Tag Archives: mental health

Escape and Healing

24 Dec

domestic-abuse-birmI want to move on from some of the discussions of the last while on here. With a desire to regain some of my privacy and to move on in my own healing I intend this to be my last personal comment on my experiences of abuse for the foreseeable future. As Christmas is a time of high-stress, high alcohol consumption, and a spike in domestic abuse it seems like an appropriate time to bring this personal thread to a close.

Stepping forward and naming the abuse I experienced for what it is, is important. While it was happening I spoke about it,  I documented it,  I reached out for help – privately. But there was also an element of shame, a fear. I’m a man who was abused by a woman, we aren’t often believed, as a society we’ve been programmed to turn a blind eye to many telling signs that someone’s relationship is less than healthy; statistically men are more likely to be the abusers but not all men.

Fear is a powerful weapon. And so is shame. And many abusers use variations on gaslighting to make us question our sanity and reality. Psychological abuse is perhaps the deepest wound of all, prodding us for ages to come. If we doubt ourselves,  how will anybody else believe?  Add to that the shame of mental health issues and it becomes intensely unmanageable.

So for me, writing about the affects the situation has had on me, and on my mental health, this is my resistance. My way of saying ‘no,  this isn’t on’. It’s about being strong, standing up to the bullying and distortions, even though I live in constant fear of them intruding into my life again.

For now I am content that I have it on record that these things happened to me. Both in this heavily redacted form and in more detail through official channels. It has meant I am no longer hiding from it all. I am not living trapped by the unknown retaliations and ambiguous threats.

eggshellsEscaping Abuse

My advice to anyone living with abuse is to talk. Get your safety net around you. Friends, family, professionals will all be able to help monitor you,  and can assist when you decide to escape. You’ll almost certainly need them. Even if you’re holding back on details, they’ll be better prepared for the revelations to follow. It may be that some of them are victims or ex-victims too.

Speak to organisations who help abuse victims. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to the police. They’ll advise and when appropriate they will investigate and arrest. Things may get worse before they get better,  but don’t back down. Once you start to wrestle back control of your life abusers will intensify their rage but you’ll have started the clock on your freedom. Going through legal channels can be challenging and time-consuming but you’ll be adding to your safety net.

Talk to your GP. It’s a private situation and you can hide your purpose in visiting easily. If you’re being physically hurt, a GP can see the evidence for themselves and record it. Similarly any psychological matters.

coerciveRecord incidents. Write down the details, store it in a book, in a private google doc, whatever means is safest. Details of what happened, when, how its affecting you. It may be that you aren’t prepared to admit a relationship is abusive until you actually can see the pattern of behaviour for yourself. Its also really useful to have a diary to refer to when someone is making false accusations about your whereabouts. Most people have an audio recorder on their mobile telephone these days – you can always secretly record rows and conversations for evidence. And where possible save and record any abusive voice messages you receive. One of the scariest thing about many abusers is that they flip all your criticisms, all your allegations back on you in a bid to discredit you and make you ponder reality. It disarms you. But its like a child simply parroting your language, fingers in ears, and saying “I know you are but what am I?”

It takes most people a long time to get out of an abusive situation, and you’ll need help after too, but it is there. It might sometimes feel like a ‘he said she said’ situation, but honesty will see you right in the end.

breakthesilenceHealing

I’ve heard enough people trying to tell me that friends believe my version of events, but that isn’t enough. In order to put a stop to these behaviours it isn’t your friends you need to convince. I’ve been manipulated so many times that I have wondered if things were really as bad as I say. Time will do that to you, it can numb your memories, as you try and put the bad stuff behind you. I’ve gone back through my notes, emails, texts, recordings and legal documents. Every time I do my head is taken right back into that particular quarter of hell. Doing it over the summer helped push me into the worst breakdown I’ve experienced in years – reliving experiences while not being monitored was risky. My therapist asked me why I did it, when it was more than clear I’ve been telling the truth. But I’d received messages that suggested I was making everything up, that none of the things I alleged ever happened. More gaslighting. But its there, in black and white. And the evidence is backed up, and supported by numerous individuals and experts.

