Sunday January 14, 2018

'You have to learn to walk in your mind': What happens after you escape a truly terrible childhood

Maude Julien was held captive by her father until she was eighteen. He intended to train her to be "superhuman."

Maude Julien was held captive by her father until she was eighteen. He intended to train her to be "superhuman." (Courtesy of Maude Julien)

Listen 10:26

Maude Julien compares recovering from the extreme abuse and trauma of her childhood to learning to walk again, psychologically. First, you have to crawl.

Maude grew up in France after the Second World War, imprisoned in her own home by her father. According to Maude, her father believed he was on sacred mission to create the ultimate survivor.

From a young age, she was subjected to sadistic tests and drills.

"From the age of six, I had to spend one night a month in the basement meditating on death, where I sat on a stool, alone, in the dark, surrounded by rats. [There were] little bells on my cardigan...I wasn't allowed to let the bells tinkle as it meant I was moving."

"Will-power tests, where I had to hold the wire of an electric fence with both hands without showing any reaction during the electric discharge." 

The Only Girl in the World

Maude Julien's memoir, The Only Girl in the World (Little, Brown and Company)

Even though Maude had escaped the physical confinement of her former prison, it took much, much longer to feel free in her mind.

"When I got out, I had to learn the simplest most basic social conventions, like speaking to people or finding my way around. How do you make up your own mind and say 'no' or 'yes' to a question? How do you eat a meal with someone while holding a conversation?"

Maude was plagued by terrible nightmares.

"I was very happy to be free and decided to be very active, to be very positive, hardworking, but in fact, I was doing the utmost to hide the psychological consequences of my previous life. It took me more than ten years to overcome the consequences of my imprisonment." 

With time, and hard work, Maude began to feel she'd truly escaped.

"My father did everything to be sure I would never be able to escape, and I was so grateful to be free that it was impossible for me not to do everything to be completely free."

She became a therapist, who works in the realm of psychological control and abuse.

All these years later, Maude remains deeply and actively thankful for her freedom -- "to be able to walk freely, to be able to smile at people, to read any book you want. I'm so grateful."