“Healing will be an ongoing, possibly life-long, journey.”
Krystal (28) lives by the sea, in Devon, with her mum, dad and brother. She recently moved back into the family home in an attempt to save some money and spend some quality time with her family. It is clear to see how important family is to her and what a close relationship she has with them. It’s no wonder – this is a relationship that has stood unbreakable through the hardest of times. On the outside, Krystal is a bubbly, warm and outgoing person. Meeting her for the first time, you wouldn’t know the struggles she has had growing up.
Having only recently started to open up about her situation, she kindly agreed to sit down with us over a cup of tea. In this article she takes us through what it has been like to grow up with a male figure who is extremely unstable, how that has affected her and her journey to healing.
Q. What is your earliest memory?
I don’t really remember much before I was about 13 or 14, as I had a tricky relationship with my biological father and that’s clouded a lot of memories. However, I do remember the moment when I asked to call my mum’s new husband ‘dad’. I was about 8 years old and it’s a moment I will hold onto forever and it was possibly even life changing to have that security of being taken into a close family situation.
Q. Describe your relationship with your biological father.
You’ll probably notice that I always call him ‘biological’ father, I never give him ‘dad’ or anything but a clinical reference. My biological father and my mum were together for around a year and a half max. They were never married. My mum had me when she was 20. My biological father bullied my mum into a relationship. He’s quite a manipulative person and can be quite charismatic when he wants to be. I think he had quite a troubled upbringing and had been in and out of prison since he was young for various crimes. He has a lot of anger issues, alcohol dependency and he’s very manipulative and controlling, particularly with women. Mum finally made the decision, when I was one, that he would be cut from our lives. I don’t remember much but I remember there was constant fear, which I guess I got off mum. She was really scared of him and I guess I fed off that fear.
Q. What was your biological father like as you grew up?
He would break into our house a lot. He once s*** on mum’s bed and another time he sliced up all of her ‘going out’ clothes. I know that he broke in once but didn’t touch anything, but the TV was on and there was an empty bag of crisps and crumbs all over the sofa. I think that’s worse than trashing the place. There’s something quite chilling about that. That’s just a little insight into the type of man that he is. I had always been fearful of him. As I got older, he would start following me home from school and sending postcard/letters. I’d come home to a voicemail message where he would say ‘give me £2,000 and I’ll let Krystal change her name and leave her alone’. So it was a very weird upbringing and I didn’t speak about it to my friends or family, apart from my Mum and Dad. I felt isolated and I was very jealous of my friends who had these seemingly ‘close families’. Not that anything is ever that simple, because every family comes with their baggage. But when you’re in that bitter resentful place, you don’t really think about the positives.
Q. How has the absence of your biological father shaped who you are?
You can’t help who your parents are. My mum made a very wise decision to cut my biological dad out of the picture and I think it’s been so hard for her to say no and stick to that decision, rather than giving in to his blackmail over the years. But it’s given me the best opportunities in life and it’s protected me. I think I am very lucky that I have a mum who is strong enough to try and put a stop to it. His presence in my life growing up though has definitely defined me and my relationship with men. I find it very hard to trust them.
Q. How has your biological father affected your other relationships?
I had a major phobia of men growing up and I’ve had CBT to try and combat it. I have one male friend who it took me nine months to have a conversation with and when I heard male voices in my shared uni house I wouldn’t be able to sleep and I’d lock my door. It was that bad. I didn’t really like going out either because I didn’t really trust men. They were all a threat to me. I then got offered a job and it was to work in an all-male office. I was presented with a situation where I desperately wanted to work in the industry the job was in and I desperately wanted to work with this business/company, but I was absolutely terrified of being the only female. I remember my first week, being really surprised that these were men that were kind, had integrity, were genuine, honest and just really good people. I guess it was the first time that I had experienced that outside my family. To come into this space that felt so safe was very healing.
Q. Would you change anything if you could?
I think the easiest thing to say would be, ‘I would like my dad to be my real genetic dad’ but then I wouldn’t have the same makeup, so I wouldn’t be me. Equally, I would like to look like Shakira, but again then I wouldn’t be me… And all the attention from boys is already hard enough… ha! I guess I wish my biological dad had taken the hint or been sane enough to think ‘oh I need to nip it in the bud now’. Especially when I was getting to the age of 18 and I am saying ‘f*** off’ and he’s not getting the picture. Then again that constant battle made me a stronger person and I was very conscious that I didn’t want to be like him, so I have always been very hardworking and studious to try and distance myself from his personality.
Q. What do you like most about your family?
We are a very tight unit. My mum always refers to us as a ‘square’. There’s me, mum, dad and my brother, Kyle. I think there’s a lot of resilient, strength and unity in our family unit. We’re very very open with one another. They are a real shining light in my life.
