Having thoroughly enjoyed writing the ‘everything-you-need-to-know’ style posts in the past, when I checked through previous posts about abuse, I noticed they all seem to be in pieces… Bits of information, parts of my experience, a few tips; all just separated into so many different posts. Of course, they are that way because up to the date they were published, they were the things I knew. The things that had happened. And I’m not suggesting that I’m at a point where I now know absolutely everything about the subject, but I do feel that I’m at a pretty good stage in my mental health recovery to feel I am now able to collate all that I have learnt, and all that I know. Unfortunately, abuse is a subject where I’d argue you will never fully understand unless it’s something you’ve experienced, so posts like this – media content by survivors – can be the best resource for those who want to learn more…
Why You Can Experience the Grieving Process:
I began writing each of the feelings I experienced during and after the abuse I experienced when I was fifteen, and things began to seem familiar in some way. I realised that I was describing four of the five stages of grief determined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. I actually thought immediately why that process would be linked with abuse, because it’s about – and can be applied to – any type of loss, not necessarily a death. And I definitely lost a lot going through the abuse…
Even aged fifteen, I was very naïve and having had very little sexual education, I had no real knowledge about what was happening to me. I think it’d be fair to say that I didn’t even realise people like my abuser existed. Rape and sexual abuse (the type I experienced) were so taboo back then (2006) too, so I had never heard of someone else experiencing anything even remotely similar to what I was going through. All those factors meant that one thing I lost in the abuse was that naivety. I do sometimes consider that might have been a good thing because perhaps at that age, I should have probably been more aware of the existence of abuse. There’s something to be said about balance though, recognizing that children and young people, deserve some sort of naivety so that they’re able to fully enjoy their childhood and the simple notion of being young.
Another quality I lost was more to do with my abuser as a person and his traits. The way he manipulated others so that everyone was full of respect and admiration for him, and not at all doubtful of his deserving of their trust and compassion. I mean, the police labelled the two months prior to the abuse, as ‘grooming’ because he built up a degree of trust and appreciation in me for him and then he threw it all back in my face. It led me to lose any confidence in all the people I trusted and relied on, and I questioned the motivates of anyone was nice to me or who offered me help.
And finally, the awkward loss. The loss I really don’t want to have to write about for all the world (ok, exaggeration) to know, but I have the attitude that it’s not something people should be embarrassed or ashamed to talk about… and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. So, the loss I’m talking about is of my virginity. Depending on your attitude around sex, this may seem like the biggest and most important loss because your virginity can be seen as special and it’s definitely a one-off occasion that you’ll never get to re-do in your entire life. And in losing that to him – in that way – also robbed me of any comfort around that area of the body in general. I mean, it’s meant that I can’t imagine myself ever having children naturally… I’ve lost that important, potentially life-changing/life-creating event in a person’s life because of him.
My First Stage: Acceptance
Unlike Kubler-Ross’s prediction that denial would be the first stage experienced in an incident of loss, I experienced acceptance. I think that the reason for this was the pain.
I was always in some sort of pain on every occasion of the abuse, and I guess I had the attitude: ‘how can I deny something so painful is happening?’ I’m not saying that I don’t understand how people could have the opposite attitude, it’s just that I didn’t think that way. And that’s a big part of what this section is about; each abuse survivor’s thoughts and feelings are personal to them…
I think that perhaps the fact that before the abuse, I don’t recall ever experiencing any real pain. I don’t remember ever ending up in hospital… So, I think that my unfamiliarity with pain really shaped my tolerance and thought process around it. Having no experience meant I hadn’t learnt how to lie about pain in any which way – I didn’t know how to say I wasn’t in pain when I was. I’d had no practice in coping with pain either.
The biggest difficulty in ‘acceptance’ with abuse, is the concern that it’ll be interpreted as being willing to accept what has happened to you. As though maybe it isn’t ‘that bad’ or even, maybe it shouldn’t be illegal! I’ll be honest, this was something I actually sort of debated or mulled over; because for what felt like a long time, I believed I deserved everything that was done to me. I thought I’d made so many wrongs in my life that I was deserving of all the pain and sadness (understatement). I felt I had no right to push it away and pretend it wasn’t happening. I thought it’d actually be really rude of me to do anything like argue against it.
My Second Stage: Denial
When the abuse physically finished (my abuser continued to interact with me for a while later) I was no longer in physical pain so often and holding onto the accepted memories no longer made sense. And it definitely wasn’t helpful for me to continue that way. It was ironic, that acceptance wasn’t helpful and so I fell into another emotion and thought process, but I definitely didn’t use that one in a healthy way!
