Surviving in Stormy Seas

By Sophie Olson
A Poem by Sophie Olson that reads:

do you drink every day?
and she recalled
how heavy the weight 
of her coat
a stumbling trudge under street lamps at dusk
blank faces of commuters
as she stood on the edge
and waited
hopeless in her head
the pull of motherhood
milk-mouthed babies
starfishes in warm beds

There were so many days like this. Too many days. It feels like a lifetime of surviving. Often I wonder why I did survive. Sometimes I feel so very old.

This poem reflects a point in my life where I had reached out for help more times than I can remember. I had tried to be stronger, happier – more resilient. I had tried to focus on, and be grateful for the good things – there were many good things – but I was drowning and help wasn’t forthcoming.

The people I reached for didn’t reach back. Instead they stood at the side and threw labels at me; labels that weighed me down and made me fear I would always be misunderstood. I believed I would be trapped in the water forever and I waited to die until I realised there were others in the water too. Survivors of child sexual abuse – like me. Some had a boat and they kindly reached for me, pulled me out of the waves and I was no longer alone. No longer as cold, no longer as hopeless.

I met a therapist whilst in that sea. She didn’t attempt to save me with heavy labels. She didn’t stand on the shore and watch me flounder in the water, she had her own boat and she sailed alongside me. She didn’t attach ropes to me and pull me to safety, she taught me how to navigate, to read the stars – and to follow the seabirds who always fly back to shore.

This therapist’s boat had the strongest light and when the night was black, the skies rained down on us, and the angry sea threatened to swallow us whole, she kindly guided us until night became day and the swell of the waves settled. One day, there was no crashing torrent, just gentle ripples that ebbed and flowed. I stepped out of my boat and took my first wobbly steps on land.

I will never forget days like these and what it took to survive when I wished I had the courage to not. I will never forget how it feels to think of little else, to live each day as if it is your last, to obsess, to plan and hide – and what people don’t notice. I will never forget the ones who did reach for me, who gave me hope.

Child sexual abuse leaves a legacy and sometimes I wonder – will the sea rise again? Will it pull me back in? I have moments where I feel a threat of it – when I feel overwhelmed or fearful. Tired or disempowered, but the years are adding up and hopefully dry land is where I will stay.

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