There was nothing that a then teenage Celeste Mbwese wanted more than to feel loved and protected. Instead the Congolese native carried the harrowing scars of abuse and an unshakable feeling of rejection. Unwanted by her mother, assaulted at the hands of a family member and passed from one foster home to another, now all grown up, she tells her story.
I don’t think my story is tragic. Yes! I’ve lived horrible and unthinkable things but I’d say that my story is proof of how something amazing can come from something bad when you choose not to give up. I can say this with boldness now but it wasn’t always like this; It’s been a long journey,” she says, remembering her past.
“I’ve never really known what a ‘home’ is. I was sexually abused at a very young age by a family member. This tore me inside. Feeling unprotected and reeling from the trauma, we moved from Congo to Wales but the scars remained with me. The strained relationship with my family, especially my mother, didn’t help matters. I wanted her to hold me and reassure me that I’d
be okay but instead, what I got from her was: “I don’t want you!”
“I was 12 when Social Services took me in. My mum didn’t give me any explanation why but from that moment on, I was moved so many times that I no longer believed that anyone would ever want me. I was angry, I was sad, I was so many things inside but didn’t know how to voice all the mixed feelings I felt. On the outside I seemed tough! I was reckless and fearless but inside, it was the exact opposite.
“At 14 I started smoking weed and ended up in a secure unit after an attempted robbery. Looking back, I’d say that what tipped me over the edge was struggling to deal with having an abortion. I fell pregnant when I was sexually assaulted at a party. Many things went through my mind and I felt I couldn’t keep the child—I was a child myself.
“Smoking took my mind off things, even if it was only for a few hours but it couldn’t drown out the deep sadness that kept growing inside. I felt so low that I didn’t see the point in anything anymore. By 16 I signed myself out of care and started hanging around drug dealers and holding crack cocaine and heroin in my home for them.
After an altercation over drugs, I fled to London where I moved in with my then boyfriend. The relationship was so toxic that at its worst, he knocked me unconscious and ran me over with a car. This was my rock bottom! I couldn’t live like this anymore and so I tried to overdose on pills.
“Some time after recovering, while on the bus, I looked up and saw the sign of the Universal church. I instantly recognised it as I’d seen it before when I lived in Cardiff. I took this as a sign and plucked up the courage to attend the church. Nothing changed at first because I held
back and pretended everything was fine. I felt good in the church but the moment I left, I was right back to square one.
“The turning point for me was on a Good Friday. At church, we were invited to nail our problems to the cross. I understood that Jesus took away all my pain but if I held on to it, it would always haunt me. The choice was mine. I decided that it was my time to finally be free. I decided to throw away everything I had bought as a way of saying ‘It is finished! I’m done with this way of living’.
I gathered my weed, rizla and flushed it down the toilet. I went to the service ready to face my “demons”! From then on, I found the inner strength to fight, to open up about my past, forgive my mother as my process of change began.
It’s been some years since then and that feeling of homecoming, of being wanted and loved that I found in the Universal Church has never left me. I am no longer suicidal or dependant on weed and I’m looking forward to building a family of my own.