I didn’t even begin to recognize that I was using denial until after a few months in that stage. My first coping skill in this stage, was abusing alcohol – not just because I was underage, but also because whilst my friends would drink until they were laughing and being silly, when I drank until I blacked out and was no longer able to remember the six horrible months of abuse.
When the group I was drinking with got into a fight with another group and the Police were involved, I lost touch with everyone and felt almost forced to find an alternative method of denial. But I was out of ideas. I think that having had such a loving, peaceful childhood, denial was something I’d never had to do – or even consider doing – so, not knowing the first thing about it, how could I come up with more ideas around it?
My Third Stage: Anger
For, what felt like a very long time, I held so much hatred and resentment inside me that was a direct result of the abuse. Or, in particular, my abuser. I think this – anger – is one of the few stages where, if you vocalise it, you’ll get a sympathetic nod from someone and a reassuring ‘of course you feel that way.’
Whilst this is usually a genuinely kind reaction to your anger, I found it incredibly easy to feel patronised by this and to be left lonely because I was so convinced that no one could ever understand the power of my anger. I mean, it felt as though my heart was quickly turning black and dying – not freezing over because that would allow the chance for it to thaw. No, it felt as though the anger was killing my heart.
The anger wasn’t particularly aimed at my abuser though, a big part of it was toward those who were around me at the time. Whilst I didn’t tell anyone what was happening to me, I did desperately try to show people. Ironically, the lesser ways I did this were at home and yet my Mum was the only person to ask if I was ok and if something was happening. Everyone else? My teachers seemed to put my quick, inexplicable behaviour and attitude change down to being a dramatic teenager. Yet, when they were interviewed by the Police, they explained that whilst they had never witnessed the abuse, they could believe it had happened. Now, why the hell did they do absolutely nothing about it?! I mean, if they’d honestly suspected something like that, how could they not do something?
Thinking about it, I had never really experienced anger until the abuse. Frustration maybe; but not anger. So, I guess that’s one reason why I struggled to control it…
Five Tips to Cope with Anger:
ü Scream into a pillow
ü Manipulate a stress ball
ü Talk it through with someone
ü Play some identifiable music
ü Write about it
My Fourth Stage: Depression
Arguably the most difficult and dangerous stage; I didn’t just slip into depression; I fell into it. Hard. And landed on my head.
I think that this stage was definitely a delayed reaction to the abuse, I mean it’s probably so easily assumed to be the immediate feeling after abuse, that some people might be surprised I didn’t experience this until two and a half years after the end of the abuse. I guess that the lapse really illustrates just how consumed I was with that anger that there was literally no room for any other emotion in my head nor in my entire body! But that anger was just building up inside of me because I couldn’t do the one thing, I wanted to in order to cope with it; punch my abuser in the face!
Holding that anger in, and the feeling and frustration that I couldn’t do anything about it, was what resulted in the depression stage. It had left me convinced that the only method to achieve a level of relief from the anger was to inflict it upon myself. That notion and the fact that my memories of the abuse were disassociated from my body, led to the manifestation of an auditory hallucination in the form over a voice.
The first thing he said to me was ‘you’re useless. Hurt yourself.’ This continued over a ten-day period before I became so drained and exhausted from fighting him, that I acted on his orders in a way that surprised absolutely everyone who was in my life at the time; I attempted suicide. It wasn’t exactly about wanting to be dead; it was a roundabout version in believing that the only true and absolute escape from the abuse memories and the hallucinations, was death.
In between my four suicide attempts, were countless instances of self-harm that varied from scratches to needing plastic surgery for severed nerves. Over the years, I learnt that if I were to self-harm with purely sadness in my mind and my heart, then I’d bleed. If I were to self-harm with the abuse anger in my heart and my abusers face in my mind, I’d need surgery, I used this realisation as knowledge to cause more harm to myself…
Five Alternatives to Self-Harm:
ü Call your local Crisis Team
ü Emerge your face in freezing cold water
ü Speak to a friend, family member, or someone else you trust
ü Do some sort of self-soothing activity
ü Engage in a method of distraction e.g. watch Netflix, do a puzzle, read a book…
My New Thoughts on The Stages:
I was once in hospital after self-harming and a Nursing Assistant asked why I had done it and I told her I’d been abused. Her response? “I was abused, but you don’t see me using it as an excuse to do that!” Of course, this was completely unnecessary, upsetting, and unprofessional because that Nursing Assistant could – and should – have used her experience to reassure me that she understood what I was going through and to show me how she’d come to cope safely with her own experiences. That motivates me to recognise that whilst it’s important to shed light on the hugely damaging impact abuse can have on someone, it’s equally important that I talk about my recovery and the progress I’ve made in finding positive lessons within those stages.
