It was suggested to me that I could have guest blogs. Get people to blog what they need to get accross to people and use my established platform to do this.
Excellent idea! So I contacted thps people whos opions I hold in high regrad. The people who I trust and who turst me.
Wednesday will now be guest blogs only!
Here is the first one. This one will stay anonymous. I can not tell you how deep this person had to dig to have the confidence to share this. Big love.
This is not your story to tell
This is a story about the secondary trauma caused by child sexual abuse, particularly when that abuse is not addressed. How the legacy of abuse can be passed down generations. It’s an articulation of what happens when child sexual abuse is viewed through the lens of shame and silence and is normalised, rather than the lens of criminality and the fault of the perpetrator, as it ought to be. It’s an issue there has been very little research into, but one that is hugely costly to society.
When I look back, I am amazed that I managed to get where I am now. Many people who know me, and a number of you reading this will, would never recognize the account of me you are about to read. I’m great at hiding things – I became adept at that at a very young age. I have an amazingly successful career and a strong, supportive network backing me up. But my personal and professional lives don’t fully align. I have worked so hard, particularly in the last few years, to free myself from the shackles of silence and abuse. The scars still pop out, and I bleed rage or tears in all the wrong places.
For so many years, I’ve been told by different people, ”this is not your story to tell”. “It didn’t happen to you.” That has helped to keep me silenced, and in a sense of shame and denial about my experience and feelings.
The chain of events that led up to my story is the story they are referring to. That story does belong to someone else, and maybe one day she will tell it. But I have a story too. One that needs to be told, and is absolutely my story to tell.
When I was 8, I remember sitting at our kitchen table, a collection of books in front of me and Mum. I was being given ‘the talk’ about sex and puberty. There was a page about unwanted touching – ‘stranger danger’. Mum became quite choked up when reading this section. After a pause I asked “Mummy, did this happen to you?” Mum was overcome, sobbing. She managed to get out “Yes”. I didn’t need to ask. I knew it was Granddad.
I didn’t speak about this again until I was 23, and I was in the middle of my first mental breakdown. I had been suffering from undiagnosed depression for quite some time, probably from my early teens. I was about to qualify as a lawyer, working in my dream job, and something snapped and I couldn’t cope anymore. Driving one day, I saw visions of myself hanging from a noose. I was incredibly frightened – I knew my mental health was fragile, but this was new. I saw a doctor and was signed off work for 2 weeks. There was never any follow up to this, and I didn’t really discuss it with anyone. I suspected what was causing my anxiety, and tried to go to the root.
I took Mum to lunch, and in the car before driving home I told her I needed to ask her something. Heart in my mouth, I asked her if it was true that Granddad sexually abused her while she was growing up. It was. From a young age. It was physical and emotional too. She stressed to me it was not his fault though, as he was just a man, and had been damaged by fighting in World War 2. I made it clear I never wanted to see him again. She made it clear that I could not talk to anyone else about this, especially my siblings. We would need to make up a story as to why I wouldn’t see him. Because this was not my story to tell.
My mum displayed many different effects of her abuse that are typical for such survivors. Firstly, her mental health was consistently poor. She suffered from anxiety, was suicidal on a number of occasions, and suffered from what I now know to be a form of social phobia. She had frequent panic attacks. I remember her sitting in the car crying, willing herself to go to a meeting at church. Sitting in the kitchen at family gatherings rather than joining in. At the last minute refusing to go to work functions with Dad. She carried so much fear. Fear of water, fear of driving.
Her physical health was also poor. She was morbidly obese – many victims of abuse have addiction issues, and Mum’s was food. She couldn’t walk far or fast. She struggled consistently with self-care. As I now know is common for many abuse victims, she would not go to the dentist. Her confidence was almost non-existent, and she showed little self esteem. She consistently put herself down, calling herself stupid all the time. The house was a mess, cleaned rarely, and burdened by the hoarding of both Mum and Dad.
Her and Dad did not have a good relationship, it was clear. We never spoke about things in the family. Silence, secrets and shame were our way of functioning.
I know Mum tried to reach out and get help. From the church for example. But they never really saw Mum, what she was going through or what she needed, and her cries for help. Me and my brothers all displayed various behavioral problems at school, yet nothing was ever picked up. Dad seemed to check out, and was never around.
But what about me? This is my story after all.
