Today, instead of sitting with my therapist in person, I had my first session over the phone. I’d known for a while that it was likely we’d need to stop face to face sessions at some point, but I was anxious at the thought of it. I was worried that there would be long, embarrassing pauses, or we’d talk over each other, or I’d get embarrassed and introduce the cat.
But mostly, I was worried that it wouldn’t be… enough, that it would be a poor substitute for seeing her in person and that I would lose the momentum I’d built up in sessions. I’m used to my therapist’s physical presence when we meet, to her calmness and the sense of safety I have when I’m with her. Would this be replicated in a phone call? Could it be?
Twenty minutes prior to the call, I showered and changed out of my social distancing casuals and into something smarter and less comfortable. I have absolutely no idea why I did this. It’s not as if my counsellor has ever enforced a dress code!
Then I sat downstairs, obsessively checking my mobile every few seconds to make sure that the battery really was full, and I hadn’t just imagined it. When she didn’t call the absolute second that we’d arranged, I convinced myself I’d got it all wrong, was a complete loser, nothing would ever go right… then the phone rang. And I jumped.
And: well, the first few minutes were a bit weird. I paced up and down the room whilst we chatted lightly about the week and I tried (for some reason) to imagine where she was sitting. Then, I sat down on the sofa and talked…
And talked. And it was fine, better than fine in fact. I probably said more in that call than I do when I’m sitting in front of her and I surprised myself by telling her about something I’d been wanting to for a while, but hadn’t been able to find the words.
I’m pleased to report too, that her skills in person were replicated, seemingly effortlessly. She knew when to let me be silent and when to gently push. At one point astonishing me by asking what was making me cry when I swear I wasn’t making a sound but just had tears in my eyes.
We’re doing it again next week and the one after and the one after that and so on until this crisis has passed. After which, I will return to seeing her in person. Until then, though- phone appointments are meaningful and supportive and, well… enough.
Thanks to Nisha (not her real name) for writing a 3 part blog & choosing to share her journey in the hope that it would help other people subjected to sexual abuse. Here she talks about her nerves about counselling but how it helped her take steps forward too.
Part 3-Freeing the Prisoner in My Mind. Reflecting and Looking Forward.
I still remember my first session at RSVP. I was so nervous, my mind was racing, heart was pounding, and palms were sweating. To add to the emotions, being Asian myself and having an Asian counsellor made me anxious. I felt I would be judged but this was far from the truth, there was no judgement. In fact I think as I’d been honest and open from the start with my counsellor, it helped to clear any fears I had and put my mind at ease. It also helped to build a better relationship between myself and my counsellor. Each week I looked forward to my session, even though at times it was challenging. I had come to realise I didn’t know myself enough and that was hard for me to accept. I guess it was also difficult as I was trying to deal with so much of my past but also my current circumstances at the same time.
Thankfully, my counsellor took time listening to me and allowing me to let out my tears and frustration. Talking helped and felt like a weight off my shoulders. I was finally taking positive steps forward. No matter how small the steps, they were still steps in the right direction.
Despite all the challenges, the journey was teaching me so much. I learnt it was ok to reach out and accept support and professional help; it was just too much to deal with mentally by myself. I learnt how important it is to make time for myself; to hear myself think, to reflect, to feel, to understand and to release. I learnt the feelings I felt during this whole process are normal; the fear, the pain, the nerves, the anger, the self-doubting and confusion. Yup, all normal. I learnt the different strategies that helped me; RSVP social support groups, various counselling therapists, holistic therapies, listening and following inspirational people, opening up to close friends, journaling and daily affirmations. I also learnt a great tool for helping with my anxiety; the scare scale – placing current anxiety on a scale of 0 – 100 (100 being the worst thing that could ever happen).
One important lesson I also learnt was to never give up and to trust the journey. I am still on my journey but I am many steps ahead to when I first started. I am learning so much along the way and I will continue my journey to freeing the prisoner in my mind.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you RSVP for all your support.
Thank you to Nisha (not her real name) for writing a 3 part blog and choosing to share her journey in the hope that it would help other people subjected to sexual abuse. If you’ve missed part 1, click here.
Part 2: Reliving moments to take steps forward
(Written just after the abuse)
It seems as though I have everything
But truthfully all is hidden within
Nobody can see or feel my inner pain
The fake smiles and cheerful front is all a game
My mind is now full of blight
And the sorrows come from behind like light
Only when it’s dark
Peace is at the heart
Could sleeping permanently be the answer?
