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.
This moving blog post is by Lisa. Huge thanks to her for wanting to share her story of how she finally met the little girl who disappeared overnight after sexual abuse.
The little girl I was disappeared overnight. Gone was the happy, care free 8 year old and in her place was a sad, frightened and ashamed victim of sexual abuse.
To survive I put that 8 year old in a box, locked it and threw away the key. To think of her reminded me of the abuse and I DID NOT want to remember. To relate what happened to her to me I simply did not allow.
Denial is a powerful thing and I see now a protective thing, but there comes a time when it becomes harmful. The energy it takes to maintain that denial, to keep it hidden is exhausting and I, without question, made myself both physically and emotionally ill for many years because of it.
I did not make a conscious decision to ‘release’ that 8 year old from her box – she just got louder, desperate to be released. She had had enough of being silenced and ignored. For me she literally came bursting out at a counselling session that I had gone to because I was feeling so desperately sad and empty and thought it was time I found out why. With a single question, without any prior planning on my part I revealed my abuse. With that single reply I had unlocked the box and there was no going back.
The years since that moment have been a roller coaster and some of the toughest of my life. It has felt like I have had an open wound that every time it started to heal, just opened again. There have been times I wanted to push her back into the box, go back to denying her existence. I was not aware of the extent of the pain there would be but equally there have been times when I wanted to open the wound completely and clean away all of the badness.
I chose to keep fighting, I have persevered with the primary reason that being to free my 8 year old once and for all. To give her a voice, to tell her she is safe and to let her find the life she deserved.
Me and her are in the process of getting to know one another. I am trying hard to take care of her – showing her she is loved and has nothing to be ashamed of. She is slowly helping me break down the walls I built to surround me, shutting out the world. I realise now that she is not weak or bad but in fact brave and courageous and she sees in me that she survived. Most important of all I am no longer leaving her behind…instead we are walking hand in hand, to a better future and the one we BOTH deserved.
We were pleased on World Mental Health Day to see the momentum gathering for a different conversation around mental health. There’s been a growing number of people talking about trauma informed support, as opposed to medical model based support. The latter labels people, puts a diagnosis on them and asks ‘what’s wrong with you?’
In cases of sexual trauma a survivor can be invited to feel that they are the problem, and are powerless, disordered and broken, further exacerbating feelings of shame and blame they might feel. They can think that their only answer is medication and to understand ‘what’s wrong with them’ by using a medical label.
A trauma informed approach sees people’s struggles as understandable responses to the trauma and/or adversity they’ve faced, as ways to cope with the overwhelming, distressing nature of trauma.
In cases of sexual trauma the question considered would be ‘what’s happened?’ A survivor would be invited to make their own connections between then and now, to value their resilience in coping with abuse and to see their feelings and behaviors as natural and understandable responses to an unnatural situation. This empowering and compassionate approach would build on the resourcefulness of survivors and give them the power to understand and change, dismantling feelings of powerlessness, shame and blame.
At RSVP we are part of the movement to create a more trauma informed world. We deliver training which encourages professionals to respond to survivors of sexual abuse with belief, compassion, kindness and warmth. We provide frameworks so that professionals see survivors struggles and despair, not through the lens of stigma, shame or labels, but through the lens of humanity, as natural reactions to extreme distress. Our training uses the voices and experiences of survivors at the centre of what we do, as they are the experts of their experiences. If more people avoided giving labels and instead took the time to listen, hear and understand the stories of survivors we’d give hope and provide the compassionate support for them to thrive.
If you’d like to know more about our trauma informed training, please contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0121 643 0301
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.
The power of language or: Why I’m never angry.
By Wendy, who supports survivors
I never get angry. True story. I am frequently cross or irritated (occasionally even annoyed) but never angry. The reason for this is that I don’t feel comfortable with the way the word angry sounds, feels or makes me look- so I substitute it with something softer.
This is the power of language and sometimes it can be fun. (I’m almost never drunk either by the way, but have frequently been known to be merry). Language is powerful; if it weren’t advertising executives wouldn’t be driving around in flash cars.
The problem, though, is when the power of language is used to belittle something or diminish an act of importance. It is essential that we get it right when we talk about survivors of rape and sexual assault and their experiences.
In the past few weeks we have seen news coverage of the trial of a man who “groped” Taylor Swift. She was not groped, she was sexually assaulted. Time and again we read in news and magazine articles that a man has “had sex” with an unconscious woman. This is not sex it is rape. The use of a softer word allows the perpetrator a measure of permissiveness.
Words such as “fondle” and even “caress” have been used to describe sexual assaults and this muddies the waters. These are words more associated with acts of love or tenderness- the antithesis of sexual assault.
Using words that are “nicer” versions of the true word diminishes the experience of the survivor and the severity of the crime. The pervasive use of the incorrect and offensive term “child pornography” is a case in point. Pornography has connotations with legality, consent and adulthood. What is referred to as child pornography is actually images of child sexual abuse or exposure.
Words used around the abuse of children are often wilfully softer, almost playful or childlike in themselves. Consider the term (and I apologise in advance) “kiddie fiddling”. Child abuse is a brutal term and the urge not to use it is understandable. But child abuse is brutal and nothing is gained from pretending otherwise.
Who is anyone to fear the words when survivors have lived the experience?
Using language to water down sexual violence makes it appear that the survivor is “making a mountain out of a molehill”; exaggerating or whingeing. It moves the focus away from the act and onto other matters. It helps to sweep the action under the carpet.
