I consider myself a survivor of CSA and the psychiatric system, and was pleased to take part in an event by Drop The Disorder: an evening of spoken word performances to challenge the culture of psychiatric diagnosis and the pathologising of emotional distress.
One of the most significant moments of my journey was the time I reached out to a GP as I was leaving an appointment. She was kind, but as there was no screening for trauma, I was set on a path that delayed recovery for an entire decade. She didn’t intend to cause me further harm, she probably had little idea of what else to do with me. Trauma-informed pathways are long overdue and it is time for change. It is hard to have conversations like these without being accused of stigmatising mental illness but those who are harmed by the system must feel able to speak. When I do, I’m not denying the experiences of those who benefit from treatment, I’m validating my own experiences as someone who was failed by that system.
I regret hesitating at the door. This poem is called Door Handle Moment
Door Handle Moment: (advice to my 29 year old self)
If you say ‘I’m struggling’, as you reach for the door
don’t say you can’t recognise yourself in the mirror
that you don’t feel quite real
like you’re swimming through mud
and you study knots after tucking your children in bed
Don’t tell them what you do to survive
Don’t expect them to ask you why
Don’t describe how it feels to go so far inside your own head
you fear you will disappear, forever.
Don’t mention the wallpaper
how you lifted an edge
crawled in the gap
hung in the bubble
safe inside the flowers.
Don’t describe how it felt
when you couldn’t escape
a soul shattered
into one million little pieces.
how there was more than one of you
that it was bearable that way.
Don’t say you split from your body
that you lost hours of time.
Never, ever say you know you can fly
with the birds
in the sky.
When they sign your script with a flourish
say thank you
and yes please
don’t ask for a list of side effects
or to look at the DSM -5.
When the meds don’t work
don’t tell them you wanted to die and that you were disappointed
to see the sunrise.
When they admit you
don’t be vexatious. Don’t argue. Never contradict, question or say you don’t agree.
If you feel the need to laugh at the absurdity, never follow with a sob
when you try to explain
stuck for thirty years
don’t say them too fast
don’t stutter or stall
don’t say I’m a survivor
don’t say it aloud
their faces will shutter
they won’t know what to do
they’ll say the fault lies firmly with you.
It is a sure sign of instability
to seek human connection.
Never ask for a hug.
Stroke your own hand. Hold yourself
but not too hard.
or grip your arms.
Don’t ask for the names of their children
or if they like dogs.
Queue quietly. Swallow the tablets. Open wide. Show them your empty mouth
Don’t tell them about the blades in the spine of your book
escape routes planned
pills stashed just in case.
Hide your scars
don’t ask for first aid.
Don’t shout. Don’t curse.
Don’t scream when you think you’ll never get out.
Never tell them to fuck you. Or fuck off.
Don’t barricade yourself in your room when panic sets in
it is against the rules.
Submit to sedation. You won’t win. You crossed a line.
Let them shine a torch in your face every ten minutes
and watch you naked in the shower
it is for your own good.
Sit quietly on your bed.
Don’t speak about the chaos in your head.
Don’t jumble your words.
don’t be too bright
or grieve for yourself.
When you’re drowning in darkness
don’t tell them what you saw in the woods
how you were forced on your bed
what he did in the car
how imprisoned you were.
Don’t tell them what happened in the basement that day
or the way he looked at you when he turned out the lights
how you thought you’d be next.
Lie quietly. Be silent
it’s your only way out.
Hide. All of it. Hide all of you.
When they let you go.
Never look back.
6 thoughts on “Drop The Disorder Poetry Night”
My house is empty so I have felt able to listen to the Last Taboo on the BBC …… even saying that I feel ashamed that I cannot listen if someone might overhear is so telling isn’t it?
You have told my story too , right down to the pregnancy trauma and fear , feeling like I am living in a parallel world , being in a mental health ‘treatment cloud’ where no-one really listens. The drinking etc; wanting to self destruct because my life was destroyed before it really began, even the flinching in school that was noticed but ignored.
Then an unpaid volunteer at an abuse charity helps me to begin to talk and tells me that how I have reacted in life is ‘normal’ after CSA…that was a breakthrough and I am healing slowly but still have told few others.
Still have ‘disorder’ labels, medication ; don’t sleep etc, but now I understand why.
I am in my late 60’s now , the abusers are dead , I really wish I could have had a childhood before I die.
I really wish that for you too. Thank you for sharing, for listening and for recognising that your reactions to what happened to you are normal. As far as labels and medication go, whilst I personally was not helped by the treatment, I recognise others may have different experiences. I think it’s about finding a path to healing that works for us.
Oh my goodness!! How you describe the overwhelming pressure to be compliant in the face on going retraumatization is so accurate. The awfulness of hospital detention!
Thank you for this poem. I am going to share it with my therapist (with full credits to you) if that’s OK? I think then maybe she might understand me a little better.
Sending you my most gentle and caring thoughts. I can not imagine what that was like to write.
Thank you again.
Thank you for reading. Compliance is exactly it. Please feel free to share this if you feel it might help.
Thank you x