As life just feels like cancer
A slow dying process
But with great sorrows causing mess
I feel so empty
I have nobody
Nobody cares and nor do I
All is not visible
I have nothing
The months at RSVP were a rollercoaster for me. The abuse I’d once boxed, locked, thrown away the key and built a brick wall around was starting to come down and unlock. So easily came the old familiar sting of how lost, alone and hurt I once felt. Flashbacks and nightmares started to become regular again, filling my mind and body with rage and fear. Muscles ached from the memories of being held down tight. Mirrors became unbearable again as the reflection stared back at me in disgust. Confusion, doubt and self-blame sickened me to my core. The hurt, the tears, this man had taken away my self-worth. I felt anger and resentment for not getting justice but also disappointment that I’d allowed this abuse to affect me many years later. The once bubbly, confident girl had disappeared. The once social butterfly had retracted and hidden away, becoming untrusting of others, especially men. I needed to truly find myself again. At times it felt like I was on a downwards spiral. Moments of reliving my pain, to moments of my behaviour being out of character. Dealing with these memories and emotions created a sense of turmoil but I was not alone anymore. My counsellor listened to me without judgement and helped me to see where I was going. I felt safe and supported. I started to understand and somewhat accept what had happened to me.
Rape, sexual abuse; it’s something a lot of people do not like to talk about. But I wasn’t ashamed anymore. RSVP had taught me to love and accept myself, to believe in me. The flashbacks slowly started to settle and mirrors became acceptable with time. A glimmer of hope now stared back at me in the reflection. The social groups at RSVP also helped me tremendously, I was able to confidently socialise with others in the group and made some lovely friends. With a fellow survivor, I took pride in being part of a skydive fundraiser for RSVP, raising over £1400. Jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet high I felt the cold air rushing against my face as I was free falling. For a few moments I closed my eyes feeling so grateful for all the support RSVP had given me. I was now able to tell myself how proud I was of my progress and that I would never stop moving forward.
RSVP for me really was an eye opener, realising there is hope, no matter how hard the journey.
Thank you to Nisha (not her real name) for writing a 3 part blog and choosing to share her journey in the hope that it would help other people subjected to sexual abuse.
*Please note that the blog may trigger in parts. Practice good self-care when reading it and also know that it is okay to choose not to read it. If you do need support because you are triggered please speak to a person or organisation that you trust.*
Everyone has lessons they have learnt through life experiences. I know how incredibly valuable it can be to share this knowledge with others in similar situations. My journey to healing started with RSVP and it has taught me so much which I will forever be grateful for. So here I am today, sharing my journey with you all in the hope it helps in some way.
Part 1: Accepting help
It’s 2009. It had been 7 years since the incident. Hmmm “incident”… I question if that’s the right word. It’s almost like I don’t want to link the words ‘I’ and ‘abuse’ together. After all, I had carefully swept all that under the carpet in the hope for it to never surface again.
Fate (Written 2009)
A long seven years ago
For me it’s gone too slow
I was young and naive
Too terrified to disobey or leave
Still I dragged the courage to shout STOP
But you ignored and pushed harder from on top
I was strong yet in fear
Too degraded from the reflection in the mirror
Still I managed to get away
But you threw me back and made me pay
The blood, the pain
From this what have you gained?
Did you see no fault?
How can you be forgiven for such an assault?
The memories have froze
From the pain you caused
The flashbacks come and go
The nightmares continue in a row
Avoiding my reflection in the mirror
I can’t seem to let out a tear
Smiles have become my deception
Guilt and shame are misconceptions
Desperate to change my fate
But a long seven years ago
For me has gone too slow
After giving birth to my first child I started to feel low. Outbursts of tears, feelings of tension and anger in parts of my body, unexplained mood swings and sleepless nights. Where was this hurt coming from I questioned myself. Maybe I was going through postnatal depression? With time spent indoors during maternity leave and watching daytime TV, there had been triggers that brought back old unwanted memories. I could still feel the weight of his body holding me down, making me feel trapped with no control. I could still remember the glance I’d seen of myself that night in the mirror, the look of let-down staring back at me. The image of blood on my sheets was still stained in my mind. I knew I needed help but overwhelming feeling crept in. The noise from the traffic of thoughts made it harder to make sense of anything. It seemed self-harm was my only form of release.
