By Christine Barbeau, L’Itinéraire
Linda’s life was never a bed of roses. There is the trauma she suffered as a child, the excessive drug use in her adolescence and the strong medication that she has to take to leave behind her scattered memories. Parts of her life remain a blur that she has not yet been able to see clearly.
Linda, 64, only has one word to describe her childhood: Terrifying. She was four or five years old when her father hit her for the first time. Hits, insults and embarrassment were her daily fate.
At the age of 10, Linda watched her mother leave the family home, telling her to hug her father every night and tell him that she loved him. As a result of being unable to love the man who beat her every day, Linda developed a feeling of guilt and a serious self-esteem problem. She lived in isolation. “I can see from the photos that I was a beautiful girl,” she says. “But I thought I was really ugly. I hated everything about myself.”
A psychiatrist explained to her that her mental health problems were caused by the abuse she had suffered: Linda had survived thanks to her ability to dissociate. “I came out of my body and saw what that man did to the little girl,” Linda explains. She went on to tell her story in front of incest therapy groups. “I felt like I was speaking about someone else when I talked about myself,” she admits. “I was surprised when people applauded me.”
During her adolescence, Linda used what she calls a “mountain of drugs.” One morning, she returned home to her mother, completely high. “I needed her to tell me that she was worried about me, but she didn’t,” Linda recalls. “She made jokes.”
At 25 years old, while travelling in Egypt, Linda experienced her first psychotic episode. It led her to prison and then a psychiatric hospital. What followed were years of deep depression and several suicide attempts.
Now, Linda is no longer suicidal. She sometimes thinks about it, but she says that “the idea of suicide is like a way out. I know that I will not do it.”
Linda is one of what she calls the “beautiful feathers” of L’Itinéraire. “Writing allowed me to vent about my suffering with good humour,” she says. “It’s not all dark.” Two of her pieces were included in Sentinelles [an anthology of L’Itinéraire writing], which was published in 2017.
The older she gets, the happier Linda becomes. “This is difficult for me to say, but today I believe that I am a beautiful woman. It’s a shame that I have realised this at 64 years old,” Linda says, smiling a crooked smile. “I’m growing old in wisdom and grace.”
That certainly is true, Linda. You are moving through life with wisdom, grace and beauty.
Translated from French by Kara Innes