BRAINSTORM

Sexual, Physical & Emotional Trauma - A Survivor's Story

May 31, 2023 Guy Rowlison Season 2 Episode 2
BRAINSTORM
Sexual, Physical & Emotional Trauma - A Survivor's Story
Show Notes Transcript

To the passer-by,  Melissa Baker seemed like an ordinary teenager growing up in a middle-class suburban family in Sydney, but to those who wanted to get to know her, they could see she was hiding from the truth.

Since then she been a motivational speaker in Australia and overseas.

She has delivered keynote addresses to adult education conferences in New Zealand, England and Northern Ireland along with speaking engagements at youth summits, rallies & conferences around the globe with her first international talk at the age of just 18.

After completing her Master of Adult Education at 32, she embarked on her doctoral thesis whilst working as Lead Chaplain & Educator for Post Trauma Support while her doctoral studies also took her to training and collaborating with no less than 5 police forces around the world. 

She has also served in the Royal Australian Navy and currently dedicates her life to helping and encouraging adults to be the best they can be.


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Host: Hi, I am Guy Rowlison and thanks for joining me again on Brainstorm for over 30 years. My guest has been a motivational speaker, both here in Australia and overseas. She's delivered keynote addresses to adult education conferences in New Zealand, England, and Northern Ireland. Along the speaking engagements at Youth summits, rallies, and conferences around the globe with our first international talk at the age of just 18.

 

She's led workshops in leadership and management, critical incidents, pastoral care, chaplaincy ethics and identity, and communities of practice wellbeing, and overcoming trauma. After completing her Master of Adult Education at 32, she embarked on her doctoral thesis while working as lead chaplain and educator for post-trauma support in the New South Wales Police Force.

 

While her doctoral studies also took her to training and collaborating with no less than five police forces around the world, she's also served in the Royal Australian Navy and currently dedicates her life to helping and encouraging adults to be the best they can. Dr. Melissa Baker, thanks so much for joining me.

 

Melissa Baker: That's a huge introduction. 

 

Host: Look, you have an amazing story and I appreciate the time you are taking to share it with me. I have to tell you that. I find your journey so totally inspirational. You don't always find people who are willing to share themselves and their experiences so deeply, uh, to open themselves up, to be vulnerable, uh, to share the details of their life, and yet still show a resilience so that others who may be experiencing something similar can draw from it.

 

So, so let's. Let's talk about that and a little later. Um, I'd, I'd like to also discuss your new book, the Success you've had most recently with the film you've produced and the wonderful work you're doing professionally, but what essentially led you to this point in your story, which is confronting, but also a testament to your physical, emotional, and mental strength.

 

So tell me about you. 

 

Melissa Baker: And one thing I love about sharing my story and being vulnerable is that if that can help one person, then it's worth it. And that's why I'd love to help people to be the best they can be, because I don't, it's from what I've lived through in life. I don't want others to go through that.

 

And I know that many thousands have. And if our voices could help that, then that's good. 

 

Host: Um, finding hope is a big thing, isn't it? Um, and without a voice, uh, we all tend to think that we're alone in the journey, don't we? 

 

Melissa Baker: Mm. Yes. And we will feel that. We feel alone in that moment. But when you hear someone else's story and you feel like that inkling of, oh, that's very similar to mine, and you know, you're not alone in, and it does give you hope.

 

Yes. That's something I never. So as a, as a, as a lived experience as a survivor, the childhood struggles, as I say, can, can you walk me through just, just some of that? Hmm. The, the only happy memory I, uh, can recall at all in my childhood was when I was three years old, three turning four. And I'll be taken my. Father grew me up. My mother abandoned me as a baby. Um ha Having had me at 40 years of our age. And so I went to, uh, Westfield Shopping Center where he owned a men's west store, and I was running around. The shopping center at three or four, all alone, always, all always alone. But I remember being happy and gleeful.