To heal, I cannot keep getting dragged into this. I can’t have my abuser hanging over me like some spectre from the past, a shadowy cancer on my sanity and sense of self. No amount of trolling is going to silence me. No threats will have me pretend these things didn’t happen.  Readers of this blog don’t have a clue regarding the full details, the context, or the individual (verifiable) incidents in a lengthy campaign of abusive behaviour.

I know that I am angry that I have not and will not receive any kind of justice for these wrongs. I will never get so much as an admission of wrong-doing, let alone a prosecution or peace of mind. Instead I have witnessed bursts of intimidating behaviour, my sanity has been continuously questioned, and I continue to be on my guard. I accept the failings of a system that has allowed this to go undealt with. I have long recognised the relationship with my abuser as being particularly poisonous. I accept that my abuser either cannot see the wrong in their actions towards me, or can but daren’t risk admitting any accountability.

If it comes to it, I am prepared to elaborate my claims with supporting evidence in court. Not that I want to embarrass myself on network tv either, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve considered a polygraph test and the Jeremy Kyle show either. I know that my abuser has spun a different story about what happened – I’m sure it has elements of truth, but lacking context, alongside fabrications and slanders, and like good friends and relatives I am sure she has her own network of people who believe every word uttered. I have no reason to lie about what happened to me, but I suspect that strangers are less likely to believe the word of a man than a woman in these matters. Until the Northern Irish government catches up with the rest of the UK and introduces legislation on coercive control, thousands of men and women like me will continue to suffer.

bccdvgirl-4Being an incredibly self-aware person, much time has been spent working through my experiences, sometimes too openly and honestly, but always sincerely. I take ownership of my failings, my errors in judgement, my poor handling of personal and professional situations. I’ve taken ownership of my mental health issues, I’ve got support in place now for any time they should ever spiral out of control again, and I’m working round the other issues that I can. Me now is not me six months ago even. I’ve come to recognise my negatives and my plusses. I’m still incredibly anxious about relationships, but I’ve learned that I can manage them, I can be a normal human being and not feel guilt or fear. I’ve learned to trust people again. And I’ve also learned to feel love for another human being. That didn’t seem possible a year ago. I am sorry for bringing so much of this into other relationships, friendships etc., it puts a pressure on people I hadn’t realised. That’s why healing is important – it takes the burden from others to pick up the pieces.

I will never completely heal. Abuse victims don’t. We carry our scars like barely healed wounds. The right scratch and they open up again. But we can monitor them, we can ensure we have the right medicine and aftercare in place. The right friend on the end of a phone, or a needed hug. A counsellor, medication, the authorities, a blog. All have their place and are part of our arsenal.

For now I have said about all I can on my matter. All I want to say. I don’t intend to dwell on this unfortunate past any further. Because it is my past. It is not my present and will not be my future. It happened, but it does not define me. I define me. I am bruised, not beaten; damaged but not broken; flawed, but a gem, precious if you would but look.

 

NOTE: The images here are from various campaigns across the UK to address various kinds of abuse. If you recognise any of these from your own or a friend’s experiences, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call. The Police service across the UK will give advice on the free non-emergency 101 number. Or in the case of emergency, call 999.

Trigger me this Facebook

16 Nov
A LIFE magazine still for Hans Richter's film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1946)

A LIFE magazine still for Hans Richter’s film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1946)

Trauma and depression are difficult enough to live with, the scars left by episodes remain raw no matter how long the healing has been. The tiniest scratch and the wound starts weeping. Before you know it, you’ve been transported back to another place and another episode is in full flow. At least that’s my experience.

