I spent the end of March and the first two days of April participating in a Living Fully Creative Therapy Group 3.25 very intense days It was a ‘retreat’ for sexual abuse survivors. I was fortunate to be put forward for funding to attend. It was with much trepidation that I agreed. I didn’t know what to expect so went with no expectations. I deliberately booked myself into a motel nearby as I knew that I would not cope with the travel too and fro after such intensive days. That was a self care move and a good one I was right. I needed space for me each night.
We were a small group of victims in varying stages of healing. It was challenging, disturbing, distressing, amazing, painful and wonderful all at the same time. To be able to freely communicate and be heard & believed and supported in such a safe way was actually incredible.
I’ve never experienced psychodrama or group therapy before It was certainly very interesting, challenging and emotionally draining. Actively participating in the dramas was definitely not something I was comfortable to do I preferred the role of witness and giving feedback This was an important part of the proceedings The art therapy portions were certainly more my thing There just wasn’t enough of them for me
What did I take from my time there?
Firstly – I learned that I can participate, or not, at whatever level I am comfortable with and saying no is very ok. And I was commended for doing so.
Secondly – I learned that I can hold my own space. That I’m important and have as much right as anyone else to hold space. That I’m not taking from anyone else. And that in owning my space I’m also giving to others.
Thirdly – I learned that I was believed. At all times. I was supported and held in the safest place I’ve ever been in. In the past when I have tried talking openly I’ve been shutdown & silenced. That is revictimisation and I will no longer allow myself to be a victim of that.
Fourthly – I have never read my work aloud to anyone before. I usually write & run. But this time they wanted my words. They asked me to read to them. Their responses were more than could’ve imagined. So much empathy, compassion, & identifying. I felt validated. As a writer. As an artist. As a woman.
For the past few days my mind has been a mash up of blank emotions Feeling with others Identifying with parts of their stories But not knowing how to process my own Because it just feels too huge Too complicated Where do I start my PTSD, my ball of string, has so many pieces rolled into it some are long, very very very long and others are short, abrupt, moments with many varying lengths between
This morning Russell Brand challenged me loud and clear He pushed me up off of my pillows and said Start writing!
My father He was my main fuck up He fucked me up so fucking good He spent my entire childhood ensuring I was totally fucked up And he did such a good job of it Incest is the most confusing type of sexual abuse anyone can endure No violence involved Just so called love and enjoyment It turns my stomach to recall how much he made me enjoy what he did to me For over 10 years That is a total screw up in anyones brain I bury those memories so deep But this morning they are surfacing And I am SO FUCKING ANGRY He stole so much from me The pleasure of actually knowing when I lost my virginity Or the ability to give consent and give myself to who I wanted The never knowing when, because it is blurred into obscurity The not knowing how to guide my own children My children – OMG don’t get me started on that He locked my emotions up so fucking much I didn’t know how to parent or communicate with me own children I so fucked up my own children
That day we were going to visit our friends the day our landrover rolled off the road and down the bank the day the one man I trusted let me down for the first time that one error of judgement set triggers alight that haunt me decades later fears that seem now to be irrational but are so fucking real fear of falling fear of losing my children fear of confined spaces fear of losing control fears, irrational and uncontrollable fears…
Home from the hospital an innocent comment A curious question Allowed us to discover our precious daughter had been abused whilst we were away she was in the care of someone we trusted but still a fucked up deviant who managed to get to my precious little girl So Fucking Up and So Fucking Angry
A month later pregnant with very unplanned baby No4 after pelvic injuries, broken left ankle, sprained right knee and weeks on crutches after a month of painkillers after a month of vomiting then bleeding a bucket full of bleeding nearly died getting to the hospital I lost my baby
Abused by a hospital doctor another man I should’ve been able to trust my husband’s ignorance/innocence in female medical stuff allowed it to happen Nurses enveloped me allowed me to cry helped me understand what he did to me was wrong a week later re-admittance a repeat proceedure re-traumatisation
Finally home Fucked up again No you can’t grieve your baby You gotta praise God Cuz you gotta accept its all part of his plan So no tears No sadness Let’s just praise God and carry on living So Fucked Up