 

I was like, I would go and talk to anyone I could find and know all their shop shopping center managers, and they would know them by name. They'll know me. And I, I felt like I grew up in that place in many ways before I started school. And then a year later, um, I. Dad started sexually abused me in his bed and it was like an empty house.

 

My brother and sister who were nine and 11 years older than me, were no longer there. You know, they're late teens. They, um, you know, you're not around the house around that time. And mum was always off overseas or doing camps and things like that, so she wasn't around and. So at 4, 5, 6, 7, I was there all alone in this empty house with him, and I believe he was also abused as a child.

 

Um, what I can't understand even today how he could cross that line and do what he did to me. Uh, after a few years, he sold me two business partners. To gain debt back for, for himself. And I was then abused by the scout leaders and others businessmen in this room. And that happened once a month or every two months, quite regularly, for two years when I was seven to nine, um, by then I'd become so numb, like I couldn't.

 

Even feel that emotion. But I, what I, I learned some really important things that were going to help me a little bit later. One was how to analyze a, a whole situation. How to look at everyone's body language, what they're doing, what to, how to work out what's going on in the adult world as a child, and analyze how can I get out of a situation.

 

And I learned it from him too because he always seemed to be a step ahead of me. He would always find me, um, when I'd run away or, or things were happen. And, and then I also, and that came in really handy on my life. And then I also learned to be invisible, so I can't, can't be fined. So I'll be, um, and then time, my 11, my brother walked in.

 

On us and I thought, thank goodness someone's seen this. Now it can stop. But he always threatened, he threatened to kill my dog, who was really the only friend I had at the time, who had the only person, Becky or person dog go talk to and, and about anything that was inside. I always talked to Becky about it out in the backyard where no one else can hear, and.

 

I couldn't allow him to hurt anybody else other than me. So I felt I could never talk about it with anybody. And then when my brother walked in, it was like, ah, this relief, somebody knows. But then the threats started, then came out, he was then kicked outta home and he wasn't allowed to come back. And then my brother, who was my protector, like was, wasn't there anymore, and I was alone back on the house again.

 

Um, It stopped in the house, but then a year later he viciously assaulted me and Lord how island? And at 12, and then I went into sort of my adult years as a woman and then he turned violent instead. And then he would always bruise me in places where no one else would see like, um, my ribs or, or sort of like in clothes, um, would cover it.

 

And then at 15, he was drunk One night when I was coming back from friend's place and he put a gun to my heart. He owned a pistol and had bullet, he had bullets in it. And as I was trying to fight with him for everything, saying, this is your youngest daughter here. Like, I'm here. Like this is me. And he, it's like he was drunk and swaying and he wouldn't listen to, he was a big man.

 

And like I, and I was, I was taller than him by 15, but, uh, he was, I was quite thin then. So I was like real, um, I gotta punch this guy out, like there's no other way to get outta this situation. And stuck in the front door and I couldn't go anywhere and I just punched him. At the right place to get him to go down on the ground.

 

Took the gun, took the bullets out, how I knew there was bullets in, and I placed them in layers in the cupboard that was nearby between all the sheets and blankets. And so that he wouldn't find them. And I actually put a blanket over him, um, to sleep it off. And, Went to my room and put a little bell on the door just to tell me if he's gonna come in, uh, which was a regular habit school.

 

Host: Um, friends, Mel, look, what was the situation? There was, was, was your life at that point just such a, a, a blur, such, such a fog, um, that you didn't know whether you could tell people these things, whether it was teachers, whether it was whoever. 

 

Melissa Baker: Well, I tried, I, I wanted, I, I acted up in primary school when it started, like, um, terribly, like from kindergarten on, I was, I was the worst person in the school in many ways because I wanted someone, I wanted a teacher to ask me the right questions, like, but I needed the direct questions because the way that I learned to get around situations, and that meant around the truth because I couldn't tell it.

