Papers, Memories & Being Believed

It’s nearly half nine in the evening. I have a million things I need to do. Sorting, packing and throwing; getting ready for my pending move. Only a week to go now.

I had two goals for the day: 1) go through my various piles of papers to decide what needs to be kept and what ought to be chucked and 2) go through all my clothes, shoes, linen etc with the same objective.

I’ve managed to do the first part. It’s taken me hours. Never realised how much paperwork I’ve actually got: bank statements, invoices, council tax paper, student loans etc etc etc. You get the picture.

Now the job wouldn’t be quite so hard if it were only those things to leaf through. Admittedly I’ve got a somewhat compulsive need to hoard bank statements, but even so I’m not really that emotionally attached to them. No, it’s all the other paper stuff that makes this job hard. The postcards, birthday wishes, letters, little notes. Those are the things I struggle to let go of.

I found a piece of paper from some years ago with lots of little messages scribbled all over; the remains of an impromptu game played with my sisters and co some years ago. The words in themselves neither grand nor particularly meaningful, but somehow I still find it hard to make myself throw this piece of paper away, because it’s attached to the memory of all of us sitting in the kitchen passing the paper round and round, writing those little messages, the sillier the better. Precious moments of togetherness.

Then there are papers which I feel I need to keep for other reasons..

Quite early in the day I came across the legal paperwork from the court hearing against my brother all those years ago. The two versions of it. One – the publicly available version – which has nearly all of my testimony and most of his blanked out – and the other, the one only I and my brother have the right to access, where the testimonies remain intact, carefully transcribed by the court clerk.

And, of course, I had to stop and read through them. Couldn’t just put them in the expandable folder without first reading them, despite knowing full well that no good would come from doing so.

I’ve not read them that many times; once when I first got them, just after the verdict was passed, and once again a few years ago when I requested copies of them. And yet, despite this, there are passages in there which I could easily quote word for word.

Having read through those papers I put them away, but – of course – the memory of the court hearing stayed with me. The feeling of not being sure whether or not I’d be believed by the judge. Not knowing how my brother’s repeated statement “I can’t deny or confirm. I don’t remember” would play out against my detailed, if emotionally detached, descriptions of sexual abuse.

The written word has always been very important to me. Ever since I can remember I’ve kept a journal, writing about my life, about the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows. During the court case one of my journals, a small black moleskin note book, was submitted as evidence against my brother. I had kept it hidden for a long time, this secret diary – separate from all my other journals and locked in a metal box so that no one but me would ever be able to read it. In it I had for the first time written down the things my brother was doing to me. It was written in code, a childish attempt at disguising who the abuser was. The code was of course easily cracked once the truth had come out about my brother and read like a memoir of abuse. It had never been intended to be read by anyone, it was just a way for me to try to deal with what was happening when I got to the point where I simply couldn’t keep it all inside, but of course the police, and later on the prosecutors, viewed it as a goldmine of proof against my brother. Some sort of physical proof of things that had happened. A paper trail.

Ever since then my journal writing changed. I still write as much as I ever did, but I write differently. The knowledge that what I write can have such an impact, can hold such power, has changed it. I often find myself noting down where I am or what time it is when I’m writing, almost as if somewhere at the back of my mind, I worry that one day this journal, too, will be read by someone other than myself; that accuracy will be paramount, lest I be thought to have made things up.

I’ve talked about this with A. in my therapy; this self-imposed obligation to express myself in a very precise way, to make sure that I don’t make statements I’m not entirely sure about. The fear that should I be found to have made a mistake it may also be assumed that I might have got other things, important things, wrong.

Of course Adult Me knows that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, that everyone stretches the boundaries of truth sometimes, and that doing so does not mean that nothing she says will be believed, but Little S.. well, Little S still fears that Adult Me might be wrong. And so, every so often, Little S goes to battle with Adult Me, and every once in a while Little S pops up in Adult Me’s journal, checking that there are no discrepancies, making sure that she could never be accused of making things up.