This is especially true when the substituted word has another meaning; to fumble is to stagger around in the dark trying not to fall over. It is not to assault someone.
Sadly, survivors are used to having their experiences questioned and belittled. Using inaccurate language is a primary way of doing this. To insist that words are used correctly is not pedantry. To use words correctly is giving the survivor the power and the perpetrator the responsibility.
To be honest, not doing so makes me really…angry.
In March we were proud to support this performance, which used music and drama to challenge misconceptions about sexual assault, by producing some flyers and promoting it on social media. We’re delighted that composer Chloe Knibbs, an activist we’re proud to be connected with, has written this blog for us reflecting on the performance, its impact and the power of art in challenging myths and raising awareness about sexual abuse. You can hear Chloe talk more about her work on 27th April, details below.
By Chloe Knibbs:
Just over a month ago, I had a performance of my work – “The Girl Behind the Glass” – a piece that used music and drama to explore sexual assault recovery (for more details, please see: http://thecuspmagazine.com/reviews/girl-behind-glass-review/ ).
The piece was made up of singing, cello music, drama and recordings of my own song material and was performed with great empathy, care and attention by all the performers (Suzie Purkis, Abigail Kelly and Megan Kirwin).
In everyday life, most people are exposed to issues of sexual assault in the 5 minutes it is featured on the news. And yet for this performance, people were staying with these issues for an hour. Naturally, I was terrified – would people just switch off? Would they be disgusted by it? Could they find beauty in the process of sexual assault recovery?
Moreover, sexual assault is often viewed as a one-off alien happening. Often most people would like to pretend these things do not happen. Or point to the ways those who have experienced sexual violence should have handled the situation differently – “Did you actually say no?”. Moreover, depictions in the media often make it seem that those who have experienced such trauma will be permanently broken and forever vulnerable – “Her life will never be the same again”. And so often there is misunderstanding around the process of recovery – “But it happened a year ago, don’t you think you need to move on now?”.
This was why focusing on recovery became integral to the work. I was keen to demonstrate the non-linear – and sadly often traumatic in itself – nature of recovery. Many survivors talk of feeling like that they have been split in two, that one part just remains with the trauma whilst the other part attempts to maintain ordinary everyday life (despite everything feeling anything other than normal). As a result, I decided to make the two singers represent parts of the same person, a visual indication of just how fractured someone may feel in the aftermath of this type of trauma. The piece followed the journey of these two parts of the same person at various points. There was the denial, the withdrawal, the anger, the self-hatred – how the media and responses from others can feed this – the trauma symptoms, and the coming together of these two parts with acceptance and self-compassion.
The performance finished with yellow flower petals falling down to the stage floor. It was a funeral of what had been lost. It was hope. It was pain. And accepting that pain. I sat quietly, wondering what the audience responses would be. Would they have been affected? Would they have been affected too much?
After the performance I gave out feedback forms to all the audience members, with just one question: “How did the piece affect you?” And after plucking up enough courage, it did take five days (!), I read them and was incredibly surprised by the reactions.
It turned out there were a number of survivors in the audience, and all had written of how they could connect with the performance and how helpful – also exhausting – that had been. I was massively touched by this, and I think it is the best feedback I could have ever received. The fact that these individuals came to the performance was incredibly brave, and I am so glad they felt they could share their stories with me.
And there was a second surprise. Many of the other feedback forms included sentiments such as “I will rethink how I respond to these issues in the future”. Or “I have an insight into the difficulties people face when trying to recover from sexual assault”. When writing the piece I had hoped it would open people’s eyes, or make them aware of the negative impact certain comments or responses can have. Nevertheless, I did not expect this level of feedback. As an artist, I am inevitably invested in the power of art – for myself, for others, for communities – but I had underestimated it this time. For people to be prepared to rethink and question the normalised responses to rape and sexual assault, gave me an insight into what changes could be made in the future. Perhaps one of the audience members will meet someone who is dealing with these issues, and they will be the voice of compassion that challenges the judgement and stigma. They will be a voice of hope, for the 85,000 women and the 12,000 men in the UK who experience sexual assault every year (https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php ).
Most importantly, this experience showed me that art can make human what has been dehumanised, stigmatised. That putting these issues in a context other than the news or social media, can give people the perspective to see things differently. To see that the rape and sexual assault is hideous, but that those who experience it are not. That life will be different, but these people are no less human or beautiful.
With thanks to Birmingham Conservatoire, mac birmingham, RSVP Birmingham for supporting the piece.
Also, for more information on this piece, Chloe Knibbs will be talking at Badego’s Short Talks Event on the 27th April: http://badego.org.uk/events/small-talks-april-2017/
Expressing traumatic experiences of sexual violence and sexual abuse through words can be difficult. It can be hard to find the words, to say them and to contain the feelings that talking can bring.
In this post Beth expresses herself through a picture she has created to explain what abuse can feel like. We know it’s a courageous step for Beth to allow us to share her painting as part of the 2017 Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
Many people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence don’t feel ready to talk to anyone in their life. However they find drawing, painting, writing, photography and music some of the many varied ways to express and share things in a way that is meaningful to and manageable for them. We are certain that Beth’s creation will also be meaningful to others too and be one of the different ways that we can help to raise awareness and understanding, after all a picture can often say far more than words.
Thank you Beth.