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Dared To Survive

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A true story of abuse, neglect, and survival against the odds

Dared to survive

Olya Mancuso


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any process. No part of this publication may be stored in retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

And then your lifeless lips whispered to me,

“Promise you will try your best.”

Wiping the tears off to see you clearly and gulping air,

Just like you did, I whispered back

“I will.”

You took my hand and whispered again

“Everything is possible!

It only takes a fighting spirit to hold on

and fight till the last blood is left,

fight for your rights and freedom,

fight for what you believe is right.

And when you fall,

get up and go forward;

while you are able to breathe,

you shall fight….

If there is anything beyond this life

I will be there, always

And when you feel you can’t handle your life any longer,

You just keep on repeating what I’ve just said to you.

Promise that you will turn all your misery into something positive…

For you, Dad,

This is the last part of my promise.

To the memory of the life of my loving, beloved Dad, Sam Rotshtein: You are my true love and inspiration. And to that of my unborn, murdered by my mother and my first husband’s mother son, Charles, who became the purpose of my existence even in death, I have never forgotten you.

To my precious children, Daniel, Kristina, and Jane: You have given me the miracle of belonging, a real family, and unconditional love, all that I was deprived of but searched for throughout my whole life. To you, Igor, thank you for raising my fatherless children and being there for me in good times and in bad.

To you Tony: You saved my life many times. This book would not be finished if it weren’t for you and Igor. You both picked me up when the world turned its back on me, when others destroyed me. And you were there to lift me up again, so I could recover and live.

So, my story has survived. Now it will reach those millions like me.

I am dedicating this book to ALL SURVIVORS of childhood trauma and abuse, and to those who might not be alive to tell their story


To begin, I would like to thank God, my closest friend, Olga Karlova, and my family for giving me the courage, the encouragement and the strength to write this book. You have helped me to feel the powerful purpose, energy, and desire to dare to put myself, my family and my life out there in front of millions of people. Thank you all for believing in me when I did not believe in myself, and for encouraging me to stay on the path and for caring for me as much as you did. You all have been an inspiration for me and an amazing source of peace and serenity. You have granted me the wish to write with total freedom using my own voice. I am so thankful to have you all in my life because you have been a positive influence on my achievements. After almost four decades, I finally found the courage to tell my story. Many times, I was tempted to give up on this book. Writing my story meant reliving the most painful and dreadful times of my life. I was not sure if I was able to handle it. I have trained myself to leave the past in the past and not to bring up the horrifying memories that I have tried so hard to forget for decades. This is not just my autobiography and journey but the message I have felt compelled to bring to others about child abuse. I want to break the silence and help others.

Child abuse is a hidden epidemic. More than five children a day somewhere in the world die from abuse. More than bruises are left behind. A tear drop speaks a thousand words. How many children suffer in silence? How many die each day? How many of them cry out and no one hears them? How many adults will turn away? Child abuse is the world’s greatest, silent crime.

People ask how a mother can abuse a child. I ask how so many people cannot do anything about it? Everyone’s childhood should be a bright, happy time of love, laughter, and joy. However, thousands of abused children are living in a dark existence… What if we continue to stay silent?

I knew that, in this book, the truth must be told. I am not afraid to take this chance — even if some would not believe me, even if some will slander and judge me. I know that anyone reading this book who has been abused as a child will understand how brave I am to break the silence and publish it.

One of the things I love about getting this book published is that it reminds me of how important it is to follow your dreams, despite what others will think. When I finished this book, it became so clear to me that I had not just helped myself by telling the world what had happened to me. I had helped other people too. I know many have been silenced just like me. It is my hope that these silent sufferers will now take strength. I hope they will speak out and have their voices heard.

As you read my story, I hope that you will realise that, just because survivors have scars, just because we sometimes find it hard to function in many aspects of life, it does not mean we are weak. We have already been through more than most people can ever imagine and we have stayed strong and we still fight every single day of our existence. It is an endless battle, but I am proud of myself to still be standing and I hope that other victims feel the same way.

