Saturday, 20 November 2021

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ADVICE AROUND ABUSE | MARKING FIFTEEN YEARS SINCE THE START OF MY TRAUMA

start

/stɑːt/

verb

Begin or be reckoned from a particular point in time or space

But after everything you’ve done

I can thank you for how strong I have become

Ke$ha -  Praying 

When I told someone I was writing this blog post, I was asked why I felt the need to continue to mark this date fifteen years later. I replied that everything that happened to me after November 20th 2006, has helped mould me into who I am today; and that makes it worth remembering! 

I’ve kind of gone backwards and forwards with this piece in changing my mind on how to mark this date. It began to feel as though I had no ideas that I could deem as adequate a theme for such a momentous date. I mean, you’ll probably know by now - no matter how long you’ve been reading I’m NOT Disordered (even if this is your first visit to the blog!) that I always try to help others with my content. So, I knew that in marking this date; I wanted to do so in a way that readers could benefit… I considered all the different stages and instances around abuse where I would want others to know something I’ve learnt over the last fifteen years and I just thought maybe I could put it all into one piece!

Ignore all the reasons not to report it

I probably should be sitting here telling you all that I regret not reporting the abuse immediately, and that if I could go back, I’d do it differently… But my one reason not to say those things, is the concern that changing that decision (though it didn’t even feel like an option at the time) would change who I am today and because it likely would have changed what I’ve been through over these fifteen years. 

With that in mind, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about the fact that the abuse might not have gone on for so long, that my abuser would likely be in prison, and that would mean he couldn’t have hurt anyone else. When I think of these things, I have to remind myself that at the time, reporting it was a fleeting thought. A thought that was very quickly dismissed and trampled down by his threats and my own beliefs that I wouldn’t be believed because he would deny it and he was so respected and admired by all the other people who didn’t see the side of him which I saw.

Remembering the belief that I did’t have a choice - that it didn’t feel like a ‘decision’ still leaves room for me to recognise that reporting abuse at the earliest opportunity is very much something I should be promoting. It’s something which motivates me speaking about he abuse - because I want to help others and encourage them not to make that same error in judgement that I did. 

However, knowing how I felt at the time, I really want to recognise and acknowledge that there’s likely so many others (as upsetting as it is to imagine) who are also feeling that they have millions of reasons not to report their own experiences. I want to pay attention to the fact that it’s all well and good to recommend someone get help from the outside looking in, but when you’re that person; is it actually that simple and easy? No! So people shouldn’t make judgments about a person who doesn’t report the abuse immediately. I remember when I did finally report it over two years later, and the Police asked why it had taken me so long… I understand their question was likely just genuine curiosity, but it left me feeling judged. And patronised because surely if they thought I should have spoken up sooner, then they must not have believed everything to have been as complicated and intense as I had described them to be! 

Fortunately, that was far from the truth because the Police believed me so much that they voiced feelings of frustration when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there wasn’t enough evidence. They also recognised the complexity of the abuse in labelling the month or so before it started as ‘grooming.’ Honestly, though? I’m not sure that anyone - including the Police - could every fully understand all the elements of the abuse and what I went through. And that thought has really encouraged the idea that even if I sat there and listed every single reason why I didn’t report the abuse immediately, no one would  really ‘get it.’ 

I hope that in saying this, anyone reading this post who this particular piece of advice applies to, will realise that I haven’t made this recommendation lightly. 

Utilise grounding techniques if you experience flashbacks or feel triggered

For about six years, I had no understanding of being ‘triggered’ and experiencing ‘flashbacks.’ And it wasn’t until I was sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home, that I discovered how lucky I was for that. With the hospital specialising in Personality Disorders and one huge aspect of this diagnosis is that most people with it, have experienced some sort of trauma; it was kind of inevitable that I’d witness at least one other inpatient going through these things (being triggered and experiencing flashbacks).

