I just found the most stunning website : http://www.irvingstudios.com/child_abuse_survivor_monument/GiveUsAHand_StoryProject.htm
This is an opportunity for survivors to tell their story in such a sentimental and moving manner, and to create a work of art in the process of it. Reading the website and some of the stories on there really moved me…especially seeing a doctor putting so much time and effort into making people see they have a voice.
Since starting this blog, it has been interesting, in an odd way, to see the way people regard me now. Many have thankfully not changed their behaviour; they don’t treat me like some special person wrapped in cotton wool, and neither have they turned their backs. But some people when they see me look almost nervous, like they don’t know what to say…or they’re scared that something like breathing too heavily might have me in a heap on the floor. The moment I smile and say “hello” they quite visibly relax and it’s back to normal. I asked one person why they’d looked so nervous, their response was quite telling; that they knew I’d been abused, but had no real clue as to what that can mean in terms of psychological impact, and so they just didn’t know where my head was at.
Other people, mainly strangers actually, have treated me like hell. My blog post the other day about two students making vile comments wasn’t a first event. On more than one occasion I’ve walked past a complete group of strangers at university, to hear someone snigger and say “whore” or something similar. If I look over, they fall about laughing. More interestingly, there’s nearly always one person in the group looking beyond uncomfortable. I can only hope that maybe they’ve woken up to the reality of their “friend’s” personalities. A couple of people have told me that they believe abuse victims to be weak…even so far as saying they are “chosen” because they are weak. Does this anger me?
Not at all. I actually pity them. Some of the strongest, most inspirational people I’ve met have been abuse victims. And to go round assuming the weak ones are chosen to be abused means that they obviously haven’t met such incredible people…and that they’re too naive to even notice. Too ignorant. No, I’m not angry. I just see their blindness; pity them, and then feel sad…because is it any wonder so many survivors report the difficulty in telling their story? If the world thinks we’re weak…and we’ve been told that by abusers…then what chance do we have of convincing anyone otherwise? Even in hospital the other day, a doctor was speaking to me as though I was about three and incapable of making rational decisions. Thankfully my friend stood up for me and the doctor changed his manner. But if I was a survivor and he’d been the first person I’d tried to confide in, his manner would have silenced me. That’s something that needs to change.
The website about the monument, and these events with people just being so ignorant has got me thinking. I know I’ve posted on a previous blog about my past…in a bullet point quick-lets-get-this-over-with kind of style. But I read a thought-provoking quote earlier: “The moment a survivor – of any kind of abusive trauma – can tell their story to a stranger, without any feelings of shame or guilt for what was done to them, is the moment the survivor has won, and the abuser is instead silenced.”
I’m not sure whether I agree completely or not. But I certainly agree that to be able to talk without shame is kinda squishing the abusers.
So. Bearing all of this in mind, I want to show other survivors it’s okay to tell their story – if they want to. A lot of survivors already have, but a few might need some encouragement. So I’ll try to do my bit…and tell my story…
If anyone ever asked me what my earliest childhood memory is, it’s sitting in a high chair. I’m very small. I can see my mother talking to someone – a lady – and the room is empty. Next to me is a lot of glass panels or something. It’s all wet. When I was a bit older I asked my parents about this memory, and they were somewhat surprised that I could remember at all…and told me it was conservatory being built.
My innocence by that point, however, was probably already tainted. I remember my nappy being ripped off me as a toddler, for someone to hurt me with their finger or worse. My childhood – as far as a “normal” childhood should be – was kidnapped at a very early age. And like any kidnapping, the work to rescue the child and minimise the long-term effects of the trauma can be extensive and hard. But always worth it.
I’ve started rescuing my child now. I’ve started saving my inner child. 20 years she’s been lost, and finally she’s coming back.
The abuse started when I was so young, there was simply no way I could process or understand what was happening. I had no clue about what a normal life should be. What I had was normal to me, but I knew it hurt and scared me. Some incredible part of my brain also seemed to know it would cause me a lot of damage if I didn’t put some safety nets in place. I learnt how to dissociate, and created alter-personalities to form attachments with and to “spread” the impact of the abuse out. I honestly believe that without the ability to dissociate, and without the alter personalities, I wouldn’t have survived. Or at least, I would have survived – my body would still be here. I’d still breathe, eat and sleep. But I’d have no soul. My brain kept my soul as intact as could be possible, and for that I’m grateful. The human mind amazes me endlessly; listen to any survivor of abuse and they probably won’t even recognise the astonishing coping mechanisms they put into place as children and adults.