Experiencing any form of childhood trauma and abuse can impact on an adult’s quality of life in fundamental ways. It can make basic day-to-day activities, such as eating, sleeping, working and study difficult. Trauma and abuse in childhood can also affect your mental health, physical health, and your relationships with the people around you. Like everyone, survivors have a right to a life worth living, but instead survivors often live with chronic distress and pain. For many survivors, these emotions are so much a part of their day-to-day life that they don’t realise that there are alternatives. Unable to readily regulate their emotions they may seek to do so through alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or other compulsive behaviours. Many survivors also harm themselves out of a sense of despair. All of these ’coping strategies’ make sense in the context of childhood trauma and abuse. Survivors often find it difficult to trust others. As children we have been tortured and betrayed by the very adults who were meant to love, nurture and protect us. As a result, we often find it difficult to form and sustain relationships. When children are abused they come to believe the messages their abusers deliver, such as: «You are worthless,» and «You have no value’. Of course, these messages are not true, but children accept and internalise them. These messages become ingrained that, when a child who has been abused or traumatised grows up, the adult survivor will often experience feelings of low self-worth or poor self-confidence. Surviving evil is hard, but possible. Evil must be named and unspeakable must be spoken. Doing so is enormously frightening but despite what your abusers would have you believe, hold on to the faith that each of us has within us something adorable, beautiful, special and unique. We glow with the spirit of beauty. All we must do is believe in ourselves and doing our best in searching for JUSTICE and freedom. Even in the face of pain and hopelessness have faith that, everything that is best in life comes at the price of the greatest suffering.


Daddy, its dark here“, „Get me out of here. You promised! You said you would fight for my freedom and happiness

SET ME FREE, Daddy………. Come back for me.

Tears flow down my face as I keep on repeating this over and over. The old hopeless dream. My bitter plea of mine. Screams of my heart, unknown, unheard…

There’s a corridor… I am running towards my Dad, grasping his hands.

Desperately I try to hold on to them, using every bit of strength I have left.

The tips of his fingers slowly let go. He disappears down the long corridor. I still hear the rustle of his military uniform. The sound melts slowly away.

Tears are streaming down my face, soaking my sweater.

I keep running along the corridor, screaming like a wild animal, full of desperate, fuelled by hope, calling my Dad’s name, hoping to find him and stop him before he leaves me.

«Come back!» I scream to my Dad. «Come back, please. Don’t leave me here. Do not abandon me, Daddy. Come back to me…»

The corridor is dark and long. The smell of urine is strong. The shadows of children here are not humans. They are dead souls… I don’t belong here. I am not like them. Mother fabricated my illness to lock me in here, to get rid of me.

At the age of six — based on the medical history fabricated by my mother — I was locked in this place for mentally and physical disabled children. I was forced to take unnecessary medications for years. At the age of six, I was sexually molested……

The light does not come here...This place would be unfit for animals. But it is the only home I know — this haven for abandoned, sick children. All of us have some degree of physical or mental disability.

This is where my mother wangled a «referral» for me. She bribed them to lock me up thereby setting herself free from this burden: ME.

My mother invented stories. She induced symptoms in me because she craved the attention of medical professionals. It was her ultimate goal for them to take me and keep me here. It bought my mother temporary freedom. She often used sedative medications on me that were not prescribed simply to make her job easier. Trying to make me submissive.

The nurses scream into my ear that mother instructed them to tie me into the bed and sedate me with medication if I became «difficult». I wiggle like a worm, kicking and screaming.

I still hear the footsteps of Daddy’s military shoes echoing in the corridor as his steps slowly get quieter and quieter until everything disappears completely.

I am all alone somewhere in this cold, dark, lonely, and creepy place. I am all by myself in the cruel reality of my life. A life of long, heartless torment.

I see the house of my tortured childhood. My mother’s house… I silently pray God to end my misery as I kneel in front of my mother. Tears flow down my face as she approaches me with the leather belt… I am stuck in her house of terror, in the dark house of my unhappy childhood, the childhood that she stole, the childhood that she turned into a nightmare where only shadow of me had existed.

Everything was unstable in our house. There was no peace. Every day, there was violence.

The light never shines here. There is only darkness. Laughter is replaced by a river of tears. Love is replaced by hate and fear…. I bang my little fists on the wall and scream like a wild animal, with pain, humiliation, fear, and hate «If you really exist, God, let me die……

I have these flashbacks so often. I find myself unable to sleep at night because I am constantly having these vivid, shocking, disgusting and frightening images. It is like a life sentence. I am affected physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Some of my painful memories are repressed. But they are still harrowing, and disgusting. I am plagued by the physical symptoms that go with it.

I am still suffering severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic attacks. I try very hard to conceal. I always see the pain in others. Yet, I hide my own pain, covering it with a smile. I don’t want to be a burden to others and 1 believe that others do not want to hear my pain. I don’t turn to people for soothing and understanding.

