Safety, Anxiety, Boundary Blurring & Progress

 

An Implosion of Emotion

An Implosion of Emotion

I know this update is long overdue – in fact, there may well be enough in my head for two separate posts – but, let’s begin where my last post ended, and we’ll see where it takes us.

Following my near lethal excess intake of ethylene glycol and subsequent hospitalisation I was finally discharged a few days later. Sort of. I was discharged back into the care of the crisis resolution team, pending an assessment at the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre.

The assessment was conducted a few days later, by two members of staff who I knew from previous stays there. This was probably a good thing, not only because they were already aware of my background, but also because they knew that I have found stays there in the past very helpful by way of turning a negative trend. In other words, they knew that if offered a place I was reasonably likely to make good use of my time there. So, having asked me if I wanted to come there, I was told they would offer me a one-to-two-week stay, with a review at the end to see whether or not the stay should be extended.

So, on Wednesday 5th of June I took up residence at the crisis house. I have to admit that it felt a little like taking a trip back in time. The last time I stayed there was in 2011 and before then it was in 2008, if memory serves, but in many ways the place hasn’t changed at all. My artwork and poetry was still on the walls in various places around the house, in fact, even a little note I’d written and stuck on one of the doors during my first stay, asking people to please not slam the door, was still there. Other things that very soon clicked into place was the very special rhythm of life that exists in this place: house meeting, one-to-one, lunch, massage/therapy/art/going out, one-to-one, dinner. Also, just as during all of my other stays there, save the first one, I had to agree to allow staff to look through my bags each time I entered the house. This is not a general rule for everyone who stays there, but something specific to me, because during my very first stay there, back in 2008, I brought a bottle of anti-freeze in and then proceeded to drink from it at carefully planned intervals in a bid to end my life. Thus, as a result any subsequent stay at Drayton Park has been conditional upon my agreeing to have my bags searched. And, ever since then, I have always gone along with this, as I genuinely want to use my stay there in a positive way. Also, in fairness, there is quite a lot of give and take, even with this condition; some staff would definitely ask to have a look in my bags, but some would be happy to just ask me to tell them what I had brought back, and others still simply asked ‘Have you brought anything back that you shouldn’t’?

I ended up staying at Drayton Park for three weeks. It was extended by a few days past the original leaving date, because of something which happened between A. and myself in my final therapy session before she was due to go on leave and which created a bit of a crisis on top of the original crisis. Having spent the session talking about how near I got to dying, and the fear that it’s not quite enough to nearly die, but that I would have to actually die for it to make a difference to my parents, and battling it out with myself whether or not they truly care about me, I finally turned to A. and asked herDo you care?’

At this point A., rather than to answer my question, opted to abruptly end session. Yes, we were out of time [although I didn’t know that when I asked the question], but the way she ended it felt very different to how she normally ends sessions, and it is also not unheard of for her to allow a session to overrun by a minute or two, to ensure a better ending to a session.

I left session feeling very upset and unstable with a single thought pounding in my head; that it was more important to A. to stick to the rule of not answering a direct question than to ensure I was in an as safe as possible place, going into a break which she knew would likely be very difficult, given what had been happening in the last few weeks, coupled with the fact that I had in that session expressed that I was feeling very anxious about how I would manage during the upcoming break. Needless to say, it was an incredibly painful thought to be stuck with..

In my one-to-one back at Drayton Park I managed to voice some of my thoughts about the way the session had ended, how I had interpreted it and alternative ways as to how A. might have responded to me which would have felt better [without her being unfairly pushed to give an extensive answer right then and there, at the end of the session]. All this made me question my and A.’s relationship and also made me realise that there was a lot of disappointment stuck inside of me about the fact that she hadn’t contacted me while I was in hospital to find out how I was doing [or if I was even still alive].

Because of this, my keyworker at Drayton Park and I, made the decision that rather than me going home on the day before therapy was due to resume, my stay would be extended until the Monday after, so as to give me some time to stabilise, should the first session back go very badly.

