YORDANOS:  Mmm. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you tell that counsellor about the sexual assaults that you'd been through? 

YORDANOS:  I think when I started to see counselling first in Australia it was more about my daughter and the search for my daughter.  I was like, I would probably bring up about my mum or what happened to me not knowing my parents but that was lost and I will go back to the loss of my daughter to how to find my daughter.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you think about what had happened to you very much even though you weren't telling people about what had happened to you? You hadn't told anyone, had you?

YORDANOS:  I think I was massive rage, I was so angry that I couldn't understand me. It's like life becomes so hard because I didn't get a chance of education so everything is really struggle for me trying to.  So I was angry with my own mind actually why can't you get things going? What's wrong with you? I didn't think about it, I didn't, I didn't connect things because of this is this. I just thought I was a problem and trying to, so I wasn't kind to me for a long time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You weren't kind to yourself? 

YORDANOS:  No, no. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Manny, did you tell anyone about your abuse, about what had happened to you? 

MANNY:   I told a close friend of mine, my closest friend at the time after the first abuse with the first perpetrator and he betrayed me and went to tell classmates and the reason the way I knew that is because I used to get to the school and suddenly I was being bullied and being teased for being gay.  I was called a poofter, I was called faggot, those types of words, and to me it was simply I was very confusing. I mean some of the things that we heard now resonate with me.  I felt a lot of guilt, especially because there were two perpetrators so it was really about what did I do for the first one and now there's a second guy as well? I didn't quite understand what, maybe it's me that's doing something inviting it. But by the time the second person came, I kept it very quiet about Cyprus and didn't share it to anyone, with anyone. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what were you like then as a teenager, holding that secret? 

MANNY:   It was very tough, it was very tough, there was a lot of anger, substance abuse, obviously not studying, not interested in studying. I left school, the general studies at the age of twelve, my parents thoughts that maybe I need, with the support of the Rabbis and the leaders to get me back on track is to give me more religious studies so I was sent for six months to Israel to study in an a religious institution and then I came back, that's all, I didn't do any maths, English, science or any of those subjects, it was just bible, Talmud, all those types of religious texts and of course that didn't quite work out because that wasn't the issue.  It wasn't about making me more religious it was just I was rebelling and angry about what was going on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Susan, the trauma you went through was very public, losing your parents and your brother in that accident. What happened immediately afterwards?

SUSAN:  Um, with the media, they, yeah, picked up on it basically straight away. So leaving the police station, there was cameras and photographers straight outside waiting to capture it all and news cameras even turned up to the funeral to show our devastation to the rest of the world. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now you had other siblings.  Did you have other family members who gathered around you at that time? 

SUSAN:  I had two siblings and yes, we were all close at that time. We have since all gone our separate ways from each other.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was going on inside your mind? 

SUSAN:  Oh, I was, I was just, I was just a shattered shell really. I just wanted to go home, you know, I just, I had this thing in my mind which obviously is not able to happen but you know, I'd pick up the phone and I'd ring home and hope that mum would answer just, you know, so I could hear her voice and I'd look at photos and close my eyes and hope that when I opened them it was all just a bad dream. I just wanted to go home.

JENNY BROCKIE:   You'd been religious before this happened? 

SUSAN:  Church every Sunday without fail. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And afterwards? 

SUSAN:  Well, this is where I tried to bargain with God and said you know, I'd commit my life to him if he just returned my family to me. Because mum and dad had basically said that, that God could perform miracles, even ones that seemed totally impossible.  So I figured that God might be able to return them but he didn't and I'd also been told that what happened in life was God's wish. So if he wished my family dead, then I decided I had absolutely no interest, or I don't know if it's no interest, I just lost faith in there being a God. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about you Manny? 

MANNY:   I'm more agnostic than I am atheist.  In some ways it's really a way to stay on God's good side in case he exists but I'm looking for some meaningful examples of you know, proof does he really exist? But it really no longer plays a major point in my life. I'm not interested.  I've seen a lot of hypocrisy and all the other issues that are involved. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Susan, you were a teenager of course at this stage when this happened. What sort of teenager did you become after that? 

SUSAN:  Incredibly rebellious. At the age of fifteen I was out hitting the nightclubs, drinking to excess and taking party drugs, that was possibly five nights a week and I lost my virginity and then used sex as a way to feel loved. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And where did all that of leave you and how did it leave you feeling about yourself? 