Baby No5 Perfectly normal pregnancy Horrendous delivery Hospital trauma Stirrups Huge needle in my spine during stage 2 Total evacuation of my uterus Post birth – you need to get out of bed Migraine to the max Oops – another medical fuckup More needles in my spine “oh you have a wee boy after 3 girls. How lovely” No fucking way do I want this kid! I am in so much pain and you expect me to love this baby 10 days to finally hold and begin to love my boy Such a Fuck Up
Baby No7 7 years later My friends enveloped me Finally I was allowed to grieve But along the way pieces of trauma varying degrees of severity adding up relationships family dramas accidents business issues so many traumas and falls, so many falls culminating in years and years of body pain But swept aside as just another thing to deal with I kept busy, keeping busy Running the farm Doing all the bookwork Raising & educating my 10 living children Feeding the myriads that surrounded our family table each day Encapsulating extreme busyness! I was really, really good at keeping busy
Unknowingly My stress bucket was filling then one evening one small thing was said But it was magnificent & breathtaking in its delivery and its magnificence overflowed my bucket And I broke An emotional breakdown that completely unhinged me Threw me off of my rotation And spin me out of my carefully controlled busyness It totally bewildered my husband It completely blindsided me But actually I wasn’t shocked I had been quietly screaming for help since I was a small child
That Fuck Up led me on my course of discovery and healing And I am so fucking grateful I began then
Because the 2nd biggest Fuck Up of my life happened two years later
On the 17th February 2013 see! this time I remember all everything each detail of that day is marked with such clarity
My husband, My Timmy The man who had loved me since I was 14 years old The man who saved me and cherished me The man I loved so much left for town and he never came home He was killed Instantly only 20mins from our home when his vehicle left the road and rolled 200m down the hillside
The trauma from that moment has overshadowed almost every other trauma in my life I was so Fucked Up and Fucked Over by the police, victim support etc The people that are supposed to be there for you What a massive Fucked Up! the spiral rippling effect this one event has had on myself my children our extended family is beyond belief I cannot even write this without crying I can talk about my abuse I can get angry, feel sad, etc But I can’t cry But for this my heart cries It is like a bottomless well of tears that will never stop They are always there No matter how happy my life is or how content I am in the moment This trauma has fucked me up like no other
Leaving our home of over 40 years Packing up after 4 generations that was traumatic in itself The splintering of our family The inability of my children to process and support each other as they each reeled in their own pain We have been so Fucked Up
Moving to the city Creating new life and new friends exciting but So hard I got a job A dream job Working with Sexual Abuse victims I So Loved my job Until I was Fucked Over once again by the person who was supposed to support us and be there for us Our Team Manager After a particular horrendous call out The worst any of us had ever experienced Instead of support and care I was Traumatised Victimised Stung big time by a scorpion Put over a barrel – had to leave Fucked Up Again
And in amongst my story there are my children My children all have their own stories I have permission to tell some but now is not that place Their stories require their own spaces Their stories are interwoven with mine through it all We have become stronger Still Fucked Up But So Much Fuckin Stronger
I’ve never done the group thing before It’s pretty damn scary they say we are in a safe place but any time vulnerabilities are released or revealed it doesn’t feel safe it’s hard to feel safe
they say it’s safe here to speak out to tell our stories but hearing others stories silences my own I don’t want my story to overshadow theirs My story is mine and right now it feels like if I speak I am taking from their spaces
I feel conflicted I am not used to just sitting listening watching someone share their pain shed their tears and do nothing except sit in silent agreement I want to go to them to surround them in a heart sharing, heart supporting, hug but we just sit and allow them space to share and to shed to be heard to be seen and to grow
When it is time then maybe just maybe I will allow myself the space to tell my story it just feels too big of a story though it feels like it will take up too much space that I take up too much space that my whole story is actually just too huge Maybe I should write a Readers Digest version it might be easier for others to digest but then I would feel cheated because I too need space to share to be heard to be seen and to grow
be it with our voice or our hands we learn to speak encouraged to express our needs and wants positive or negative
but we also are learned to not communicate by the traumas we endure by the dangers of response
we are learned in skills of self preservation an innocent word triggering an abuser triggering a bully triggering the anger of another
causing violent reaction a chain reaction learning in us over years of trauma to self protect
we shut down we… shut… down…..