The abuse wasn’t just in the family. I am a survivor of ritualistic abuse, involving several men and children. The abuse was emotional, physical and sexual. I would be raped with objects, such as scissors and corkscrews, or beaten up, or put in a box full of water as a terror campaign. Actually the most frightening and damaging part of the abuse, for me, was being left alone. That sounds daft, but let me explain. I obviously didn’t want the attention of the abusers, but it scared me more if they left me tied up in some dark cellar. How would anyone know if I was dying? Did anyone even care? I craved human attention, even if it was of the most dreadful kind. If I was being hurt, they could at least see that I was still alive. I could at least see that they wanted me alive. Being on my own terrified me, and is something which caused me more long-term damage than I’d ever anticipated. Currently if I am on my own (and awake, not asleep) for more than a few hours, then depression spirals very quickly.
Also being alone in a cellar would often bring out the suicidal thoughts I’d so desperately keep bottled as a child. Often I’d try and work out whether it’d actually be better to die peacefully in a cellar, or to be taken back upstairs (ironically, into the light) and tortured? But I didn’t want to die alone, of this I was certain. But now if I’m on my own for too long, the suicidal feelings creep back in. It’s taken me a while to notice this pattern, and was actually noticed first by my friends who gently helped me realise… and now I can prevent it from happening. (I make sure I see someone every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes).
The most beautiful but tragic moments for me would be when I held my tiny premature baby that’d been born too early, and was a product of the abuse, and I was too young to cope anyway. But watching their tiny bodies…they could have just been sleeping, and they might have only been the size of my finger…but I loved them just the same. I fight for them.
I remember when I was about six…and I suddenly aged ten years (at least). I had up until this point been just wishing it would all stop. “I wish daddy wouldn’t do that. I want my teddy.” Some memories that have surfaced, where whatever’s happening has been too painful, I actually said as a young child “please could you do rapey thing instead? It hurts less.” I am growing ever more protective over my inner child, and to know I felt like this when I was so small…beyond words really. But anyway, I was up one night and looking out of the window…and cuddling my teddy. SUddenly I realised that just “wishing” wasn’t going to help. If I was going to survive, I needed to play their game back. I needed to fight back. I needed to show them they weren’t going to crush me. I knew I wasn’t a big girl yet so couldn’t do a lot. But I needed to be brave. I needed to show them I was stronger than they thought. Suddenly my six year old self shattered…my childhood innocence had finally been destroyed.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Being around other children brought out our inner strength. We were constantly reminded that what we were going through was wrong, even if we couldn’t escape from it. We adored each other; loved each other like siblings would. We would play quietly, tell each other silly stories, and make daisy chains. Daisies represent strength and courage to me now. We knew that the abusers would try and take our strength, and our tears. But we never let them take our laughter. Even in the most desperate times, we would fight for a reason to laugh. This is something I still strive for now. There’s always something to smile at, if you look closely enough. This was our fight against the abusers, and mostly…we won. At night we’d curl up in the same bed, and listen to each other’s heart beats as a form of comfort. In the morning, it was normal to check everyone was still okay…and then we’d lie. We’d lie for just a few precious moments, silently holding each other…never daring to voice our fears of what the day would bring, just silently providing hope for each other. Mornings are still a lonely time for me now; waking up in a large bed with no children cuddled up to comfort me…
Despite all of the physical horrors, I will completely say that the worst part of the abuse was the emotional abuse. It’s easier for me to point at a bruise and go “that was done to me. It’s wrong.” But if I start feeling rubbish about myself, and I can feel there’s been a hole torn in my head… it’s not so easy to see a) where and what the hole is and b)who caused it; if indeed it was caused by somebody else. It’s far harder to pick back up from. I know what it feels like to be strangled physically, and to feel the pressure building inside my chest, and to feel the pain…and then to black out. But it’s nothing compared to the emotional feeling of choking…because when is it going to end, and is there a way of being resuscitated?
The ring ended when I was 12, but the abuse for me didn’t stop. Family and family friends seemed very determined to keep me quiet, especially since I was starting to write and sing; methods of escape and release for me. It became normal for me to be woken in the night, and raped. Or emotionally torn to pieces during the day. Or hit for breathing at the wrong moment. I didn’t have the other children anymore; we were all elsewhere. I had myself. More than ever I dissociated and blanked the memories in order to cope.
I became a workaholic. I took far too many a levels (some, by force) and three jobs, and taught music, and babysat…and was being abused behind closed doors. There was no time to think, or to feel. I just had to get through each day. That was the aim. The big goal was university. If I could just make it through each day, then it’d add up…and soon I’d be at university and I could ask for help.