SUSAN:  In the end I just lost all self-respect for myself and this just put me in another downward spiral because I didn't like who I was. I didn't, I didn't like me anymore and the thing is I'd been brought up to love who you are as a person and all of a sudden I despised myself and I think you know this is where the thoughts of suicide and stuff came in. Basically, if I'd died I wouldn't have cared. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Doug, you were in very different circumstances? 

DOUG:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you know, an intense trauma, I mean a huge trauma for you. While you were trapped in that truck for that three and a half hours, the other driver tried to talk to you while you were there. How did you react at the time? 

DOUG:  I wasn't very complimentary. No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did you say? 

DOUG:  I told him to fuck off. Um, yeah, no, like it was…

JENNY BROCKIE:  How long did you stay angry like that?

DOUG:  Um, I probably only stayed angry for that day I think, I was only angry for that day.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And during all that time in hospital what was going on in your head? 

DOUG:  I always wanted to get in touch with him but the lawyers said not to. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Four years after that horrible road accident? 

DOUG:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You reached out to the driver of the other car? 

DOUG:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why? 

DOUG:  Because it's all about forgiveness as far as I'm concerned. I'd forgiven him anyway for the action, he didn't, you know, I knew that he didn't actually mean to do what he'd done. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Well no one was found to be at fault in the situation? 

DOUG:  Absolutely right, absolutely right. So it just one of these freak things, you know, wrong place, wrong time, it can happen. So I, and forgiving him I felt a sense of relief anyway within myself. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And Clyde, you were that other driver? 

CLYDE:  Yep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you'd been wanting to talk to Doug as well? 

CLYDE:  Yeah, yeah, for a long, even the day or the day after the accident, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   The day after he told you to F off? 

CLYDE:  Yeah, yeah.  As I was leaving hospital I was asking how he was but, yeah, they wouldn't tell me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now you had injuries too but nothing like his? 

CLYDE:  Nothing like Doug's, no. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What had those four years been like for you? 

CLYDE:  It affected me physically just with pain, like chronic pain, and mentally was, yeah, it's just, um, something you think of every day, you know, and what could have…

JENNY BROCKIE:   You blamed yourself, didn't you? 

CLYDE:  I did, yes, I, every day I was blaming myself and I would ask what I'd done wrong or what I should have done to avoid that.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So even though you'd found, you'd been found not to be at fault in the accident? 

CLYDE:  Yep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You were blaming yourself, but quite intensely. Can you describe what it was like, how difficult it got for you? 

CLYDE:  Um, it was hatred, like I hated myself, I hated what I'd done. There was, yeah, depression, anxiety, suicide, like attempted suicides, just, yeah, not wanting, if it wasn't for my family then I probably wouldn't be here. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tracy, you're Clyde's wife, what was it like?  

TRACY:  Yeah, it was hard, yeah, it still is. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How different was he to the man before the accident had happened? 

TRACY:  Um, we're not so carefree any more. We're just become very reserved, not as active, not as young, aged really quickly. Not aged physically but mentally.Like still took the bin out, still helped carry the groceries in, you know, all of that stuff but the stuff where you, you know, go to the park and you kick the ball or so we don't go to the park or hey, things like that.  I don't know, you always ask yourself what if this or what if that. Doug says wrong place wrong time and I seem to think sometimes well, what if Doug was in the right place at the right time? Because if Doug wasn't there, what would have happened? So the what if!

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yes, the what ifs? 

TRACY:  Yeah, you know, what if Doug didn't call him last year, you know? Maybe Doug's our angel, I don't know. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Clyde, you had been wanting to talk to Doug but did you talk to anyone else in that four years before you managed to talk to Doug? 

CLYDE:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   No one? 

CLYDE:  No, no one. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you kept all of that? 

CLYDE:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Inside? 

CLYDE:  Yeah. I couldn't talk about it.  I'd avoid it, if people asked how you were or would ask about it, I would avoid to talk about it, I would avoid people so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you made contact with him and the two of you had a Skype conversation four years after the accident which was recorded for a short film on road trauma? 

DOUG:  That's correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Let's have a look. 

 

 

VIDEO PLAYED. 

 

DOUG:  So, it’s the first time that I have spoken to him.

CLYDE:  Hello.

DOUG:  Hi, how are you going?

CLYDE:  Good, how are you?

DOUG:  Very, very well. Thanks very much for chatting with me today mate, really appreciate it.

CLYDE:  No worries at all.