moving forward into adulthood damaged goods fight flight fright concreted into our damaged psyche cautious trusts so easily destroyed our fragility protected by a thin crust of bravado our lives spent walking on eggshells
the exhausting daily trials to appear normal to fit in to be more than to compensate for the imbedded feelings of worthlessness to show that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me yeah right
and then words innocently said body language misinterpreted precipitously triggering violent responses from others loved ones those we trusted
like blunt force trauma to the brain like a knee into the gut with excruciating heart-rending pain leaving us reeling winded wounded revictimised retraumatised wondering where did we go wrong again
not understanding that their triggers are not your triggers their pain like yours is causing them to react is causing a vicious spiral of damaged communication and damaged communicators
Most people who read this know my story (If not then cruise on back through my posts and you’ll soon figure it out) And you will know that I have been in therapy for over 10 years now it was actually quite a cataclysmic event that I am able to pin point my breakdown to – the Christchurch NZ February 2011 earthquake happened exactly one month after I broke. Not sure if there is any rational transcendent reasonings behind that timeframe but its definitely a hinging point for my memories
I have learnt and am still learning about me And how the traumas have affected and altered me I’m sure it has been beneficial No, I know it has been incredibly beneficial It hasn’t changed my past But it has altered how I deal with my future My trauma based brain that I operate from still sends out triggers on a daily basis But I have learnt to how to identify them and cope with them more readily
I’ve also learnt a whole heap of new vocabulary And for someone like me who processes in the written word Who loves words Who loves to research This helps me immeasurably
Recently I was talking with my therapist about how people perceive me and how I see myself I am usually seen as being strong and outspoken and independent But inside I am often a quaking mess, unsure, afraid of being hurt and afraid of upsetting proverbial boats
I present this exterior persona of being strong and in control Which I also am I’m both Because the me that is now I Was shattered into pieces And I am trying to meld my pieces back together again Confused much Yeah me too
This quote pretty much sums it up though
10 years of therapy sounds a such a long time But so much else has happened within those years that have rabbit pathed my focus so my therapy has been often stretched sideways I relaxed into it more easily once I was told in the earlier days by one of my case managers that my abuse/trauma would take a very long time to heal from
So anyways, recently my therapist shared these words with me when I was asking her how the hell do I present so together when I’m actually not…
Firstly Dissociation (when we numb out or block painful feelings) I’m already very familiar with this I do it often It makes life so much easier to cope with But it makes others feel like you don’t care
Over identification (when swamped and overwhelmed) oh my Lord! This is way too familiar I know one of my ptsd cover ups has been, and often still is, to keep very busy So I do And then there gets to be too much happening in my brain And I start spinning And one small trigger tips me over And my brain crashes Like the wheel spinning on the computer screen And I blank out drowning in an absolute lost mess
But the third one is the word I needed to understand to answer my question
Disidentification (when keeping at arms length and know it’s not about me) This is the word I had not heard before But it sure is a good one And it is most definitely me A lot of the time It’s the suck it up and do what is deemed right part of me It’s the brave face It’s the masks I wear to protect me And it’s the masks I wear to actually protect others Because no matter how much I break my silence there are still those who do not know, who can not know, who I still protect
This was the me that was able to stand up the front of the church and speak at my own father’s funeral I never understood how I did that But it was expected of me I was the eldest of the siblings Eloquant Strong Someone who gets shit done So I did what was expected And I spoke I remember absolutely nothing My mother of course kept all the words and on her death I probably inherited them along with all the other words she passed on to me I choose not to go searching for them I choose to stay in a state of insulation to protect my very vulnerable self.
