From terror to triumph

When Sharon Blackman walked across the stage in October to accept her scroll during the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus’ graduation, she was saying to the world that like a Phoenix, she had risen from the ashes.

With her bachelor of science degree in psychology (which she achieved with honours) held firmly in her hands, Sharon held back tears, as episodes of her life flashed before her.

Years of sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse, having to live in shelters periodically, giving birth to her first child at the age of 14, having been a teenaged dropout of school, and being put out on the streets, are just a fraction of the many challenges this mother of five have faced during her 40 years.

Sitting down recently to share “the story of her life,” Sharon painfully spoke about what her carefree life was like as a young child, and how everything changed when she became a teenager.

Trouble acclimatising

Born in London, to a Barbadian father and a St Lucian mother, Sharon, the last of her parents’ three children, came to Barbados at the age of six – and attended Welches Primary School. This was not an easy transition. She had trouble acclimatising, and also “fitting in” because of her “foreign accent and quirky ways.”

She went on to Christ Church Foundation School, and from all points, was doing well.

It was from 13, that the abuse started, at the hands of a family friend. As a result, Sharon found herself pregnant.

“I saw this person as a big brother. I would come home and share with him what my days were like at school.

“One night he woke me up from sleep, took me into the kitchen, and sexually molested me.”

Sharon kept this as a secret, but when she missed her menstrual cycle a month later, she knew something was wrong.

“I told him that I had missed my period, and he gave me all kinds of things to drink, so it could ‘come back’.

“I think that we “trauma-bonded” over what had clearly happened to me. This person who molested me became my confidante, and he kept telling me not to tell anyone.”

However, Sharon’s guidance counsellor began to notice a change in Sharon’s physical appearance. One day, she told the young child, that if she was “getting fat” because she was eating too much, that was good fat, but it would be considered bad fat, if she was pregnant.”

“Bad fat” it was, and so Sharon’s mum was summoned to the school to be informed of her daughter’s pregnancy.

“My mum was very supportive. She came to the school, asked the guidance counsellor if she could take me home, and she took me to Chefette. She sat me down and said to me, “You are going to have to tell your father.” Then she asked, “Who is the father?”

“I made up a story. I told her it was an exchange student who had visited the island, and had returned home. She never challenged this story, but I knew she knew it was a lie,” Sharon said.

While her mum supported her, her dad did not. He did not speak to Sharon for a year, and today, that relationship remains fractured.

“My dad was never able to process what happened and the fact that my mum supported me,” Sharon disclosed.

Her parents eventually divorced.

Keep her secret

Giving birth at the age of 14, was difficult for Sharon. Not only was her abuser already the father to her relative’s child, but Sharon had to keep her secret, which was decoded by her mother six months after the baby was born.

“My molester had formed the habit of constantly staring at the baby in the crib. One day my mother figured it out. When the truth came out, my relationship with my relative, who already had a child for the molester, was practically over.

“He told her and other family members that I had been coming on to him, and that I seduced him. They believed that story.”

Sharon Blackman has suffered years of sexual, verbal and emotional abuse, having to live in shelters and more, but has overcome many of those issues. (Picture by Shanice King)

Having to go to her abuser for “child money” resulted in the birth of Sharon’s second child, when she was 16 years old.

“I had kind of formed this bond with him. We were all living at home – my relative – and me, but there was little love between us. I always felt guilty, due to the fact too, that the relative and I would get into physical fights. Today, we are still healing,” Sharon stressed.

By the time she had her second child from her molester, Sharon decided not to return to his house.

“I didn’t want a third and fourth child,” she said.

However, the fights between her and her relative continued and Sharon was asked to leave the home. With her children in tow, she went to live with two friends. It was not the best lifestyle or environment, but Sharon found a job to support her children. Life was hard!

Sometime later, she met the man who would father children number three to five. He abused her for years.

It was her daughter, who eventually woke Sharon up from her “slumber” when one day, while being beaten by this man who was holding a knife to her stomach, her daughter jumped through a window and ran for help.

“What woke me up was that my daughter, who was not yet a teenager, had to save me. That shook me up. I decided I was going to make life easier for me and my children.”

That’s when Sharon went on to complete studies in english, mathematics, social studies, principles of business and office administration.

Some subjects she learnt on her own, and passed all of them. This was in 2013.

That year she applied to UWI, and got in, but then became a casualty of the Democratic Labour Party’s retrenchment exercise, and had to quit studying.

She started to reach out for help. This led to her working at The Nation for over a year. She also worked as a clerical officer attached to the accounts department at a Government office, but a second retrenchment in 2018, was another setback.

Still proving how resilient she was, Sharon, who had completed studies in human resources would eventually work in that field, which is what she does today.

She paused as she spoke about the phenomenal women she met along her journey, and who helped her to get her feet back on solid ground. They included The Nation’s Paulette Jones and former employee, Tracey Moses; Lynn Armstrong and Nicole Drakes.

Gave me hope

“Some of them cried with me, and celebrated my successes. Lynn fought for me like a soldier; Paulette had agreed to give me a job, and Tracey gave me hope when I had little hope.”

 “There have been lots of battles, but there were phenomenal women at each turn. God is always first. He saved me. When I think of all the things I’ve been through, and yet came out on top. It’s amazing,” Sharon remarked.

“Sometimes people think when you go through something traumatic, it’s the event that makes them strong, but it’s actually the resilience in you.

Referring to her recent academic accomplishment, Sharon said, “My mum is proud that I did it on my own and my children (who range from age 11 to 25) are proud of me also.

“Things are better, but I am still not where I want to be.”

Sharon now has her eyes set on acquiring a master’s degree and practising clinical psychology.

“If I had been rigid all the times I had been knocked down, I would not have been able to adapt to changes, grow, and learn new things,” she quipped.

“It’s a hurdle, and I must decide how I will fund it on my own. Right now, I love where I work, and I love helping others,” Sharon, who is also an artist, shared.

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