Luckily I was pointed in the direction of RSVP whom I had some counselling sessions with. The initial contact with them was a nerve-racking moment. A part of me felt embarrassed and silly. I mean, maybe I was blowing the whole thing out of proportion? Maybe I was wasting RSVP’s time? Maybe they could be helping someone else who had been in a worse situation than me who really needed the support? But deep-down I knew something didn’t feel right and I had to trust the journey. The months during the counselling were a difficult time of my life but all the staff at RSVP were reassuring, kind and supportive. From the one-to-one counselling sessions to the social groups, RSVP supported me in a way that no one else ever had. I was able to let out my emotions knowing I was in a safe place. I was now able to make sense of my thoughts and I could see there was light at the end of the tunnel.
I knew I needed to deal with this trauma and this was the way forward for me. I couldn’t file it away in the cabinet of my mind anymore. I needed to process it and empty the trash. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I had to face it at some point. I knew to reach my goal of being free meant putting in the hard work. I knew I’d experience some pain but this time I wouldn’t be alone.
I’d have the support of RSVP.
Thank you to Ann for sending through her second poem about snow. It’s really powerful.
I used to like it lay its cloak,
Felt safe around me,
No nightmares where my brain
Serene and silent,
Quiet and quaint
On every treetop,shrub and rock,
It spread itself
With sugared swirl,
Always “Daddy’s girl”.
NOW, Darth Vader
Comes in white
He cracks and snaps
Throughout the night,
His brightness stuns the room until
He grips with claws
My frozen jaws,
Shakes my bones
and shreds my skin.
how could I let this
Thank you Ann for sending in this poem.
It moves my floor,
It steals my feet
My life and more.
It makes me score
What hurt? What dirt?
How much? how deep?
The same again.
Over all my world
When whiteness lies
I’m cut to size
I’m curled in fear-
arm over ear,
Terrified by the Power,
but most in darkness.
When its over me
I’m small and tiny,
Not like rain
On my face-
There’s always price
Thank you to Ann for submitting this poem.
From the mist
Sails a Pirate ship.
To Blast you from the water,
Ruin life with your daughter,
Your son, your wife …. Your
Turn you outside in,
Don’t ever think you’ll win,
It won’t ever go away,
You know, that
It’s in your brain
That ‘then’ is ‘now’,
locked in at night,
sealed by fright,
Your bones will turn to dust.
Because you cannot trust
Grab that boat
And crash it down.
Slash its sails and
Watch it drown.
Unfurl your sails
And sally forth,
You own the sea,
The sky, the Earth,
You’ve owned it
Since you had your birth.
They stole life from you.
Your right to be
A happy galleon
In your shoes,
They’d have sunken
You made the journey
Back to shore.
Command the Ocean,
Dare them drown,
Own your peace
Erase your frown.
Be proud of you,
Be proud of me,
We make RSVP.
Thank you to Ann for sending us this poem about triggers. Anything can be a trigger, and it can be hard to navigate the world knowing you might be painfully triggered.
You can be “alright”,
Do I dare
You’re gun shot
The needles stick,
The walls hit
The fog descends,
Under the blanket
You wrestle to regain
From bleeding out
You choke and splutter
Stutter, mutter, it
Try in vain
Without this pain.
Then, after time,
Shaft of light,
A stepping stone
To somewhere bright.
Up towards the light.
A hand to grab
A tool to stab
The bastard trigger
You struggle back
to being “You” ,
but know the score,
the gunshot bore,
the gaping hole,
You’ll know it next time,
In your head.
In your heart
To fit the mould.
Halt the cold,
The ice –
You have to beat it,
Melt it out,
Burn the sucker
Have no doubt.
Ignore the blip
Lisa has written the following piece after a therapy session, it is something that she’s been thinking about a lot. She reflects on how therapy is proving to be very helpful and that despite still having bad days she feels she is getting stronger every day. Thank you Lisa for your powerful words, we are certain that they will speak to many survivors.
For most of my life I’ve largely blocked out my past, been too anxious to enjoy the present and feared the future. But over the past 4 years whilst undergoing counselling, going through the experience of reporting the abuse, attending court and giving my evidence and receiving psychotherapy for post trauma stress, I’ve had to face my past, present and future. It’s been terrifying, heartbreaking, hard, empowering, liberating and surreal in equal measure.
The reality I’ve learnt is that I have to look back to have any chance of enjoying the present and having the future I hope for.