It can be hard, that internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. It can be tiring, confusing and sometimes painful. It’s a constant balancing act, ensuring that Little S feels heard, while allowing Adult Me to move beyond the childlike constraints of Little S’s experiences.

Anyway, it’s time for both Little S and Adult Me to go to bed now.

We have a whole day of packing ahead of us in the morning.

Sleep tight!


Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Sideways

A. is back.
Four long weeks, but now she’s back. And that’s good. Really good.

But, it doesn’t change things.
I’m still having flashbacks and they are still as vile as ever, still as difficult to cope with. I’m still trying to not cut, and I’m still failing most evenings. But at least I have a place to explore that.

I’ve seen A. a few times since she’s been back, and I’ve found it incredibly hard to talk. It’s as if the words are in my head and they’re desperate to come out – to be born, in a sense – but at the same time what I want to say is so frightening that I just can’t do it.

So, the first few sessions were a real struggle, trying to explain about the flashbacks and how hard things have been in A.’s absence. And whenever I get even close to saying something about what actually happens in the flashbacks [and by extension in the abuse situation] it feels as if the only way for me to get the words out would be to vomit them out. It’s an almost physical obstruction.

I did manage to tell A. that I have been able, for the first time ever, to draw some of the flashbacks, and we talked about me showing her them. It seemed like a good place to start. Only, for the following three sessions I was sitting there with my journal [where I keep my drawings] on my lap, completely unable to open it.

There was something so scary about the thought of sharing this very secret side of me, that even looking at the pictures myself in A.’s presence [without showing them to her] seemed impossible. So we spent time talking about that. About what it is that’s so frightening: A.’s possible reaction or lack of reaction, my own potential reaction, the fact that it’s so deeply rooted in me that I’m not supposed to talk about what happened, how other people in my life have been unable to cope with my story and so on.

Then last Friday the breakthrough came. I spent ten minutes at the beginning of session again utterly unable to speak, thinking I might never be able to break this pattern, before A. asked me if I would like to show her one of my drawings. At first I couldn’t, and so we spent some more time talking about the reasons for that and about other semi-related things. But then I did it. I sort of hugged my journal one last time and then I opened it and looked.

Some of the drawings I had to skip past, because I just couldn’t handle looking at them with A. there, but some I could look at. It’s all a bit of a blur to me, but I think A. might have asked me what was in the picture I was looking at, and I began, very tentatively, to explain that it was in my room. The room my dad made for me. Then I couldn’t say anything more, so I handed the journal over to A., who took it and looked at the drawing. As I handed it to her, I had to look away, because I was too scared to find out what her reaction might be – but at the same time there was a very strong feeling of Please let me pass this horrible memory over to you.

With some help from A. we managed to look at two drawings. There were some things I just couldn’t say, some words that were too dangerously charged for me to say out loud, but A. helped me out by saying them for me, and by asking questions.

Yes, I was a little switched off – but not completely. Not like I was during the police investigation or in court, when I mechanically delivered facts, completely without feeling.

That said, it wasn’t until after the session, when I was back on the street it really hit me. What I’d done. I started shaking as I was walking, to the point where I was wondering if other people could see it. And I had to stop and be sick three times on the way back.

But, I did it.
I really did it.
I shared something that I have never been able to share before.
And I survived it.

Still, me being me – I am now stuck with this ice-cold fear that I’ve done something very bad. That this will be far too much for A. to cope with, and she will call at any moment to tell me she can’t carry on seeing me, that she’ll have to terminate therapy.

I know it doesn’t make logic sense, but it’s what I feel.
So much so that I find it almost impossible to think of anything else. The last few days since Friday I’ve been completely wrapped up in this feeling. In fact, yesterday I spent four hours at the Tate, hoping to be so overwhelmed by other impressions that it would somehow drown out this gripping fear.

But, it didn’t.

So there you go – two step forward, three steps sideways.

And on we march.