So that became my life. As a child I had fought more with the abusers; been far more prepared to stand up to them, at whatever cost. In my own company the idea of standing up to the abusers felt far more terrifying. I still did, but nothing like as much. I was far more compliant. I just needed to get through each day, and stay sane enough to study…and get to university.
And that, somehow, happened. The last few months of my a levels brought out a nervous breakdown…hardly surprising I guess considering the workload…but I still managed to make myself study and get through the exams. Results day was the most nerve-racking day I thought imaginable. It wasn’t just a case of a few grades telling me if I could go to university or not. If I didn’t get into university, I was going to give up. I knew this. It was all I’d pinned my hopes of escape onto. Without university, I couldn’t think of any other options. Except suicide.
I got the grades, by some sheer miracle. I got to university. I had practically no memories of my childhood…except knowledge of emotional abuse. I developed an eating disorder, and started experiencing flashbacks.
I then spent a year recovering my childhood memories. This was far more traumatic than what made rational sense. Surely, I thought, this should be easy? It happened…it’s gone…get over it.
Not so. At the time of the abuse there was no space for emotions, or generally processing. Now I was with some exceptional friends, and safe (after a flashback) to cry my eyes out. I know I have only scraped the tip of the iceberg in terms of recovering the bottled up emotions…but it’s been raw. It’s been painful. And in a flashback I don’t know it’s past; it feels present. I believe I’m being raped right then. So it’s been traumatic as well.
The abuse didn’t stop, either. Some followed me to my university town. When this generally seemed to end, I befriended a woman who became good friends with me. I trusted her, completely. I felt no reason not to. She lured me closer and closer, we became a couple, and then she abused me. It was only for a couple of months, but the damage has been extensive. The worst bit about domestic abuse is being so near to friends…and not being able to call for help. I felt trapped.
After breaking up with her, I fell to pieces. I spent a few weeks in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt. It was in here that I seemed to wake up. The hospital itself wasn’t great, but this is beyond the point. I have a tattoo that says “promise” and that’s based on the promise I made the children previously…the promise that no matter what happened, I’d keep fighting and keep trying to survive. I remember lying in the bed and thinking about how I’d been 10 years before. Giving up simply had not been an option, because that’d let the abusers win. At the age of 10, I was wiser than when I was 20. I had hit the bottom. I had completely fallen down the pit. I could either stay here and decide climbing was too far, or be grateful for the fact I now knew where the bottom was…so climbing needn’t be so scary, because I know how far the fall might be. I know how to hang on.
So I decided to climb.
Now I write about my past, or draw pictures. I still suffer terrible flashbacks and nightmares, and various mental health issues. But if I look at where I was barely 5 months ago…I think I’ve moved in the right direction.
If anyone asks me what my life is like, my answer is simple: the best it’s probably ever been. There’s still so much damage, there’s still traumas, there’s still problems. I’m by no means even close to fully recovered…and about to start psychotherapy so all the bottled emotions are going to explode. It’ll hurt more.
But…I laugh more. I used to feel guilty if I laughed…because I wanted the children with me. Or I’d feel guilty for crying because I didn’t believe I had a reason to cry. I felt guilty for being angry because I believed that made me an abuser. I felt guilty for being happy because I felt I should be constantly grieving. Interestingly…I have never felt guilty for being guilty. This hit me the other day. It’s precisely what the abusers wanted: me unable to express my real emotions due to feelings of guilt and shame…and that guilt and shame must rule my life.
What have I to be guilty about? I’ll be the first to admit I’ve done stuff I’m not proud of. These are sensible reasons to feel guilty, or sorry. Guilty for the fact I was abused? Once I did feel this. Now, I no longer do. I didn’t ask for it. When I was conceived I didn’t ask via “womb service” to be abused. I was powerless. Myself and the children made the best out of the most hellish and horrific situation. I have just about kept my promise to them. I still find reasons to laugh. I got to university. I have *exceptional* friends who have absolutely rescued me on several levels in various ways. I don’t feel guilty for being abused anymore. I feel a bit proud of the fact I can shove the abusers’ pathetic lives in their faces, as I take another step in the right direction.
The shame hasn’t left me. I’m not sure if it ever completely will. But it no longer swallows me. It’s just a niggling feeling in the back of my head.
So is that my whole story? Well…it’s a very black and white version. But actually, I wouldn’t call it my whole story, even if it was detailed. I’m only 20. I have my whole life ahead of me. My childhood and teenage years were extremely painful…but let’s just say they were the prologue.
Now recovery is underway. The next chapter in my life.
And one day…who knows…maybe I’ll be fully recovered. Maybe I’ll have my own safe family.
No…this isn’t the end of my story. It’s just the beginning…