You will no doubt be familiar with the idea that certain smells in particular can transport you back into your memory banks – that waft of perfume as you walk along the street, an odour in a restaurant – but it isn’t unique to scent. Images and sounds can do the same thing. I’ve written before about the importance of memory and images, and there are songs that take me back to very specific moments in my youth and revitalise long-forgotten feelings. While this can be a therapeutic and pleasant experience for those of us who have lived with abuse, or suffered mental breakdowns, memory is a tricky terrain to negotiate.

Social media is rich with trigger potential. Many of us share the sort of insights into our private lives that a decade ago would have been deemed inappropriate. We detail our travels, our partners, our dinners, our very bowel movements. Go far enough back into our public profiles and we’ll find traces of a life we’ve moved on from – our younger selves, warts and all.

Facebook in particular provides a daily digest of memories without any sort of filtration system at all. Their ‘On This Day‘ brings up posts you made or were tagged in on/around today’s date in years gone past. Among the cute pictures of animals and family and work outings are things I don’t wish to recall, let alone reshare with those around me. This time of year it turns out is packed full of them, and those Facebook memories are at least partly responsible for triggering my last break down.

I like to recall nice memories, but I’ve been on social media long enough now that there are also memories of previous partners and my lives with them, which played out at least partly in a public/semi-public sphere. Friends/spectators will recall at least some of the drama, but generally have the good decency not to bring it up when we meet. Unlike Facebook, which deems it appropriate to regale me with anecdotes from not only the partners I remain fond of, but also those I am not.

Today’s memories include jaunts to London (no change there then), moving house, publicity on the magazine I edited that I later learned was being published by two con-artists, photos of my abusive partner and examples of comments that might have come across to some as wit, but which read now like mild examples of the abusive treatment I lived with for too long.

I cannot completely avoid this. I’ve untagged myself from various things, made other images and posts private. But I also have issues with denying the past ever happened. Much of it is a matter of public record anyway, so editing seems somehow disrespectful and false. And unhelpful to my healing. Being reminded of the shit that was foisted upon me simply serves to strengthen my resolve, but there is a cost. Some of the memories trigger further memories and its frightening. I don’t want to delete my profile and start again because within the memories of abuse there are also stories of friendships past, loved ones lost and much positivity – how to balance that? A friend of mine with very similar experiences simply deleted their profile completely – too overwhelming was the triggers from the past, the negative memories. For me doing that would remove what little good I had from my own period of abuse and would run counter to my policy of being open as a coping mechanism.

If I’m completely frank, I fucking hate this. I never know which memories are going to be revived on which days. I don’t know which will trigger a period of negative association. Sometimes I can see a photo from then and its fine. Other days, I’ve encountered other triggers and the cumulative effect becomes too much to handle. My abuser has always denied any form of abuse took place (a common practice with abusers it seems). But images provoke strong memories from me. And sometimes the words, photos, video, audio files support my memory of events which causes even more triggers.

Immediately before I had my most recent breakdown I had been going through old files. A bunch of Facebook memories had started the process, then I came across a set of old photographs – images in that tricky area of not being enough to set off a trigger by themselves, but in association with other data they do. And then there were the recordings – listening to my own voice filled with terror and anxiety, voice mails left by my abuser – I daren’t even contemplate it deeply because of how they set me off last time. That narrative I have repeatedly been told (by my abuser) that suggests I am a fabricator of facts, quickly vanishes and accompanied by solid proof I recall exactly how things were. How alone and fragile and scared I was. How vulnerable it has made me today.

Our social media accounts are usually rife with false positivity. We cultivate an online image that presents ourself in our best light. We admit to our successes and over-egg minor achievements and ignore our failings, our stresses, our depressions. Consequently when the shit hits the fan, those around us sit bewildered by the sudden change. The late Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner used to remind audiences that ‘the memory cheats’, and the same can be true of Facebook memories. The false positivity can ignore much of the problems, and the casual observer might be lulled back into a false sense of nostalgia and lost hope. In an instance of an abusive partner they might forget the problems with drink or drugs, they might overlook the coercive controlling behaviour, and almost certainly will never find a trace of the physical abuses suffered. We forget the warning signs and we end up repeating our mistakes, and push away those who offer an alternative. Certainly I’m scared of those in whom I recognise myself – but they’re the only people who really get it, because they’ve lived it and neither they nor I wish to suffer like that again. Others can be sympathetic, but they lack the true empathy needed to keep us strong.

