We are delighted to add to the voices of women across the world on International Women’s Day (IWD), by releasing the two part blog of Lisa a survivor. IWD marks the achievements of women and is run annually on March 8. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. Here Lisa talks about how the experiences of childhood sexual abuse changed her life and how she became empowered again.
By Lisa, a survivor.
At 8 years of age my life stopped in a moment; with a single act he changed my life, my future and I wasn’t even aware of it. I knew something terrible and frightening had happened but I didn’t know what it meant on so many levels.
This single act and the others that would follow over the next few years, changed not only my life but me, or perhaps more specifically it made me hide me, suppress me, hate me… so much so that it took me nearly 4 decades to allow that little girl a voice. Little did I know where giving her a voice would take me.
It took me three attempts to visit RSVP; I would call up, have my assessment but when it came to starting counselling I would stall. I would feel such shame and embarrassment. I had survived by denial – it wasn’t healthy but it was what I had to do to be able to get up each day. And I existed of sorts. But over the years the existing had become harder, to a point I couldn’t deny it to myself any longer.
So finally I stepped into that counselling room and spoke. I didn’t know where it would lead, I had no great expectations and I was scared of it making me worse. But what I didn’t realise was that in taking that step, I had taken the first step towards taking back control, towards beginning to value myself and towards finally telling my story and it being heard.
I didn’t immediately notice any change in myself – each week would be hard walking into the building. Some weeks I would want to talk, others would be hard to find the words. But there were moments where I would stop and realise I felt something different, felt a little braver. I was allowing the 8 year old me to talk and with that felt I was beginning to face the nightmares that had haunted me for so long.
Continued in final part, part two. To be published later on IWD.
This is a poem by a survivor (who wants to remain anonymous) about moving from being “not ok” to starting to feel that they “are ok”. We think that many survivors will be able to relate to and connect with this journey.
I am ok
I am not ok
What is outside is not inside
It’s someone else’s life on show
And I like that life, I wish it was mine
But the inside me is tainted, it’s wrong
And it’s so tiring keeping that part secret
It’s got so cold.
I think I might be ok
I spoke today, I said the words
And I was listened to, I was heard
And she believed. Me.
I performed my show life
But she said, “No. That is not you”
“It’s the inside you that matters”
My words and my truth are making light
That is starting to puncture the darkness
The shame is not mine to own
And the world that is me can be bigger
Oh, God- the journey is long
But I am travelling it, in skips and jumps and tiny scared steps
I am travelling it
And I am ok
I am ok.
There is two of me.
One the confident professional, who is passionate about my job, described by colleagues as conscientious and dedicated to work
Then there is me on the inside, in the quiet times when there is no one else there.
Me that remembers the past, not wanting to believe what I recall.
There is however two of most of us.
Everyone wears some sort of mask.
Everyone may be hiding a phobia, a fear, a memory.
Everyone will at some stage put on an act, a show to those around them.
Yet, we are not everyone.
We are not ones who can forever hide behind a mask.
Our mask is surviving.
Looking back through adult eyes yet a child’s body-feeling it, seeing it in our mind’s eye.
Our mask cannot hide the triggers of our heightened senses.
It cannot dismiss the reality of seeing that someone in the corner of our eye or hearing words once said to us.
Our masks are survival mechanisms.
Built and moulded to block out pain, hurt and shame.
Carefully crafted to fool the preying eyes of the world around us.
My fear is family and friends discovering who all of me really is, my experiences
Discovering the fears and terrors that have been hidden well by the years
Tidied away into neat parcels and wrapped tightly then put away…. until now.
Now I’ve started talking about it.
Now the reality of the years is forefront in my mind.
Now the triggers occur where once they were all pushed aside, once forgotten
Now it’s real.
My mask is being slowly and carefully removed.
My fears are understood, believed.
The tightly wrapped memories in my mind are gently being unwrapped.
The inner me feels frightened, alone and in a strange environment, unfamiliar territory.
Yet my mask will come away.
I am unlearning the strategies once held tight that kept me safe and kept me in some control of my situation.
I am learning to forgive myself for holding myself responsible
With support I now have, and an ever present listening ear I can be reassured,
I now realise my fears, reactions and emotions are all okay- part of a healing process
We all wear a mask.
What our mask unearths is the real us.
Our mask is part of us.
Part of our survival. Part of our story.
Yet, these can be removed,
There can be just one of us, not two
The inner me can be exposed in the safety of a listening ear.