My New Outlook on Acceptance:
In regard to acceptance, one challenge I mentioned earlier was that I found with this stage, in accepting what had happened to me, I ended up also accepting my belief that I’d deserved what had happened to me. In recovery, this was an element that I had to put a lot of time and effort into changing and learning from.
So, over the years, I came to realise that my experience of that feeling wasn’t uncommon, and it was something I hated the thought of someone else feeling. There has been so many occasions in my mental health journey where professionals have asked me if I would say a particular thing I say about – or to – myself, to a friend or even just someone else. What would I tell them if they said they felt the way I did? Would I ever tell a person that they’d deserved their abuse? Of course, the answer was ‘no’ and that left me questioning why I should say it to myself. The difficult thing was, if I didn’t take the blame for the abuse then that would put it all on my abuser; and I’m sceptical that he’d ever serve the punishment for that. So, what was worse? The thought of blaming myself or the frustration of blaming someone who may never experience the consequences?
This led to a new, unfamiliar aspect of acceptance around the abuse, the necessity of accepting the outcome of my eventual report to the Police; but I’ll talk about that in more detail later…
Leaving the Denial Stage:
I’m quite obviously out of the denial stage and whilst I recognize that I honestly believed it was the best attitude for me to adopt at that time, it – ultimately y – isn’t helpful. I learnt from my experience that if you go around denying something has happened, it will eventually build up and, desperate for space, burst out. Having used it as a coping mechanism, I can understand why others might almost automatically find themselves in that stage because I believe you can look at it as being a part of the fight or flight instinctual reaction to crises.
I also learned that denying the abuse had happened, became a reason why it took me two years to report it to the Police. I rarely talk about this, but the physical end of the abuse came when I reported my abuser’s actions to his boss who deemed me to be a manipulative liar. So why on earth would I tell anyone else ever again? That one instance of reporting the abuse told me very quickly that every second that went by whilst I talked about it, the more real it would become. Which, I guess is why I have never moved into that denial stage since talking to the Police over ten years ago.
The Challenge of a Whole New Anger:
A new anger came to challenge me years ‘after’ the abuse because I finally reported what had happened to me to the Police. I don’t think I had many expectations around what would come from the report; I mean, I can’t remember ever thinking that he would admit to being guilty of it. Yet somehow when the Police told me that he’d been arrested but was denying everything, I felt disappointed, and my tummy dropped to the degree that I thought the floor was going to move out from beneath me! After the disappointment, came the all-consuming anger from the thought ‘why should he get to dismiss it when I’m fighting to survive it?!’ It all seemed so unfair and the lack of justice angered me to the point when I thought it would never get better.
I wouldn’t put the change in my anger down to any one person, service, or therapy. I genuinely think it came from me – and I don’t often say that when talking about my mental health recovery. But I think it was more about my natural growth over time… So many people would tell me that he wasn’t worth the anger, but I believed that the anger supported the huge impact the abuse had on my life and to just dismiss it, would almost be an insult to the importance of the abuse. So, I allowed myself to be angry, but what I changed was my response to it. I used it to help me in a productive way that was beneficial for myself and I used it to bring passion to everything I was doing. I turned my anger into fuel for the effort I put in to I’m NOT Disordered; and perhaps doing so, has helped me to create all that it is and all that it means.
Why I’ve Been Able to Leave the Depression Stage:
Finally, my current thoughts and feelings around the ‘depression’ stage: If I die. He’ll have won. It’s something that has been forced into me, rammed into my heart, and moulded into my brain. It’s definitely proved to be one of those things where people – no matter who they are or how much they mean to you – can tell you over and over again, but you won’t believe it, or even listen to it, until you’ve learnt or realised it for yourself. I wonder if it’s been annoying for some of the people in my life for me to have seemingly had a ‘light bulb moment’ over something they’ve told me multiple times over the course of years. But the important thing should be that I experienced it. And that light bulb moment definitely aided in reducing my suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Another reduction in this aspect of the aftermath to abuse, was medication. There’s been a lot of campaigning in the media about the importance of not feeling ashamed to say that you take psychiatric medication. I think that the important point here though, is for people not to believe that medication is the answer. That it’ll work this well for everyone. And not to think it’s your fault if medication doesn’t help.
Five Ways to Maintain Your Mental Health:
ü Take time to self soothe
ü Ensure you have plenty of sleep
ü Communicate with others
ü Take prescribed medication
ü Practice coping skills