My own social media history fluctuates between the brave face of positivity – and I can usually tell when I’ve been coerced into posting something vaguely positive – and out and out cries for help. I’ve seen them come up in my feed before – moments where I’ve been threatened, where I’m struggling to make sense of a relationship spiraling downwards. Times where I’ve outed myself before some dark aspect of myself is utilised as a weapon against me. It still happens. I’m free of my abuser, but not their impact on my life. So afraid have I been that I’ve been overprotective of myself, family and potential partners. Just when I think I’m okay again, Facebook reminds me of what I went through at their hands and why I remain on my guard.

For someone who has made his professional life based around the past and nostalgia I am at a loss for how to proceed with my own past – particularly one which social media has decreed I must recall when I really don’t want to. Deletion is denial. It absolves those who persecute our thoughts. Admission provokes anxiety, tension and further depression.

Melt down

24 Oct

Edvard Munch’s The Scream

I think I knew it was going to happen when I wrote my last post. I could feel the build up reaching the overflow point. I’d been unable to have the conversation I need to have to help me process my state of mind. It was only a matter of time.
Yesterday I sat on the floor of my bathroom in tears, unable to face the world outside in spite of commitments. Ashamed, embarrassed and full of self-loathing.

The night before had begun on uncertainty. Joining work colleagues for a social evening but filled with anxiety about bridging the gap. Normally I try and keep my personal and professional lives separate. Feedback from a previous gig suggested this made me come across like I wasn’t a team player, words that have stuck and forced me out of my comfort zone. Even before I arrived I had been wandering the streets of Belfast aimless and trying to clear my head of the building stress. Walking I finally zoned out.

But being social when my depression is building into an episode is always risky. Especially when they don’t know your back story. Heck, I know I bored one of them silly running through some of the shit that’s been troubling me while we were standing in a club. Sorry.

Come 3am and I’m standing near the river Lagan. I’ve lost all sense of control and am posting histrionic messages on social media. “Nobody cares. I may as well not exist” and other lines of that ilk. I’m seriously considering self-harming to give some focus to the pain and frustration. Punishing myself for my own stupidity. I’m feeling so overwhelmingly low and lonely (in spite of two nights with friends) that this is all that makes sense.

It’s not unlike poor Sinéad O’Connor’s public outbursts. I look at those and think she needs help, she wants help. I look at mine and I see the same problem.

Worst of all I message people and pour out thoughts and feelings they don’t need to know, don’t want to know. I’m that creepy guy who can’t get the fucking message. And I know better. I didn’t even realise I’d done it until I was weeping on the bathroom floor.

I’ve always thought I was difficult to live with. I’m hard to love. This is why. It’s not just that I have mental health problems, it’s that I’m open about it. Why pretend otherwise? 

The malaise can strike, last for weeks or months. I’m up and down, kept functioning by manic activity. My ego is fragile and even the slightest knock back can send me spiraling. It pretty much takes someone with similar issues to understand it, but if you’ve got similar states of mind it can be incredibly testing. I’m good at trying to mask my depression. Until I crack. It’s little wonder I chose celibacy for three years. Only I get hurt that way. But being alone for ever isn’t going to be the solution either.

Today I wander around like a husk without drive or purpose. I’m calmer than yesterday but I’m definitely somewhere on the downward arc still. I’ve had time to think. I can see the signs, the triggers that have brought this on. It’s never just any one thing, but a cumulative effect. 