There was another incident while I was staying at Drayton Park, which had quite a big impact on me: in one of my one-to-ones a member of staff disclosed to me that she, too, had suffered abuse. This may seem quite an alarming thing to disclose, given that she was staff and I was staying there to deal with a crisis, but in the context, I can definitely understand why it was made and I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the intentions were good, that it was meant to be helpful. But, as I said, it did have an impact on me. Not so much what I was actually told – I have heard stories like that before, have even done some volunteering on a sexual abuse helpline and I can deal with it – but it was more my own reaction to the boundary blurring that caused a lot of anxiety. It made me second-guess myself, in much the same way I used to do during the abuse I suffered: was this OK or not? Was I overreacting? Ought I tell someone? What would happen if I did? Would I even be believed? What if I had just misunderstood what had been said? All of these questions were bouncing around inside of me, as I struggled to decide what – if anything – to do with it all.

Just by chance the social worker from my shul happened to ring as I came out of the one-to-one, and I told her what had just happened. She wasn’t particularly impressed by the self-disclosure, and immediately got it that, while in many ways not that difficult to handle, it had triggered a lot of other feelings and fears, among them the very acute sense that no one can really cope with hearing my story. She said that of course it was up to me to make the decision, but she thought it might be a good idea to talk to the manager at Drayton Park about this incident.

I thought about it for a while, had another one-to-one with the person during this time, but just felt entirely unable to act; the echo of fears from the past and the wish to not get anyone into trouble were simply too strong. So, at first I said nothing, in spite of ever growing anxiety and also feeling worried that this person might end up making similar disclosures to other women coming to the project, some of whom might not be able to handle it.

A few days later, someone from the CRT came to meet with me and the person who was assigned to work with me that day. It was just a normal review, as the plan was that – unlike other times I have stayed at Drayton Park – rather than to just go home and have no formal support in place, I would be discharged back into the care of the crisis team. At the very end of the meeting the person from the crisis team asked if there was anything else I wanted to talk about, and I made the decision then and there that this was a good chance to get to talk it over. I asked the person from Drayton Park could I please have a word alone with the crisis team, and once she had left the room, I explained what had been disclosed to me and the anxiety it had evoked. I made a point of not telling her who the person was, as it seemed irrelevant at that point; I mainly just wanted to get it off my chest and perhaps get some insight into what self-disclosure policies were generally at work within the NHS. She said – in that oh-so-typical-NHS-way – that she would need to bring this up with her own supervisor and that she would get back to me about it, but also encouraged me to have a word with the manager of Drayton Park, who I know reasonably well and have decent rapport with.

A few more days passed and I heard nothing from the CRT. The anxiety was still very present and I began worrying about having to work with this person again, because, even though I didn’t feel burdened by the factual things she had disclosed, I knew I would always feel aware of the risk of triggering things for her etc etc. I still didn’t feel sure about going to the manager, but in the end brought it up – still without mentioning the name of the member of staff in question or when this had happened – with the worker at Drayton Park I felt most comfortable with.

Two days later there was a knock on my door. It was the manager wanting to talk to me, so we went into a meeting room. She explained that the CRT had been in touch with her, as well as the person I had talked to two days earlier, and she just wanted to talk it all through with me and see how we could best resolve this. I asked her if she knew the specifics of what had been disclosed, and she said that she had assumed that it was to do with a staff member’s own experience of sexual abuse, so I confirmed that that was it and also told her who the person was. I then went on to explain that I really didn’t want anyone getting into trouble over this, that I could cope with the actual disclosure and that I could absolutely see that it had been well-meaning, but also that it had set in motion a lot of left-over feelings about ‘telling on someone’ stemming from my childhood and feeling unsure whether or not I could trust my own ability to judge what was and wasn’t a boundary crossing. She reassured me that this type of self-disclosure should not be made, that even if it was done with the very best intentions at heart, staff members should know not to cross that line. She then suggested that the three of us have a meeting to make it possible to move forward. I agreed to this, thinking in secret that I wasn’t at all sure if I would be able to do it.

By the time we were due for our meeting my anxiety about it was through the roof, feeling intensely worried that the person would for whatever reason deny having told me what she had, or say that I had completely misunderstood, that it hadn’t happened the way I said etc etc. Of course, I can easily see that this wasn’t in any way congruent with the knowledge I have of this person – she’s someone who I have always found to be exceptionally straight and fair, but that this was really more of a transferential re-experiencing of what I went through when the abuse I was subjected to came to light and social services made the decision to press charges against my brother whether or not I wanted them to.