Seeing those girls I’d begun to think of as friends and family, shaking, crying, struggling to catch their breath, was heart-wrenching and left me feeling incredibly lucky and fortunate to have not had such an experience. However, as I began engaging in the group and individual sessions of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), I found the memories I had tried so hard to oppress for the previous six years came to the forefront, and almost suddenly I was faced with having to learn and master grounding techniques. No, ‘forced’ is probably a better word for it because I recognised that if I wanted to live - if I wanted to stay in the present - then I’d need to use these skills to do so. 

Over the years (including those spent out of that hospital) I’ve learnt a number of different grounding techniques that have varied from snapping an elastic band to your wrist or holding a handful of ice cubes! But the one I’ve found the most helpful was ‘flooding.’ In this skill, it’s about literally flooding your sense with whatever it is that is triggering you. 

My first use of it came when a song was played in a therapeutic group and I was suddenly overwhelmed by memories of everything that had been done to me - the pain, the blood, the tears… And even though I knew I was in a safe place - in so far as that I was miles away from the building I was abused in and the man I was abused by - I might as well have been standing a few centimetres from him and that place! So, the hospital staff came up with the idea of ‘flooding’ me to destroy the meaning behind the song and its Importance by putting it on repeat and listening to it over and over again. Crying over and over again. Until, after over thirty plays, when I had run out of tears and out of memories, I felt more bold and courageous - as though I could listen to that song thirty more times and It would have no lasting affect on me. Or my safety.

The hospital staff also used flooding with the building I was abused in. My discharge was being discussed and I began worrying whether I could move back to the town I’d grown up in. Whether, after two and a half years in hospital, I could live closer to that building. I think that the staff shared my mindset around this and that they agreed that after working so hard and for so long on my mental health recovery, it would be a shame for it all to go to waste by being closer to the building. So, I was given the option to choose my favourite staff to take me back to the building.

I remember crying in the back of the hospital car/van and the Psychiatrist I had bonded with was trying to hug me and keep my hand from scratching at the other at the same time. And my favourite Nurse was rubbing my back when I started to feel sick. We sat there for a few hours I think, and then, out of nowhere, I found myself being bolstered with the notion that my abuser was in there - just going about his day - whilst I was crying hysterically at the sight of a building! It wasn’t fair. I shouldn’t be the broken one. And so, I thanked the staff and a few months later, I moved back to my home town.

Consider if there’s even a resolution

A little while ago, a Police Officer made a few comments that led me to put in a complaint against him, and in completing the complaints form, it asked what I would want as a resolution to the case. I asked for an apology. And it very obviously got me thinking about this part of the post… 

I think that it can be so important to the aftermath of the abuse that you consider what you would ideally want to happen as a means of ‘closure.’ What would help you to move forwards and have a better state in your mental health? I think that in establishing that want/need you can have a much better understanding of what would be therapeutic - what could be done to help and support you better.

Initially after the abuse, when considering this aspect of the aftermath for myself, I had wanted to face my abuser, to be able to confront him and everything that was holed up in my mind - unsaid. I wanted the chance to voice all my thoughts and feelings, but also to provide him with the opportunity to respond to those. To allow him the time to apologise, or even to argue! I mean, I was so desperate to say everything that was overwhelming me, that I would’ve been willing to go through a row with him, so long as it meant I was able to voice everything.

After wanting to speak to him became more and more unlikely as time went by, my next ideal resolution came in the form of wanting justice by way of him being imprisoned. And it was this thought that led to me finally reporting the abuse over three years after it had started. But having this ideal scenario of him going to court and being sentenced and fired from his job, meant that I was so incredibly heartbroken and disappointed when CPS decided there wasn’t enough evidence. More disappointed than if I’d gone into reporting the abuse with the realistic thought that my accusation might not go any further than his arrest and him being questioned by the Police.

When CPS’s decision was reached and the Police explained their frustration that there was nothing more they could do, led me to realising that I’d need to think up another ideal resolution. And, in all honesty; it’s years later and it’s something I’m still very uncertain about! There are days when an apology from him would mean the world, and there are days when I’d consider an apology to be fifteen years too late…

You might need to believe in karma

That previous bit actually leads perfectly onto this part! Because I’ve found that a belief in karma - something which my Nana especially always promoted - and which my Mum now encourages too.

