“So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialised, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: ‘this did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault and responsibility of the adult. I was – and am – innocent.’”
Ellen Bass & Laura Davis
April 20th is one of those anniversaries where it alternates each year with either feeling like what happened on this date in 2007 (the ‘end’ of the abuse) occurred just the other day or an entire lifetime ago! Ironically though, this post is something I’ve actually wanted to write for a long time, but I’ve always been really aware that if I even hover towards using the wrong words, it could be a disaster. Now that I’ve ‘relapsed’ in my mental health though, I feel more capable of taking this risk…
If you’ve been reading, I’m NOT Disordered for some time now, you’ll probably know; but because I have so many new readers every day I didn’t want to risk not starting at the beginning. So, in 2006 a person who was of massively high standing in the community and my life and who was seen as trustworthy and respectable began abusing me. He managed to start doing it under the radar because I was attacked on my way to school one day in the November and began having panic attacks. My abuser offered to provide 1:1 support where I could go and sit with him when I was struggling or upset and so when he first hurt me; and it became the other way around (him calling me into his office) no one even batted an eyelid.
Immediately after the abuse started, I was faced with the compulsory and obvious decision of whether or not to tell someone what he had done/was doing. That might strange because anyone who maybe hasn’t gone through abuse, doesn’t know someone who has, or just doesn’t understand abuse; might be thinking that it shouldn’t even be a decision. Like, surely if something like that happens to you, you report it – no doubt about it. But, in reality, it’s just not that straightforward or simple or easy. In abuse, you don’t always just automatically feel like ‘someone committed a crime, I must tell the Police.’ It goes deeper than that – especially when your abuser is of a particular position in your life and/or is threatening you and constantly bombarding you with really convincing reasons not to report it. Reasons that kept me quiet for six months.
After the first few instances of the abuse, my abuser would both promise it would never happen again and would fill my head with apologies and vows that he would be a better person from that moment on. For some reason – I didn’t put much thought into the motivations and reasons why – I’m one of those people who believes in second chances… Perhaps it’s because I always try to treat others how I’d like to be treated? Regardless of why, I trusted my abuser and allowed him the chance to hurt me. Again, and again and again. And after each of the – roughly – five instances, I remember thinking ‘he has to be telling the truth this time!’ and being so convinced that if I just kept quiet and it didn’t happen again, it’d be like none of it had ever even happened. As though there can ever be anything even remotely resembling a ‘fresh start’ in abuse?!
After somewhere around the fifth time, the threats began. I think my abuser had recognised that I was starting to lose patience and faith in him. As though he could see that if it went on much longer, I would be off to the Police station because in all honesty, his false promises were just making things worse. I mean, if he had just admitted he was in the wrong – if he had owned up to it – and apologised, then I might have actually kept a hold of some hope. I could have appreciated it and searched for signs that he was putting some effort in to work on things and to follow through with his word about changing the person he had supposedly ‘become’ (I say that sceptically because as the Police said when I reported it, I probably wasn’t the first survivor of abuse he had inflicted). I might have been patient and given him a chance to change.
So, after allowing him about five ‘fresh starts’ and finally coming to the conclusion that he was simply a manipulative, deceitful liar; I found myself once again seriously considering reporting the abuse to the Police. However, having had this eventual recognition of who he really was; it meant that when he began threatening and lying to me, I believed him. I took him seriously and I panicked with the conviction that he genuinely meant every single word.
The lies that had the most profound and persuasive impact on my decision to continue staying quiet, were largely centred around my Mum and my relationship with her. The one that mattered the most was his assurances as to how upset I would make my Mum if she knew what had been happening. He told me that she would either respond with disbelief or believe me but hate me for keeping it all a secret for so long. As though she would never be able to understand my decision and that in her failure to do so, she would never forgive me – she’d be full of resentment and completely lacking in love and support. Now, looking back, I’m so sad that I trusted his word more than the words of my heart that always held my Mum in the highest standing for the most favourite and important people in my world. But I guess that this is just further proof and validating of just how persuasive he was in his lies, threats, and general manipulations.
Having been repeatedly hurt by him so often and for what felt like forever (though it had been almost six months), by the time it reached the rape, I had already learnt that in addition to being mentally and psychologically powerless to it, I was also physically weaker too. This was a really difficult factor to come to terms with because I was one of those people who would watch a scary movie or psychological thriller and be screaming at the TV “why aren’t you calling the Police?” or “why don’t you just hide?!” So, when the abuse started, I saw rape as a very black and white kind of situation where I was 100% certain that it was wrong, 100% certain I would try to fight him off, and 100% certain that I would report it to the Police. But then it happened to me… And this is why, when I watch movies now, I’m always thinking that you shouldn’t judge a person’s response to their situation when you’ve not been in that position before and really, have no idea what you would actually do if you were. Criticising and judging another person’s response to some sort of hardship is so much easier to do when you’re saying it from the comfort of your own safety!
