Chester Bennington of the band Linkin Park was candid about the abuse he suffered as a child. File picture: Chris Pizzello/AP
Natalie Victor-Carelse was sexually abused by her stepfather for more than a decade. Her confidence shattered and her innocence stolen, she eventually moved to a different city in a futile attempt to escape her past.  After the death of former Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, and the revelation of the horrific abuse he suffered as a child, she wrote this open letter, hoping to inspire other victims of abuse with her story.

There have been countless articles, posts and conversations about Chester Bennington’s suicide on 20 July 2017. I have read the outpouring of support for his family and friends, the articles on depression awareness as well as the saddening negative remarks of his death being selfish and how he was a coward in his act of suicide. The majority of the articles relate his suicide to his continuous battle with substance and alcohol abuse. This may be the truth in the immediate link but few will stop and call out the ‘seed’ that grew into a dark, hollow and scarred future. What led to his drug and alcohol addiction! What led him to want to so desperately want to escape life! Escape reality. To numb himself so much that he felt he could, just for a moment, cope with life. Chester was often open about his childhood sexual abuse. It was the years of continuous abuse that led to his addictions and inevitably battle with depression. 
Reading the negative remarks on his suicide has made me step up and write this open letter. There are people in my life that know the truth of my childhood but I have always been embarrassed to talk openly about what happened to me. Ashamed. Afraid. You see, I was sexually abused for several years by my stepfather. More than a decade of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Someone I should have been able to trust. It broke me down to the point that as child, my confidence broke, then shattered, then disintegrated to fine particles of what use to be a happy child. No remnants of what was an innocent smiling child with a bright future surrounded by family and friends. 
My confidence was being warped so badly that even at the age of 6 I started going to school with a sense of awkwardness. Wary. A shell of a little girl. The difference in me made me a prime target for being teased. Bullied. I was "different" you see. I was no longer the chipper, skipping little blonde girl with green eyes. I was the awkward, angry, sad, sleep deprived little girl going to school with bags under her eyes from being too scared to fall asleep. Or being woken by harrowing nightmares of my step father. I was the girl eating her lunch in corners or bathrooms to avoid the teasing or bullying.  This continued throughout my school career. 
Even years after ‘escaping’ a city just to be a reasonable physical distance between myself and this man that had caused me so much pain, anguish, depression and disgust, I still could not escape the inevitable mental damage that had been caused. The social awkwardness also resulted in a somewhat lonely life that ended in unstable relationships, depression, anger and, in the end, suicide attempts to try and escape my memories. To escape the loneliness. I always felt like there was something wrong with me. I was always angry and resentful. 
After thinking that laying charges against my stepfather and having him put behind bars would help my soul heal and being told by our trusting South African Police Service that he would not be taken to court and the charges thrown out of court – I was made to feel that everything that had happened to me really didn’t matter to anyone in the end. 
I may not have done the drugs that Chester did or that so many other victims have done, but we all deal with things differently. I have, as a result, had my own share of incidents that nearly resulted in my own death, police charges and other incidents that resulted in me losing friends, family, relationships and my nearly my career. This is not due to the depression. This is due to the fact that one twisted, fucked up little man thought in his head that it was acceptable to sexually abuse a little girl from the age of 5 years old till well into her late teenage years. 
My point behind this letter, without going into all the detail and the long winding road that I have travelled, is that the root of losing beloved people like Chester Bennington and so many other people is often not the drugs, alcohol or depression – that may be the “casing” but the contents of what lies within, is the abuse. That is the root. 
Suicide is not ‘an easy’ way out. Trust me, I have been on the brink of death more than once. It is not easy – it is just a way out of the turmoil, the dark harrowing thoughts, voices and a way to escape a past that you will never be able to change. 
I feel sad that this has happened to yet another beautiful individual. Someone whose music always resonated with me. Someone whose lyrics I have screamed in my own head repeatedly hoping that someone on some level would notice my own hurt and tears. I have had blood run down my thighs and my arms from my own self-mutilation in hope that someone somewhere would ask – why? what is wrong? When? Where? 
I want people to both start speaking out about their abuse. To call out the soul wreckers who believe that what they are doing is acceptable, or don’t and do it anyway. I want people to realize that depression is not a “choice” and that suicide is not “an easy way out”. Before you judge someone else or their choices, stop to realize that you may not know their story. You may not feel the pain they have been forced to go through. You can try to walk in someone’s shoes, but you cannot feel the pain of the blade that tore through their flesh or the warmth of the blood that trickled down their limbs to the floor where they inevitably slumped in tears. You can try to get into their head to understand where they are coming from while you ‘judge’ them, but you cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to wake up in a pool of your own vomit from swallowing a box of sleeping pills or being called “a monster”, “damaged” or “fucked up” because your mind and your thoughts have become too warped for humanity to deal with. Stop. Listen. You have no right to judge anyone’s decision. It is tragically sad to lose someone to suicide but if they felt they had the support and the warmth of love and strength around them to begin with, they may have felt safe enough to talk about what was happening to them to cause the end result of drugs, death or both.  
Natalie Victor-Carelse