I’ve found that in establishing and finally accepting that there will very likely never be any legal proceedings against my abuser (because he seems bloody untouchable in that respect!), I’ve really needed some other comforting thought… And believing in karma has done just that.

The idea that one day - somehow - he will go through something just as scary, just as disturbing, just as painful, just as life-changing, just as upsetting, and just as scarring as his actions to me were… well, it fills me with hope and placidity. It leaves me feeling as though I can finally rest back and put those desperate feelings for a legal punishment to one side.

You know, there was a storyline on an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy where there was a wedding and one man said he loved the bride… even though his girlfriend was sat right there next to him! A few episodes later and the would-be bride and the man were expecting a baby and it turned out the baby had a terrible illness. The ex-girlfriend was feeling terrible about it because she admitted that when the man had embarrassed her and broke up with her in that way, she had wished so many bad things happen on him. So she seemed to feel that she was to blame…

And in thinking about karma, I very obviously came to considering this plot and wondered whether I would feel blameworthy if something terrible happened to my abuser after I had found myself desperately hoping for it to occur. I mean, is it kind of like self-harm? In that you can hurt yourself because of the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing in that moment, but when they’re over; you’re still left dealing with the consequences of the injury.

I guess that the other thing these two also have in common is they get you through it. Self-harming; feels like there is no alternative at the time. Focusing on the prospect of karma when considering all the emotions and the thoughts you’re struggling with around your abuser; helps. 

Be willing to accept help

Being raised by my Mum as a single parent, I was definitely aware of independence from a young age - not in a bad way though! I saw my Mum learn and develop skills and qualities with very little help. I saw her do everything in her power to provide for me and to be an incredible parent who was more than enough to the point that I didn’t notice the absence of my father.

Having this upbringing, has meant that I’ve never really struggled to be independent - moving into my own home nearly seven years ago didn’t feel like a challenge or difficulty. I guess that if anything, you’d assume I’d be bad at accepting help and support from others, but whilst I hadn’t seen my Mum ask for that, she always encouraged me to be open to the idea of needing to somewhat rely on someone else. 

During the six months of the abuse, there were countless opportunities to get help from a whole variety of people. And this was equally true in the aftermath and when my mental health began to deteriorate. But I had so many reasons not to tell anyone, and probably one of the biggest wasn’t about the act of telling them, it was about what they would do with that information. Would I be judged as deserving of everything that had been done to me? Would a loved one confront my abuser? Would I end up locked away in a hospital forever? 

I think that this challenging mindset that if I were to ask for help, it would give the other person the potential to make the situation even worse in some ways; was largely influenced by the nature of the abuse. That I had gone from this person being specifically chosen as a support for me after I was attacked on the way to school - that’s how highly everyone thought of him - to him completely manipulating and abusing that trust and respect others had shown him. It was a shock. And it left me questioning whether I could trust anyone who I’d put my faith in to help me.

When my mental health was at its most poorly and professionals were despairingly begging me to call the Crisis Team before self-harming or attempting suicide, I adopted the attitude that ended up saving my life… I thought that since I was 100% certain no one could help in those instances, I might as well ring them anyway because at least then, when I still went ahead with my plan (which seemed inevitable in my opinion!), I could say that I had tried. Ironically, giving the professionals that opportunity to help, often actually helped! 

You’ll probably need to forgive everyone who didn’t stop it 

You know that whole ‘forgive and forget’ kind of thing? Well, I definitely believe that doesn’t just apply to the one person responsible for everything… 

I was watching a documentary on Netflix a while ago where a ton of Social Workers were in trouble because they seemed to have completely missed/ignored all the signs and reports that a young boy was being abused. The boy ended up dying at the hands of his abusers. And a lawyer was saying that it’s sometimes a greater evil to have known and not helped than to be the one actually causing the harm… and I totally get it!

