Dr. Mary Faltz is a clinical research scientist. She is also an 'accidental author', having written "Cruelly Betrayed", a book about her experiences of childhood abuse, whilst going through chemotherapy. She hopes that sharing her story will help give voice to the voiceless by creating a conversation around childhood abuse.
Dr. Mary Faltz
You are a sexual abuse survivor; what did the experience of going up against your abuser – your own father – to send him to prison teach you?
I was abused for a long, horrid 16 years behind closed doors by my own father. After pressing charges at the age of 26, triggered by a coincidental encounter in front of a police officer, I endured 4 years of humiliating trials which received a great deal of media attention.
My own family went against me and lied under oath, time and time again to protect the offender. He was finally sentenced to 15 years in prison. Seeing him in handcuffs being escorted to the shielded police van was undoubtedly the best moment of my life. I have continued on with my life without any family, but I am very proud to have stood up for myself by breaking the silence after 16 years of guilt and shame. I didn’t realise that I still had not processed this chapter until I got cancer, which forced me to face my darkest fears and reopened the taboo drawers of my mind that were conveniently closed for years after the successful trial.
As you will read in my book, I endured pure hell, day in, day out, the painful truth hiding behind a perfect smile. It taught me that no matter how hard the struggle, a positive mindset is the only driving force that will get us through the storm. Standing up for what is morally right is important, and no matter how many times my trust has been abused, I remain kind and trusting. It is doable, because we are all worthy of a carefree, happy life, and by giving the abuser the ultimate power over your future happiness, you are letting them win. I was determined not to let this horrible man win.
What do you hope to achieve with the publication of your new book, “Cruelly Betrayed”?
I am definitely not pursuing a lucrative aim. I am an accidental author and not your typical writer. The original aim was to leave a document for my children to know my truth in case I don’t make it. Faced with my own death, the intense fear made me start typing on my hospital bed. I didn’t realise that I had so much to say until I filled pages out, somehow subconsciously. It was as if these words were brewing inside of me for a long time and were now finally ready to be exposed. Cancer pushed me to stand up and shout, I strongly felt the need to have a voice that was going to be heard, loudly and clearly.
I feel determined to raise awareness of the very common, heavy taboo topic that is childhood sexual abuse. No child should have to live through the years of shame and guilt that I had to endure. I can’t reach my aim all by myself and will need to be supported by the masses in order to have an impact. Despite this heavy topic, my book is filled with strength and determination. The resilience portrayed in the pages will encourage any reader who is facing an adversity of any sort to find that inner force within them to keep going no matter what. The emotional healing was very intense and so, for me personally, my aim has already been achieved. The book will be available through the general book trade, Amazon and on www.maryfaltz.com from the 15th of March in English, German and French.
How has the process of writing about your experiences of abuse helped your emotional healing?
My cancer diagnosis was somehow the ultimate trigger that made me confront my demons. Facing my mortality, especially after waking up from a long surgery only to learn that my cancer had spread, I felt the strong urge to leave my truth in my own words in a tangible form for my children, in case the cancer wins, and I am not fortunate enough to see them grow. This overwhelming fear of death got me to the mindset of ‘what more do I have to lose than my own life?’.
When you reach that point in your life, I believe that you become your real self, ignoring all of society’s etiquette that defines how we should behave, what we should talk about and importantly what we should not talk about, the uncomfortable truths. I often say that I regurgitated that book, it has written itself in the middle of a heavy storm within a short time.
It is authentic because you can clearly feel the fear, anger, and pain within the pages. You can also feel the love, hope, and determination, making it very powerful for anyone reading it. It is a first draft, and the reader will be immersed in my intimate diary. The emotional healing has been immense in that I now hold no negative emotions towards anyone. I let go of any anger, pain, and sadness that was quietly brewing inside of me. I can now peacefully sleep with no worries after a solid 18 months of extreme insomnia.
Cruelly Betrayed by Dr. Mary Faltz
What would be your advice for a child who is stuck in an abusive home situation?
If I had a child in front of me who was stuck in an abusive household, I’d firstly hug the child and tell him or her that it is not their fault. I would soften my voice and give them a smile to not scare them off the talk ahead. By putting them at ease, I would gain their trust rather than unwillingly using a more serious tone. My open talk with the child would not be inquisitive but rather casual. I would not fire questions at the child as if in need of urgent answers, exacerbating the shame and guilt that the child may already be feeling. I would ask questions in a manner that doesn’t make the offender look bad, bearing in mind that he or she has probably told the child that they will be punished if the ‘secret’ comes out.
Since the abuse is often done within the circle of trust of the child, often without violence, the child may not realise that it is abuse as it is sugar coated with presents and care. I would carefully listen to the child without judgement. I would reassure the child that they are not in trouble. Assuming the child has been threatened by the abuser against ever telling, I would be very careful with my wording so as to not scare the child any further. I would tell the child that I will make sure that they are safe and thank the child for trusting me, that it is not easy, but that open talk is very important because that is the only way that we can prevent the abuser from doing any more harm.
How do you manage to maintain a positive mindset, despite all of the hardships you have faced?
Having a positive mindset is definitely a big factor that allows me to remain pragmatic when solving an issue despite the huge emotional burden. One should always look for that little positive in the overall negative as that will become the main driving force to make it through the turbulence. Nevertheless, we should welcome the feelings of sadness, anger, and pain as they have their valid place when the emotional trauma is too big to handle in the beginning.
