Alison Botha looked down on her own mangled body from a place she could only think of as death. Lying in a pool of her own blood, lifeless and unable to move, she asked herself if the peace she felt floating above was easier than fighting for the life below.

Hours earlier, Alison had been a 27-year woman living an ordinary life in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She had been raised with loving parents and her big brother, Neale. Her life was a picture of happiness and fulfillment. It was hard to find anyone around who something bad to say about her.

Alison was a great friend and was known in the community as someone you could call if you were ever in need. She wasn’t just sweet — she was was smart. After graduating at the top of her class, she set off to travel and see the world. That short trip turned into four years of wonder and adventure.

When she returned home, Alison settled into a promising job selling insurance. She was sure to be as successful in this new venture as she had been in everything else up to this point.

But all that was about to be tested. One unimaginably horrific day.

It was late evening. A few short days before Christmas in 1994.

Alison was searching for a parking space in front of her flat. She had arrived home late many times before, and knew that it was usual for all the good parking spots close to her building to be taken. She finally found a spot under a large oak tree less than forty feet from her front door.

Home, at last. She was tired. Happy though. She had spent an exciting day with friends.

She reached over to the passenger seat to grab her freshly washed laundry. Before she could move, a stranger opened her door. He pointed a knife towards her face. And told her to move over or he would kill her.

Alison moved into the passenger seat holding the laundry so close to her chest she could smell the detergent.

“It was such a familiar and comforting aroma but it seemed so strangely out of place now.”

Alison looked at her knife wielding abductor and hoped that he was telling the truth when he told her that he just needed her car and was not going to hurt her. She thought about jumping out of the car. She even attempted to ask her captor to just let her out — and told him that he could keep the car. He said she had to stay because he wanted the company.

Then she saw it. A police car. Her heart beat with hope that she was going to be safe. She was going to be rescued.

Hope was quickly replaced with dread when the police car took a turn onto a side street right before they approached it. Alison’s hijacker pulled over shortly after their close encounter with the police, where he met up with a friend, Teuns. They continued to drive along the familiar roads Alison knew so well.

She had no idea where they were going, but she was hopeful that once they finished what they planned to do, she would be set free and could go home unharmed.

As they left the lights of the city and entered the darkness that was Beach Road, she was still hoping for the best.

Even when the car was circling back to a secluded area out of sight from the road, Alison still hoped for the best.

Teuns got out of the car to inspect the area. Alison noticed the trash all over the ground and watched Teuns as he kicked it about. Teuns called to her captor. That’s when she found out his name was Frans and committed it to memory.

Frans told Alison to strip naked. She told herself if they just wanted her body, she would let them use it. Alison convinced herself that compliance would equal safety and she let her mind disconnect from her body.

With a knife to her head and a threat that he would kill her if she tried anything smart, Frans began to rape her. Again. And again. And again. Grabbing her by the hair, he told her that he had had enough — and passed her to his friend, Teuns, as if he was offering the last bite of his sandwich.

Alison let her mind escape as her personal hell continued. And then it was over.

Alison slowly put her own clothes back on and sat quietly while the two talked of their plans for her.

Frans asked Alison if she would call the police if they left her there. She lied, and said no. Frans and Teuns talked about leaving her there naked. So when Frans ordered Alison to remove her clothes again, Alison complied, thankful that they were going to let her live.

Alison sat in the car with nothing on but her sandals and her rings. Frans noticed the rings and ordered Teuns to take them off her fingers. He did. Alison breathed a sigh of relief that neither had noticed her sandals. She knew that would make her walk a little easier when she was finally released from the hell they had her in.

Just as the idea of freedom was starting to sink in, Frans jumped from his seat to Alison’s, straddling her body and squeezing her neck with a twisted ferocity.

Alison managed to utter the words, “Please don’t kill me.”

As he looked into her eyes, with his hands still firmly gripping her throat, Frans simply said, “Sorry.” And the world went black.

