Against the glittering backdrop of the diamond trade, author and serial entrepreneur Christine Clayfield suffered shocking mental and physical abuse. But what could have left her broken, only fuelled her resolution to change her life, and the lives of others
You will never make anything of your life” is something I was told for years, by various people in my life – people who should have supported me. This prediction did not come true, but it very nearly did.
I was always too afraid and full of self-doubt to leave my violent husband, who once beat me into a coma. Loneliness is the cruellest of all emotions, and I avoided it to the brink of death. I lay in a coma for 10 days, completely unresponsive and barely alive. This was my turning point though, and I woke with the determination to change my life.
As a little girl, I was isolated. My father was a powerful man in the diamond industry, and was all-powerful in his own home. He demanded obedience, perfection and compliance from his family. He upheld his position through vicious punishments – beatings and withholding meals. We all suffered, except his favourite son, my brother Kane.
I was the middle child of five, and the only girl. My first female role model was my mother, who had the nervous disposition of someone who was always under the scrutiny of her husband. She bore her burden with calm and grace. Then, aged five, I was thrust into the care of the nuns at a girls-only boarding school. Their strict, authoritarian leadership bred cruelty.
Instead of being equipped with the confidence and support to face life, I was taunted, punished and ridiculed by the other girls and the nuns alike. I lived for many years in a constant atmosphere of fear, hate, humiliation and worthlessness.
This unfortunate childhood led to a tumultuous adolescence and early adulthood. My teenage years and early 20s were filled with bad choices, from alcohol to promiscuity. I was so desperate for approval and affection, that I had no idea that what I was doing was wrong. I was having fun – for the first time in my life. Dirty, alcohol-fuelled, self-hating fun.
I became a whirling, drunken wreck – sharing myself with men who didn’t care about me at all. I thought I was fighting back against my upbringing, the loneliness and my feelings of inadequacy. It was exhilarating.
All this inevitably led to the destructive relationship with my first husband, Harry, who, like most abusers, knew how to control me. Every time he was particularly violent, the next day he’d apologise profusely, professing his undying love. What held me in this relationship was partly my upbringing – taught to forgive and forget – and as someone who grew up in abuse, I wasn’t shocked by his behaviour.
You never judge the person you love for what they do, but for who you think they are – these were the rose-tinted glasses through which I was seeing my marriage. The result was me lying in agonising pain in a hospital bed with knuckle-shaped contusions. After 10 days in a coma, hovering at the brink of death, I woke up. I had a choice to make and I am so grateful that I made the right one.
I’d found my survival instinct. A fighting spirit like I had never known before reared up in me. I felt anger, pain and sadness inside me, but I also felt strength, resolve and hope. I was going to meet my fears with the same resistance that a rock shows the wind.
I felt an overwhelming urge to find the person I truly am, the real me hiding beneath the layers of misery. I realised that nobody was going to come to my rescue – I needed to rescue myself.
I started swimming and practising for a triathlon. The training was good for me, physically and mentally. Race after race, I received trophies; I still have them today. The feeling of achievement and being a winner rested in my bones and I was obsessed with finding more.
I attended business courses and read books about life and entrepreneurship. I started to realise that success is all about planning and preparation, and I was ready. I remember a quote in a book by Napoleon Hill: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
After reading that quote, I made a list of things I wanted to achieve; I put the list in a frame and hung it on my bedroom wall. I was going to devote the rest of my life to achieving all the things on my list. It was my mission to be so busy loving my life that I had no time for hate, regrets, negativity, worry or fear. I wanted to be my own boss, own my own companies; be in control instead of others controlling me.
Shortly after that I started my first company, which was a success. I went from a “nobody” to a business owner. When I was practising to compete, I told myself: “Keep going and you’ll get there.” I applied these principles in my business life as well. I was going to work until I made it.
During this time, I developed a personal approach to selling. My customers loved my techniques, and I started to receive a lot of orders. I understood the importance of delegating, so I took on staff to run my company and started up a second. Since then, I’ve become a serial entrepreneur.
Although I bear the scars of my past, I don’t let them rule my present, or ruin my future. My past holds much pain and abuse, but it did not stop me from changing my life and building the future I wanted. I want to empower and inspire the world with No Fourth River, a novel based on a true story: my own.
My book is my way of letting the world know that, despite the pain of your past, you have the ability to change your future. You can make it happen if you just believe. It all starts with you.
Throughout my life, I have developed strength of character – a real determination that has seen me through some dark and abysmal times. This is the purpose of telling my story – I want to help you discover your strength.
I lived on the other side of happiness for a very long time. After endless torment, I made a promise to myself: no more. It was time to build the life I desired. I made a plan to change my world.
Right now, I am totally at peace with myself. After the coma, I became a better person. I am kind, gentle and warm-hearted. If others are in trouble, I will help them. I am very tough in business, but not in my personal life.
When we are adults, we look at things from a different perspective. When I went through hell, never did I think that hell would make me a better person. I am living proof that your past does not necessarily dictate your future, nor does it control your present.
Ultimately, it all comes down to a choice that only you can make. A choice to let your past go, to choose your own story and live it. A choice to have a choice.
Christine’s dignity in talking about the abuse she endured, and her path to freedom within her own mind and life, is humbling. She is a testament to the power of human healing, and the innate call to heal that lies within us all. Choosing to honour yourself and move on when others do not treat you with love and respect can be difficult, but stories like Christine’s remind us that it is possible. I wish all those recovering from abuse well for a fulfilling and transforming future.