Once the initial shock is absorbed, one needs to start being pro-active in order to rationally tackle the issue. I surround myself with positivity and reject pity. Whenever I have self-doubts about not safely getting through the current storm, I am fortunate to have my dear David by my side to reassure me that all will be well. The deep love I have for my children is a great driving force. I remind myself with motivational notes on my mirror that I am worthy and can overcome any struggle if I believe I can. I smile at myself in the mirror even when I don’t feel like it as this sends a signal to my brain that ‘all is well’, even when it is not.
You are a mother to 4 children; what are the top 3 life lessons you want them to understand?
If I had to choose 3 life lessons, I’d say first of all do not be scared to stand up and make your voice heard, no matter the repercussions. They should always choose moral principles before anything else. If they witness immoral, unfair behaviour, they should not close their eyes to it, just because society has conditioned us that way. No matter the consequences, regardless of what people will think of them or the loss of comfort they will experience by doing the right thing, one should always stand for what is right. We live in a society where thankfully there is some sort of consensus about what is morally right and what is morally wrong. Without that consensus, civilisation could not survive if there were no set standards to refer to.
The second piece of advice would be to not let past bad life experiences determine their future. They always have a choice, and they should always remain kind and trusting. They should do good in life; I have always lived by this and I was never disappointed. Do good in life and life will reward you with good things in return. If one would see my life in a fast forward motion on a screen, one could say, this girl is a very unlucky one. I, however, do not count myself as unlucky. Gratitude comes with struggles and the more struggles we face, the more we are able to appreciate the small things in life that make it all worthwhile.
The third piece of advice would be the old classic of treating others like they want to be treated. Respect and open communication are fundamental, and I shall live another 50 years at least to remind them of that should they ever forget. A smile doesn't cost anything, and it is definitely underutilised in our rushed society.
Dr. Mary Faltz
You are currently going through chemotherapy; how are you dealing with facing this new challenge in your life?
I received my diagnosis just over half a year ago. The announcement was made in such a brutal way that I remained in paralysing shock for quite some time. The words from the doctor, who was tearing up were ‘aggressive, invasive, rare and inoperable’. I don't think anybody will ever be prepared to hear those words, whether you’re 37 or 87.
After a week of crying and facing this unbearable uncertainty, I had to be pro-active about saving my life. I drove hundreds of miles alone in order to find a different treatment approach to the one offered to me by the doctors in Luxembourg. I have had 2 waves as you will read in the book. During the first wave, I was very scared of this invisible monster that was out there to hurt me and take me away from my children.
By the second wave, I had changed my perspective on the disease and became the pragmatic scientist that I was trained to be. I thoroughly analysed my primary tumour and now see my cancer as more technical thereby removing that uncertain component. Even if I still have moments of horrible fear, I am much more in control by regarding this cancer as another scientific project to which I can dedicate all my knowledge. When you know the weak spots of your enemy, you can attack more smartly rather than blindly. I am very grateful to have received the news of finally being cancer free.
You are also a clinical research scientist and pharmacist – how have you managed to balance your career with your writing, battling cancer, and being a mother?
My book has written itself during chemo and radiotherapy within just 8 weeks. All the side activities that are stemming from this new journey are honestly a welcome distraction from my current chemotherapy. I don’t get the time to ponder about cancer too much, the self-pity is also kept at bay as I am in a positive momentum which gives me a purpose. I have a strong urge to raise awareness of this taboo topic that we all prefer to brush under the carpet. Indirectly, that positivity is boosting my immune system and thereby supporting my healing. As I am currently on sick leave, I do not have to worry about work for now and can fully dedicate my time to looking after myself and my children. I still have moments of intense fear, and time will need to pass to get some peace of mind in this respect.
You have lived in a number of countries in your life – what made you return to Luxembourg after moving away for a number of years?
Yes indeed, I was born in Dubai, then spent a short time living in Surrey, before settling in Luxembourg at the age of 4, which is where I grew up. After completing my secondary school, I felt the need to study abroad. I ended up staying in Brighton for 11 years before finally returning to Luxembourg 9 years ago. I had my life set in the UK and was planning on emigrating far away to Canada, Australia or New Zealand after my PhD, perhaps as an escape, but love had other plans for me, as I found myself falling in love with a Luxembourgish man for whom I decided to put my original escape plan aside and return to Luxembourg to settle down for good. We got married, had children, a mortgage, full time jobs and life resumed following the 4-year criminal trial. I simply conformed to society’s perfect image of family life and that seemed fine for me.
What do you want your lasting legacy to be?
That is an interesting question, and it’s one that I have not been asked before. I guess I would want to be remembered as a resilient human being that despite enduring horrible hardships could rebound over and over again. I would want my words to have an impact on people facing adversities of any sort. I would want to have had an impact on raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse, a topic that is very close to my heart, and if I manage to help people break their silence thanks to my words or have parents, teachers, etc. become more aware of how to talk to children and the red flags to recognise abuse, then my struggles will have been worthwhile and not in vain. I will not be able to achieve any impact alone and will need to be supported by the masses, so thank you for this great opportunity featuring me and my book, helping me reach a wide audience. We can all be change makers, whether your contribution is huge or on the lighter side, if we all work together, the impact will be powerful, I am certain. We have a responsibility as a community to not close our eyes and protect our children.