 

Like if someone was saying, you know, you are okay today, then I was like, I can't answer that question. But if you were like, is something going at home? Is your dad treating, you know, something really a specific question I could answer. Um, that night that the first incident happened, um, no. Uh, when the first, at seven the incident happened with the business partners.

 

The, the next morning I was in, um, Fourth grade and the next morning I was, uh, well, in that afternoon I was, no sorry, third grade. And I was in the back of the classroom and all the, the teacher asked us, can, does anyone wanna go down to the bathrooms before you go on your buses and walk and go to back home?

 

And I just stayed there quiet. I was really quiet. I was either really like, Going out, causing trouble, or I was just like really quiet and inwardly imploding in many ways. And I, I had, I stood there and I actually weed on the floor and I was so scared to move because of what happened the night before. I didn't know how to be, you know, Like everybody else, like I'm, I'm, I'm traumatized, I suppose, standing there.

 

I wouldn't have known that word then, but I was like, and it, and they were starting to ask me some questions, but they wouldn't ask me the right questions. They would like, why did you do that, Melissa? Like, well, Right. You know, how do you answer that as a, a child of seven? 

 

Host: And it just gone through, it was an era as well where those questions weren't asked necessarily by teachers because as a faculty, their careers and their professional involvement with children was, was to teach. Yeah. Yeah. Um, which is completely alien to probably a generation of today. But that was, that was the case, wasn't it? 

 

Melissa Baker:

 

Mm-hmm. Yes. Yeah, totally disa Everyone wanted to be disassociated with any abuse or anything that happened. Um, I did foul a comprehension chest in, uh, year four because it was so boring.

 

Like it was like this gray elephant answered 10 questions on a gray elephant. Well, what, and the first question was what color is the elephant? Well, Come on, you could do a better story than that. So I made up this elaborate story of a purple elephant with pink PE dots and there was an Indian boy on it and he and I rode off into the sunset in the jungle together, and I answered all my questions based on my own story and got a 0% and I was sent off to a psychiatrist for that.

 

Host: It's al almost a form of escapism though, isn't it? 

 

Melissa Baker: Oh yeah, I was like always creative and imaginative and um, like, yeah, thinking outside of where I didn't learn anything at school cause it was all auditory. It wasn't visual, it wasn't hands on. And I'm both visual and hands on and auditory just like, this is so boring.

 

Like, I need more, I, I needed more input, more learning. Someone to take like me under their wing and. Because I was, I think I was quite intelligent even as a child. And, but no one sort of saw that because I just saw this naughty girl really, um, who was just trying to get attention and to understand myself in the world at that point.

 

Um, So, yeah, so the, yeah, got sent off to the psychiatrist and then they, my dad and mom wouldn't pay for anything and she, she unpacked a whole lot of things. There is something wrong at home, and she asked all the right questions, but my parents wouldn't do anything about it, of course, because, You know, mom didn't know that what was going on, and dad knew what was going on.

 

So, um, so I was left, left back out in the cold to deal with it all myself. And then time that gun incident happened, I then got a job at 15. I I was forced to leave school. He didn't want me to stay. Um, after year 10, so I went in as a graphic artist in apprenticeship. Um, that was my first career for 10 years and really, um, found myself in that time of who I was, that independent person.

 

I really wanted to be away from home, but then every place I worked at, I was sexually assaulted by a, a married man, an older married man. And I couldn't get away from this abuse. And the first job, um, I didn't turn, I actually stood up for myself and gave this person a letter and said I, I would rather die.

 

Not that I was saying that I was suicidal, but I said, I'd rather die than you treat me like that again, and I don't want to see you ever again. And then I took a sick day, and then he took. The letter to his, my boss, and told him I was suicidal and the next day I was fired and they rang my dad while on the day I was sick and talked to him.

 

And when I came home he said, get out of the house. I never wanna see you again. So they rang your father? Yeah, not me. Like, not that we had mobile phones then, but I was actually on a train to see a doctor cause I was feeling sick and so I wasn't home at the time. So they rang home and talked to my father and I, when I came home, I got a, I got a huge belting for.