DOUG:  I think we can both benefit from this, I think, you know…

CLYDE:  Yeah.

DOUG:  Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions, or…

CLYDE:  Yeah, yeah.

DOUG:  How did your life change?

CLYDE:  It’s something I think about every day, it’s like… what I should have done different. Ahmm, for the last four years I have, I’ve felt like shit, you know, I’ve hated myself, I feel responsible and I think what actions I would have done to change what had happened.

DOUG:  So, do you think it will help with you talking to me?

CLYDE:  Yeah, I don’t think it will do any worse.

DOUG:  Ha,ha,ha, ha, ha. So you don’t want actually come up and give you a hug actually, shake your hand. Look, these things happen mate, you know at the end of the day, and if I can help you in any small way to get you to overcome what you’ve been through mate, you know, I’d be honoured.

CLYDE:  Yeah, thanks.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   An extraordinary conversation. Clyde, what happened after that?  That was so painful for you clearly to have that conversation, but what was the effect it had? 

CLYDE:  Um, it did help a lot. Knowing that Doug didn't have any hatred there towards me, like um, changed the way I thought a lot. The fact that he didn't hold me responsible for what had happened was a big change. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Doug, what about you? 

DOUG:  Well it was a relief for me because I'd been wanting to connect with Clyde for such a long time and it's such a relief to be able to talk to someone about it anyway and I'd spoken, I'd spoken about my experiences anyway.  So I was totally different in the way that I approached the way I got over the trauma. I spoke to people about my trauma, I didn't bottle it up so that's the way I overcame. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well you actually planned all of that when you were in hospital too? 

DOUG:  Yeah.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   You thought a lot about how you were going to deal with it, yeah? 

DOUG:  Absolutely.  Probably the third week in I'm thinking there's something got to come out of this. What can I do to help other people overcome trauma? So then I thought well I can actually start something here, why can't I start a business where I'm speaking to people about trauma and speaking to road, you know, trauma survivors.  What, you know, what's the common thing we've got going and it was trauma. 

 

VIDEO PLAYED.

 

YORDANOS:  I loved my neck because it was never touched.

WOMAN:  I love my eyes and ears because they tell me where is danger.

WOMAN 2:  And my legs, they were strong, they could run me away.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's you and three other women, refugee women on stage in a play called the Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe.  Why did you decide to tell your story finally for the first time that way?  

YORDANOS:  I was looking for a place to be accepted or to be understood or because I didn't feel I have sense of community, even if I do I know that I'm kind of outcast.  And then I was seeing counsellor at the time and I really want to do my book, I want to write my book, and she say well, you know, there's a lady that you should be meeting and then I did. Just she's here now, Ros. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ros, you were that woman, this play was your idea and you've got a long history in theatre. Where did the idea come from for a play like this?

ROS:  Well I evolved gradually let me say. What it became was not where I started but I just personally felt so disturbed by constantly reading about the abuse of women and violence against women, I decide I'd wanted to make a piece of theatre on this issue somehow. I went to that counselling service and Yordy's counsellor at the time said to me oh, I've got somebody who's been sitting here saying a bit like what Manny said, you know, if only there was some way I could turn the horrors of what's happened to me into something, or Doug said, you know, that can help other people?

So I thought I met these separate women and all of them had said I've never been able to speak about this in my community or in my family, I've never been able to share the story and I just thought well the best thing to do was to bring them together and set up a workshop where we could become a kind of family. I think that's what Yordy's referring to and create a kind of safe trusting place.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Were you worried about the effect it might have on them of telling those stories publicly for the first time? 

ROS:  Yes, absolutely.  As I said it evolved gradually, I just started off thinking I want to learn from these women and draw out the kind of core themes from their stories and I will create a work about it. But the more I worked with them, the more I became incredibly, you know, engaged and drawn to them and felt such respect for their resilience and their dignity and grace, I started to think it could be amazing to put them on stage as well. So it was a very slow two year process. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what effect did doing it have on you? 

YORDANOS:  Oh, boy, it felt first like almost like I'm sent to hell, you know, like I'm just saying aloud.  To hear it was like, and I question a lot did this happen? Did I make this up or what is what?

JENNY BROCKIE:   But what about inside yourself, did it change anything?

