TW: this post contains discussion of abuse

Book blurb:

‘Have you left an abusive relationship?

Are you still carrying guilt?

Do you still think what happened to you was your fault?

Do you find dealing with new people in your life something to be scared about?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to the above questions you are not alone.

Many people who leave an abusive relationship behind are affected by that former relationship in many different ways. Perhaps you feel guilty when making decisions on your own? You may worry about what motivates others to befriend you? Maybe your children are having to re-learn who it is that’s the adult in the room now that your ex-partner has gone from their lives.

If this all sounds familiar then The Recovery Toolkit is the book for you. Written in an easy and accessible style, the book will take you on a journey that is part discovery, part guide.’

‘To start with, congratulations you are an amazing person. What? How can I say that as I have never met you?’

I was approached on Twitter to be one of a few Bloggers who were given an exclusive preview to The Recovery Toolkit and initially, I was sceptical that it’d be relevant to me personally as the book is a twelve week plan to support a person’s journey through Domestic Abuse. Then, in the book’s preface, the Author – Sue Penna, quotes George Orwell with “knowledge is power” and I realized that I could actually, probably take many things from this book!

Of course, the book is aimed at – and inspired by – ‘those individuals who have experienced being in a relationship with an abusive partner’ and I would never want to take away from how essential it is that such an incredible resource be available for people with such experience. I think, though, that I could learn from this book. I mean, just from having it in my house I’ve learnt something incredible – a friend spotted it on the coffee table and told me that she’d love to read it because she’d experienced an abusive relationship (something which I’d never known). This friend is a very close and important person to me, so purely knowing she’s experienced this, has given me a motivation to learn more about the subject and gain a better insight into what she might be going through and how she might be coping. 

I also wondered whether I’d be able to apply the book to the ‘relationship’ I had with the person who raped and sexually abused me. A long time ago I used that ‘r word’ about my abuser and I and someone asked if that meant I had loved him. I was sort of confused because it hadn’t occurred to me that someone would interpret the word in that way; but I guess sometimes people have a different understanding of things. For me, a relationship is literally the connection between two people; whether that be deemed as hatred, jealousy, admiration, caregiver…

The first part of the book that really stood out to me was in ‘Week One’ where it discusses ‘how we think’ and it talks about how ‘the psychological distress caused by the abuse you endured may still affect how you perceive yourself…’ and that it’s ‘likely to have triggered negative responses in how you manage emotional pain.’ I thought this true for myself and my own experience of abuse because from the state of my mental health these past years, it’s pretty obvious that my abuse still affects me a great deal. Probably the most damaging perception of myself that I’ve adopted since the abuse has been to blame myself for almost every negative thing that happens in my life.

Also, in ‘Week One’ is a piece on ‘self-protection’ and a discussion on the fact that during ‘stressful’ times we can learn ways to cope that are ‘based on self-protection and the minimisation of risk.’ I related to this because I feel that a basic human instinct is survival and doing anything you can to do this, and I think this is just one of many reasons why suicide shouldn’t be seen as ‘weak’ or an ‘easy way out.’ To go against that instinct and to feel the complete opposite is something that takes an enormous amount of strength and whilst it’s in an unhealthy way, it should be recognized that a person believes it to be the only way things will get any better. People don’t commit suicide if they think there’s even a remote possibility that something will improve. 

Moving onto ‘Week Two’ the book begins discussing two huge elements to abuse; power and control and just seeing those two words really caught my attention because they’re definitely aspects that were rife in my relationship with my abuser. I think it’s common knowledge for readers of my blog that I can’t name my abuser or give any identifying details, but I have always said that he was in a position of power when he hurt me. This meant he was also someone who had a lot of control over numerous aspects of my life and who was respected by everyone else. Him having that control and power contributed to just how intimidating he was, and it was a motivator in my decision not to report the abuse immediately.

Another part of the relationship with my abuser which is mentioned in ‘Week Two’ of the book, is in ‘A Question Of Trust’ which talks about the impact abuse can have on your ability to trust others which, the book deems is ‘a totally understandable method of protecting ourselves.’ A lot of people trusted my abuser in giving him a ton of responsibilities which basically allowed him the chance and the opportunity to continue hurting me. I watched the way others treat him and the respect they showed, and I knew that no one would believe me if I told them what he was capable of. No one would believe he would do something like that.