After a long while, realization dawns. No matter how long it takes, you begin to understand that you are worth a lot more than you give yourself credit for. You can get past this. We victims never fully recover. We just learn to cope. We never forget.

I always remember having been physically, emotionally, sexually abused and neglected. For many years, I have repressed my memories of sexual abuse. If only somebody knowing the torture of my life had stretched out a hand to save me. If only human kindness had knocked on my door. If only love had found the way to my broken spirit.

I was a child tortured not only by mother but by others whom she allowed to abuse me. Memories and flashbacks of horrific childhood abuse flood my memory. There was no one present during the outrageous events of my childhood except my abusers. All her life, my mother was in denial. She bluntly denies she and those others she involved to make me a «proper girl» abused me. I am convinced she is being truthful in her sick, mind. Her memories are deliberately buried and concealed as deeply as mine. She may well be plagued by occasional flashes, and glimpses of unknown terror, just as I was.

It is left to me as a witness to my own horrific abuse to speak to a world that does not protect children like me. Instead, it is a world that protects the ideas of parenthood, motherhood, fatherhood, adults, and family at the expense of the undeniable evidence that often exists of child abuse.

Our memories and pain, as adult survivors of CHILD ABUSE, are often ignored. Many times, we are not believed. Our stories are dismissed as hysteria, attention seeking and «craziness».

The destruction that follows and haunts us is REAL. Thoughts of suicide and self-mutilation are not attention seeking. They are a cry for help. They are screams of a heart that is torn into pieces by abusers.

My life story is not typical. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I am still here. I am alive to tell...my story so that others may heal.

My nightmare began a long time ago before I arrived in Australia. This is my story. It’s the story of a victim who became one of the greatest survivors.

There has always been a sense of something missing. An empty well inside me. I feel like I have been fighting my entire life, trying to fill that empty well. Sometimes I pretend the well doesn’t exist. Sometimes I scream down into the well, hoping someone hears me. Hoping that my mother will hear me but knowing that she will not. Something in me died before I was ever born.

Chapter One.
Don’t Leave Me, Daddy!

My beautiful girl,

Please don’t cry.

I wish I could be there

To sing you a lullaby.

I can see your arms,

Bloodied and bruised.

They tell the stories

Of being tortured and abused.

I know you scream

When no one is there.

I failed to protect you

But I am everywhere.

You see, Daddy raised up so high

You were asleep, so you didn’t hear my cry

I know, little girl, you would not have died

If someone had only bothered

To listen to you when you cried.

I became dead before I was reborn. I could no longer handle being hurt, afraid, intimidated, and ashamed. I had no choice but to rise and live. I have seen hell. It was so painful and dreadful that my pain and sufferings forced me to become unbreakable. The only way to survive was to become unbreakable, and to learn to love myself.

Sometimes, when you can no longer handle your life, bear your pain and loneliness, you become immortal, immune to anything. So, your time comes, and you set your spirit free and fly.

As a child, I had begun to find comfort in cemeteries. It was humbling and peaceful. I would walk among the graveyards, and talk to the dead. Then, I would lie on their plot and rest among them. I would spend days there fantasizing that God will give me shelter there too.

Uninhibited by a dread of graveyards, I played hide-and-seek among the tombstones, talking to them, and telling them about my pain. I loved to walk among the graves and look at the dates and words on the tombstones. I played a game, wondering what sort of life the person might have had.

That’s the thing about life. It is fragile, precious, and unpredictable. Each day is a gift, not a given right.

The cemetery was my comfort zone, a place where mother could not find or hurt me. So, I fell in love with its peace. I had never before felt such peace. I hadn’t known what peace was like. My house was a place of nonstop violence. Growing up, I feared living at home. I was petrified of my mother. I would hear her opening the door with the key and — no matter what I was doing — whether I was watching television, making food or talking on the phone, I would stop what I was doing and run. Then, I would sit in my room, waiting to hear and feel how her mood was.

Had she had a good day? Did she have sad news about my criminal brother, Zhenya? If it was bad day or she’d received sad news, I knew the day was going to be bad for me and my Dad.

I never used to run to her. But, I remember how, one day, she came home and I ran out to greet her. Her response: «Why are you svoloch (brute) running to me? Get out of my way?» It was the last day I ran to her.

Mother used to belt me almost every day. She was creative. She used a variety of methods to physically punish me. Her physical punishments never ended. Every day, I was beaten. She used leather belts, plugs and anything she could find to beat me with.

