“I feel like he took my soul” is a phrase that I’ve heard from more than one survivor. The first time I heard it, I wanted to cry with relief. That is exactly it, I thought. I was overwhelmed with relief that someone felt the same way as me. It made me feel less alone.

Abuse is a thief of many things. Some people lose more than others and this isn’t reflective of the amount or severity of abuse suffered. That’s irrelevant. Whether it happens once or is sustained over a prolonged period of time, the impact on that person’s life is devastating. Every survivor will recognise the sense of loss.

For the survivor reading this post; I would like to think that if you relate in any way, you feel less alone. These feelings of loss are most likely felt by all survivors to a varied extent. It is normal to feel like this and it may be helpful to recognise that grief, anger, sadness, bitterness and hopelessness are also normal reactions to an abnormal situation that we never asked to be part of in the first place.

What abuse stole from me…

It stole trust and replaced it with suspicion that the world was not a good and decent place. It stole trust that I could take people at face value. It made me cynical of others, especially men – I would wonder what they were hiding underneath a friendly facade. Was I seeing the real person or the mask they had chosen to put on?

Potential. Abuse stole who I felt I was destined to be. It stole my future career. As a child I thought I was clever but over time, it stole my self-belief, bit by bit until I had nothing left and I stopped trying to achieve because I thought there was no point. There was no room for self-belief, ambition or looking forward because the shadow of abuse took up too much room in my head. The further I slipped behind, the harder it was to catch up and one day I stopped trying entirely.

The Little Princess stepped out of the room and off the wheel of life that she had been travelling on and she watched as the rest of The World carried onwards and upwards without her and she didn’t have a clue what to do next.

The Flying Child

Abuse stole precious moments from life. I have felt particularly resentful for the effect of abuse on motherhood, in particular, during my pregnancies where joy was replaced with fear of the process. Pregnancy and childbirth is a challenging process for a survivor, especially when they’re silent about their abuse. I was frightened of losing control over my body. I was fearful of giving birth to a boy. What if there was part of ‘The Monster’ in him? I felt my body had betrayed me by conceiving a male child. Subsequently this led to feelings of intense guilt after the birth, when I realised the fears were unfounded. I couldn’t forgive myself for feeling that way about my own child and because I was still silent, I couldn’t discuss these experiences with specialist therapists who would have reassured me that these fears were normal and that they could be overcome.

It stole the mother from my children during the times I was too mentally unwell to mother them in the way I wanted to.

It stole a wife from a husband. There were times when I was unable to be the fully present and the loving partner I wanted to be and he deserved, and this took an inevitable toll on our relationship. It broke his heart and it broke mine too and there was nothing I could do about it.

It stole friends who couldn’t really understand my reasons for silence and who didn’t want to be privy to my world when I did speak about it..

It stole my childhood. Any happy memories were tainted with bad.

It stole boundaries.

It crept into my dreams and stole sleep.

It stole my words and replaced them with silence. I tried to speak about the abuse but the words would shrivel and die before they left my mouth.

It stole truth and replaced with deception and lies. I presented a false image of myself to the rest of the world.

It stole health. I was unable to access medical care that I needed because I feared touch from examinations. This has had a huge consequence on my life today. At times I need to use a wheelchair, for a degenerative condition that could have been rectified at a younger age.

It stole my sanity.

It stole light and replaced it with shadow.

During this journey to recovery, I have been part mountain climber, part detective. I have been searching for my lost soul. Soul retrieval has become an important part of the process which may may sound a bit off-the-wall to a non-survivor. During my therapy I described feeling a part of me had ‘split’ during childhood and that I had lost parts of my soul.

In its simplest form, soul retrieval is taking a moment to pause. Rewind. To remember who I was before abuse and to think about what it is that makes me, me. I have worked on gathering my previous hopes, dreams and thoughts from a time before abuse and put them back where they belong. This is easier said than done because I don’t remember a time ‘before’ so I have to dig deep to understand who I am beneath it all.

I feel I’m getting there. I wouldn’t be able to do this activism work if I wasn’t but whether I’ll ever feel truly complete? I accept that I might not but I choose to view this positively. The gift of adversity in my case has become a power, unique to survivors of abuse that I use to raise awareness,influence change and help other survivors to find their voice. There is always a flip side and that’s the side I live on. The further I go, the more I recognise there is light, joy, trust, friendship, self-belief and sanity on this flip side too. My feelings of loss, grief and anger have diminished and I never thought that was possible.

What has abuse stolen from you? Please feel free to comment below.

Read linked post Thief: Part 2 (Guest post from a partner’s perspective)

Child sexual abuse has a ripple effect on many aspects of the survivor’s life. The impact can be felt by the survivor’s own loved ones but it’s not something we find easy to talk about – for many reasons. My partner and I didn’t discuss these issues for many years; he felt guilty not knowing what to say or do for the best, and I was reluctant to talk about it with him.”

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