You can take everything I have
You can break everything I am
Like I’m made of glass
Like I’m made of paper
Go on and try to tear me down
I will be rising from the ground
Like a skyscraper
Demi Lovato – Skyscraper
So, November 20th this year, marks fourteen years since the abuse I experienced when I was younger, ‘began.’ Being in such a good place with my mental health has really meant that I can think about the anniversary and still feel safe. And, of course, I’m not the only abuse survivor to remember the dates it ‘began’ or ‘ended’ so I thought that writing this post would not only give those without this experience, insight and make them more knowledgeable when supporting someone, but that it would also show other survivors they aren’t alone in remembering these anniversaries and in the impact the dates have on them…
WHAT’S HELPFUL FOR ME TO BE ABLE TO COPE WITH THE ANNIVERSARY
Since the Pharmacy made a mistake with my antipsychotic medication and the hallucinations came back with vengeance, I really saw just how helpful medication is for my mental health and I appreciated how lucky I am to be able to say that. Before I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) the mental health professionals – namely a few Psychiatrists – prescribed antipsychotic medication, but once BPD started being thrown about in conversations, everyone became unconvinced that medication was the right treatment. Of course, every illness (mental or physical) will have a recommended treatment and for BPD, it’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). In fact, professionals have gone so far as to say that medication – and hospital admissions – are something to be completely avoided when treating someone with BPD.
Having professionals reluctant to prescribe medication for me meant that my hallucinations really weren’t treat as separate to my BPD symptoms because they believed the voices and visual hallucinations were a result of the abuse I’d experienced. Psychologists thought that the fact I had dissociated during the abuse had motivated my brain to develop the hallucinations as a way to remain distant from reality. Personally, I think they were right, but I also think that my trauma impacting the hallucinations shouldn’t mean that they’re ignored and the trauma being the sole focus in my treatment. I don’t think people realised that a huge cause and motivation to my self-harm and suicide attempts were partly the voices commands to do those things, and also my fear that I would only ever be free of them if I was dead.
All of that meant that even when I’d been taught DBT coping skills and had completed trauma therapy over two and a half years in a psychiatric hospital, the hallucinations were still really strong, powerful, and overwhelming. Until the Psychiatrists tried me on the antipsychotic medication and once it reached the right dose, the voices and visual hallucinations were literally gone! My head felt like it’d been a beach in a storm for years and the waves had been crashing noisily against the shore, and now the medication had calmed it, and everything was so peaceful and silent.
Fortunately, my medication is still working and I’ve had no hallucinations for over 80 days; which means I haven’t self-harmed for that long too; which means I’m confident and assured that I’ll be safe through this anniversary – which could so easily become an enormous trigger to my thoughts to self-harm and suicidal feelings.
WHY I STRUGGLE TO DEFINE THE ‘START’ OR ‘BEGINNING’
I’ve talked before about how I really struggle with defining the ‘end’ of the abuse because I sometimes feel that the abuse can physically finish on a certain date, but the psychological/emotional abuse can continue beyond that… so which date is the ‘end?’ Well, it’s sort of similar to the ‘start.’ I think this is especially true where – as is true for me – the sexual abuse was secondary to grooming. I hadn’t even heard of that word or behaviour until I found myself giving my statement to the Police and they told me the names for everything (I was very naïve at that age, and there was little publicity about rape and abuse at the time)! Although, even if I’d known the term, the nature of grooming is that it’s recognizable. It’s supposed to be something that can leave a person questioning themselves and whether they’re interpreting another person’s actions or intentions correctly.
My abuser used grooming to build a trusting relationship with me so that when he started hurting me, I thought I’d done something wrong to deserve it because why else would he suddenly become a bad person and do something so terrible to me? The grooming also meant that he had a better opportunity of abusing me because it meant that no one even blinked when he asked to spend time with me. It also became my rationale for not reporting the abuse to anyone because I knew that they’d seen that false side of him and so why would anyone believe me over him? Why would anyone believe he was capable of actually being the complete opposite to what they saw? To the person they believed him to be.