Did I speak at my mother’s funeral I absolutely cannot remember I know I organised her funeral I know so many intimate details of the day, the weeks prior and the weeks & months following But I have completely buried that part of the day My mother was an important part of my development but her ultimate betrayal is still too painful and deeply embedded so dissociation wins
But I do know I stood and spoke at my husband’s funeral This was the me that was so broken, so lost, so overwhelmed with pain But I did it Cuz I had to For me For him For the kids I disidentified and dissociated
Abuse How do we speak about it How do we own it MY abuse or THE abuse
Do we absorb it make it our own Do we try to remove it from within disown it disassociate from it
How do we process those words
Does It become part of me – we become consumed by It – we allow It to absorb Us – we struggle within It – we surrender to It
Do we hold it at arms length – the thing that was done to me – the thing that has affected me – the thing that has crippled me – the thing that changed my life forever
We each develop systems to cope with our individual situations Those systems in turn become mechanisms The mechanisms which allow us to continue to live Some of us ‘appear’ to live well And others of us don’t
No matter what the outside world perceives of us The trauma The abuse has infiltrated our very core pierced our soul And created such damage that we will never ever be the same ever again
But one way we can alter the effects Is to change MY abuse to THE abuse And in so doing We remove the onus From us And give it back To the Abuser, the Perpetrator The one who did things TO us
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
― Fred Rogers
I was watching the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” recently and these words really spoke to me They are so true So wise
We have had so many taboos in societal exchange And those taboos create so much stress trauma generating room for abuse of many kinds to perpetuate
If we cannot talk about death life sex mental health relationships etc in normal fashion using real terms and real words
We create prohibitions secrets silences darkness damage
Allowing misconceptions to exacerbate Allowing lies to spread Allowing abuse to continue
Let’s manage our (un)mentionables Let’s talk honestly Let’s talk openly Let’s be supportive Let’s be trustworthy
I know if I had had just one person Just one Who could’ve seen Who could’ve been supportive Maybe, just maybe, life would’ve been so different for the little girl that was me
Unfortunately The one person that spoke up for me all those decades ago was just another small person a witness but also a victim, yet another victim Whose parents couldn’t hear her wouldn’t hear her couldn’t see wouldn’t see And because of their inability to manage the unmentionable she was unheard she was physically abused she was verbally abused she was ridiculed for saying such unmentionable dirty things she was silenced
one victim became two victims and on and on and on
until decades later the ripples in the pond of abuse that my father began have become so big and so far reaching so damaging in so many realms of my life
Ever since I found my voice 8 years ago and began mentioning the unmentionable I have been hearing from more of his victims and from other victims who have found their voices cuz I found mine Finding your voice empowers others
Sadly I am still hearing stories from other victims today It is never ending But as we manage our humanity we find support we find we are not alone
Living with the results of trauma is something many of us do Many more of us than you can imagine Trauma response is very individual No one can relive your trauma No one can tell you how you ought to respond No one can tell you what you feel Or how you should feel No one has the right to make you feel guilty No one has the right to tell you to forgive
There are recognised symptoms that cover the wide variety of PTSD’s Not all will apply to you Or to him Or her They are a generic guide for diagnosis The base though is that they are/can be your bodies response to trauma inflicted on you that you could not control The wounds are very often externally indiscernible But the responses are embarrassingly visible And can often be emotionally, physically and socially crippling
For me personally I can identify with most of the above symptoms and at least half of those would be affecting me on a daily basis
Trauma changes our basic brain functionings Thats a fact No argument
One of my sorrowful questions has often been What/who would I have been if I hadn’t endured 10 years of childhood sexual abuse? Who would that little girl have become? What would her life have been like? Would she have been a better mother, a better wife? Would she have had more confidence in herself? Would her experience of sex and relationships have been more healthy?
I know I am the person I am today because of my abuse I don’t want the abuse to define me But in an intrinsic way it has I had no choice in that But I do have a choice now I have a choice to do the best I can with who I am now I will not let my abuser win this I am inherently stronger because I have had to be I had to fight from such a young age to hang on to my identity
Childhood incest inflicts such massive confusion on a child Love Loyalty Respect Trust All things that should be an integral part of a safe normal parent/child relationship Are confused by Manipulation Secrets Emotional bullying Passive agressiveness Powerlessness Conflicted loyalty Guilt, blame & shame Betrayal
When you finally escape you don’t know how to experience real love You are so used to your body being used as a ‘love tool’ That you unwittingly continue that toxic behaviour
According to research the younger the age the abuse begins, the frequency of the abuse, plus the longer the duration, effects the intensity of trauma response. The average length of incest abuse is 4 years – when I read this today it blew my mind, I am crying as I type, I feel sick to my stomach as the reality & roots of my constant fight is hitting me…
My recollections are that I was around the age of 7-8 yrs old, the frequency was almost daily, and I wasn’t able to escape my abuser until I was 18 years old. 10 years of almost daily incestuous abuse…
No wonder I struggle to support my inner child It is a constant Daily Overwhelming fight To separate my adult self from my child self To not be her anymore I just want to grow strong enough to build a healthier relationship between us.