The meeting in itself was.. well, truth be told, awkward and uncomfortable for all present, but – ultimately – a good thing. And, as much as I would rather not have had this experience, one very positive thing did emerge: the knowledge that I acted differently to how I did as a child. In spite of not feeling entirely sure that what had happened was wrong, the fact that it didn’t feel quite right was enough for me to speak up.

And,THAT, I think, is very very valuable.

xx

I am aware that quite a few readers arrive at this blog having googled ‘Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre’, and so I want to once again re-iterate that in the interest of protecting other people’s identity I use creative licence. Thus, if you for whatever reason feel you know who this member of staff is, I can assure you that you are more than likely going to be wrong, as enough details have been changed or omitted to protect that person’s identity.

Always end up doing a lot of art when staying at Drayton Park

Always end up doing a lot of art when staying at Drayton Park

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Self-Awareness & Self-Doubt

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PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PARTICULAR POST DEALS WITH CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE AND MAY THEREFORE BE UPSETTING AND/OR TRIGGERING
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During the last two weeks the frequency of flashbacks I’ve been having has been steadily on the increase. This is never a nice thing and inevitably makes me very anxious that I might be heading for one of those truly horrendous periods where the flashbacks become relentless and I get no respite from them at all. Thankfully, things are not at that stage, but the fear is still there, and I am having significantly more flashbacks than I usually have in a day. So it has been hard. Especially since A. has been away, and I’ve not had my usual space to process things. [A. being off isn’t the reason for the increase in flashbacks; the escalation had started before she went away, but lacking a place to talk things through doesn’t help].

Now, having flashbacks is something which I live with all the time [to a greater or lesser degree], but there is one thing which has been very different about this particular increase of flashbacks: normally, my flashbacks tend to be very random in terms of which abuse situation they are about. There might be one from when I was four and a half, then one from when I was seventeen, then one from when I was twelve. Some will be of things my brother did to me, others of things that the foster child who lived with us made me do. In short, it tends to be a completely random mix, with no specific order to them.

But this time, nearly all of them have been about a very specific situation, something which happened over the space of about twenty hours when I was nine. The flashbacks haven’t been sequential, it has been bits here and there, and it has all been absolutely sickening. What happened over that period of time are some of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced, and so it follows that the flashbacks are equally horrendous.

A few days ago I tried to desensitise myself a little by saying out loud [to myself] what happened, but I simply couldn’t do it. It felt too frightening and the words were too charged. Instead I turned to another form of expressing myself: drawing. I drew the whole situation, and I drew it in a very specific way, I drew it from his point of view. In other words, I drew what he would have seen: me, tiny, naked, frightened, tied to the radiator [which he had cranked, just because he thought it was funny when I was in pain], the various objects he was using [when he wasn’t using “his body”] – the whole situation. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because, writing about it – like talking about it – is a bit too much for me [and may also be a bit too much for you, the reader]. I did think about posting the picture I drew, but in the end decided that it is simply too graphic for general view. [Also – although the intention with the drawing is very different – legally, in some places, it would be considered child pornography, as it clearly depicts a young child being sexually abused.]

I really don’t know why so many flashbacks have been centring around this particular situation. I mean, yes, the things that happened were incredibly traumatic and cruel, but that has always been the case and it doesn’t explain why this kind of ‘zooming in’ of flashbacks is happening, or why this change is taking place now. I am still trying to work that out.

The idea to draw it, to really focus on it – allowing the emotions – was something I did in the hope that it would decrease the frequency of flashbacks, but that’s not really worked; it hasn’t at all influenced the number of flashbacks I’ve been having. [For the better or for the worse].

What it has done, is allow me to see that I really was a very young child. I don’t remember ever feeling that I was a child, I always felt like an adult, but I think it is important to recognise that although I didn’t feel like a child, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a child. The other thing that it has done, is that it has made it possible for me to see the whole situation, meaning that I could see for myself how truly awful it was. And that helps, because it makes me feel that maybe it isn’t so strange that I am still struggling with what happened; it tells me that I am not over-reacting.