The grooming of course makes it so difficult to really determine the start of the abuse because should it start when he first started manipulating me and building a situation where the abuse was possible? Or should it be from the very first day when things got painful? I eventually decided on it being the physical start of things. It was hard though, because making that decision, worried me that it was taking away from the importance of the period of grooming. As though it was almost making it ‘ok’ and insignificant. However, I came to realise that if the painful, physical side of things hadn’t happened, then would the grooming have had such a huge impact on me?
THE EVOLVEMENT OF MY ANGER
I think that the biggest change in me has been around the anger. I held a lot of anger around the abuse. There was the mostly obvious anger toward my abuser, but there was also so much fury at his colleagues who I felt had almost sat back and let it all happen. I tried to convince myself that they couldn’t ever have known because I hated the idea that there were people in the world who would allow something like to happen to another person. That there were people who wouldn’t speak up for that vulnerable person when they had the power and the influence to be able to. I felt that it was almost as bad as what my actual abuser did.
The anger was exacerbated when the Police told me that upon interviewing my abuser’s colleagues, they had all said they’d never witnessed the abuse but that they could believe it had happened. That knowing, meant a lot of things they had witnessed, made sense. They could now understand a lot of things they did witness. Like, why my abuser and I would argue, why I would constantly disrespect him, and why I absolutely hated having any contact with him or the office I was abused in. I was honestly lost for words hearing this from the Police because I was damn sure that if I’d been in their position – even if I’d just suspected it was happening – I’d have spoken up!
Having all of this anger in me meant that I really struggled to build any stable relationships and it took a long time for me to trust or respect someone. Holding the anger inside of me just resulted in me taking it out on the wrong person because I felt so suffocated by the anger that I was desperate to release some of it before I imploded! When I would self-harm, if I didn’t think about anything then I’d be left with a scratch – enough to break the skin and bleed but not very deep. If I thought about my anger and really focused on it, I’d end up needing stitches. It was so powerful and part of me agreed that it should be – that I was entitled for it to be. But it was unsafe. So, through my mental health recovery, I’ve learnt to turn the anger into determination and motivation to achieve more in my life and to take on some amazing opportunities just to spite him (this did eventually turn into me doing these things for myself). So now, I’ve changed my anger into something much healthier and safer.
HOW MUCH I’VE CHANGED
I think that before the abuse, I was able to articulate how I was feeling in different situations because I wasn’t worried that thinking about my emotions would cause me to become unsafe. When the abuse started, and for a long time afterwards, I felt completely incapable of explaining how I was feeling, what emotions I was experiencing, and how they were having an impact on me and my safety. I thought that if I allowed myself to feel something enough to tell someone else about it, then I’d end up self-harming or feeling suicidal.
Through my mental health recovery though, I’ve found the ability and courage to talk about my feelings and to accept help and support when my feelings will benefit from it. I think that a large part of this change has been through learning DBT coping skills because knowing I can take responsibility for my safety, has meant I feel much more comfortable delving into thoughts and feelings because I now know how to manage them in a much healthier way. I’m no longer afraid of the potential destruction they could inflict. And I no longer go straight to a sharp object when a thought or feeling is difficult and challenging to cope with.
Another change in me, has been through creating I’m NOT Disordered and all it means to my life. If you told me during the abuse that I’d end up writing about it for over 800,000 people, I’d have laughed in your face! I wouldn’t have believed it. I mean, how could I change from going through so much around my decision to report it to feeling that I’m telling the entire world the ins and outs of it all?!
