Breaking the Silence

Society & Culture | By Rutendo Mutsamwira, Artist | 28 December 2016
PHOTO: © Asteria Malinzi

There are many things about humanity and human relations which make my heart sink. At the top of that list is our collective culture of silence over difficult and uncomfortable conversations and situations.

I’ll get straight to the point and mention these difficult and uncomfortable conversations by name: sexual abuse and molestation, drug abuse, suicide, mental health and wellness. There are many, but the ones I have listed are what I have experienced from childhood right to adulthood. I do not like to generalize so there will be no statistics here, just a lady who has overcome a substantial lot by the Grace of God and realising there is an desperate need for more people like me to share their stories and get more people speaking and healing.

Before I unpack parts of my story, if there is one you remember from this, may it be on the importance of identifying, unpacking and processing whatever you have witnessed or experienced as a child. I find, and again, this is based on personal experience, that when we suppress and ignore things we have been through, there comes a time, usually when you are getting along with your life that all the pain, hurt, guilt and shame rise up and demand to be confronted. That being said, all it took was a poetic challenge titled #1738 earlier this year which both shook me to the core but also demanded I revisit my dark and not so glorious past. #1738 was a creative experiment to test how I could translate my thoughts and conversations based on a picture I would take at 17.38 every evening. To give you context, here is my very first #1738 poem titled Jacarandas & Sunsets

That is the backdrop of my story. Where everything started. I was sexually molested by both men and women from the age at eight.  Everything I have been through is directly linked to what happened to me when I was a child. There is chronology in the way pain and self harm manifest. In hindsight, this is probably what has had the single biggest influence on how my relationships have panned out because my view of relationships and pleasure were distorted before I had a full appreciation of what they both entail.

When I was about between the ages of 14- 16 I began to self harm. I used to inflict so much pain on myself and it is only now more than a decade later I realize I was merely transferring what I felt on the inside outside. I used to scratch and cut my arms but would hide it by covering my arms. I would wear my jersey and long sleeved clothing every single day. In the thick of October heat I would be there covered up, sweating and refusing to address what I was desperately trying to ignore. I suppose I couldn’t adequately articulate what it was I was mentally trying to block out. This was also the season I tried to commit suicide. It was, together with the other five additional attempts a dismal failure.

It is for this reason that I am certain God hand picked me to live to share my story so that the silence is broken. There are too many people walking around with collapsing souls because they either cannot speak up and get out of mental bondage or have exposure to stories like mine for them to realize they are not alone.

By the time I had finished my A Levels, I was already a seasoned drinker for my age which at the time I would laugh off because I had such high alcohol tolerance. Tsk Tsk Tsk… By the time I moved to university out of Zimbabwe I not only had access to ridiculously cheap alcohol, but I evolved from being a casual cigarette smoker to a chain smoker. A chain smoker and part time stoner/ pot head. Apart from a unit I failed in my first year, I was still attending class, getting good grades and graduated on time. I was still suppressing what happened to me and this manifested in different ways. By the time I graduated and started life in “the real world” working, I had become a functioning alcoholic. You could never tell I was more than tipsy because I just didn’t have your stereotypical phuza face. I would start my morning with either a glass of wine or some strong Gin and Tonic. I would substitute porridge / cereal for a couple of drinks before work. During my lunch breaks I would sometimes go for a drink or to blaze and still achieve and sometimes even surpass targets. It’s a dangerous risk and cycle because you go on with this lifestyle until one day, you don’t get away with it. For me that was at Zimbabwe Fashion Week 2015. I had smoked a blunt/ joint the afternoon before I was supposed to close a collection. At this stage of my life, I had smoked so many different grades of marijuana I dismissed the potency of the grade we smoked ( as I usually did in that season).

As the time for me to model drew closer I had a couple of drinks (I mixed drinks. Disaster). Thankfully I managed to model without causing a scene because by this stage of the evening I was drunk high. Nobody could tell but that night was and is such a blur. I remember going to the bathroom and falling flat on my face. Guys, I am definitely not the lightest person alive so you can imagine how long it took drunk high me to get back on my feet. Again, thankfully, I had somehow managed to lock the door because if anyone had walked in on me in that state and had taken photos I would have been trending to this day. That was the last straw for me. I was terrified at how much risk I had put myself in and knew that if I didn’t get my act together I was going to have another situation, probably worse than that night so I decided to be super low key.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to recommit my life to God. I mean, yes, I went to church, could recite a couple of prayers, pray for myself and others, but I still felt so hollow. 2016 has been such a hectic, beautiful, intense year for me. I am grateful I am able to share my story at any given opportunity my way without it being a fire fight after a tabloid expose!  

In November, I started #TestimonyTime on social media. Realizing the fact that after going through what I’ve been through and see, God has still kept me and I harbour no anger or resentment in my heart is something to celebrate and share. I shared parts of my testimony overcoming sexual molestation, drug addiction and multiple suicide attempts. I have always been highly aware of the influence and impact I have on people. That in itself is a gift I do not take lightly. I knew and know that for me to share my story and experiences was going to inspire many others to rethink how they perceive others and their behavior and to also open them up to unpacking and the process of healing.

There has been such an outpouring ever since I started #TestimonyTime. Both men and women sharing their stories of abuse, addiction, suicide. I am not ashamed to share my story because I had been suffering in silence for far too long.

We worry about what Baba or Mai Nhingi will think if they hear our child has gone through this, or we have gone through that not realizing that we all have pain and issues we are dealing with. For as long as God grants and leads, I will not stop sharing my story. Opening up has also made me realize there are not enough conversations being had on mental health and wellness. There is so much unpacking and healing needed on an individual and collective level. There is only so much anyone can say or do to help you unpack what you have been through experience. The choice to face and conquer will always remain yours. It’s not always a beautiful process from the start but I can assure you it’s worth the time and effort. For I ended my year speaking to some girls from my former high school because I wish I had someone like me talk to me earlier. That has become my non negotiable priority for as long as God grants and allows.

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