My deepest fears can be realised and I can move forward with new strategies not to hide yet to thrive.
To realise my potential without a mask
To see a future without hiding, without clinging on the memories.
This is now possible. This is within reach.
We all wear a mask at some point
But do we all know what our masks are protecting us from?
Created not to be used, abused yet to be me
Placed in a family of love and expectation. Free
Misguided choices from others led me into a situation no one else knew about
A secret harboured, kept close for too many years- I kept it quiet- I didn’t shout it out
Aiming to please, to be told how great I was I learnt new ways to please
Experienced strange sensations and could blank some of them out with ease
What started off as having fun was part of his game plan
He got me to think it was normal, as if he was like every other uncle- every man
Yet other men don’t prey on girls that are just 4 years old
And little girls just want to please and do as they are told
My normal became distorted and my view of the world changed
He should have looked after me not used me as if it was a game
I didn’t like it when he had his friends come round to play
They watched me please him, gave me sweets and then had their own way
I still don’t know what happened to the photos that they took
It’s like the memories come flooding back if I look in our family photo book
My nightmare ended when I was twelve -I still do not know why
A family argument they said- He’s no longer that nice guy.
I often wonder if someone knew what had happened to me
I was too scared to tell my family, to let my experiences be freed
I’m still afraid of them finding out, It would hurt their feelings hard
I am so glad that a colleague I told gave me an RSVP contact card.
My story now it is believed and nothing’s too bad to say
I can talk and write about how I feel any time of night and day
I know it wasn’t my fault it happened- they’ve helped me believe that in my heart
And slowly but surely with listening ears I’m being restored,
re-empowered, made whole- not just in part.
A change of tide comes about each day-
a mood of the sea, drifting with gravity
Sailing the waves, my heart rises and falls
Memories gone by, some wanting to be left alone.
some crashing , breaking on the sandy shores of my mind
The power of the force of water, of memory knocks me back
Takes me to places under – I don’t like it
Yet also lifts me further on, to a new place-
one of leaving the old behind
New shores, new rocks to scramble over
new beginnings for old experiences
The seasons change. The pattern of the tides change
Time changes me.
From in the depths of the harrowing winter storm season of my trauma emerges the spring tide-
some swells, some lows yet all the time moving forward
Healing is also for a season. The tides of my life
Time to have heart ache, feel enormous pain
To re-live the nightmares of the past that emerge as a storm into my present
Times of feeling dragged under water, unable to keep my head afloat, to breathe alone
Yet times of letting it go- letting the waves rise and fall and know i will not perish into the depths of my mind- into the total abyss of feeling the hurt, lonely, worthless, used rag that I will not continue to be
Knowing that as a wave takes me I am no longer alone.
I no longer become dragged down by secrets needing to be kept out of fear
I can look forward- to new shores
Remembering my past yet not being held captive by it
Swimming, not drowning, being able to stay afloat
Seasons of the sea mean that I can be healed, set free
Free to sail in a repaired and restored safe boat.
Safe to ask questions and for some to know my past
Not always waiting for high tide to crash, destroy and engulf
Living in the now- without looking over my shoulder for the ‘has beens’
I acknowledge the perils of the sea, the forces that will always be there in my mind
Yet I am learning to deal with them, not be a prisoner of them
To let it go. Let my self be okay to rise and fall to acknowledge this as normal
One day I may understand the tides of my life
Know the reasons why I ended up on this horrific path I once walked, I swam, I barely kept on.
One day is closer than yesterday, closer than when my storm came, when I barely kept afloat
One day I will no longer fear the open water of what could have been and what was.
Yet for now…. I need to stay on my boat, believe in the safety of it and know I can ride the waves.
A survivor has kindly asked us to share the following piece of poetry. Writing poetry can help survivors find their voices during difficult and stormy times. We are very grateful to the survivor for sharing their poetry and we hope it can help other survivors too.
Feeling in Turmoil
Feeling in turmoil, like a boat tossed around in turbulent swells.
Remembering, like watching a 3d film, looking on. Watching. Listening. Feeling.
Distant yet there.
Removed. Not reacting. Submitting. Conforming. Letting it happen. Confused.
Acknowledging my responsibilities as a child were not as an adult’s.
I was there. It was happening to me yet….
It was not my fault.
It was not my fault, just as I am not responsible for the storms at sea.
It was not my fault, for I was the child in his care.
It was not my fault, even though my adult mind may creep in thoughts that it was.