On being interviewed by the Police, my abusers colleagues apparently all responded with something along the lines of either ‘I didn’t see it, but I can believe it happened’ or ‘I did always wonder…’ And do you know, I think being told this from the Police wasn’t as upsetting as when they told me my actual abuser was claiming to be innocent?! I mean, it’s kind of understandable for him to deny it because most people struggle to accept the consequences/punishment for their actions. It’s almost natural to somehow try and get out of it… But to have ‘wondered’ whether a teenager (I was fifteen) was being abused and not stop and ask a question or do something to intervene? Excuse the language, but what the hell was their excuse?! I mean, did they think that if they confronted him they’d be punished in some way? Were they scared of the aftermath of them reporting their suspicions? Or had they reached a conscious decision that they’d rather risk the fact it was happening to me than risk their own career and reputation in making a false allegation?

After being told of their ineptitude and safeguarding failures, I held the most unruly, unbelievable, uncontrollable anger in me. In my heart - because if it had been anywhere else in my body, it might not have been so painful and overwhelming… Having that anger at my very core truly and honestly made me into a terrible person with a terrible state of mental health. And, in all honesty, sometimes those things are still challenges… I guess, that having such a powerful feeling for so long; it should be understandable to hear that it’s something that - fifteen years later - is still an issue. 

However, the one thing that’s made it whole lot less difficult, has been finding a way to forgive all those people. Those colleagues of his… I mean, it was hard at first because I blamed myself a lot for their ignorance - I knew that I had the potential to have gone to any one of those people and told them what was happening. I could’ve screamed for help on so many occasions when I really just stayed silent. So there was some sort of balance I needed to reach - a balance between blaming myself for not speaking up and blaming his colleagues for not realising, nor doing something about it! 

I think that realisation of the importance of finding that balance, came from finally acknowledging that doing the opposite, was getting me nowhere! It’s like that thing people tell someone who has been abused and is struggling with their mental health… they say that if the person is to self-harm or attempt suicide then their abuser is ‘winning.’ It’s something I’ve been told so many times, and initially, I thought it as a patronisingly easy. But when I woke up from life support after a suicide attempt and realised that if I didn’t change things then I really would die; I found the courage and motivation to recognise this saying for myself. And in seeing this, I realised that If I didn’t work on forgiving all those people, then I wasn’t going to get anywhere because I would always have that anger inside of me. 

Don’t be ashamed to miss or have sympathetic feelings for your abuser

Stockholm Syndrome is a valid diagnosis for a reason. It’s something which seems to be primarily associated with someone who has been kidnapped and them building some sort of ‘bond’ with their captor. But it can also be applied in abuse. My point is, if it’s something that’s substantial enough to be given some sort of label/diagnosis, then don’t feel alone and ashamed for your own experiences of it!

In all honesty, I used to have the attitude that it was a terrible thing… I remember when a Psychologist asked me whether I had loved my abuser because I had said that I had a lot of opposite thoughts and feelings towards him. I cried, yelled at her, and ran away! I think that the main reason was that it felt incredibly insulting to have someone even remotely consider or wonder whether I would have such a feeling. I mean, at the time, I thought that if I were to love my abuser it’d mean that my abuser was so manipulative he had convinced me to think of him in that way, and I’d been so stupid and naive that I’d fallen for his manipulation and sometimes, downright lies!

I didn’t consider the possibility (and truth) that if I had felt that way - which I don’t, and never have - it said more about his manipulation and wrongdoing than it did about me being foolish! And that’s the reason for a whole other label; grooming. 

Grooming was something that was used by the Police to describe the early stages of my interactions with my abuser. And as someone who benefits from having some sort of label or explanation for something, I really found the whole ‘grooming’ thing very helpful in helping my shame that I was having any even remotely kind thoughts and feelings towards him after everything he’d done to me. I mean, it left me debating whether he deserved any sort of punishment because surely it wasn’t all that bad if I managed to still feel that way…?! But of course that wasn’t the case. Of course he’d still done wrong and if anything, the fact he’d managed to do things that would cause me to still care, was just more evidence of wrongdoing.