The final part of ‘Week Two’ which stood out for me was the introduction of Stockholm Syndrome which is a condition in which a ‘hostage’ develops a psychological bond with their ‘captor.’ I was made aware of this Syndrome very early on in my reporting of the abuse to the Police and to mental health professionals. I think that it was a huge concern for them as they worried that it was the motivation for me to take so long to talk to someone about it. They thought that maybe, after all this time, I’d grown some sort of attachment to my abuser and maybe even felt some sympathy at the thought of him being punished for what he’d done.

‘Week Three’ focuses on self-esteem with the introduction detailing ‘you may have spent years having your belief systems undermined and eroded by constant criticism, belittle and psychological abuse.’ In connection with self-esteem, this part of the book also talks about human rights and that we should each have the right to be safe, to say no, to make mistakes, to change our mind, and so many more! I really loved this part of the book because one of my biggest challenges during the abuse was developing the belief that I had deserved it and a query that maybe I was wrong in thinking it was unacceptable. Of course, I learnt through time and from the Police and mental health professionals that it had been very wrong and that no one deserves something like that. To have this reiterated in this book is so helpful because I think that it’s definitely something that you need to be reminded of.

In ‘Week Four’ the book begins discussing ‘How We Cope Emotionally’ and starts with the psychological consequences of coping with ‘…for any individual living in such intolerable situations, you will have found whatever means you could in order to cope with the inflicted mental and physical pain.’ The book gives examples of these means to cope with ‘self-medication,’ ‘depression and anxiety’ and ‘self-harm.’ I was reassured that self-harm was recognized in this section because it will illustrate to others that they are not alone if they’re coping in this way.

‘Week Four’ then goes onto discuss Post Traumatic Stress with the definition being the experience of something ‘so traumatic that when they recall the experience or experience something similar they become distressed.’ Having been an inpatient of a psychiatric hospital, I’ve met many people with a diagnosis of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and have seen the debilitating impact it can have on a person’s life and their safety so it’s great that this book sheds light on, and raises awareness of such a Disorder.

The book then encourages readers to utilize relaxation to regain control in determining that ‘learning to relax has huge benefits for your physical and mental health.’ It goes on to provide a few exercises for relaxation of different body parts which range from your arms to your lower back! I’ll be honest in saying that I’ve never found relaxation techniques helpful because they’ve always been presented in a way that I’ve felt was dismissive of just how much I’ve been struggling. It’s always felt that professionals were insinuating that how I felt was so… minor? That they felt taking deep breaths would provide some relief. This book, however, provides these relaxation exercises in way that is neither dismissive nor demeaning and which acknowledges that a person can be feeling completely overwhelmed.

‘Week Five’ begins talking about something that I initially thought I probably couldn’t really relate to, and that is the subject of how the abuse can impact children and parenting skills. When I first saw the topic of this ‘Week’ I figured that it was a topic which was is most obviously relevant to Domestic Abuse. However, even though I don’t have children, the abuse I’ve experienced has definitely shaped my thoughts and views on both having children and the actual act of parenting. I think that knowing the abuse I went through was sexual makes it quite obvious as to why it has had such an impact on this topic and aspect of life. I would absolutely love to have children one day but I can’t imagine this ever being a natural birth as I feel so uncomfortable at the thought of the act of making a baby and the prospect of the examinations being pregnant would involve.

Another way the abuse has shaped my idea of parenting is that it’s shown me the lessons I’d like to teach my own children. I’d firstly make sure they were aware of the existence of rape and abuse so that they weren’t as naïve as I was and unsure if the subject was as wrong as it feels. In talking to them about it, I’d hope that this would encourage them not to be ashamed or reluctant in any way to talk about such a life-changing experience so that if they were to experience it, they’d be more confident in speaking up and reporting it. 

The title of ‘Week Six’ is ‘self-care’ and it discusses the common misconception that caring for your self is the definition of being selfish. This is definitely something I used to believe myself and was terrified that if I were to put myself first then it’d look as though I was all that I cared about. A key, recent example is of when my Pharmacy failed to order my anti-psychotic medication and my chief concern was the worry that I could’ve hurt someone else (as I did the last time I didn’t take that medication) yet everyone else was worried about my safety. I think the majority of my reasoning for my lack of prioritising myself has been the amount of times people have told me to consider how my friends and family would feel if I were to commit suicide. I recognize that it’s a common response in a mental health crisis, but it isn’t always helpful and to be told – when I’m sat there feeling suicidal – that I should be thinking of others? Well I think that helped instil in me a sense of others being more important than myself.

