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.
Thanks to the anonymous survivor who shared this powerful poem.
** Trigger warning. This poem could cause distress and bring back painful memories if you have also been subjected to rape, sexual violence and abuse. **
Remember what happened
Remember the surroundings
Was the light on or off?
How he placed his hand on my thigh
Gripping it tightly
The pain from his thumb
Piercing my leg
Remember what he did
His hand on my mouth
You want this
I never wanted this.
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.
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.
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?
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.