I realise that I’m scarred by various traumas over the years. They’ve left me vulnerable. I ignore them most of the time but when a trigger touches them the wounds remanifest themselves like ghosts. I live the experience again in echo. My brain makes connections between now and then and it’s hard to shake myself into the present.

The last few months I’ve spotted some of those triggers and thought I was ok because I talked about them, but the accumulation meant they weren’t clearing.

I was brought back into the terror of being abused, re-opening my therapy sessions as a result. I found myself in a relationship situation relearning how to function, relearning trust, affection and more. I’ve been challenging myself too though – my sense of self and identity, my limits, questioning my sexual self, my future. Questions have been asked which are leaving a mark and have me in a state of confusion.

Then there were other incidents. Things that happened that I can’t and won’t share. Things I said were OK, that I dealt with, but which I haven’t. History has repeated and I need to talk about it with the one person I can’t talk to just now. That’s been tough, switching from pouring out all your thoughts to suddenly not.

I’ve been eating to excess, drinking more than I’m comfortable with. I’m taken back to a dark place that needs to remain in my past. 

Even a visit to the cinema prompted memories. Reviewing The Girl on the Train for tv I felt the compulsion to point it out as a trigger film. And it was for me, sparking memories of the worst months of my life, the icing on the cake of this personal hell.

My therapist is away just at the moment I needed that outlet most. Sometimes fate conspires to exacerbate things.

Each moment triggered a memory. A pain. A wound. And I struggled to cope. Until I could no longer. 

Elvis once remarked how he often felt lonely in the middle of a crowd. An insight I identify with. I busy myself with creative projects, I try to fit in, but inside I’m screaming. Chronic isolation, a sense of not fitting in. A social anxiety I’ve never really admitted to. Being in the crowd this weekend kept me from my thoughts for a while, until it didn’t and I turned away into the night and my own despair and self-loathing. 

With any luck now I’ve hit this low I can rebuild. Within time I’ll be riding an upward curve. I have to. 

There are those that think I shouldn’t talk about these issues online, who say I am jeopardising professional work. But I function normally nearly all the time I’m working. It’s my private life that bears the brunt. So many people go through these issues and are shamed into silence, making the impact even worse. I want ownership of them. I shan’t be bullied into silence by my own being. 

I was wrong. I do have merit. I have friends that care for me. A life of value and worth living. And I will continue to do so.

The absence of intimacy in a post-abuse life

27 Jun
A Ghost of My Former Self. © Robert JE Simpson 2016

A Ghost of My Former Self.
© Robert JE Simpson 2016

People ask me how I am and I say I’m fine, but I’m not. Not really. Comparatively I’m in a better, happier place in my life, but the scars left from an abusive relationship run deep. And it seems hardly a day goes by without something reminding me of the trauma. And I’m angry about that.

You see it ruined my life.  Physically, mentally, permanently. Abuse took away my creativity, my ambition, my career, my confidence. I nearly lost my freedom and my sanity. And so today I sit alone, so distrustful of people that I seriously think I might never have another relationship again.

Today I am a solitary, celibate sort. Three years ago I made the decision to refrain from carnal congress and it remains that way today. I don’t think I’d even know what to do now, it’s been so long. Sex just isn’t important in my life. My last experiences were unpleasant, manipulative and traumatic. I was violated, coerced, abused. And eventually left a mental wreck.

I’ve lost what confidence I had. And while there have been flirtations, I’m incapable of being forward enough to form a physical bond it seems. I run away when the heat builds. I wonder what the catch is this time.

And that’s a shame. If I was one of my friends I’d be worried and sad for me that I had been robbed of the ability to form intimate connections.

And I guess that while I say sex doesn’t matter, I feel that absence. No girlfriend, no fuck buddy, no casual encounters, nothing.