YORDANOS:  Oh massively, massive shift. First of all, you know, that I have, I have sense of love and respect for myself. I don't have the feeling I am bad.  Bad thing happened to me but I don't feel that I am shame, I don't have the shame that I carried for years.  It's different, a good shame and a bad shame. And also huge faith that you can actually recover and I, and I think I play from that side of me.  So that's, I mean what price can I put to that? What can I say? How can I tell you to, to explain what I feel now as a person than what I was then years or even five years? So to me was, I think it took my trauma by, it make it lesser for me too.  I still see therapy, of course I do for different reasons but to say it aloud was I regain my voice, to speak it out. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You got your voice back? 

YORDANOS:  My voice back, absolutely I got my voice back. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Andrea, you're a psychologist who specialises in treating trauma. You've been listening to all these stories.  What do we know about what works, what actually helps people to recover from major trauma? 

ANDREA:  Can I firstly say thank you all so much for speaking.  I think what we've heard tonight has been really remarkable, completely different experiences and it really highlights that we talk about trauma as though it's one thing, but it's so many different things that what we know about treatment and the common element of treatment is that talking about the experience, talking through in detail what's happened, all of the person's responses to that, the meanings that they've taken from it, and until someone finds a safe place, usually, you know, in a therapy situation, but it might be with a family member or in a drama situation, it is about finding that safe place where you feel that you can actually confront the memory, rather than trying to push it aside and not think about it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Susan, it's thirty years since that boating accident. What's helped you? 

SUSAN:  Oh, time is one thing that has helped me. The birth of my son, that was a huge turning point for me, he gave me a family to belong to again and a reason to live, so I think that was my first thing. He gave me a reason to live. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Just two months ago you took on a very big challenge? 

SUSAN:  I did. 

 

VIDEO PLAYED. 

 

SUSAN: It filled me with fear for thirty years, I liked nothing about the open water and even the sound of it to me was a distressing sound. Being in the water for three and a half hours on the night of the accident and since then I just hate being surrounded by water. It was something that was tragic, I lost my parents and my brother in water.

I was actually challenged by a friend of mine to do this race, knowing my fear, he challenged me to swim the biggest ocean swim in the world.

MAN:  All the best.

SUSAN:  Thank you very much, thank you.

MAN:  You’ll do well.

SUSAN: The last time I ever saw my family was out in the water, so being out there and doing  this today, it feels like it’s kind of you know, reuniting with them.

MAN:  One minute, out on the water, one minute. The next sound you’ll hear will be the gun.

SUSAN:  I really think that they will be really proud of me, I’ve done so many things in my life that they would not of been proud of, I think that they would be realising how much I have really got my life on track over the years and I think they will be swimming alongside of me.

So beautiful in the water today, you know, great conditions and a perfect event too, you know I’ve started my new sporting career. I never thought I would get to this point, you know it seemed unrealistic, it just seemed too far out of reach, so it’s so great to finally be here.

SON:  I’m very proud.

SUSAN:  Thanks honey.

SON: A lot of effort, twelve months, eighteen months of hard swimming.

SUSAN:  He thought I was crazy getting up every morning at 5.30.

SON:  Very proud, very proud.

SUSAN:  He was brought up without the beach, sorry about that sweetheart.

SON:  It’s alright.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you feel about that now?  What, what made you do that, that particular thing? 

SUSAN:  Well I wouldn't have done it except that I was challenged to do it and, you know, to face my fear. So wow, it's been incredible, the feeling of facing your greatest fear and being able to overcome it, it's empowering, you know, and as I said then, it feels like I'm being reunited with my family every time that I'm out in the water. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you stop a traumatic event from defining the rest of your life? 

SUSAN:  By choice, that was…

JENNY BROCKIE:   You think it's a choice? 

SUSAN:  Well it was a choice for me and it did get to the point where I just, I made a choice and I decided right, I'm going to stop being a victim and I'm going to enjoy every day. Life is short, life is short and so we have the choice of whether we sit there and we're the victim and we live a happy or sorry, unhappy lonely poor me kind of life or we choose to put it behind us and look for the positive things in life and become happy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do the rest of you think of that? 

DOUG:  Absolutely, absolutely the same. 

MANNY:  I would say it's not quite that simple.  Firstly we were talking before about the impact on victims and survivors.  As a victim advocate myself I interact with hundreds of those who've experienced child sexual abuse from around the world and one thing I've learned is there is no one person that feels exactly the same to their experience. But back to the issue of stopping it defining you, I guess I'm in a bit of a different situation in that I've gone on to become a victim advocate and I deal with this issue, I've immersed myself in this issue so I never got therapy for many years, I never dealt with this issue, so I mean for me I've only started going to therapy properly about just over a year ago and now I'm in psychotherapy four times a week and it's a struggle.