Sadly, in contrast to all of this positive recognition, all this self-awareness, there has been another change inside of me. A very different one. One which isn’t nice at all, and is almost the polar opposite of what I just described..

Up until now, if anyone has ever suggested to me that maybe I carry some sort of guilt feelings about what happened inside of me, I have always vehemently denied this. I’ve always maintained that this is not the case; that I am not a typical abuse victim who blames herself for what happened. I am perfectly able to see the abuse for what it was.

But in the last two days, I’ve been completely overwhelmed with self-doubt. Doubt about whether or not maybe, just maybe, there was something I did to make this happen. A sense that, because there were two different people who abused me – separate from one another – there might be something wrong with me, that maybe I was sending out some sort of unconscious signal. That I didn’t do enough to make the abuse stop. Etc etc etc.

I can honestly say, that I have never felt this way before – certainly not on a conscious level; when I have protested to any suggestions like those mentioned above, it has never been in order to purposely mask my true feelings, or to make myself clever or anything like that. I have simply never felt this way before.

This isn’t a case of suddenly feeling 100% sure that I must somehow be to blame for what happened, rather it is an ambivalence about it, an uncertainty about who is to blame, which is now coming into the open. It is more than likely a fear that has always resided deep down inside of me, but it isn’t until these last two days that it has been allowed to enter the realm of the conscious. What I am trying to illustrate here is that all of a sudden there is a very tangible discrepancy between what I can intellectually understand [that being a child I couldn’t possibly be to blame for the abuse, that I was powerless to stop it etc], and what my inner child emotions are telling me. And it makes me feel awful. It makes me feel like I am not as far along the road to recovery as I had thought.

Of course, I can see that having my true feelings surface is probably a good thing, that this could be viewed as “a step back in order to ultimately move forward” [you can only work through things that are in the open]. In the short term, however.. well.. it has me on my knees. Completely. And, as much as I hate to admit it, on three occasions, I have resorted to escaping these very painful feelings through self-harm. This worries me, since my favoured form of self-harm is coiling a cord round my neck and pulling until I pass out, a variant which is undeniably dangerous, as there is no way of knowing that the cord will release once I have lost consciousness.

I am trying to not be too hard on myself about the self-harm. Firstly, being disappointed and angry with myself doesn’t help the situation, it only serves to make me feel even worse. And secondly, in some ways it makes perfect sense to act out like this; for as long you are unconscious you can’t feel anything. You could even go so far as to say that this particular form of self-harm is a desperate attempt at putting these now conscious feelings back into the unconscious.

But, of course, it would be much better if I didn’t feel a need to do this to myself, and I am hoping that when A. is back, being able to talk all of these different things through will be enough to help me cope with these new emotions without putting myself at risk.

I just need to somehow hold on until then.

xx

Making Sense Of Abuse & The Need To Feel Heard

I really shouldn’t be writing this. I ought to be writing an essay on attachment. Especially seeing as I’m working to an absolute deadline, having already exhausted all opportunity for extension. Only I simply haven’t got the head space to do any studying. Or anything else, really. In fact, if you find this post a bit fragmented that is because it has been written in fragments; a sentence here and there whenever I’ve had a short break from the hellish onslaught of constant flashbacks I am currently experiencing.

I’ve spent a lot of time in these past ten days [or however long it has been] talking both to the Samaritans and the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Line. Talking to them doesn’t stop the flashbacks; I will often continue having them even while I’m on the phone, but at least, when I come out of them I’m not alone. Also, I’ve come to realise that what I really crave is to be allowed to tell my story. To share what happened to me. And, more importantly, to feel heard. To hear the reaction of others, when they hear what happened to me has played an important part in coming to see that what went on while I was growing up was actually quite bad.

Rather unsurprisingly, I’m very good at minimalising the abuse that I was subjected to as a child and teenager. Minimalising what went on is in essence how I got through it. I genuinely believe that had I allowed myself to see the magnitude of what was going on at the time there is no way I could have survived it. At least not with my sanity intact. So I dissociated and numbed myself to the whole experience.

But, there comes a point when you have to begin to look openly and honestly at what really happened. There is no way that you can forever keep running from it. Sooner or later you have to find the courage to look the past in the eye or you will never be able to heal. By that I don’t meant that it is necessary to explore in minute detail every single abuse situation you were ever in, but that one has to face one’s own emotions about what happened.