I voice this messed up narrative and it compounds reasons why people wouldn’t want to deal with me. They don’t understand necessarily that I don’t spent time thinking about my abuser (though the simple fact is that she will remain in denial of the truth of her abusive behaviour til the day she dies), but I do spend time thinking about the abuse. I do worry I’ll put my trust in the wrong person again. I worry that I’ll become trapped again. I worry I will be violated once more. I’m sitting here writing with my stomach in knots, twisted with anxiety and frustration at the man I seem to have become – an incomplete person, a tattered shell of a human being. And the more I encounter people and fail to connect the worse those knots become, the more ingrained the damage.

Assembling material for a recent photographic exhibition inadvertently took me back to dark places. Each image unlocked a swathe of memories including those of times before and times after. I realise now I’d included material connected to my processes – ones taken on the day I decided I’d had enough, days I sported physical evidence of the ordeals, places I went to escape. A new anger grew.

An anger at the time wasted. At the opportunities thrown away. A PhD I had to put on hold because of ill-health, ill-health caused by daily abuse. Friends I lost because of a dozen reasons…. A promising business project that ended up miscarried rather than mature. Anger at the happiness I was promised and the torture I received.

As best as I try, my life has changed. I don’t exist in the same mental space any more. I’ve tried running away from and facing reminders and neither particularly helps. Since my therapy reached its end I’ve ended up stewing in my thoughts alone, not able to share much of it with another. Until it comes blurting out. On a date a few months ago some details came out in answer to a relevant question. Chatting about my creative work, and it starts to spill out because I realise it is inextricably linked to my life experiences. Decay and trauma have become recurrent themes across my photography, theatre and film projects.

But it is in my personal/intimate life that I hurt the most. I ended up feeling that sex was something I had to do when called – an obligation. It was linked with physical pain and mental anguish. I was confronted with questions about my sexuality – a push to view myself in a way I did not feel. I was made to feel guilty about past relationships and experiences – persuaded to distrust the genuine nature of those moments. And yet in turn I learned that my abuser was not to be trusted either. My abuser lied, but I am still left doubting everyone else I have ever encountered. I feel today that I have not felt genuine love or lust. Simply I have been a tool to be manipulated. It haunts my dreams still, my latent thoughts. Every time I take the plunge into online dating sites I feel there will be an inevitable manipulation and so its easier just not to bother.

I am empty and lonely inside. In pain. Upset. Fucked up.

Why did my abuser target me? What did she gain from it? Does she treat others the same way? If so why? If not, why not? Nobody deserves to live through what I lived through, no matter how hideous an individual they may be. I don’t think I’ll ever understand, I’ll never get an apology, I’ll never get justice. And without those I’ll probably never have complete closure – I’ll never be able to move on.

These are scars I carry with me. Scars that some cannot look beyond. Or scars that I think some cannot look beyond. My massive trust issues prevent me from even beginning to allow anyone to get close. Those that do are unlikely to become lovers, either because I wouldn’t let them or they simply aren’t interested. I’m too scared of letting someone in and being let go. I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The upshot of it all it seems, is that I am suffering from some form of PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At times manageable, at times not. It is like the abuse is continuing, even though I am far from the source. How can I explain this to friends and family let alone new people? Its internalised mostly. It’s worse the more its internalised. If I’m talking about it in person it means I’m trusting you – or trying to trust you. I’m probably testing you subconsciously. Because frankly, I don’t know to deal with this on my own.

 

 

 

Punctum II: Locale

18 Jan
image for my upcoming exhibition 'In Plain Sight'

Image for my upcoming exhibition ‘In Plain Sight’

In May I will present my first solo photography exhibition, ‘In Plain Sight’. While finalising the list of works which will be on display is still some way off, I’ve been dipping into my archive of images from the last decade, revisiting photos I haven’t looked at in years (and in some instances, ever). Naturally, not everything was conceived with any artistic view – photographers and artists are as likely to take candid snapshots for personal consumption as anyone else. But in doing so, I must take a journey back to when and where many of the images were taken. There are thematically linked works around death and hurt – some will be shared, some will not. But at times, even the most aesthetically pleasing and happy image has cause to wound me – for every image hides a story.

