Natasha Benjamin, 34, lives in East London and is the Founder of Free Your Mind, a charity that supports children of domestic violence.
Growing up as a child of domestic violence, I can’t remember ever not feeling depressed. From the age of six, I witnessed my stepfather abuse my mum, and had felt helpless and afraid. As an only child, I become even more isolated for fear of any serious repercussions. When I was nine, my step-granddad asked me if my stepfather beat my mum and I told him no as I was so scared of saying the wrong thing and I just wanted to keep mum safe. But I carried the guilt with me right up until adulthood because I didn’t speak up at the time.
As I hit my early twenties I’d got into a habit of being attracted to unhealthy relationships, dating abusive men who called me names and put me down. At the time, I believed that was the norm because my mother’s relationship set the blueprint for what I thought was normal and acceptable. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, despite friends telling me otherwise.
Just when I thought life couldn’t get any worse, it did. In 2009, I was made redundant from my marketing role following a tribunal case against a male boss for workplace bullying. It was partially upheld in my favour, but I had to take a lot of time off work during this case which contributed to my depression. This was later followed by a car accident that left me not only with whiplash but recurring nightmares, resulting in PTSD trauma.
I started therapy in 2012, after opening up to my best friend who encouraged me to see a professional. After being diagnosed with depression, anxiety and panic attacks, I was put on anti-depressants. Yet, still, I was not in a better mental place where I found therapy or anything else helpful. To deal with everything, I turned to alcohol and weekly partying to take my mind off how I was feeling. Some nights I would black out from being so drunk, and would never remember anything the next morning.
I decided to go back to Birmingham to stay with my mum for a while, to escape the excessive drinking and partying. One day I sat alone thinking, ‘how the hell did I get to this point?’ and that’s when it dawned on me that all the negative things happening was a result of my childhood trauma. I had been in survival mode all of these years, carrying around the pain, and I couldn’t run anymore. I had been feeling very hopeless, desperate to escape.
My computer was on and I typed into the search engine, ‘painless ways to die’. My life had been traumatic for so long that I told myself if I’m going to end it, I didn’t want to feel any more pain. During this online search, I came across a page that caught my eye. It literally spoke to me, and what I read was so profound. The page said, ‘you don’t want to die; you just want to kill your old life. So why don’t you?’.
Online search engines highlights keywords and sends you to relevant pages, so I guess this was the page I needed to see. At the time I thought it was fate but now I’m sure Google is moderated to have these types of searches flagged up.
At that moment, I realised the post was right – I didn’t want to die. I just wanted my life to be different. From then I started working on my own self-care to be more intuitive, and spending time around positive/supportive people. I had met with a hypnotist called Ursula Benjamin who helped me become very introspective about my childhood, and looked at what I could learn from it – this is still an ongoing process.
I spent more time with family whom I was previously estranged from, and built a close relationship with my biological dad. Ironically, both my dad and his wife work in the mental health field and had no idea mum and I went through so much. Together, they were supportive in helping me deal with my trauma. They listened a lot without being judgemental, and were very understanding.
I also started writing a blog, as I needed somewhere to put my thoughts, which later extended to a Facebook support group called, Free Your Mind. I was flooded with responses from people who had grown up with domestic abuse and were using different mediums to survive, such as drugs, sex, alcohol to numb the pain. I thanked them all, telling them it’s important that we get to have our experiences of domestic violence validated too. It made me feel less alone, and that sharing was the right thing to do.
I realised I could really make a difference. I ran a sponsored marathon in Hyde Park in 2013 and raised £250. It wasn’t much but it gave me something to set up my website and officially set up the charity to work directly with children of domestic abuse. I worked from home for about five years, while doing various roles in marketing at same time, before I got my own office.
Since 2017, we have partnered with local authorities, rescue services, NHS and various charities. Our small team all have experiences in domestic violence and so it helps to relate better with young people, without seeming intimidating.
Over the years, I developed my own skillset to learn counselling, different therapies, and I’m also a teacher of Reiki and now a therapist. It has been a long road to my recovery, with loads of ups and down but I’ve finally found my feet- not running away and confronting everything. I’m also in a healthy relationship with a long-time friend, and I write a gratitude journal every day. It reminds me that I can give myself permission to feel joy and no longer be afraid of the past. It’s changed my life knowing that by sharing my own story, it has given myself and others, a voice and purpose in life.
As told to: Cynthia Lawrence, for more information visit: https://www.freeyourmindcic.com.