One year ago today The Last Taboo, a Falling Tree production documenting my experiences as a silent child sexual abuse survivor through the mental health system, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The documentary has been broadcast twice and the first time was late in the evening. As the day progressed I began to get cold feet. I remember thinking what on earth have I done? There were things my own family didn’t know about the abuse and I’d sent an email explaining this and suggesting that they didn’t listen to it live, late at night whilst on their own.
I was working in the day and when I went to collect my children from school, I began to cry when on my own in the car, overwhelmed by a sudden sense of panic. I didn’t know how people close to me would react or if I might even lose them as a result of my decision.
It reminded me how I felt when I disclosed sexual abuse at the age of thirty. A strange sense of power mixed with an equal amount of utter powerlessness. When you make that decision to ‘tell’, you know you’re setting a chain of events in motion and that there is no turning back once the words are spoken. How people respond is out of your control. You hope it will be with empathy, kindness and lack of judgement but you know if it’s negative, you will probably blame yourself. It was my choice after all.
What on earth was I thinking?
My own husband and eldest children respected my wish to not listen to it that night. We sat together and watched TV, until adrenaline took over and it was impossible to not listen. I went up to my bedroom and turned on the radio, quietly so that I could hardly hear my voice, and I lay on my bed in the dark. It was the strangest feeling to know that strangers were listening to my voice, my story, and that I would never know how many, or who, or what they thought. Feelings of shame began to creep in.
When I heard my own voice say the word rape, I felt the word jolt inside my body and felt lightheaded with fear. There was only one person I wanted to speak to. I sent a message to Pat, the therapist who speaks in the documentary.
Are you listening?
Yes. Are you ok?
Can I call?
Yes of course.
Pat helped me to stay grounded, reminded me why I had chosen to do this and that after a while I would find things like this easier. That it would become easier to detach and tell my story without being pulled back into it.
I am now able to detach entirely when I tell my story which is good, as I tell it a lot. Last week The Flying Child Project worked with staff in a number of schools and one participant asked me at the end how I do it. I tried to explain that it’s like stepping out of my body. It feels like I become someone else and because of this I don’t re-traumatise myself in the process. The training is tiring but empowering, a wonderful thing when you’ve felt powerless for a lot of your life.
Now I reflect on the last twelve months and the knock-on-effect of The Last Taboo. It has opened doors for The Flying Child CIC and we are in demand with schools taking bookings for next year. It led to an unexpected opportunity for me personally, the details of which I will be announcing in the next few weeks. Today, by sheer coincidence I’ve been in London, working with Angles, taking part in an interaction with journalists. I was able to use my own experiences with the media to demonstrate best practice when working with survivors of child sexual abuse. I have no regrets and will do it again if I have the chance because there is nothing that impacts, enlightens or reaches the intended audience more than personal stories. Stories connect us. They evoke empathy and anger.
There is a lot that needs to change to make the world a safer place for children, and positively responsive to adult survivors of CSA. Conversations need to open, we need to reflect on our personal attitudes to a difficult subject and the role we might unintentionally play in perpetuating the stigma and shame. When people walk in our shoes they understand, just for a moment, what life is like from our perspective and where this need for change might lie.
Storytelling promotes social change.