Three years ago, physically sick with stress, and trapped in a space with no heating and only my dog for company, I packed up the last of my things and formally walked out on everything that made me unhappy and began on the real and metaphorical road to recovery and healing. There are images created during the worst days of my life which are among those I am proud of – moments of inspiration, visual notes for projects not yet begun.

The memories stirred by images may hurt, but the images themselves cannot – they record what was, not what is, not what will be.

Just as meaning can be placed upon a two dimensional image, a representation of a past reality, so too then can meaning be placed upon three dimensional spaces – actual present embodiment of past reality. Unlike images, spaces live and combine visuals with audio and aromatic cues. The combination can be overwhelming, and a much surer way to put one back mentally into a previous life experience. Where trauma existed in those spaces, a revisitation can be catastrophic.

I believe in constantly creating new memories, new images, new associations. Life is organic, transitional, evolving.

Cycling through County Down today I found myself whizzing along a route that used to form my daily commute. A road which led to unhappy memories. And yet I found myself content in the quiet countryside, exhilarated with the exercise, surprisingly safe in the space. I allowed myself to recall the reasons I was attracted to moving out here in the first place, the days of solitude that brought temporary serenity to me.

Over the last decade I have turned some of my worst days into positive ones by saddling up and setting forth on two wheels by my own steam throughout the Northern Irish countryside. Often with my camera secure in my panniers. Rather than feelings of fear, oppression, I clicked with the joy of escapism, revitalised. Out of the lion of the past came forth honey.

And so I return to my images, my photos, and my memories, and with the confirmation of experience, I am not afraid.

A biographer or family historian of the future may see my (or your) photos, and make connections, assumptions, interpretations. Perhaps they see something there that means nothing to you, or perhaps they hit upon some thread that you bury in your subconscious. Why has the photographer returned to a scene of trauma? Is it because they are looking for answers, unfinished business perhaps? Or is it simply because the past is no longer poisoned, and a new book has begun?

Annadorn Dolmen - Jan 2016

Annadorn Dolmen – Jan 2016

Bruised but not beaten

14 Oct

One of my friends last night happened to post on Facebook about an ongoing harassment issue they’ve been having over a period of many years. They’e been continuously targeted online and the person dishing out the abuse appears to have suggested that they will stop targeting her if she agrees to stop mentioning her accounts of the abuse (both on her and others) – something which she has very sensibly not agreed to. For in agreeing to do so “that is trying to coerce me into silence”.

Its a not uncommon tactic for the bully/abuser to engage in – a variation of the ‘I’ll leave you alone if you keep my secret/give me your lunch-money’ mentality. It shames the target of the abuse into silence, which in turn allows the abuser to retain a semblance of control in the situation. Its also a way of allowing the abuser to never accept responsibility for their inappropriate actions. A carte blanche for the abuser which will only incense the abused.

In this instance, the harassment and abuse is well documented, and not just by my friend it seems – I’ve been able to read quite a bit about the campaign of abuse on various websites. Though no amount of public exposure seems to be able to stop this individual.

There are of course two sides to every story, and I have little doubt (my speculation here) that my friend’s abuser has crafted an alternative narrative in their own head, which puts on the blame onto their victim, switching roles and suggesting that they are only acting in retaliation for abuses perpetrated by my friend. I’m obviously a little biased, but when one starts to see the evidence with one’s own eyes a judgement isn’t that hard to make.

My own abuser harassed me, and inflicted various abuses of a physical, emotional/mental and sexual nature. I have an extensive chronicle of the abuse cycle, but I’m not in a position where I want to expose it publicly, name names, or detail the ins and outs. Seeing my friend’s comments yesterday brought much of my own processing to the surface again, and I continue to be left in a numb, frustrated state, angry at myself for allowing myself to become victim. Some of my abuse was played out in public, and some of you may even recall incidents that sat uneasy with you. For the most part, it was conducted in a private setting.