Through my therapy I now know that my past has controlled me for as long as I can remember. Every decision and every step has origins in the abuse I suffered as a child. My no self worth led me to accept things I should have known were not good enough, my fear and anxiety stopped me from being spontaneous and taking any risks, the emotional and physical scars caused me a lifetime of pain and disability.
Blocking out the abuse meant I accepted years of loneliness, disappointments and sadness because I believed that’s all I deserved. Each day my expectations were low – I kept them low because I was used to life that way and I learnt that if I expected the least then if anything happened that was good, that would be a bonus.
I see now I thought controlling everything meant nothing bad would ever happen to me again. The truth is I suspended my life…not in time but definitely in living. I was scared to live because I had seen the worse side of it.
It was so hard to take that step forward to have counselling, to finally acknowledge to myself just how sad and lost I was. It was incredibly hard to make the decision to report the abuse, to have to open up and expose my vulnerability and fear. And it was scary to walk into psychotherapy knowing for me that this was my best chance to finally be able to cherish the here and now, and find my peaceful future.
Taking the path I chose is not the right one for everyone but for me it has been. I’m still on that path but I’m much further along it than I ever dreamed when I stepped on it 4 years ago. The nightmares of my past are becoming fainter and I’m increasingly able to handle them when they feel near, my belief in myself and self worth grows daily. I’m beginning to enjoy the here and now, cherishing being alive rather than feeling it is a chore, and my hope for my future as a more peaceful and hopeful one, grows daily.
To all survivors out there I hope you find your own path. Remember that we are so very much stronger, braver, courageous and determined than we know. Don’t be scared to look back because in doing so you can look forward to the life you deserve.
Huge thanks to the survivor who anonymously wrote this blog talking about how she began to have an improved relationship with her body again. She sums up how abuse and trauma is embodied, it is carried in our minds and also in our bodies. She talks about how it’s been vital that she had the chance for her body to heal too and how running has allowed her to connect with and feel back in control of her body again.
At RSVP we have several ways you can reconnect with you body again, from offering tai chi, walking, singing and more at our peer social groups and coffee morning, and through a running group offered by our sister organisation GINA. The group is very small and meets on a Saturday morning at Cannon Hill parkrun. Drop Lisa an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
Like a lot of survivors, for many years I’ve had a poor relationship with my body. When I thought about it all, I hated it. I felt it had let me down because of the way it responded to some of the things that were done to me. I punished it; I filled it with alcohol, put it in dangerous situations and cut it. Eventually, it dawned on me that my counsellor had been right all along when she told me these were short-term solutions that were ultimately harming me, so I started to run.
At first, “running” consisted of jogging for a few seconds with an extraordinarily patient friend and it’s no exaggeration to say that I looked like one of those nature programmes where baby elephants try to take their first steps – only they have less swearing. Afterwards I had to pretend I was thinking about answers to my mate’s questions (difficult ones such as; are your shoelaces undone?) to hide the fact that I couldn’t speak. Fortunately I’m menopausal- which at least explained away the excessive sweating.
In a short space of time though; seconds of running became a minute, then two. Then I joined a Couch to 5K programme where I was encouraged and coached to run 5 kilometres by some of the most friendly and supportive people I have ever met. That was 6 months ago and I have recently run 10 km for the first time.
Running has been a revelation. My relationship with my body is improving. Rather than letting me down it has powered me to achieve things I didn’t know I could. Now, my heart pounds because I’m running up a hill, not just because I’m feeling anxious again. I’m tired because I ran, not because I sat up all night drinking.
I can feel my calf muscles straining and know that they are mine, that I am my body and my body is me. I can feel aches and pains and interpret them and act on what they’re telling me. For the first time I am learning that other people can talk about my body to me and it is not a threat, there is nothing to fear. When they talk about the shape of my legs or the way I hold my chest it is not a prelude to something awful. It’s another human being seeing me as I am learning to- a whole, complete person that’s doing something amazing and wants to do it better.
When I feel the ground under my feet, it’s impacting on myfeet that belong to me, no-one else. They’re my lungs inflating, it’s my chest rising and falling. And I can stop anytime I want to…
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a panacea. I still get bad days and I can get triggered with the best of them. But now I have an option; instead of reaching for the bottle or hiding in the house, I can go for a run. It can be 60 minutes or it can be six but it leaves me feeling good about myself and in control of what I do. Plus to date, running has yet to give me a hangover.
I still swear at my mate when we’re jogging together though!