Again, I got used to it. I simply stopped feeling physical pain. It wasn’t the physical abuse that bothered me. I became used to it. It was the fact that she didn’t even bother to think about my needs. She seemed unaware that I had physical or emotional needs. I never got those warming hugs, that concern, that care that moms give to their children whenever their children are crying, feeling down or even when they make you proud. I never got reinforcements of my mother’s love for me. I was alone in my own troubled world.

I never had the mother-bonding experience that I wanted. For so many years, I blamed myself. I cried because I wanted to feel that love. To this day, I still wonder what it would be like to be loved, cared for, and appreciated by a mother.

A vivid memory has stayed with me. I always wanted to have long hair. But, mother dragged me to the hairdresser’s to have it cut short because she said I was an «ugly scum» anyway. Therefore, no hair style would make me look beautiful, she always explained. I did not belong. I wasn’t wanted. I wasn’t worthy of the same treatment from her as her son, Zhenya, received. She used every opportunity to let me know that Zhenya was her favorite.

All my life, I have felt like the rest of the world is going to treat me the same as my mother did. So, I have kept to myself. I never learned how to socialize. I still to this day automatically assume that everybody is going to dislike and eventually mistreat me — especially verbally and emotionally. I can talk to guys. But, I find it hard to relate to women, even though I am a woman.

Perhaps that is why I kept getting married to men who physically and emotionally abused me. I tolerated it because it was all I knew. I didn’t believe I deserved any better treatment. Being abused was a habit. It was better than being ignored.

My Dad was never home. He was a military man, catching criminals and keeping a secret about my brother from the Communist party. As a party member, he lived in fear. You had to meet certain qualifications to be accepted. The Communist party was tough. Your new social network in the party gave you access to many benefits that non-party members wouldn’t have. This resulted in a mixture of jealousy and envy from those not in the party.

The struggle for leadership was filled with feuding cliques, the competition brutal. The ambitious were always watching you, waiting for your failure so they could take your place. If they had found out about my brother’s criminal activities, my Dad would have lost his rank and his job forever.

Dad was rarely home. He was often sent off to the states to work for months. So, mother often used to lock me up in the Reform (reformatory) School for girls and the orphanages where disabled or mentally disabled children were abandoned by parents who did not want them.

There I was subjected — along with other girls — to a harsh and sadistic regime designed to break our spirits and install discipline. I always wanted her to know how much grief and pain she added to my life. But, she never allowed me to cry, complain or plead.

I longed for my Dad. He was the only person who had ever shown me kindness and love. He was the only person in my childhood memories who loved me, who tried to protect me. He was probably the only reason I ever tried to become somebody, study hard, and survive.

I was my mother’s sacrificial lamb until I married Alik, the first man who offered me a better life. This later destroyed me.

It was the summer of 1981, in the Ukraine. I was six years old. I was terrified of my mother. She was always angry, hysterical and furious with Dad and me. She constantly yelled. She was preoccupied with my brother’s issues, his debts, and his efforts to pay them off that resulted in his criminal affairs.

Zhenya was always in debt. He needed a lot of money to buy the good things in life: fancy clothes, expensive cars, food and women. These were things that most soviet people couldn’t afford — even those who worked.

Whenever I was near my Mom, she got so angry. She hit me and pushed me over. I was always walking on egg shells, so afraid to be in her sight. She called me bad names and cursed me. I was petrified of her, dreading being in her sight.

So, I often stayed under the bed hoping that she would forget about me. That provided only temporary safety. Aware of her violent outbursts and her hatred for me, whenever my Dad was home, he kept me near him. He made sure I was not out of his sight to prevent my mother from beating me.

I was safe when he was home. But he was rarely home. As a military man, his work often took him away from home, out of our town. Some of my happiest memories are of him putting me to bed and telling me fairy tales in his soft voice. I drifted off to sleep feeling safe and loved and happy.

«You are spoiling the evil bitch!» my mother would scream. «She does not need so much attention,» she complained, «Who is she? Your queen? You old fool. You are undermining me when I tell this spoiled bitch that we have problems with Zhenya and she needs to understand her mother is suffering and has to help Zhenya.»

«She is your daughter too,» my father reasoned. «She is only six years old. She needs care and nurture,» Dad would reply in a tone that would only serve to infuriate mother more. Then mother would start breaking plates and throwing them over the floor or into the wall, claiming he provoked her and undermined her authority as a parent.