In ‘Week Seven’ the topic is assertiveness and it includes the promotion of finding the ability to express your emotions and ways to avoid being aggressive when doing so. I think that when you’re coming out of an abusive relationship it feels so essential that you are able to assert yourself because you’ve spent so long in a relationship where this wasn’t possible. The amount of times I begged my abuser to stop and told him ‘no’ but was ignored, really motivated my need to be assertive and my belief that I had the right to be respected, considered, heard, and listened to. 

‘Week Eight’ begins talking about ‘being angry’ with ‘your abuser did not have difficulty expressing their anger. What they did was deliberate.’ I absolutely loved this because it really felt like a ‘lightbulb moment’ in that I realised that it’s right; my abuser absolutely didn’t have a problem with his anger so why the hell should I?! The ‘Week’ goes on to talk about the different angers you can hold and that they can be toward others and toward yourself; it’s not purely about being angry at your abuser. I think this is an important point because when I was angry at others, I felt so guilty and mean knowing that it really was no one else’s fault but my abuser’s. He deserved all of my anger. Thankfully, the book also contains tips on managing your anger safely – I say ‘thankfully’ because this was definitely something I didn’t do! I especially liked the ‘grounding’ techniques because that’s something which has worked for me too.

The following ‘Week’ (Week Nine) moves onto ‘boundaries’ which was an aspect of abuse I hadn’t even considered although I would definitely agree it’s relevant! You know when sometimes an issue has affected so many aspects of yourself and your life that you don’t even realize half of the changes it has influenced? The book talks about the fact that ‘in general, we keep ourselves safe and make positive life choices by being aware of our boundaries and expectations.’ I think this is a brilliant point which begs the question ‘what do you expect from others because of the abuse you’ve experienced?’ I mean, do you expect to be abused by someone else? Do you expect to be belittled and patronized? Or, has the abuse heightened your expectations in that you now look for the complete opposite in relationships? I think that initially after the abuse, I was definitely the first state of mind in that any new relationships with someone in a position of power, I expected that person to abuse their power and use it in a way which was detrimental and hurtful to me. Over time, though, I’ve come to believe in the former and that I deserve to be loved and respected.

In ‘Week Ten’ the book looks at ‘grief and loss’ and reiterates that the loss ‘can be both practical and psychological’ which – I think – is a common misconception in grief. The ‘Week’ goes on to discuss the five stages of grief and this is something I’ve learnt a lot about since losing my cat in 2018. I realize this is completely different to the loss of a long-term, romantic relationship (for example) but I think it’s important that it’s recognized as a loss and not dismissed because she was ‘just a cat.’ One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt through about the stages of grief is that they don’t necessarily come in a particular order, you can experience more than one at the same time, and they can be prominent for different lengths of time. When I was removed from the situation which allowed the abuse to take place, I definitely had a sense of loss because I’d become used to having my abuser be a huge part of my life and now I might never see him again! I worried that I would grow to ‘miss’ him and thought that if were to, this would be ‘wrong’ and a bad thing, but really; it’s completely understandable!

The penultimate ‘Week’ is ‘Week Eleven’ whose title is ‘Healthy Relationships’ and it begins with a talk on how to recognize warning signs in future relationships which could make the relationship ‘unhealthy.’ There’s also a bit about intimacy and the factors that could prevent you from becoming intimate with someone new e.g. the belief that the person will also become abusive. I definitely struggled to build relationships with people in the same career as my abuser because of what had happened to me. I was terrified that if I were to build some sort of bond with them (as I had done with my abuser prior to the abuse starting) then I’d only end up hurt – physically and emotionally.

Finally, ‘Week Twelve’ which is titled ‘The End Of The Journey!’ The title made me wonder whether someone who has experienced domestic violence, would feel the same as someone who has experienced another form of abuse with regards to the ‘end.’ For me, I find that I tend to be fairly explicit that the abuse I went through ‘ended’ physically in 2007, and that sometimes, I feel it hasn’t fully ended emotionally/psychologically because I’ll have to live with the memories for the rest of my life.

I hope that this post has been useful and that it has encouraged readers to buy this book to see how they can relate to it and to work through the worksheets and exercises which the ‘Weeks’ are peppered with.

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