So, because of my failure to fight back, when my abuser called me into his office a few days after the rape, I recognised that if I didn’t do something now, it was going to happen again and again and again. I think that whilst the abuse had been continuing, I had come to just… get used to it and give up hope that it would be stopped – or that I could make it stop in some way. But the rape left me feeling that things were only going to get worse, and I absolutely hated the thought of that because I was already starting to feel unsafe. This was like the straw that broke the camel’s back as it all came to a head on April 20th when he tried to hurt me again. I remember just staring out of his office window wondering if it would open far enough for me to jump out of it and if it did and I jumped, would I die. And that thought absolutely terrified me because I recognised that it meant that regardless of the fact the abuse wasn’t going to last forever; the thought of it happening even once more was unbearable. And so, I kicked my legs out and straight into his ribs, and he staggered back, winded. Then the most colossal argument I’ve ever been in, started.
It began with him yelling, calling me all the names under the sun and then trying to fight his way back to me, but it was like that saying about how you can suddenly have all the strength in the world when you really need it. Like, on my second suicide attempt – even though I was massively underweight – it took 6 Police Officers to put me in leg restraints and handcuffs to take me to hospital for the life-saving medical treatment! And so, I fought him off and told him this was never going to happen again and that I was going to report it/him. I tore out of his office, ran down the corridor, down the staircase, and he caught up to me in a corridor on the ground floor yelling “think of how your Mum will feel!” And just as his boss burst out of his own office not far from where we stood, I yelled “think of your wife and children!”
I still remember the look of shock and fury on his boss’s face which grew more and more red as he thundered down the corridor to us asking me “who the hell do you think you are?!” As soon as he started laying into me full of horrible comments about how entitled I thought I was and how my abuser deserved respect; I breathed this steadying sigh of relief and euphoria at the recognition that this was it; this was how it ended. And with that confidence, I said, “you have no idea what he’s been doing to me…” and I began reeling off all of the things that had happened over the last six months. When I finally finished, I stared at his boss waiting for the reaction that felt like it was never going to come – to the point where I actually began wondering if I had even spoken – but he eventually looked to my abuser and, in a trembling (which felt like it was part anger and part nervousness) voice, asked “is this true?”
My abuser’s immediate denial led his boss to turn to me and say “you really think I’m going to believe an attention seeking, manipulative liar over him?! Get out of here and don’t you dare come back!” And, with that, I was promptly almost dragged by my arm to reception where he instructed the administration staff to ring my Mum and tell her to come get me. Now, with me being a mental health blogger and keen writer; I rarely see myself as incapable of finding the words to describe how I’m feeling or what I’m experiencing, but that wait of me sitting on a bench by the main entrance waiting for my Mum to arrive? Well, it honestly feels as though there are no words to really, thoroughly describe how incredibly defeated, confused, and utterly let down I felt.
In the half an hour I waited for my Mum to come, I spent the entire time turning my brain over and over again to try and come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t tell her now. And, being unable to tell her the truth (for so many reasons), I was going to have to come up with an enormous lie about why I was being banned from the building and always being so honest (especially with my Mum because she always told me that she’d rather be upset by the truth than find out I had lied) meant that I really struggled with the notion of lying. And this meant I was pretty useless at it. Ironically though, because my abuser’s boss didn’t want anyone else to be told about it, he sort of ‘covered’ for me and my lie when he refused to speak to my Mum after she arrived and asked for an explanation from him as to his decision to send me home.
Deciding to never tell anyone what had happened ever again felt like the easiest decision in the world because it seemed obvious; like why would I take even the remotest of risks that the response my abuser’s boss had given me would be repeated? Even with my Mum(!) – and this is something that I’ve always felt bad about because I had no real reason to do so. I mean, I was fairly certain that she would believe me and that when she did, she would be on my side and believe that I had done nothing to deserve it; but I also worried what she would do about it… Regardless of the fact my Mum has never been a violent or really aggressive person, because she truly is my mama bear, I genuinely questioned whether she would march to my abuser’s place of work and punch him in the face before calling the Police! Also, ‘fairly certain’ didn’t mean 100% positive and that tiny (maybe 2 – 3%) lack in my confidence was more than enough to silence me. And why on earth would I take the risk of having a response like the one from my abuser’s boss which had already led me to feeling unsafe; so, I couldn’t imagine what I’d do/how I’d feel if I were to experience a similar one.