 

But I didn't do anything other than trying to stop a man's abuse, and, and the support from friends or loved ones in that situation must have been hugely difficult because I'm assuming that there were massive trust issues wherever you seem to turn because of, of the situation over a more than a decade.

 

Yeah, early ti so when I was on, then on the streets after that, early on in that time, there was a really amazing guy called Richard, and he wanted to, he was from the local church and he, he knew things were wrong with me. He, he could see that I was drinking a lot by then, and that there was just some stuff that a 15, 16 year old shouldn't be like that.

 

And. I, I could trust him, like he was a person I could trust, but I couldn't tell him because I was so worried about the ramifications on and on him. Like, you know, this man who's done this to me could put a gun to my head. Turn ha, where had three bomb scares at our house? Like, what else has this person done?

 

Like, so there's like things going on. And I adding all that up and analyzing all the situations, I thought, I, I really felt like I can't trust anybody, even someone that I, I could potentially say this man Richard, I loved because of, he wanted to help me and I had a trust there, but I don't wanna put him in harm's way.

 

And what, how you, how anyone could deal with that at that time, I just, so, I just kept everything. Inside. And then on the street I became, um, minks the monkey. I left Mel behind. 

 

Host: Well, you, you, you're not, you're virtually not even a young woman. You're still a girl. Yeah. You're living rough. You're not sure who to trust and, and the one solid, the rock that you have in your life is this man that you've met outside the confines of family, friends, and what you've known.

 

How did you support yourself? How did you, how did you make your way in the world? Uh, as what 16 were you? 16? 

 

Melissa Baker: Uh, 16 on the street. Yeah. Um, in going into 17 at one point. And, but it was. Cause I am, I've always been positive mindset even through all that. They're very, very optimistic, very positive, and, I suppose quite resilient because of the way that I looked at life going, well, I, I have to get through this next, I'm gonna get through this next brick wall.

 

If I go through it or climb. I'm like, that's was my attitude. I was so determined. Get to get on the other side of things and on this, and because I have such a caring heart and empathy and stuff for others. I could never hurt anybody. Like I, like a lot of people may still or do things that, you know, they don't particularly like about that couldn't be against their personality.

 

Um, but they have no choice because you have to survive. Right. But for me to, um, get food and, and the amount of alcohol I wanted to drink at the time just sedate the day and night. Um, I. Decided, well, I know how to play pool and I know how to act, and I could walk into a pub at 16 and they think I'm 21.

 

They like, I acted really older. I looked older and I felt I could, I could do some pool sharking and, and I, I put, I started in this, um, pub in Liverpool Street. It was an old Spanish pub on the corner of Liverpool and George and, and. I set up, set my myself up really well to win that first game, and then I just, like, I walked out with like a hundred dollars in, in my pocket, some drugs that someone gave me and or, and any booze I wanted all night.

 

And I thought, I've set up my business now. And, and, and that's what I did every night. That, and then I, my invisibility came in so well is because I could walk into a hotel lobby. And nobody will notice that with all the, you know, ratty hair. I used to have a little rat that would go behind my head that I'll look after.

 

Um, then when it gets too big, we'll throw them back into the winyard tunnels and, you know, and scrappy jeans and dirty t-shirt and things like that, and holes in my shoes. And I could walk through like a Hilton Hotel lobby type thing and into the bath, the ground floor bathrooms, have a shower, go to the toilet, and nobody even noticed that I'd gone in and out because I just put my invisibility on and I could walk.

 

In places like that really handy when you are on the street and you're not safe, like, especially at night from other, uh, perpetrators that may wanna harm you. And I had times where I did notice things up at the Central Coast Coast, um, sorry, on the Kings Cross when in the mid eighties, you know, talking about 86, 87, where.

 

There was like corrupt police up there, the, the golden mile, um, videos and stuff they did on the underbelly, and they, and I did see some things. They drugged me and I woke up with a seven centimeter stomach knife, a knife across my stomach, which I still got today, and I, I didn't remember what happened.

