So, the inspiration for this post came after I first submitted the manuscript for my soon-to-be-released book; Everything Disordered, to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). There were a few changes and corrections needed in terms of the sizing and layout of the book (it has already been proofread by Emma Wharfe from St Oswald’s Hospice) and one of the biggest and most obvious change was the design of the books cover. Having made a little song and dance about the original cover design in using social media posts to build up the release of it, I was dubious about making the change. I was so worried that others would see me as inconsistent and unreliable. After speaking about my worry and think about it a bit more, I came to the conclusion that to feel the need to make changes in this way, shouldn’t be discouraged or belittled. At the same time, having been a completely intolerant person to change of any kind, I could understand others struggling with this…
HOW THE ABUSE HAS CHANGED ME:
1. My childhood impression of the world was destroyed
I think the first big change in my life was a combination of my trauma – the abuse – and growing up. I had an idyllic childhood that was full of love and safety. I can’t remember anything ‘bad’ ever happening until I was fifteen and the abuse started. I’d love to give my children (if I have any!) a very similar childhood, but with one difference: I’d make sure that their schooling gave them better education around trauma and mental health.
2. The self-harm response
I think whilst it’s more than understandable, for abuse and rape to have a hugely negative impact on a person’s mental health; I can imagine a factor to increase the risk of this happening, is when the victim (or survivor depending on which way you see it) lacks the knowledge to even determine the abuse to be wrong and to know what to do about it. I mean, I’ll probably always wonder whether knowing those things would have provided a level of stability in some way. As though knowing the words ‘rape’ and ‘abuse’ would aid me in the aftermath for my mental health. That maybe I’d have coped in a much safer way.
A huge reason for my self-harm during the abuse, was the slightly naïve – but at the time; I felt it was totally rational – belief that cutting my arms would deter my abuser from any physical attraction he might have toward me. That it would stop the abuse. When that didn’t work, it was as though I was still desperate for a reason – an excuse – to continue self-harming. So, I started to concentrate on ‘proving’ the belief I developed that I should be the only person with the right to hurt my body.
3. The anger
Honestly, I think that at the time – when I was believing in this – I really didn’t recognise just how dangerous this belief could be. I was so lost in it that I didn’t have any real insight into what believing this might lead to. I couldn’t have ever imagined that the anger would still be controlling me and overwhelmingly filling my every pore for at least six years later. I guess a huge reason for my underestimation of the anger was to do with the cause of it. I believed that once the abuse had finished – if it ever would – then he anger would stop too. That I was only experiencing this anger because of what was being done to me and so it made sense that if that stopped, so would these furious thoughts and feelings. Of course, I was wrong.
I mean, I stopped being angry with what was happening to me, and it grew into being about what had been done to me. Honestly? If I started rattling off all of the individual aspects of the anger which remained and snowballed after the abuse, this post would be very long. But I think the biggest rationale stemmed from the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in prosecuting my abuser after I finally reported him and all he had done, to the police. It made me so furious to know that he was able to go about continuing his life as though nothing had happened, whilst my entire life felt as though it had broken into a million pieces that would be impossible to put back together.
Over the years, I’ve found that the most efficient way to describe just how powerful the anger was, by talking about the fact that if I were about to self-harm, if my head was filled with so many things but had no real focus on the abuse, I would need steri-strips at the very worst. However, if my mind was full of the abuse memories and I was overcome with the anger toward him, I ended up seeing a Plastic Surgeon.
4. Losing my ability to trust people & how that made me feel
Another cause of the anger came from finding out there’s people as bad, and as disgraceful, as my abuser in the world. Before the abuse, well there’d been little to no publicity about sexual abuse (or at least not as much content as is in the media these days) so I didn’t even have anything to sort of…pre-warn me that those people exist. And whilst my Mum and Dad were divorced, and there were family feuds, as far as I was concerned – at that age (15) – I didn’t have a single ‘bad’ person in my life.
I remember the Religious Studies exam not long after the abuse had physically ended, and one of the questions was about whether it was possible for a religious person to also be a bully. I think I filled about two full A4 pages telling them that the worst person I knew was also religious (during the ‘grooming’ period, he told me about his beliefs). And that change in realising that even the people you would assume you’re safe with, can have the complete opposite impact on your life, made me feel so sad and disappointed. It left me wondering if there was anyone I could actually trust and have faith in. Which, can very obviously, lead to an incredibly lonely sense of feeling.
