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Writing away pain

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Writing away pain

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COLLEEN WILLIAMS could go back in time, she would probably go back to when she was nine years old living in Trinidad. She would try to stop her mother from leaving her and her sister with neighbours while she went to the United States in hopes of providing a better life for them.
That decision by her mother, Colleen said, has forever changed her life and her outlook, and at the age of 40 has prompted her to write a book, Who Feels It, Knows It.
“The sexual abuse started at nine, and continued until I was 13,” Colleen said. “This family friend, neighbour, that my mother left us with turned around and abused us. There was no way out of that. I would keep thinking of a way to escape but there was none.”
With her mother in the United States, Colleen said, she never told anyone what was happening until much later.
“When I was 12 or 13 I told someone,” she revealed. “She was like a nurse that was in the area. I had no family there so there was nothing she could do.”
Colleen said that when she was 13 her mother finally sent for her and her sister to come to America to live with her.
 “When I got there, it was trying to bond with my mother. Every time I would try to tell her what happened she would be in denial – she didn’t want to hear it,” Colleen said. “The more I tried to tell her, the less she tried to listen. She just was not trying to hear it.”
Colleen said for many years she was angry at her mother, who constantly shunned any mention of that period of her life.
For years Colleen’s only chance to express her feelings came through journals. She felt disillusioned because coming to America didn’t live up to her expectations.
“I had escaped the sexual abuse, and I thought that coming to my mother things would have been different, but then there was the mental, verbal and physical abuse,” she revealed.
Writing became an escape for Colleen because on paper she could express what she couldn’t bear to keep hidden.
“That’s why I decided to write the book because there are so many people who go through what I went through and never talk about it,” she said. “West Indian people tend to just hold everything in and eventually it comes out.”
For Colleen the pain manifested itself in her relationships and eventually in an abusive marriage. After getting involved with someone that she loved, she realized he was physically and verbally abusive.
“I just said this is it and I just started writing,” she said. “Everyone told me that I should publish it but I felt that no one would want to read what I wrote.”
It was after meeting her current boyfriend Robert Gibson, through Twitter, that she decided to publish the book.
“I had actually lost the book on my computer after my hard drive crashed, and I was going off on Twitter,” she said. “People were telling me to get over it but I couldn’t because this was my book, my life. Robert was so supportive. He told me to calm down, it has to be in an email, and that was when the bright light went off and I found it in an old email. He encouraged me to keep writing. To be honest, whatever I lost was okay because what I wrote now was better.”
Colleen hopes that other victims of abuse, sexual, verbal or otherwise, can find solace in her book.
She admits that she is searching to find closure to the situation that has scarred her life and she is still angry with her mother because she has never acknowledged the situation that happened in Trinidad. As a result their relationship is strained.
Colleen says she knows she has brought some of that hurt and anger into her parenting of her 16-year-old son – something which she is not proud of.
While Colleen has never undergone any therapy over her past, she says writing this book has been her way of releasing those demons and somehow letting go of the pain that has followed her throughout her life.
“To be honest, the little girl that I wanted to be I wasn’t. I was an adult before my time,” she said. “It’s only now that I feel stronger – which I owe to my faith in God and [to] Robert Gibson.
“I’m hoping the book will be a release because I want to let go of that pain,” Colleen said.