When I think back to the things my oldest brother did to me – not through flashbacks, but simply by normal recall – I can’t say that I remember feeling much at all. Maybe, very early on, when I was little, I have a vague memory of feeling confused, but that’s about the extent of conscious emotions. The rest is something of an emotional void. What is happening now with the flashbacks – and what makes them so terrifying – is that it is as if I am now reliving what happened, with the emotional response I should have had, but couldn’t have, as a child.

As a child, even from very early on, I always knew what was happening didn’t feel right, but in order to cope with it, I very soon began to understand ‘not feeling right’ as a the normal state of being. The abuse became so routine that it seemed no less normal to me than going to school or doing my chores. It was just one of the many parts that made up my day-to-day life.

I think the abuse began around the time when I was about four and a half, because that’s the earliest I can remember, and my brother says that was roughly when it started. Of course it could have started earlier, but I simply haven’t got any memories – happy or sad – from before that time.

It went on for a very long time – all the way until I was 17 – and only came to light because I tried to kill myself. There was one occasion, when I was about seven, when I did try to tell my mother about what my brother was doing to me [although my mother says this never happened, that I never told her], but unfortunately that ended disastrously with my mother unable to take on board what I was saying to her, and I never again tried to tell anyone. For years I held on to that question mark posed by my mother, that maybe I really hadn’t told her, because that idea was so much easier to cope with, so much less painful, than the idea that I did tell my mother and she was unable to do anything about it. There are definitive mitigating circumstances in terms of why my mother couldn’t cope with what I was telling her, but the unavoidable fact remains: as a consequence of my mother’s inability to intervene the abuse carried on for another ten years, which is – of course – and absolute eternity.

There was one year, when I was eight going on nine, when things could have changed quite dramatically. That year my brother was away from home, doing his military service – which was at the time mandatory. In a tragic twist, that same year – which could have been an opportunity for me to get to experience what life without abuse might be like – my parents decided to take in a foster child, a much damaged 16-year-old refugee boy from the Lebanon who had seen war up close and who was deeply disturbed by it. Cut a long story short, he began abusing me almost immediately after moving in with us.

What happened with this person was something I was completely unprepared for. You see, with my brother, what he got off on, was the idea that what went on was something we both wanted. So he would constantly be asking me questions. Do you like this? Does this feel good? What would you like to do? And I soon learned what was expected of me, learned to step into the role he wanted me to play. With this other person, there was something entirely different that motivated him. What he enjoyed was to see me terrified and in pain. Whereas with my brother I could choose to either step into a role – in a sense choose to not be me – or to dissociate and go somewhere else in my mind while he was doing what he was doing, with this other person, he wouldn’t allow me to do that. If he noticed that I was zoning out, he would slap my face to bring me back to the present, or he would hold my chin and peer into my eyes, thereby ensuring I couldn’t escape him or what he was doing to me. He had a knife strapped to his leg, concealed underneath his jeans – he called it his Rambo knife – which he would hold against my neck while he was raping me. Not with the sharp edge, but with the blunt back of it, just as a mind game making sure I could never be sure if this would be the time he would finally kill me. Even in completely normal situations he would play these horrendous mind games with me. For example, we would all be out in the garden, him, my brothers and I, playing football. He would then kick the ball far away, my brothers turning their backs to us, running after the ball, and as soon as they did, he would grab me by my throat and throw me against the wall of the house, choking me – and then immediately let go the second my brothers were turning back, as if to drive home the message that it doesn’t matter where we are or who is around, I can do whatever I want to you, whenever I want.

I had a very good session with A. earlier this week, where I for the first time ever, talked about the way the abuse happened. Not details of what actually happened or specific incidents, but the ways in which I was made to be compliant with it, both through things that were said, and through things that didn’t need to be said.

I spent an entire year in fear of this other person, and what happened with him; the violence, the threats and the psychological mind games matched exactly the stereotype painted by media. It took years for me to appreciate that what my brother did, the subtle grooming, coercion and indirect coaching, was also abuse.

But it’s all coming back now – all the pent up emotions – in the form of flashbacks.
And it’s really really scary.

xx