During the abuse, my abuser had me convinced that people would never believe me if I spoke up. It took a suicide attempt resulting in me being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act to realise that not reporting it, would mean a constant burden weighing me down, preventing me from enjoying my life and making the most of things. Unfortunately, taking two years to finally tell the Police meant that there was no longer any physical evidence and with no witnesses and his – expected – denial, I was left wondering if there’d been much point in telling someone. I mean, if it hadn’t meant he was put in prison or even just taken to court, what had the point been?
When, during the early time of my mental health recovery, I rediscovered the benefits of writing, I made the very random, unplanned, spur-of-the-moment decision to start blogging! And I didn’t really consider all of the benefits that could arise from it; just that it would help me right there in that moment to write about the 1:1 I’d just had with my Key Nurse. It wasn’t until a little way down the line that I realised my talking about abuse could help others. It might encourage people to realise that they’re not alone in their experience and prompt them to speak up and report what has happened to them. Having this change of view on speaking out about abuse is one of the main reasons why I’m still blogging, almost eight years later!
EVERYTHING I’M GRATEFUL FOR
Going through any kind of trauma – it doesn’t have to be abuse – can really encourage you to look at everything you have in life in a different light. Helps to become more grateful for things that you had never considered to be a privilege or an honour. Things you took for granted or never fully appreciated.
I’d probably start with my Mum. I definitely took her love for me and the support she showered me with, for granted. I feel that a part of that was due to me being in a tunnel where I couldn’t see beyond the self-harm and suicide attempts. I couldn’t see that my Mum was there fighting to save my life, at the times I didn’t want it to be saved. And I definitely didn’t appreciate her determination and her conviction that I could come through all of that and actually make something of my life.
I also took my best friends (who, at the time, were Ellie and Lauren) for granted because I really didn’t realise just how instrumental they could be to my mental health recovery. I didn’t appreciate their influence on my mental health and just how happy they could make me from spending some time together. It’s meant that now I have another two best friends (Marty and Georgie), I’m fairly confident that they feel loved by me and recognize that they really are such an important part of my life. Each of them brings something different to our friendship and so I feel I can talk about different aspects of my life to them. Ellie has also brought my God-Children into my life! When I went into the psychiatric hospital for two and a half years, Ellie had Jonas a few years before and it wasn’t until my mental health was better that I really found myself opening my heart to him – and then to my other God Children; his Sister (Emmy) and Brother (Kasper).
My other aspect of life I’ve not appreciated has been my pets. Growing up, I had Hamsters and then we got the family cat; Saffy and since she was practically my best friend during the abuse, I obviously really loved her. But going into hospital, I didn’t even consider that would mean I’d not see her for a while. Now I’m in recovery, my cat and bunny are my absolute world and I’d be so lost without them, I mean, I find it difficult to spend just one night away from them!
I also have so much gratitude for I’m NOT Disordered! It’s no secret that I believe blogging has been truly lifesaving for me; I’ve benefitted in so many ways and have gotten so many amazing opportunities through doing this. I’d like to think though, that I haven’t ever taken it for granted – that from the start, in 2013, I’ve been appreciative of my blog and everything that it means and stands for. From day one, it’s been helpful for my mental health and has always felt as though I’m working towards my purpose in life. That I’m fulfilling dreams that I never even knew I had!
Finally message of gratitude goes to all the professionals and organisations who have literally saved my life a number of times.
MY ADVICE FOR SURVIVORS OF ABUSE
1. It’s ok to debate whether or not to report the abuse and to feel conflicted in doing so
2. Feeling sympathy for any consequences your abuser experiences is ok too
3. Turn any anger into a healthy, safe, and positive determination
4. Abuse is never the responsibility or fault of the survivor
5. Don’t let yourself be silenced
6. It’s ok to be furious with those who facilitated the abuse or sat back and did nothing
7. Know how much detail you’ll be required to go into when giving your statement to Police
8. Write down everything you’d want your abuser to know (you don’t have to send it)
9. Discovering ways to cope when you’re triggered can be a case of trial and error
10. Don’t let ‘you’re not alone’ become upsetting