The loss of trust in others wasn’t purely influenced by my abuser; a lot of those people who were around me at the time, also proved to contribute to my feelings of desertion and disappointment. Initially, it was because I was trying so hard to show these people what was happening to me in changing my behaviour and attitude – because for so many reasons, I couldn’t verbalise it – and I felt they were missing it. That gave me two distinct sensations; the first was that no one actually cared about me, and the second was that they had noticed the signs but believed I was deserving of the abuse. Either way, it left me with no help or support. But then my inability to voice what was happening to me, had me thinking that I had no real right to ‘complain’ or to feel so alone. I mean, I think that at the time, my Mum was the one person to ask if something was going on and it seemed to physically hurt my heart when I lied. It was like I had a headache because my head was screaming such loud, contradictory sentences to those that were actually coming from my mouth.
The let-down with others became so much more pronounced after I finally reported the abuse to the Police just over two years after it had physically ended. It turned out that upon the Police’s questioning, my abuser’s colleagues had mostly made comments along the lines of “I didn’t see anything, but I did wonder” and “I didn’t see it, but I can believe it happened.” I honestly think that being told people has suspected it in some way and yet had done nothing to help or support me, felt so much more hurtful than believing they were all ignorant. I mean, there’s so many quotes out there about how true evil isn’t always about the person committing the act, it is also often about those who have the power to stop it but do nothing about it.
I do try to look on the bright side of things and desperately try to find a silver lining in situations and I’ve found two here. The first I have found, has been that I will now always speak up if something seems wrong. Not even necessarily a similar situation to mine had been, it could be if someone’s being bullied, stigmatised, or discriminated against; I’ll speak up. The second silver lining was that the experience has given me the confidence to speak up for myself too. I think I’ve actually had to learn to be less outspoken since realising that I definitely didn’t recognise when to pick my battles. I would almost turn anything and everything into an argument. I would find fault or flaw with anything and everything a person could say. That’s changed though. I’ve now learnt and realised that my words mean so much more and are so much more efficient and effective when they’re used selectively and rationally.
5. Developing triggers
This is an aspect of the change in me from the abuse that might be awkward or difficult to really explain in a way that you’ll properly understand and be able to try to empathise with. Because, for legal reasons, I can’t disclose the identity of my abuser and the police recommended I don’t even talk about his career because it could be informative to those who were around me during the time. I think, if talking about my abuser’s job will help those people to identify him, that should say so much more about him… I mean, the Police told me that on interviewing his colleagues, they all made a comment along the lines of ‘I didn’t witness it, but I can imagine it’s true.’ Surely that says a lot?!
Anyway, my abusers’ job has meant a number of commonly talked about things, are so triggering of memories about the abuse that I’ve had to end many conversations. I think one of the most difficult aspects of this is that those people engaging in the discussion with me, would never mean to trigger or upset me. That as far as they were concerned, they were just talking about something completely ‘ordinary’ and that to them, it was just an everyday subject. Average, and not at all important.
It meant that at first, I wouldn’t speak up and tell people how the conversation was making me feel. I’d mostly just sit there, let my brain soak up the words and the thoughts and feelings they were causing, and afterwards, I’d lose the energy to stop myself from responding to them. Usually that meant by self-harming or – on a few occasions – attempting suicide.
6. Impact on my thoughts & attitude to sex
I can’t remember an exact moment where I realised ‘woah! My attitude with sex has totally changed!’ I realise that there’s so many children having sex these days, but I still that at fifteen, it was ok that I wasn’t thinking about it. I had no inclination to do it. And by the time the abuse was ‘over,’ I was – understandably, I think – completely ‘putt-off’ the idea of sex. I literally had no drive or desire about it. There was no instinct or real need for me to push past the triggers and all the memories to change my attitude and thoughts on sex.
Or, at least, at that age there wasn’t. Now? I’m a lot more conscious of this fact and therefore, more disappointed about it to be honest. Whilst I’m still very aware that I’ve been through a trauma that has had a very real and very relevant impact on me, I’m equally tuned into the fact that this has made me so different from a lot of people (particularly my recently pregnant friends!) my age.
I mean, there’s been so many hospital trips where I’ve been asked if there’s a chance, I could be pregnant or when was I last sexually active and I completely understand that it’s a standard question because of my age. But I’ve been left with the inclination to awkwardly explain why my answers are very solid negative ones. There’s a relief which comes when the medical profession just accepts my answer and doesn’t ask me to further explain it. That they do that, is also a relief in terms of me questioning and doubting whether it is rational and understandable for the abuse to have had this impact upon me.
I think that the most saddening element of this change, is the knowledge – because it feels so much sturdier than being a thought – that I will never be able to have my own children. Firstly, I feel completely unable of ever doing what needs to be done to have my own child. Secondly – even now that I’m in recovery – I can’t imagine ever being able to cope with the examinations and the actual birth. Maybe the hardest aspect of this, is that I actually would have absolutely loved to have my own children. This is so difficult because feeling deprived of this monumental experience is something I will always hold against my abuser. No matter how many times I fight to box up the anger toward him, there will always be this hugely important aspect of life that I feel he has robbed me of.