God this time of year 😦 I feel like I’m treading water, and I’ve spoken to a few other friends of mine who are also ritual abuse survivors, and struggling big time right now. Gentle hugs to all, I’m thinking of you…
I got through halloween in one piece, just about. I felt dazed and frightened, and very emotional. I went into respite for the weekend and was enormously grateful for the safe chance to lock myself away in a room and only emerge for mealtimes or going to the toilet. I knew there were mental health staff in the building, all compassionate and good at their job, and so I just stopped fighting with my head. I went in on Friday morning, the morning of Halloween, and let the trauma shock and hurt feelings wash over me. I can’t remember the last time I cried so hard. I curled up on the floor and I sobbed until I was empty, until the rawness inside me came out. I cried for so much, not just halloween. It was physically painful and exhausting but stopping it was like stopping hiccups – verging on impossible and often more effort than its worth. So I sobbed.
I woke up on Saturday morning, and my first response was cold panic because I wasn’t in pain. I had instinctively prepared myself for the pain after halloween, but this year I wasn’t hurt. I was safe. I had grieved. But it meant my body didn’t hurt the day after. For half a second, I genuinely thought I had died in my sleep, and after an initial panic, I was quite calm and accepting of this. But as I fully woke up, I remembered I was in respite and had got through halloween unharmed. They hadn’t even tried to contact me. I sat in my bed, staring into space, as the reality of this sank in. I guess you’d expect me to be jumping for joy, and there was definitely vast amounts of relief. But there was also disbelief, and also a sense of loss/confusion. It was the day after halloween; I was supposed to get up, hurt, apply cream/ice bags as needed, clean any wounds if needed, choose suitable clothes to cover bruises, take painkillers to take the edge off that dissociation couldn’t reach, and wash my face, clinging to the sensation of cool pure water caressing my frightened skin. This was my routine, my own ritual following halloween. This was no longer necessary and I genuinely didn’t know what to do. My body didn’t know what to do either. Both my body and mind were stunned.
So that’s halloween dealt with, for one year. I think I’m still mildly stunned.
But now bonfire night is coming up and in some ways this frightens me more. There’s just so many traumatic memories attached to the night for me – it’s a night where anyone can get away with ‘gunfire’ sounds and large bonfires without gaining any unwanted attention. For a ritual ring, or in general a bunch of shitheads, this is perfect. For the victims, it’s a deeply traumatic and frankly potentially deadly night.
So I have these memories…(trigger warning) I have the memories of staring into the glassy eyes of other children, with the flames of the fire reflecting in their terrified wide eyes. Their beautiful innocent eyes. I can smell the smoke. I can remember the eerie silence, broken by the occasional whimper, and by the adults chanting behind us. The adults standing in their circle of black cloaks, and the children inside that circle, in our own smaller circle. And then the fire. I remember staring silently into the fire as I heard the pop of a gun. Or, if I pretended hard enough, it was just a firework…very very close to me.
The thing with a circle is that you see more of the people. If we had been forced into a line I wouldn’t have known how the other children were coping. But I could see them. I could see the strange colour of their faces, caused by the firey glow mixed with their own fear and exhaustion. I could see their silent tears staining their cheeks, and I could feel my own tears trickling down mine. Right now, in the present, those tears are back…silently dripping down my face, just the memory triggering them I guess…
It’s the worst feeling in the world: being simultaneously frightened that I would be next, and at the same time…so desperately longing for it. I said this to my therapist last week, and she reassured me, that this was normal and expected…no child would absolutely 100% want to keep surviving, not in that much horror and pain. I just managed to keep hold of my survival instinct more than my desperation to just die and escape. How? Who knows. Mostly luck, I imagine.
And now, it’s nearly bonfire night. There’s fireworks going off every night. If I see the fireworks, then it’s okay – I can instantly rationalise the bang, instantly confirm to myself it’s safe. But if I can’t see them, then I freak, unless the sound is very clearly not even similar to gunshot sound (too explosive or big, for example). In respite I heard a firework display going off, and was okay until the fast pop-pop-pop one went, followed by the occasional sharp bang. I was terrified, and couldn’t rationalise fast enough. Cognitively I knew they weren’t here, I knew I was safe. But my instincts had kicked in and I felt five years old again. I hid in the wardrobe, with my hands over my ears, rocking and sobbing silently. I stared at my feet, remembering doing that aged five, at one of the horrific bonfire night events…just staring at my feet, staring at my tiny toes, wriggling to remind myself I’m still alive, wondering what colour nail varnish I’d paint them if I made it home…
I’ve hardly slept, because I hear fireworks, and then have nightmares about bonfire night and them using guns in general. I have woken from the same nightmare every night for the last two weeks, the same memory – staring down the barrel, and being told ‘you have a choice. Be shot or be raped by this.’ It’s not really a choice. It’s not a choice. They knew I would choose rape (I do wonder what they would have done if I hadn’t), but I was made to feel like I had brought that level of indescribable pain upon me, that as I lay there screaming and choking in pain as they raped me with it, I felt ashamed of myself. That’s what they wanted and they succeeded. In the nightmare I stare down the barrel and hear his voice say that to me, and then I wake up, drenched in nervous sweat and shaking violently.
Even during the day I can feel I’m hyper-tense. I get chest pains frequently, from muscle tension, and my jaw aches from clenching it so much. I am constantly assessing my escape routes. I am jumping at any sound too similar to a bang. Sometimes I have to just close my eyes and focus on the sensation of my clenched hands, or my feet in their shoes.
It’s horrific. It is completely horrific. I think fireworks are pretty, but the memories that the sound of them triggers is too horrendous. I want to be able to enjoy bonfire night but I can smell the smoke, remember the fire reflecting in the children’s eyes, remember losing friends, and hear the guns.
And those memories break my heart. They completely break me.
Because it’s not even the most obvious horror that’s the only traumatic parts. It’s like I said to my therapist, even needing the toilet in that environment is dangerous. I needed the toilet once at a bonfire night and was terrified. I couldn’t say, I wasn’t allowed to speak. But if I wet myself, they’d rape me (if they noticed). In the end I just had to dissociate the growing desperation and hope for the best. This is why dissociation happens – because how the hell else was I supposed to cope with such a ridiculous and sick situation as a young child?
I hate this time of year 😥 I hate the memories. I hate what I and others have been put through 😥