Always the Bridesmaid

Always The Bridesmaid – Childhood Abuse – More Than Just Surviving


Always the Bridesmaid by Judith Shapland is a moving memoir about the pervasive and complex effects of childhood sexual abuse. Judith was six weeks old when she was sexually abused by a neighbour. Her childhood then continued on in a series of traumatic events mainly perpetrated by her parents, who, as abused children themselves, continued to weave the tapestry of abuse inside their own family. This is what Shapland calls the “Toxic Heirloom”.

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Breaking The Toxic Heirloom

Shapland’s story takes us on a very personal journey and illustrates the point that usually, the very people who condemn the abuser are the ones who judge and ridicule the victims of abuse as they attempt to “live a life of broken hearted dreams”. Shapland further states that these people “…are often the losers, nutters or junkies…Either self medicating so as not to feel the pain, going mad to avoid it or living a life of crime”. And so, she emphasises, we have a system that re-victmises the victim and in order to put a stop to the “Toxic Heirloom”, we must look after the victims of abuse, to help them “find something inside themselves that says they are deserving of a life worth living”.

Shapland lives in Far North Queensland and works in the fields of Mental Health, Homelessness, and Alcohol and Drug Recovery. Through her work, it is her vision that as a global community, we can start to become pro-active in mounting a campaign to re-design international law surrounding the rights of the child. She believes that in order for the world to move forward in environmental and animal protection, we must begin by protecting the adults of tomorrow – the very children who are suffering abuse today.

Shapland’s life evolves and she is eventually able to heal herself. As she says, “It is possible to take control of your life, change its direction and no longer live as a victim. My experience of life was one of hard hearted reactions and hard headed thinking, shut down to tenderness, warmth and love. I was carrying a legacy of hatred. I did not want to pass this legacy onto my children and grand children. I realised that if I wanted to change the world I live in, I needed to start with me”. Told with unflinching honesty, Always the Bridesmaid also illustrates the indomitability of the human spirit, for Shapland’s story is not just about the devastating consequences of childhood abuse, it’s also about resilience, survival, and ultimate triumph.

This book offers an in depth personal account of the pervasive and complex effects of childhood sexual abuse.  It is a story told with purpose, to raise awareness of the personal and community costs of traumatic early childhood experiences, and to advocate for change in our communities response to such detrimental acts.  Judith’s self reflective and journalistic writing style is refreshingly honest, and her story provides hope for other survivors of abuse.  Her memoir depicts recovery from childhood abuse and rebuilding one’s sense of self as an ongoing evolution – one that is characterised by resilience and determination.  As a beginning counsellor, her book allowed me to reflect on the intricacies of working with people who have experienced traumatic childhood abuse.  As a reader, it is a privilege to travel alongside Judith as she unravels her past and takes changes to her life in order to make changes for herself and her family.
– Rebecca Chivell (Community Mental Health Worker and Counsellor)

My memories of childhood were based in feelings of anger, shame, guilt and deep sadness, which as I got older turned into depression. In order to change the direction of my life, I needed to untangle the threads of my tapestry, in order to unravel how I got to those difficult places. I needed to identify what I was doing and change the behaviours that created these difficult situations.
– Judith Shapland”