Unlike my friend’s abuser, I cannot say whether mine has targeted others, or to what extent if they have. I have no doubt that they will have friends who either wouldn’t believe what they are capable of, or wouldn’t see it as abusive behaviour. Unfortunately we are all prone to skewing in instances where our friends and family are concerned – because they are loved ones, we give them a pass we wouldn’t permit for others. Loyalty is one thing, but enabling someone to behave in a controlling and coercive manner is not acceptable.

While I may not have the strength right now to publicly document my abuse (and to be honest, I don’t think it would be that helpful to anyone for me to do so), I’m far from silent on the matter. That cycle has had an indelible impact on my life, and I’ve had various authorities and specialists dealing with it and helping me come to terms with what happened. Abuse nearly cost me my sanity, but once you learn to speak out you start to wrestle control of the situation from the abuser. Just don’t give in whatever you do – don’t be bullied into silence because that’s what they want.

Heal thyself…

28 Aug
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The false diary from 'Gone Girl'

I’m a firm believer in talking therapies.

When I was younger I used to bottle everything up. My fears, anxieties, hopes. I let each crushing disappointment eat me up slowly, thinking I’d be able to deal with it. It wasn’t until my below-par A-level results that I started opening up. I’d failed to achieve the expected results by a mile and suddenly the entire future looked very bleak indeed. I ran off with a friend for a couple of days to a quiet house in a neighbouring town, where I was able to open up without fear of judgement. Gradually I found myself talking more, and when I wasn’t talking I started writing stuff down in my occasional journal.

More recently I’ve been seeing a therapist and talking through the events of my life. It feels a little like a Woody Allen film, only without the glorious loft living or hefty bills. While I’ve been confiding in friends and the occasional anonymous internet forum for years, this has been a real weight lifted. I’ve been able to explore new areas, and pour out with a frankness that at times takes me by surprise. The questions my therapist asks have prompted new juxtapositions in thought processes which in turn shed new light on my perception of the world, and why certain things might have happened.

We’re covering a lot (and the sessions have reached right back into childhood), but at its core, the therapy is helping me to deal with a period of abuse. While the abuse is a long time in the past, the impact continues to be felt, and I am gradually coming to terms with the idea that I am not just a victim, but a survivor. And that wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the help provided by various organisations, the open ears, the general guidance.

I have also come to understand better why so many have come out decades after their abuse in the likes of the Operation Yewtree investigations. No matter how much you share privately, or with experts, as you come to terms with what happened there’s an overwhelming sense of injustice that your abuser may never acknowledge their acts let alone be admonished for them.  The guilt one feels as a victim is epic in scale and scope – and one feels guilt ultimately because abuse thrives on oppression and blame.

I still carry some residual confusion and guilt over a sexualised incident from my primary school days, which involved a number of pupils. I remember being brought in to talk to the headmaster, but not the outcome – only the gut-wrenching feeling that I’d been made to do something which was wrong, without understanding why. I’ve still to explore that incident in therapy,  but the same feelings surround some of the abuse I suffered as an adult, and now I’ve reached a point that I can comprehend that guilt  its time for me to revisit the earlier incident.

There will be family and friends reading who may be shocked by this, and there will be others who will dispute my narrative. But I refuse to be shamed into keeping the abuse completely concealed. I’ve suffered from depression and breakdowns in the past, and have learned that keeping up appearances only magnifies the self-loathing, shame and stress. 

If there’s any purpose to this post, beyond a public outing of my own private anguish, its to point out that abuse can happen to anyone irrespective of age, gender, social class or intelligence, and that the perpetrators can be just as diverse. There is help out there. Talk to friends and family, reach out to a GP. Internet forums can be useful ways to start your process. Women and children are particularly well served, but you may notice there is a tendency for advice to be given using a male abuser-female victim scenario – ignoring potentials of role reversal, or same-sex abusive situations. The psychological impact may take years (if ever) to diminish, but nobody has to suffer in silence.