Heading into calmer waters and seeing things through clearer glass.
Talking to someone who is not shocked, who listens and has the patience to hear what I don’t say.
Attempting to let go from trying to process myself
Memories stirred up, triggered by normal events of life.
My mind dealing with a torrent of emotion, feelings so real, inside so deep.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Boats are not designed to stay in harbours yet sail free.
My life, my boat, it’s resting in calm safe shores.
Being repaired of the unseen damage not spoken of from years gone by.
Rotten wood being gently unearthed and exposed to see the true beauty that lies beneath.
A hull being restored-stronger without blemish or scarring from its past.
That’s my boat. It will be.
Heading out into the oceans of life, not looking back.
Emma is a survivor who has started to write poetry to help healing, expression and coping. We hope her words might help you too. Thank you Emma for sharing.
A long time coming
Rape lasts longer than a moment,
Rape burns an imprint into the self.
Rape strips more than the outside
It thieves the words from your frightened mouth.
It makes you think you are different,
Like you’re deserving of this sin.
It cripples up the body
It freezes up the skin.
Should you ever meet a person,
Who has survived this evil act.
They’ve discovered the gift of healing.
Found blessing in attack.
The breadth of their compassion,
The depth within their soul,
The challenges they’ve faced,
Just to learn they’re more than whole.
Rape can last a lifetime,
Even if just a moment it may last,
Yet the power, with own permission can be restored,
The pain, the silence, the past.
This blog reflects on an issue we are sure many survivors will relate to, the challenge of learning to love yourself. Thank you to the survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, for writing this blog, sharing their journey and for contributing something back to RSVP through fundraising for us. We are very grateful and hope you feel proud of how many positive changes you’ve made in order to reach a place where you know what a strong, capable and resilient survivor you are.
I think everyone struggles to like themselves at some point in their lives. Unfortunately for me, and so many other survivors, liking myself always seemed an impossible task. After six years of sexual abuse at the hands of a person I thought loved me, I even struggled to want to be in my own body, let alone like it.
My journey to recovery started when I chose to tell a friend of my abuse. I was 12. My friend didn’t think much of it, and maybe I didn’t either. I look back and realise that neither of us understood it. By 15, my abuse had become idle gossip amongst the other children at school. Whispers in the corridor, messages posted online, texts to my phone, things shouted at me across the playground… Only they weren’t gossiping in belief; I was branded a liar and an attention seeker. My nightmare had only just begun when I was called into the Head’s office and told that he would be informing social services and my parents. My parents… it was the thing I’d always dreaded the most. What would they think? What would they say? Watching them be told, along with my big sister, was truly heart-breaking. It is a memory that is etched on my brain as the start of a downward spiral in my life.
I’m not ashamed to admit, I was in a dark place. I stopped eating, grasping at the one thing I felt I had control over whilst my life appeared to be unravelling around me. I truanted from school, unable to bear the gossip and the bullies. I isolated myself from my family, barely able to take the guilt I felt from the pain they were in. Years passed by; I was stuck in a haze of my own misery, self pity and guilt, hurting myself because I always felt it was my fault.
It was my sister who pushed me to go to counselling. She made the call. She set it up. And I can honestly say it changed my life. Driving there by myself, walking into the room and speaking to someone about my abuse is the bravest thing I have ever done and a defining moment in my life. I finally started to like myself a little. The pride I felt when leaving my first counselling session has carried me, enabled me to pursue my career and to finally raise some money for a charity like RSVP and give something back to people like me.
I wake up everyday and remind myself that I am strong, I am capable and I am a survivor. It’s okay to put yourself first, it’s okay to look after yourself and it is most definitely okay to LOVE yourself. Every day, I read a new story and every day I am reminded that it wasn’t my fault. I have witnessed the incredible, unshakable strength of survivors and I intend to continue my journey to loving myself because of that.
Our thanks go to Cas who sent us her blog to share. She wants to see if anyone feels the same as her and show that if they do that they’re not alone.
The anxiety, it’s there squeezing at my lungs. What is there to be anxious of? Life. That’s what I fear. It’s a battle every day to feel even half functional; to think, to move, to do, to be. It’s just one long journey that I face every day. The waking in the morning, with a heavy head, heart and body, and wishing it was easier. Every day, much of the same.
