Going from Victim to Victor in Christ

Olive Heywood

One young woman’s harsh childhood and rocky path in adulthood nearly claimed her life until Christ intervened to heal her broken heart.

My name is Olive.

When I was 7 years old, my parents separated. My father left for South Africa, and he refused to allow me to visit him. It would be three years before he finally invited me to see him. I was excited and hopeful that this marked a turn for our family, but the trip turned into a nightmare.

He decided to kill himself in front of me.

I was shipped home, in shock. Bedtime became a daily struggle because my sleep was plagued by terrible dreams. Mom went into a deep depression and turned more and more often to alcohol that temporarily numbed her pain.

By the time I reached university, I had started taking medication to help me sleep. I knew I shouldn’t drink because it might react badly with the sleeping pills, but when my friends invited to me to go out with them, I went. Soon I was drinking regularly and taking more of my medicine than I should have.

Growing Up on a Thorny Path

I met someone. He was older than me, but I thought the relationship would make me happy. Maybe someone would care about me now.

However, he turned out to be abusive. He occasionally beat me so badly that I ended up in the hospital. One day, he beat me and tied me to a tree in the bush. I could’ve died out there, if not from dehydration then from an animal or snake. By the grace of God, I was saved by a little boy who found me while he was herding cattle through the area.

I went back to my abuser. My parents had lived this way with one another, so it must be the way people were in relationships. For all I knew, this was love.

I started taking pain killers in addition to the sleeping tablets. Eventually, the man I was with was shot and killed in one of the many local conflicts. Since he was gone, I thought that my life might improve, at least a little. A visit to the doctor dispelled that hope. My boyfriend had infected me with HIV. Not only that but the doctor told me I had a CD4 count of 34. The normal range for most people is between 500 and 1,500, and when the count drops below 200, a patient is diagnosed with AIDS.

I was devastated and bitterly angry at this man who had ruined my life. Deeper than those feelings, though, was shame. To counter it, I increased my doses of pain pills and sleeping medication.

My addiction continued for years until one day I passed out at work and was unconscious for two days. That I survived could have only been the will of God. I was forced to tell my employer about my problem, and he took me to Elusitweni, the Teen Challenge ministry for women.

Finding Forgiveness and Victory

I arrived at the center with a lot of pain, filled with shame, rejection, bitterness and unforgiveness. When I learned that I could have a new identity in God, my choice was straightforward. I accepted Christ as my savior.

Soon after, I joined the group studies for new Christians. They taught me the importance of forgiveness because I had many people to forgive, including myself, and that refusing to forgive would block God’s work within me. I am also learning to submit to authority and to be humble. Learning to love and trust again is a process. The program is hard if you are used to being independent.

As I embrace God and allow him to lead, though, each day becomes better.

Two verses in particular keep me going in my healing: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT), and “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6).

I have peace knowing that, in my weakness, God is with me. I am not proud of my past, but I’m glad I went through it for God’s glory in the end. I pray that one day my story will help change someone else’s life.

Today, I am not victim. In God, I am a victor.