Well firstly, because my mother’s abuse and the scars she had from it, in particular her mental health issues, were untreated, they were passed on and ingrained into me. I grew up with anxiety, depression and social anxiety normalised and unquestioned. Fear, lack of confidence, expressions of inferiority, the attitude of “I can’t” rather than “I can”, normalised. I was a bright child, but by the time I was made complicit in a terrifying secret at age 8, I was already struggling to cope with the world. My confidence in my intellectual ability betrayed the terrible social anxiety that was crippling me underneath. I was scared of other children. Judged, bullied and shamed because of my Mum, family and home amongst other things.
I developed maladaptive coping mechanisms. All my life I’ve felt anxious around other people. Hidden. Run away. Avoided. By the time I was 13 I am sure I was depressed. At 15 I started drinking, and was known as the ‘crying drunk’. Either that or I’d get totally plastered and have random sexual encounters with people that often took advantage of me, a consequence of a sub conscious message I had been given that men having their way with you was ok.
I ended up having to do a lot of the parenting for my brothers and sister, and took on financial responsibility in the family age 15.
My first remembered panic attack was age 17 – I didn’t know what it was at the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were others before this.
At university my feelings of social anxiety and inferiority increased, and my solution was to get plastered to fit in and control my nerves. A toxic coping mechanism that was ingrained in me way too young.
My first mental breakdown came at age 23. There would be more, and my 20s and 30s were marred with poor periods of mental health. Extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and for a few long years, debilitating depression. It was only in my mid 30s that I really started to get help for these issues, and have done years of work on myself to get to where I am now.
Communicating about my feelings appropriately has always been a struggle for me. I had no authentic voice about things that were deep inside of me, no way of expressing my wants and needs unrelated to my studies and my career. For years, I had reoccurring dreams about having socks in my mouth. Having it drilled in to me from such a young age that you can’t talk about something, you must keep a secret; never being asked about how I felt about Mum’s abuse and abuser, who I was made to see for years, taught me that my feelings didn’t matter. When I finally started to communicate about things that matter deeply, it has often been in aggressive, or overly emotional ways.
Mum understandably had a difficult relationship with her father – it was unpredictable and subservient. We could go for years without seeing him. There was always angst and fear in the air when we did. He didn’t live close by, and moved around a lot, which meant we would always have to stay overnight when visiting. I was frightened of him, and hated when I had to sit on his lap as a young child. As I got older, I made excuse after excuse not to see him until finally I refused to have any contact, and was labeled by the rest of the family as ‘difficult’.
The impact of seeing a child rapist face no consequences (he died in his early 90s and most people were none the wiser about his crimes), and who it was clear Mum still lived in fear of, did untold damage to me. My concept of boundaries and acceptable behavior is warped. I have suffered failed relationship after failed relationship. I still struggle with social anxiety, issues with alcohol, and communicating and using my authentic voice. My career, which I have pursued single mindedly and determinedly, has no doubt suffered because of my feelings of inferiority and shame.
The silence has been toxic. My siblings and father have colluded with my mother to keep it. The shame that Mum felt about what had happened to her was clear – when others in the family found out, there was no outrage and demands for justice, just quiet cover-ups and willful ignoring of her father’s crimes. For years I have wanted to scream “He’s a pedophile, what if he’s down this to others”, but I’ve been told by my parents and siblings this is not my story to tell. At age 34 I tried to talk to my mother about the impact her abuse has had on me. She said she was sorry it clearly had a greater impact on me than on her. But she had done her job, as he hadn’t raped me. Her mother had not prevented that from happening to her; Mum succeeded in doing the thing she wished her mother had done the most. But her scars are such that she can’t see past the actual abuse to understand the damage that has been caused by it that is not physical.
Although my granddad didn’t rape me, for more years that I can remember I have had regular nightmares about being raped. I can never make a sound or scream – I have socks in my mouth. For almost 20 years I was addicted to sleeping tablets.
And, I have been raped. I jumped out of a first floor flat window to escape, locked in a bedroom, but I never reported it – I thought in a way it was my fault as I was drunk. I have been in many dodgy sexual situations, for years with a warped concept of consent. I have been in abusive relationships. Shamefully, I have meted out abuse too. One recent partner asked me why I at times refused to let him help me undress, sleeping in my coat, holding it around me tightly. This has been a habit for many years.
If there had not been such shame, and a culture of victim blaming, around child sexual abuse over my life time; if my Mum had been given help, at any point, could so many of these mental health and behavioral issues I’ve suffered have been avoided? I honestly believe so.
The costs to society of not treating these crimes as crimes upfront, and not providing victims with proper support to help them cope and recover, are enormous. The economic costs of the health services for example we have used as a consequence of this, lost days at work, are real. The costs to my mum, me, and the rest of my family, are incalculable.
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