Even though I made all those considerations and efforts into making the decision as to whether or not to tell my Mum, I failed to even remotely think about exactly what would come from my lies… Usually, being a naturally open and honest person (who even hates keeping secrets!), I actually didn’t wonder whether I would even be able to keep up the façade. And I definitely didn’t think about – or even remotely prepare for – all of the thoughts and feelings I would begin to experience solely as a result of this decision. Despite how harmful and challenging all of those were, I think that the most unbearable one was the judgments that I held against myself because of the abuse – that I was convinced it had all been my fault and that I’d deserved absolutely all these obstacles being thrown my way. It was ironic, really. That I was judging myself but out of the fear of what others would think of me once they knew, I had no one to talk me out of that mindset – a mindset which was beginning to ruin my life…
Immediately after the abuse, I began drinking alcohol underage with friends who knew someone over 18 who would buy us really bad, but really cheap cider. In all honesty, I also immediately recognised that my friends were drinking for fun and that they would stop once they were drunk; yet I was drinking to forget and to escape. And I wouldn’t stop drinking until I reached oblivion and finally felt some small relief from all the memories of the abuse that seemed to be replaying over and over again in my head like the catchy lyrics of a popular song. I mean, there were genuinely times when I felt as though I may as well go through the abuse again because the memories and the flashbacks were that intense and overwhelming of my reality as well as clouding over my future and filling it with doubtful, damaging darkness.
After a few months, when a drunken afternoon turned into a huge fight between my group of friends and another group, and the Police got involved; my Mum put her foot down and my drinking ended. But, of course, I wasn’t about to suddenly let those memories control my head or have any sort of priority; and so, I turned my attention to furthering my education in studying for my A Levels at a local School. I tried to really channel all my negative emotions and thoughts around the abuse into my studying and focus on the idea of creating a better life for myself. One which I now intended to spend as an Education Lawyer in the hope that I’d feel as though my experiences were worthwhile in some sort of respect. That something productive had come from the abuse. My intelligence, however, wasn’t quite up to scratch and even devoting all my time and energy to doing homework and revising for tests didn’t change that… And I’m not saying that I’m stupid or something, just that my learning ability isn’t on par with education in the respect of reading huge textbooks and researching different court cases; mine is more about creativity and doing those things (reading and researching) with a creative subject as opposed to a heavy-duty formal qualification!
After a year, I began to really recognise my lack of understanding, passion, interest, and dedication for the subjects I had chosen to study (Law, History, and Philosophy), I realised that I needed to desperately find something else to use as a distraction or coping mechanisms for the abuse memories. And with that, I found myself convinced of the notion that I was a failure at literally anything and everything I tried to do, and I quickly started punishing myself for that. Firstly, by restricting my diet and over-exercising which eventually – after another year – resulted in me being told that because I was still having a menstrual cycle, it made me short of matching the entire diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder (Anorexia Nervosa).
In early 2009 (almost six months after that diagnosis assessment) I began experiencing auditory hallucinations in the form of voices who would reiterate all the thoughts and opinions I held about myself, and who believed that because those things were all true, I really should commit suicide. Within ten days of the voices seeming to be constantly growing louder, more powerful, and occurring more regularly; I found myself making my first suicide attempt and my refusal to explain the motivation behind it led to me being immediately sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act to be hospitalised, given the lifesaving medical treatment against my will, and then admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks.
When I began looking at College courses, my Psychiatrist thought it signified recovery – or at least a more positive outlook – and so I was discharged, but within weeks I had made an even larger suicide attempt and was sectioned and hospitalised again. On this admission, however, I was adamant that I wanted to either leave the hospital or kill myself and so I began escaping from the ward at every chance I got. And after a few instances, the decision was made to transfer me to the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where the doors were locked, had an airlock, the small outdoor courtyard was walled and fenced off, and there was a seclusion room where staff would restrain you and forcibly administer a sedative injection.
On the PICU I met another inpatient who I seemed to immediately and instinctively connect with because in a matter of hours after first meeting her, I found myself telling her about the abuse. I confided in her, and the sensation I got when I said all of the things, I had kept so quiet for the past two years was actually immensely rewarding. I felt comforted, reassured, and free all at the same time. And because of this very fortunate response to me talking about things, I wasn’t fazed much when the other girl suggested telling the ward staff and speaking to the Police because I figured that the more people I tell – the more I talk about it – the more opportunities there would be to repeat these positive thoughts and feelings.
