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.
This was one of two poems I performed at 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.
I wrote it recently, on a day where I felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the consequences of CSA. In the past, I would have equated this with poor mental health and considered making an appointment to see my psychiatrist. I don’t do this anymore because the psychiatric system was unable to support me with trauma. I never experienced relief with meds, there was never enough time, my trauma history was not acknowledged as the root cause and I didn’t receive the empathy or gentle care I needed to heal. On the contrary, treatment felt punitive and came with undertones of threat and a distinct loss of autonomy.
Why didn’t you say anything before? Were the words said when I disclosed. I didn’t know how to respond to that. The things I wanted to say spun inside my head and stuck in my throat but I couldn’t say them. I swallowed my words and looked at the floor instead.
Why didn’t you…?… you could have… you should have…
The events of that disclosure day unfolded violently, like a bomb exploding and glass embedding itself in our hearts. It was one of the hardest and worst things I’ve ever had to do. I tried to say why I hadn’t, I really did but I was mute with shame, regret and fear.
My fault was how I interpreted these responses. It’s my fault.
I was probably in shock too. Disclosure might be shocking for the recipient but it’s far worse for the one saying the terrible words we hoped we might never have to actually say – no more hoping that someone would just notice, ‘get it’ instead. It felt like peeling the skin from my bones, exposing the essence of me to the world. It hurt. I wanted to run away and hide. I wished I’d never said anything at all.
It was impossible to explain why I hadn’t because where would I begin? How could I describe my inability to retrieve the correct words and to speak them aloud? I didn’t say much after I disclosed. I couldn’t answer their questions and some of them made me feel so unsafe I wanted to die. I stayed silent and scrutinised their faces and body language. I was looking for any nuance of behaviour for a sign they didn’t believe me.
I waited to be cast out of the family and shunned for saying these terrible words.
Why didn’t you say anything before?
Now I have my words and if I could go back in time and do it all over again I would say,
I had been non-verbally disclosing since childhood but nobody was listening. They didn’t understand what I was trying to say.
There was a brown flower on the cups we drank our tea from.
I once filled the brown flower cup with water and around thirty soluble aspirins. I then used that vile mixture to wash down around twenty paracetamol tablets, I was 11 years old and I never, ever, told a soul… The hospital staff looked for reasons for my illness, from kidney stones (which I was ultimately plagued with) to appendicitis (had appendix out on another attempt, and never told a soul), but they could not find anything. Just that my liver wasn’t working and I was a very poorly girl. I was allowed home with no diagnosis.
The bringer of joy and the bane of my life. I couldn’t live without music. I have extensive and eclectic playlists. I love the sounds of my children’s laughter, or the birdsong at dusk that floats through my attic window on a warm summer’s evening. I like the comforting drone of a distant lawn mower, or the fat crooning of the content pigeon, who rests in my cherry tree. Other than laughter, human noises such as the shout of man or the tap of shoe on the pavement make me deeply uneasy. The noise a human mouth makes when it chews, slurps, sips or swallows pains me. I can’t bear it. I simply cannot BEAR it. It’s an everyday painful occurrence as everyday someone eats in front of me. Not their fault of course as they need to eat, but it’s not mine either, so I’ve stopped apologising for my reaction.
A Sense of Solidarity was one of my contributions to Epione’s SeeMeHearMe blog a few months ago. Epione is Scotland’s largest trauma training provider. Check out the fantastic work they do here.
I have always had a thing about groups. I don’t like them, I don’t trust them. I have been wary of groups, ever since the time an eight year old girl with stocky legs and suspicious eyes accused me of laying eggs during a playground game of 4040. This was the worst crime imaginable in Year 4 in 1985. Hand on hip, she stood back to watch as 30 indignant little girls and boys formed a menacing circle and she stared unblinkingly at me as I stood in the middle wondering how the world had suddenly turned so dark. 30 shrill voices began their chant: “ Lay-ing EGGS!, lay-ing EGGS!”
It was untrue and unjust but I did nothing; I didn’t defend myself, didn’t shout, didn’t cry or tell a teacher, I just braced myself and waited for it to end.
As a survivor who is currently ‘surviving’ pretty well at the moment, I take issue with the phrase ‘move on.’ You don’t have to move on from child sexual abuse until the time is right for you. You may never feel able to move on but that doesn’t mean you can’t heal or live a happy life.
When you hear someone telling you to move on, you need to bear in mind that what they might mean is ‘get over it so we don’t have to keep on listening to this.’
I am dead:
…draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story
Hamlet Act V scene ii
(Content: CSA, suicide).
She simply died, infected by the touch of him. It began, this slow death, with a hand upon hers, iron fingers curled around small bones that could snap like twigs in an instant. A wrist too small, always too small for this. She was born small, stayed small, perfectly small for this.
Trauma is misunderstood, misdiagnosed and often treated with unnecessary medication. Labels put people in a box. In my case, they left me in victim mode and unable to move on. I was told by a psychiatrist that I would be unable to live without medication and yet I have lived for years without. I choose to recognise my reactions to certain stimuli as normal trauma responses.
This piece was homework, set by the very lovely Saša in the weekly writing group I attend. It’s one of my favourite times of the week. Saša (you can find her here, and over on instagram @sasawrites) and I have known each other for a few years and it’s a very safe place for me to speak. I can speak freely and be myself in ways I can’t in real life. She posed the question: “what is your armour made from?” and it made me reflect. Do I wear any armour? Yes I do, but it’s a different suit of armour to the one I wore during the years I stayed silent. It began to change, as I found a way to speak and tell my story…
This blog post stems from an email to lady who asked a question on a tweet. The tweet emphasised the need to ask a child again, if you think they may be being abused but they deny they are. She asked how these questions could have been worded to encourage disclosure. I sent her a couple of first-hand accounts from survivors of CSA along with my own. This is my (edited) reply.
Trigger Warning: This post contains references to suicide that could be distressing.
For some, life reaches a point where it derails you completely. It is the moment where you feel that death is preferable. Some refer to this as ‘Rock Bottom’ and when I reached mine, it may not have felt like it at the time, but it was the day that I began again. I was 30, and as the first third of my life came to an end, so did the walls I’d built around myself. My persona, my mask, and my pretence began to rot and decay, along with my twenties and I was scared. I feared there was nothing underneath, that I’d just disintegrate and dissolve to nothing.
This month’s guest post is by Willow Thomas. It is a powerful analogy of ‘the life of many survivors of family abuse.’ Willow’s focus is on Australia, but as a survivor living in the U.K. it certainly resonates with me, and I’m pretty sure survivors around the world will relate too, regardless of their culture, upbringing or religion.
It is common for the survivor of child sexual abuse to struggle with their mental health. Many will find themselves in the psychiatric system. At first it can feel like a huge relief. We are told we feel the way we do because we suffer from X, Y and Z. We are told to take medication and we do, because it comes with the hope of recovery. For some, medication provides relief. They may take the prescribed dose for the recommended time and feel better, able to continue with their lives, untroubled by past trauma. But what do we do when we feel we’re not recovering from child sexual abuse? How do we cope with the bitter realisation that we feel exactly the same about what happened to us when we reach our forties, fifties and beyond? We begin to wonder; is true recovery even really possible? We hear a lot of talk about ‘recovery’ from trauma, but the truth is I didn’t believe recovery was possible – or maybe it was possible for others and there was something wrong with me. The years went by, along with the hope that anything would change for the better.
“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.