When Alison became conscious, she was laying on the trash filled ground with one of the men on top of her repeatedly slicing at her throat with the knife they had threatened her with earlier. Her mind was filled with terror and her ears were filled with the gurgling sound of blood.

She didn’t know what the noise was as she watched the men walk away talking of how sure they were that she was dead. When she realized the noise was coming from her throat, she tried to hold her breath so they would not know she was still alive. But the gurgling continued from her sliced airway.

Barely conscious, Alison used her hand to try to quiet the bubbling noise coming from her throat, but as she reached up to cover her wound, her hand slipped right past where her neck used to be and was inside of her throat. The noise stopped. But she knew in an instant that she was close to death.

The warmth of her blood covering her hand like a winter coat.

Alison heard the familiar sound of her car’s engine revving up and driving away. They were finally gone. It was finally over. She was alive, but she didn’t know for how long.

She mustered up the strength to write her attackers names in the bloody sand beneath her. And a final “I love mom.”

With all the remaining strength left in her beaten body, Alison raised up on all fours to crawl to the distant road. She felt something slimy in her hands, when she looked down, she saw her intestines outside of her body. She tried to scoop them up in her hands but it was like trying to pick up water balloons from a bucket of oil. She felt around for something — anything — that would help. Finally her outstretched fingers found the shirt she had been wearing.

She used it to gather up her intestines.

As she crawled to safety, she felt a heaviness in her head. Her attackers had viciously slashed through all the muscles in her neck. Her chin bounced awkwardly against her chest as she tried to pull herself towards safety.

Alison wanted to die. She knew death would be easier and less painful than what she was going through right now. But she couldn’t give up. She wouldn’t give up. She hadn’t yet lived the life she promised herself she wanted to live.

She forced her body to move. It was inches at a time. And then a few feet. She was losing too much blood and crawling was taking too long. Alison knew she needed to get to the road.

Driven by an overwhelming sense of desperation, she stood up and started to walk.

But everything went black. She was conscious, but in darkness.

Her head had tilted back so far, it was almost resting on her back. She had to use one hand to hold her severed head in place and the other to keep her intestines in her body.

And when she was almost ready to give up and give in, she recognized the familiar sight of the road. Taking a few more halting steps, she knew she just had to go a little further into the road, where she knew her body would be seen.

As she would explain her story later, “We are not always going to be able to choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we handle it.”

She only needed one person to help. So she lay there. In the middle of the road. Waiting. Dying.

A veterinary student on vacation from Johannesburg spotted Alison in the road and stopped to help her.

He didn’t even think she was alive — but after realizing she was, he called an ambulance.

Talking to her to keep her awake.

At the hospital, the doctors couldn’t believe the horrific condition that Alison was in. They had a hard time convincing themselves that she would even survive surgery. But after after three hours of surgery and three weeks in the hospital recovering, Alison was able to return home.

During her stay in the hospital, news of her horrific abduction, rape, and torture had circulated throughout the country. Cards and letters of support poured in. She had touched the lives of millions of people.

It was her story of survival. It was her spirit of never giving up. It was her inspiring belief that she was in control of her life — regardless of the horrific actions of others.

So what’s your excuse?

Why are you still blaming your past and other people for where you are right now?

You don’t get to decide what happens to you.

Life happens. Bad people will take advantage of you. The poor choices of other people will impact you in painful ways that cost you money and distract you from getting to where you want to be.

You might lose your job. Or your savings. No fault of your own. Sickness might steal those you love the most. Those you trust will let you down.

You going to feel helpless and hopeless at time. Beaten down and scared.

Remember that you are in control of your life. You get to decide your attitude. You get to choose what you do.

No one can force you to give up on your dreams. No one can make you be angry, bitter, depressed, or passive aggressive.

When you decide to take back control of your life, you become truly unstoppable.

Years later, Alison is a single mother of two small boys. Despite the vicious assault by her attackers, she again found personal triumph. Twice.

She has traveled to 30 countries “inspiring others to realise that their lives are actually fully in their control.”

As she explains it: “I believe just by being human, you’re in control. You get to decide your attitude and choices.”

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