During that period of grooming, he and I had a variety of conversations that ranged from talking about our different beliefs in heaven, to his experiences of drugs when he was younger! So - not that it should really matters to me whether you understand or not - but can you appreciate why I would have some sort of confusion in my feelings now that you know that the same person to have those chats with me, also abused me? And from my experience of feeling so ashamed to tell anyone my conflicting thoughts and feelings towards him, has led me to recognise that this can be so very detrimental to your mental health. I think that feeling confused or conflicted in any sort of way is a challenge and a hardship on your happiness and enjoyment of even just daily activities. So, please know that you aren’t alone and that anyway you feel, is completely ok. 

See the positive in knowing that you aren’t alone

When the abuse started, whilst many of the actions inflicted on me are supposedly the highest illustration of intimacy, I had never felt more alone.

Back then (2006) I was an incredibly naive fifteen-year-old, but also; there seemed to be very little media coverage of rape and abuse in the media formats I accessed e.g. internet, TV, magazines. I mean, even in sex education; we were merely shown how to put a condom on a Banana! No teaching of signs of grooming or ways and instances where you should get help! And having such non-existent knowledge and education on the subject meant that not only did I feel alone, but I also felt unsure whether these things which hurt and felt so wrong, were actually wrong… 

As with many things in life, this was an instance of something changing and you begin wishing you’d been more grateful for the way things had been… When I got older (18) and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time, I was sort of suddenly overwhelmed by the knowledge and recognition that I definitely wasn’t alone in the abuse I had experienced. And for quite some time, I actually ended up really missing feeling lonely in that respect! I wished so hard that no one had gone through the hardships I had.

After some time - and particularly after I started blogging - I started to see the positive in not being alone with this. I realised that it gave me the opportunity to help others because I could give thoughts and advice from a completely different perspective to that of some professionals. I could talk from experience. I could speak from knowledge and experience and not education and academia. 

Initially in doing this, I began to feel sad and disappointed that I hadn’t had someone like that during the abuse and the immediate aftermath. And this left me wondering whether my mental health would’ve deteriorated to such an extent as to leave me attempting suicide. To cope with those thoughts, I realised that if I hadn’t reached that point then I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am - nor become who I am - today. And if I wasn’t that person, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to help so many more than just me.

Don’t be embarrassed if it affects your sex life

Considering the impact abuse (of any nature/kind) has on your intimate relationships and sex life, is probably one of the most universally awkward aspects to the aftermath of it! I mean, it’s taken me years to finally talk about the impact my experience has had on that area of my life! And one huge motivation to talk about it, has been that I don’t like the thought that there are other people experiencing these difficult thoughts and feelings and they’re thinking they’re totally alone in it…

Since the abuse I experienced, I’ve felt unable to have an intimate relationship and that has left me with the belief that I will never have my own children because I can’t imagine ever being able to do what is required to make a baby! (You see? I’m still awkward around this stuff!) And sometimes this thought makes me so incredibly angry with my abuser to think that he’s taken away something that special. And I know there might be some people saying or thinking ‘it’s not his fault if that’s the way you feel’ but this isn’t about blame. It’s about responsibility. And he is 100% responsible for me being put in a place where I do feel this way. 

In the decision that I won’t have my ‘own’ children, I’ve also realised that I don’t actually need a man in my life at all! I mean, sometimes I miss the company and the simple act of being able to say “I’m on my way home to you now” or “are you cooking dinner?’ But ultimately, I have very little longing to be in a relationship and if I’ll be adopting anyway, then that’s one less awkward conversation I’d have to have with a man!

Help & Support in the UK

It’s very important that you seek help and support for anything surrounding abuse and the earliest opportunity possible:

Always 999 where a crime is being committed or you feel that your life is in danger

Live chat with Rape Crisis: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/live-chat-helpline/about-the-live-chat-helpline/

Text support for male survivors: 07860 065 187

Email the Survivor’s Trust: helpline@thesurvivorstrust.org

Survivor’s of childhood abuse: https://napac.org.uk/

LGBT+ abuse survivors: referrals@galop.org.uk

Victim Support phone line: 0808 1689 111