Q. What three things make you happy?
Dogs – There are a few things that I am so thankful for on this earth and dogs are definitely one of them. They are amazing!
Okay that’s one. Hmm, what else? Oh, pepperoni pizza. Do I need to say any more?
And finally, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I have a very intense relationship with Buffy (she doesn’t know about it) but I really do! I first started watching Buffy back in 1997, when I was six. I don’t remember a lot from the first 13 years of my life but that has seems to have stuck! My family thinks I am lame being so obsessed by it, but I really connected to her as a protagonist. I feel grateful that I have grown up with this character as my role model. I genuinely think she is part of the reason that I am a strong and independent woman. I was a kid having to deal with very adult things and make adult decisions concerning my biological father, because he wasn’t capable of making them as an adult. I had to grow up very quickly and so did Buffy. She had massive responsibilities on her shoulders and I guess I connected with that. Also, I just love vampires.
Q. What is the best piece of advice someone has given you?
Give less F***s. Seriously, it’s not going to come as a shock to anyone that we live in an age of anxiety. We play out all these scenarios of ‘what if’s…’ and I think we’re losing the spontaneity in life and the rush of being in the moment. I just think give less f***s! At the end of the day, the only person you have to stay true to, is yourself. Just do what makes you happy.
Q. What advice would you give someone who was also struggling with a hard relationship?
I think the advice would be different for everyone. I tried counselling three times and it wasn’t until the third time that I felt it really worked; I guess I was in the ‘right place’ for it. So I think that’s a really crucial thing for everyone struggling with any kind of difficult relationship – there’s no deadline or time stamp for working through it. I am a very impatient person, so I rushed into counselling the first time with a “get in and get over everything” mentality which is probably why it didn’t work. I hope others can learn from my own mistakes, and deal with their issues in their own time, when they’re ready. Sadly, for me, things got a lot worse before they got better; however, since speaking more openly about my biological father, I have definitely found it easier to process everything. I have found strength from the love and support of my friends and family, which has most likely saved my life.
Q. You now have a seven year restraining order on your biological father. Can you tell us what the court process was like?
As long as I have been an adult, I have requested zero contact and it recently had to go to court. We filed for a restraining order and a conviction against him. We won a seven year restraining order but he appealed the conviction. The restraining order wasn’t up for question but his guilty plea was. The court case kept being adjourned because they kept running out of time. It was exhausting because every time you go into court, you build yourself up. You go through your questions, you go through your statements, you have to wait in a stuffy room and the whole thing is underfunded. It’s all very stressful. One minute it’s in Staines and the next minute it’s in Guildford, Exeter and Taunton. It’s just a bit of a shambles! In January the appeal went ahead and it was a horrible day. We were waiting for ages and I just lost all trust in the system. We turned up and they didn’t have any of our papers or knew who we were. We were video linking over to the other court and they didn’t have any of our statements. It felt like there wasn’t any man power to fix any of these problems. My mum went into the room first and I stood outside, even though I wasn’t supposed to, but I wanted to hear how it was going. It was the most heartbreaking thing to hear your mum crying and begging not to be asked such horrible questions. Mum and I don’t really talk about what happened to her in any detail and here she was being forced to talk about it; she couldn’t even see them because the live link wasn’t working, but they could see her. My mum could hear my biological father sniggering as she responded to things. The fact he won his appeal was probably the nail in the coffin, but it was already the worst day ever, hearing her in that room and not be able to do anything.
Q. Do you feel the restraining order has helped you get some closure?
I wish I could say ‘yes’ but it very much feels like we have a 7 year ‘break’ from him and it’ll all start up again from August 2025 (I know the exact date so I can be prepared). Even if he did leave us alone for the rest of our lives, there’s a lot of mental and emotional baggage to work through. I have always said, “we can’t control what others do to us, but we can control how we react to them.” For me, it’s learning to work through it all, developing coping strategies and working on the trust issues that I have. A few years ago, I had a mental breakdown and was signed off for depression. I just felt like I didn’t want to exist anymore. I remember having a real epiphany moment. I realised that the mental fear was rooted in ‘what ifs?’ Once I realised that no amount of physical pain could ever be as bad as the mental fear I’d suffered, I felt freer. That’s most likely when I started to get some closure.
Q. Moving forward, what does your journey to healing look like?
Well it’s a journey for sure! Healing will be an ongoing, possibly life-long, journey. Coming back home to my parents house for a year has definitely given me the time and space to heal and I feel very fortunate for that opportunity. I guess my next challenge is to get to a place where I am comfortable making male friends without feeling terrified! Your parents are your first experience of how people will treat you; therefore, my biological father set the tone for how I feel I should be treated by men and that is really taking some ‘unpicking’. I still need to work out how to build up the self-worth that I (and everyone on this Earth) deserve.