I see what I do, what I can achieve. I help people worse off than me, I support organisations with quality, and I help save people’s lives. I do so much good in this world, but it’s all too hard, too much energy. I wish to stop it all, the anxiety of achieving all of this lays heavy on my chest. Though if I were to stop, the illnesses of the mind and body will win. I will shrivel and curl and hurt and hide. And despite knowing this, I crave it all.
I crave nothing, normal, no pain, no anxiety, and no trauma. I wish for it all to be gone, not happening to me or within me. It’s all too much. The constant thinking and planning, its hard work. Trying to eat right, sleep right, work right, do relationships right, plan right, move right, do right, be right. That nagging that sits in my brain makes the easiest of decisions the hardest to make. Thank god for coffee and not needing to know if I need it or not – I do. Simple.
I watch all of these people, they seem to know. They get this life thing. My mind tells me that they must have some struggles in life – life can’t be that perfect, but how do they do it? They just seem to be on this playing field of life and running free against the storms. How do they do this? Is there a knack to this life thing that no one has told me about?
That said, how many people have said similar about me; how confident I am, that I know what I’m doing. It’s all a lie I tell you, I don’t know. No one’s told me the secret. All I know is that I fake it through this veil of fear and anxiety. No one can tell, but it’s all fake. It’s not me. It’s all lies.
Though if I’m lying to the world, is the world lying to me too?
This is the second part of a powerful letter written by Bibi, a survivor. You can read the first part here
We come into this world helpless and we survive despite the efforts (or lack thereof) of Grown Ups. We learn very early on that no one knows what they are doing. That we are alone in the world. We learn that people hurt each other and that there are a hundred different ways that we are unacceptable or unlovable, which means life or death for small squidgy humans. Our brains react quickly to this threat to survival by trying to be acceptable to everyone. We are constantly alert and focused on possible situations where we will come up short, or worse, attacked or hurt. We come face to face with our limitations before we get a chance to explore what we can do. Everyone around us needs something. We are always at someone’s beck and call. The Grown Ups are abusers, neglecters or just not able to care for us. Sometimes they are all of these things. We are stressed and we are overwhelmed but there is no one to turn to. We are knackered. But we don’t know it, because there hasn’t really been anything else to compare it to. We have lost our identities and our Selves, before we even formed them. Our bodies experience pain from a young age, on a regular basis. We might have relationships or children eventually, but there’s a part of us that’s always alone. Alone like being 4 years old, standing on a rock in an asteroid belt in a galaxy far from the earth.
If we are lucky, we find support, or resources and we break free, slowly, extremely painfully and with many false starts. Many will not and this is a much under-estimated tragedy.
We replay in our minds and re-enact in our lives the traumas and stresses of our childhood. We find ourselves dragged back into the same situations we want so much to leave behind. Until we collapse like a star into a black hole. Maybe more than once. But each time we come back a little brighter, a little more resilient and a little more “us”. Our tendency to shine is as strong as our tendency to collapse – but we don’t know it. When we find ourselves around the right people, it starts to become clear that because we fall apart into so many pieces, there are more opportunities to shape ourselves in different ways, so long as we have the right support.
It’s scary. We are like children, new born and vulnerable. Everything seems new, and at the same time has strange, sharp strings that attach to our past lives. We are finding out who we are and pushing our boundaries and those of others. Sometimes too far, sometimes too little. We learn that we have this helpless squidgy thing inside of us that needs our protection and care and we are scared. We have not seen what care looks so we try many ways to rid ourselves of our vulnerable parts, or lock it away but it will not go and at some point we realise it is us.
We have to be our own Grown Up. It’s not fair, having to bring yourself up and it’s extremely hard work – but we are wiser than most, because we are at once, both older and younger than our physical years. We are still so much the child we were but we are also adult enough to use our intellect and knowledge. And it is never too late. Our brains are like putty. Really dried up, rigid putty, that you can slowly carve new grooves in by just going along the same track, over and over.
With our adult outsides we can go places and have experiences that real children could not. The earth and all its life-forms have treasures that can stir our latent creativity and playfulness which may have been frozen years ago. We can learn and discover and we can slowly find our place, where we can thrive. We can choose how to grow up, stop doing things out of habit, or because it’s expected. We can get to know our inner squidgy helpless thing better and better and choose to give it everything it needs. We build our Selves. And though we may face more sadness and difficulties, and our bodies may give up, we do not regret.
Because whatever we do, we have given it all we have got. We have faced demons that many could not imagine and we have fought battles many would never understand. We have created ourselves from a thousand shattered fragments and we have seen the other side of a black hole. We are survivors.