I vaguely remember sitting in the Ward Manager’s office and her explaining that they were legally obliged to inform the Police about everything I had said had happened to me, and then the Psychiatrist decided to discharge me; saying that finally opening up was a good sign. I guess he either didn’t think about, or just didn’t regard it very highly, the chance that having to go through the hugely important and intimidating reporting process with the Police might have the result it did in actually ending up worsening my mental health and my level of risk for self-harm and suicide. Regardless of the fact that I recognised those risks though, I still went ahead with working with the Police to do something about what had been done to me.
In all honesty, and to maintain the intentions in this post’s title, I think that the hardest parts of that legal process – and the part which was most off-putting and left me starting to regret speaking up – were the questions I was asked in my video interview at the Police station. The ‘worst’ one being to describe areas of my abuser’s body which could then be used as evidence that I had seen those parts of him and that there were no other reasons why I would have. And the reason this was such a difficult question was because as a means of coping and to survive everything that was being done to me, I had disassociated and so I could only recall the instances of abuse as though from the viewpoint of being in a corner of the ceiling and looking down at all of it happening to someone else. That perspective meant I could only answer some questions rather than all the ones I would’ve been able to, had I not felt desperate for a protective tactic that would aid my survival of the entirely traumatic ordeal.
The recognition of this influenced the mindset that if I had been stronger, less of a failure, and braver, I could have provided better evidence that would make charging and convicting my abuser a whole lot more practical and likely. This was also really true when I found out that had I reported it straight away, there were physical tests that could have been done to prove it too. And these were difficult things to learn to accept because they instilled a lot of self-blame around something that I was already – wrongly – holding myself responsible for.
I think one of the largest challenges to learning to live with these notions stemmed from the fact that as a result of my suicide attempts, I have wanted – and put a lot of effort in – to believe that life is too short to have regrets. I believe that it’s all about accepting something that has happened, taking on the consequences, and then learning to move forward and continue with your life despite all those things. However, after finding the fact that everything regarding the arrest and prosecution of my abuser would have had a better chance had I done a lot of things differently, I also had to contend with the responses my abuser’s colleagues had given to the Police upon being questioned by them to determine whether there had actually been any witnesses that I hadn’t been aware of.
Apparently, every single person made the statement of either “I didn’t see it, but from everything I did see, I can believe it happened” or “I always wondered…” Now, is it just me that wants to scream “why the hell didn’t you do something about it then?!” That fury and the notion of being completely let-down was so incredibly overwhelming that it gave me yet another reason to doubt that I’d made the right decision in going through with the report for the Police. It had left me wishing that I hadn’t known these people had chosen not to help me. That they had chosen to believe in him and not to question how trustworthy he actually was. I was failed. And the realisation of this, wasn’t easy by any means… It made me incredibly angry.
When I was being abused, an anger grew inside of me that I thought I was overwhelmed by, but I had many opportunities to release it. My abuser and I would have so many arguments that were really unprofessional considering his role in my life, and which were really worthy of punishments in so far as the position I was in too. And I can only think that it is these rows which his colleagues viewed as signs there was something more going on behind-the-scenes, but not once did anyone step in. And I thought that anger fuelling these instances was unmanageable; but then the anger that I developed after the Police told me of the statements, they had collected from his colleagues came along and I found myself feeling as though I was genuinely drowning in it. A large part of that probably came from the fact that I no longer had the opportunity to actually vent that anger to my abuser – I had no one to take it out on. So, I took it out on myself.
Throughout my mental health recovery, I have had to make so many changes to my mindset, my thought processes, my behaviours and so much more; but one of the most important changes was around the anger I held towards my abuser and his colleagues. Making that change and improvement in finding a balance between recognising that none of it should be directed at myself, and developing a healthy way to cope with it, became such a positive step forward in managing my safety and massively reducing my risk of suicide.
Another huge change in my recovery has come from learning a lot about responsibility, but not purely in just so far as the abuse. It is actually something that mental health professionals used to constantly throw at me in their belief that when I would self-harm or make a suicide attempt or get sectioned, I would look to blame someone – anyone – else for it. I would say “I only did it because she said this” or “that was up to you, not me.”
Upon recognising that I played no role in earning any kind of blame for the abuse, I was faced with the dilemma of what to think of my abuser. Do I find a way to forgive him? But actually, is he worthy of me even trying to? The fact I had reported the abuse, however, meant that I was almost forced into having to consider this and to make a decision on it. And being faced with this incredibly difficult position, left me debating whether I’d made the right call in reporting the abuse because if I hadn’t, this issue wouldn’t be a problem. I wouldn’t have the feeling that I’m expected to declare how I still feel about him whenever the abuse is spoken about. It’s like everyone immediately looks to me for some sort of hint as to how much I still hate him or how close I am to forgiveness.
I will never forgive him, but I will also never hate him again because doing so, was eating me alive.
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