When I was fourteen years old, I tried to kill myself for the first time. My home life was so intolerable that I just wanted out. I couldn’t cope with it any more. I’d heard from a friend that a whole pack of paracetamol could kill you, so I swallowed a full pack of it at my school play cast afterparty.
My boyfriend of the time knew something was wrong, and he managed to get out of me what I’d done. So I pretended to throw them back up, and he let me go to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, he’d stayed the night with me to keep an eye on me. I started throwing up repeatedly, and he called his dad and got me to the hospital. I was very sick.
The only clear memory I have of that bit is that I begged and begged not to have my father and stepmother called. I didn’t win that fight – I was a minor after all – and when they came down to the hospital I begged for my boyfriend to stay because I didn’t want to be alone with them. Eventually he left – I don’t remember when or why.
My only other clear memory of that time is terror. Terror that my stepmother would do something to me in revenge for me messing up her day. Never mind that I was very unwell, my only fear was that I wouldn’t die and that she would punish me in some way.
At some point I was sent home, and I think it was maybe a week before sI was back to anywhere near normal. And then, the letter came from CAFS.
CAFS is the child, adolescent, and family service at the hospital. They deal with child mental health and abuse, among other things. They also have a very similar acronym to CYFS – Child, Youth, and Family Services – our child protection agency.
When that letter came, my stepmother went nuts at me for getting CYFS involved with our family. It took her a while to figure out it was the hospital, not the dreaded child services. And even then, she was still furious at me for bringing outsiders into our lives.
The CAFS interview was one of those moments where I have no idea why we weren’t saved in some way. It was a family interview, they never talked to me alone, and through the entire interview my stepmother held my wrist, digging her nails into me every time I had to answer a question. I lied through my teeth, I told them it was an accident, that I never meant to hurt myself. Inside I was screaming ‘save us, please save us’ – my little brother and I were struggling to hold it together in the face of her abuse. But I lied heroically, because she was there and I was so scared.
If they’d just talked to me alone, made me safe so I could tell, I would have told. Maybe there would have been something done. I will forever regret lying that day and not saving my little brother and me from more abuse. But I was so afraid of her that I couldn’t tell.
No fourteen-year old ‘accidentally’ swallows a whole packet of paracetamol. They had to know something was wrong. But they never gave me a safe way to tell, and so I didn’t. I couldn’t. I will always feel guilt for not telling. But I’m not sure they would have done anything, even if I had said something.