And we're talking about, you know, the difference between victim survivor thriver, that's people told me when I started speaking out, I used to refer to myself as a victim of child sexual abuse. I remember this other major victim advocate from the US contacted me on Facebook and she said don't call yourself a victim, you're not a victim, you're a survivor. And then some time afterwards you're not just a survivor you're a thriver because you're doing all this. And I'm just firstly very uncomfortable with all the different labels and especially from the Jewish community perspective, growing up a survivor meant a survivor of the Holocaust.  I never, ever regard myself as a survivor. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So that word has quite a heavy connotation? 

MANNY:   That's right, and a thriver is to too hippy for me. It's really more about, I try and …

JENNY BROCKIE:   Does language matter? 

MANNY:   Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When you're in situations like the four of you have been through?

DOUG:   I'm not a victim, I call myself a survivor. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yordy?

YORDANOS:  I don't call any of it. I don't really care to be honest, I don't, I mean I've been told many, many times in my therapy she will say to you me you are a survivor and I just feel, you know, sometimes I feel that or sometimes I don't. 

MANNY:  Yordy, can I ask you, do you feel at any stage that you can genuinely get over it and put it all behind you? 

YORDANOS:  I don't think that will ever happen. What I will say though is now I know it is there with me, I can park it there and then every morning wakes up with me. It really does and I just say no thank you, I got breakfast to do for my, because I actually literally say to myself. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You have a conversation with yourself? 

YORDANOS:  Yeah, definitely I say that and then I have time that I wake up at 5 o'clock, 5 o'clock in the morning, I meditate and then it almost visit my brain it's time, it comes before my, before I'm up, I have this, my brain that it goes that place and I have to say literally no, I'm not going there, I'm here now, I'm not there.

JENNY BROCKIE:   How are you all doing now do you think? Manny, how are you doing? 

MANNY:  If I'm being honest I think in the last two years I've been at my lowest ever. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think that is? 

MANNY:   I think a lot of it has caught up with me, I wasn't protecting myself as I should have and I was warned many times about doing that and I thought I did, I went for debriefing.  As Doug said before, you know, I think it was a question about what made you go through it that helped you, the children. At my lowest when I thought, I mean so often I've thought about the fact I just want to be dead or just actually do it, to commit suicide, suicide ideation and the like, it's very confronting but what always gets me out of there are my children because they need a father and I mean certainly I have to tell myself secondary that the community still needs me and it's important work and all of that, but it's the kids.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you are getting help for yourself?

MANNY:   Yes, four times a week, psychoanalyses, I also started taking medication about half a year ago so that's very new for me and it's still confronting.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Susan, how are you doing now? 

SUSAN:  Oh, great for me. I think the last two years I think since putting everything, my story down on paper, that was like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I was able to put my past behind me. Obviously it is still a part of my life so I can feel vulnerable and get a bit teary at times when I'm reliving it, but on a day-to-day basis, I'm the happiest I've ever been in the last two years. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Clyde, how are you going? 

CLYDE:  Yeah, good now. No, especially after speaking with Doug at the end of last year, things, they did get pretty low but, yeah, life’s good. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you're doing some therapy now? 

CLYDE:  Yeah, yep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And is that helping? 

CLYDE:  It does, yeah, yeah, and also on medication as well for depression and anxiety, so that does help. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Doug, what about you, how are you going? 

DOUG:  Yeah, I'm probably the happiest I've ever been in my life and I think the thing now is I'm making, hopefully I'm making a difference with regard to road trauma and the fact that, you know, we're make being it more aware in the community. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yordy, what about you, how are you going now? 

YORDANOS:  I think the same. I am the happiest I have never been. You know, I can learn now, my brain's able to, I'm doing courses at TAFE and…

JENNY BROCKIE:   What are you studying? 

YORDANOS:  What I'm studying for aged care for certificate 3 for nursing but also I'm doing computer training. So for years I tried but there's nothing coming in, I feel like I'm blocked where now it's clear, I can see that it's kind of, I can do this. But also doing the show and being with the sense of community that I am in, the most important for me was to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted, to be believed. That is something that was hugely missing in my life and that is what I have now.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Thank you all so much for joining us, it's been a real privilege to hear your stories, very generous of you to share them with us, and that is all we have time for here but a lot to keep talking about on social media.  Thanks everybody. Thank you.