During my childhood I could never understand why there was this constant raging battle over me. My mother always blamed me for «making a fight» between her and my Dad and ruining her marriage. She kept saying I was born to destroy her life, her marriage, and even her son. She would start shaking and beating me, yelling into my face that her son was on drugs because of me that I was the beloved child of my father. But, her son was fatherless. Every time she yelled, screamed, and cried she kept saying it was my fault and why should I continue living and destroying her life? Why couldn’t I die and set her free and let her live.

I would press my hands over my ears and wet myself. This would bring on further beatings. «You bitch!» Mom would scream. «You did this on purpose, you disgusting piece of shit. You are bedwetting at night and you are scum during the day time. You shit. You slut. You imbecile. You retarded fucking freak.»

Then she’d grab me by my pony tail and started beating me with the belt. I would scream at the top of my voice, begging and crying. But, I couldn’t protect myself.

At one stage, I remember that, somehow, I crawled away and then ran to hide under the bed. She bent down and dragged me out by the hair. «How dare you escape,» she shouted. «Shut up, you scum!» Holding me by the hair, she punched me in the face and bit my arm, leaving a row of her teeth marks mixed with bits of blood on my arm.

«Your fucking stinky father is not here to save you,» she screamed. «You will never see him again,» she threatened. «He will get killed by a car!» Mom yelled into my face.

I collapsed on the floor sobbing in despair, terrified that Dad would not be back ever again. «Daddy… Daddy,» I sobbed. «Daddy! Come back to me. Daddy help me….»

I had lost hope of ever seeing my Dad ever again. The doorbell rang. There was Dad back from work. As soon as I saw him I ran to him in tears and hysterically jumped into his arms, shaking with fear, soaking his uniform with my tears and clinging to his neck.

«What have you done to her?» Dad shouted. She is wet and terrified.

«I did not touch her!» my mother yelled. «She creates these scenes on purpose to cause us to fight. She wants to turn you against me,» mom accused. «She wants us to fight. She is evil.»

My father looked at the bite mark on my arm. It was now swelled and purple.

«What the fuck have you done to her arm?» he accused. «Those are teeth marks» Dad yelled, looking in disbelief at my arm and the bloody spot where mom had left her teeth marks.

«This scum has tried to self-harm herself,» mom lied. «She does it often when she does not get her way.»

«And what about the bruises on her face?» he asked.

«She bumped into the wall when she tried to be violent,» mom lied again.

«Don’t, leave me, Daddy,» I sobbed, «She is lying! Don’t believe her,» I begged.

I sobbed hysterically unable to prove anything. I remember my feelings of despair and how I could not stop shaking even though I was in Dad’s arms. I knew the beatings weren’t over. As soon as my Dad left, she’d start in again.

My mom has never felt remorse for the way she treated me. I’m sure she thought it was normal to bully and beat children. She often bragged to us that she was beaten by her parents. That’s how she became a «decent» person.

Even today, she proudly describes how the «punishments» inflicted on her during her childhood helped to make her a great, decent, remarkable person. She was actually grateful to her parents for that abuse.

The cycle of violence obviously commenced during her own childhood. It may well have been how her parents were treated as children. I remember my mom and my Grandmother always being enemies. Mom has always had fights with her, even physical ones where my Dad used to jump between them to restrain them from assaulting each other.

Dad wanted to avoid physical fights with Mom because she was very violent. She tried many times to hit my Dad and chased him with knife. He used to call my Grandmother to come and calm my mom for him.

My Grandmother lived in the same block a few apartments away. My Grandmother loved my Dad — even though he was her son-in-law. She tried to keep mom under control and to protect me and Dad. However even my Grandmother would rarely succeed. I think Mom enjoyed the drama and fights as much as anything else.

However, my Grandmother was not scared of mom’s violence although Mom was able and willing to hit hard, she was capable of everything when it would come to win her point or get her way.

I often pined for my Dad. He was the only source of love, attention and protection I would get. I remember Dad would hurry straight home from work. He never felt I was safe with Mom. My happiest times were when only he and I were home. I would then become his shadow. When I cried, he wiped my tears and promised me he would try his best to protect me from ever being hurt again. He tried his best. But, it was a promise he couldn’t keep.

Chapter Two.
I Need You

My mother has always searched for ways to get rid of me. She wanted to devote all her time and energy to being there for my criminal brother, Zhenya, helping him with his problems, money, drugs and criminal behaviour. She was totally preoccupied with worrying about her son. She was always capable of being a nurturing mother to him — a blessing that was not extended to me.

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