 

And I had doctors ask me all my life, like, what's this knife wound across your stomach? Like, when you go in for an operation. And every one of them would always like, you know, there's no kidneys or livers there. It's not appendix. It's too high. It's like, this is like, this is not natural. And, and I, and I was like going, I, I think I was knifed when I was on the streets, but I don't remember.

 

I don't think I did it, but I don't remember. And then, After, um, some trauma I went through in the Navy later I, I remembered and I remembered the night really clearly. And after they, I remember seeing things that I shouldn't have seen and didn't get out there quick enough. Went into a pub, they drugged my drink, they beat me up, and then they cut me as a warning.

 

And then I woke up near the fountain on Kings Cross, right near the police station. 

 

Host: It's, uh, it's almost beyond belief for someone like myself to, to, to hear your story and the experiences you're going through, but you've documented it as well in, in a book. Mm-hmm. Um, uh, sleeping under the, under the bridge.

 

Um, tell me a little bit about how that came to be and what inspired you to actually put your life essentially into words. 

 

Melissa Baker: It was a, it's a healing process like it was in my, it took me to about 36. I started psychotherapy. Um, going through all the things that I talking about for the first time, what I went through as a child.

 

Like, although I was speaking all over the world, I, and I told some of my testimony in that, my story in that, but I never. Really went to the depths of stuff because I still hadn't brought that out. I hadn't brought out about the scout leaders and I, I knew what dad had done, but I didn't wanna talk about it really then.

 

And then I went into psychotherapy and was able to, for two years, to get that out out and to really help my heal myself. And then was outta that, that I thought, oh, I really wanna write my story. And because I. Visualize myself back in that moment. I, it's quite traumatizing doing that, but it's healing and recovery at the same time because I, I feel like I can then get the truth.

 

Composition of the writing coming out of what actually happened at the time and seeing it from my perspective, especially as a child, and then putting that in adult terms, saying, and, and almost saying to the li little me saying, you know, you did matter even though I felt like I didn't matter through all those years that I was nothing.

 

Cause, and I was always told that you, you are nothing. You're not worth it. And to really reheal yourself in that say, no, everybody matters. Everyone is worth it. And to stop believing those negative things that we're told as a child. So, so how has sleeping under the bridge, and we'll put a link to where people can, can get that, um, on our, our homepage, but how's it been received by readers, uh, and what are the conversations or discussions that it sparked?

 

Um, a lot of people found the book is quite heavy because I do go into detail about the, what I had went through, because I feel like we need more narrative of those stories of helping, even though for some people that might be really hard to read or had a few friends like. Who know me, no one knowing me for a long time.

 

No kind of what I went through, and they didn't even go through similar situations. But to read the depth and the rawness that I bring into the book and the real emotions of that. There's many tears that I think people have shared, um, that. But it's helped them to integrate their own trauma and think about, well, like, you know, someone who, a friend who's gone through domestic violence and to sort of like, feel like, well, there's similarities in how they're feeling to how a child was treated and, and that, that manipulation and emotional trauma that goes with that.

 

And so the, and a lot of. People, there's a quite a few reviews that sort of brought up that these are the things that we need to talk more about. The homelessness rate it issue the, the rate for homelessness today. Way huge. Like in the thirties it was like 3000 kids, teenagers, around that time, not very much, but I mean the population's grown, but we were looking at 110,000.

 

At the moment and, and it's in Australia and it's like something that we need to do more of. Talking about the homelessness. We've talk, we've raised the stuff in the Royal Commission about the child sexual abuse, but have we actually talked about it as a society and how, how we can actually help heal each other in that and that we don't feel alone and.

 

There is others that have gone through that, and we can support each other's stories through that. And vulnerability is a good thing and it helps us to be, take up that courage and to face our fears and the, and the, any abuse of violence that happens on the streets and things like that. And these are the really, the main themes that we need and suicidality as well.

 

So there's. A time where I ended on the street where I just felt like I lost or hoped to live I lost, or a place that I don't, I don't know where my place is in this world. It was the day before my 17th birthday and I was just ready to just leave. But every time I was at that point, at a critical juncture in my life where I felt like to give up and to, I can't go on anymore.

 

At that point, someone or something always turned up to change my mind, to remind me that there is more of a path that I can see. Because in that low spirit time where we feel like there's no other options, there is other options, there is more hope, and there's a. There's so many other choices that we can take that um, we can triumph over any adversity.

 

And from what I've lived through in my early childhood and through other parts in my adulthood and. I just know that we can get through anything. It's not impossible. And being an optimist by nature, um, and understanding that it's, it's autobiographical, uh, inspiring change of course, and speaking out is important.

 

Host: Which leads me to a short film that you've produced and I understand you're your co-writer of it as well. Say my name. Um. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Because I know being a little self effacing, you probably will be the last one to let people know that it's already won two awards just very, very recently, um, at Indie Fest.

 

Um, what, what, how, how did this come about? 

 

Melissa Baker: Yeah, it was, it was a very quick conversa. It was a two year dream, like always wanted with the book. Uh, cuz I'm doing a trilogy on the book series and about my life cuz there's more, more to my life than just my early stuff. And I really felt like, To do a short film just in that, the first book to raise all those themes and awareness issues that we need to talk about as a society and less people reading these days as well.

 

But it, it's brings about a discussion that we, it bring the film as a short film, as 14 minutes brings that discussion that we need to have and. It's a poetic, um, beauty, like it's visual with, uh, composition of music. There's not much dialogue in there. It allows you to really think and sink in and move with the story and to the hope scene at the end.

 

It was a powerful journey. We started, like August last year. I launched my book on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, so I used to sleep under it, and so I felt like going into the pile on was a really great place to launch. Sleeping under the bridge I had, I met. The girl who played Mel as a teenager at my launch, and it just sparked conversation from there.

 

By October, I had my director all set in and the director of, uh, photography who I worked with on another documentary, and so I, we came together. Put it all together in about three weeks. October long weekend, we filmed like 15 hours a day for three days. Couldn't walk or think for three weeks after that, the pain levels and the water attention in my legs, um, but also the emotions of, I didn't know it was gonna be that hard to see myself being acted out in the places where I was as.

 

A teenager that was really confronting, especially Kings Cross, because I hadn't actually gone back to Kings Cross since the eighties. Like I was that scared of the place, but it was really quite confronting. And then working in post production took a long time, sort of slowed down over Christmas and um, then we finished on the 17th of April and yes, three weeks later we.

 

Two awards. 

 

Host: Well, congratulations. I've been privileged enough to watch it. Um, you've allowed me a bit of a sneak peek as it were. Um, and it's beautifully produced. It's, it's, it's wonderfully filmed. Um, you're right, not a lot of dialogue, but such a powerful, powerful message. Um, so I thank you for allowing me a little bit of an insight and I, I'm, I'm sure that in due course that will be released.

 

So others can view that as well. 

 

Melissa Baker:

Yes. Yeah, that's a hope. Film festivals this year we're going all over Australia, into America, Canada, London. Um, and then I wanna release it after that for free into the, so that, so next year. And then also I want to, another reason, like that's my main reason. But another reason was I want a big film producer to come along and go, Hey, you've got a trilogy story coming out.

 

We wanna do a trilogy film about, This because that will reach wider audiences and get that story out to start, you know, for us to start talking about it in society more and to see that, you know, this is not just a made up film. This is a true story. 

 

Host: Mel Baker, your story, your lived experiences. And the courage to share, guide and inspire others is personally an inspiration and a testament to the person you are today.

 

But I suspect you've always been. Congratulations on the film. Best of luck with the book and thank you for your time. 

 

Melissa Baker: Thank you for having me.