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This is where I occasionally write a piece about the healing process that I began back in 2000. You can provide anonymous feedback (which I'd find very motivating) by clicking one of the numbers under each post, rating it on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (awesome). You can also feed the fish by clicking on the water.

If you're looking for specific information on the Child Sexual Abuse issue, please scroll down to the bottom of this page and click one of the links of The Askios Projects. If you don't know which link you need, start with Askios 2010 which has information about all the projects.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Magic mirrors.

Today I looked into a young woman's eyes. They were puffy, red and  heavy-lidded from tears that had poured out, and alcohol that had poured in. Looking at her was like looking into a magic mirror, and it left me feeling sad, angry, scared, guilty, envious, relieved, proud, embarrassed - all at once.

I looked into this mirror and I saw myself as I once was:  a wonderfully funny and bright young woman, bleeding her pain all over the floor and trying to staunch the wound with alcohol. Not entirely oblivious to her pain, but desperately trying to obliterate what she can see of it.

It made me sad because I know first-hand the kind of pain that brings her to this. Sad because her jokes weren't funny enough to hide her despair and embarrassment. Because every forced smile of hers seemed more like a scream to me. It made me sad to remember that I have been there.

It made me angry that I could not tell her that this place she is in is not the end. Angry at the circumstances that brought her to this place. Angry that she could not and would not listen. Angry at myself for not having the words that might save her, for not being able to rescue her.

It made me scared to think of her going back out into the world on her own like that, mind fogged, heart vulnerable and body uncoordinated. It made me scared to remember the dangers I've faced in that condition, and only barely escaped, and it scares me more when I think that there are no guarantees that she will escape too.

It made me guilty to think that if she got hurt, I would blame myself for not doing enough, for not staying by her side till she sobered up. It made me guilty even though I knew that I had to let her go, and let her go through what she had to, before I could meet her on the other side.

It made me envious that she still had access to that wonderful lying liquid that promises to make us comfortably numb. That she was still free to do that - go out and drink herself into oblivion - something I no longer can do:  even after 12 years of sobriety, whenever life's pains get too much for me, the first thing I want is a drink.

It made me relieved that I've reached a point where I can take note of that craving and see it as a warning beacon from my inner self telling me to step back, rest, heal, take care of myself. It made me proud that I am free to do that - to know that I can easily go out and drink myself into oblivion, but to choose not to.

It made me embarrassed to realise that just as I see her pain clearly now, my friends, my colleagues, my family, my neighbours must have all seen my pain ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. It made me embarrassed to wonder what thoughts went through their heads. Did they judge me? Did they understand my pain as I understand hers? Or did they just shrug, stick labels on me, and carry on? I now know that some of them stayed with me through my pain, perhaps without understanding but also without judging,  even though it did not seem that way at the time. I wonder how soon she will recognise those few in the sea of people she calls friends. It took me years.

All these things I saw when I looked into her eyes, but I don't know what she saw when she looked into mine. Alcohol cracks the magic of a mirror, and I'm guessing that what she saw, if she looked, was distorted.

I wish I could swoosh her along with me to a magic mirror, stand there with her and tell her, not just to look - any old mirror will do for looking - but to see, to really see.

"See, this is me, as I once was." But also, "See, this is you, as you will be one day. We are broken but brilliant. We are wounded, but we are still warriors. We are nowhere near where we want to be, but also we are nowhere near where we once were. We sometimes think we are still victims, but actually we are survivors. We sometimes think we are just surviving, but actually we are transcending and living far greater lives than we give ourselves credit for. We are beautiful. We are worthy of love, and we will receive it. We are some of the most amazing people on this planet."

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

You are.

You are.

You are.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Saving the world.

Mother Teresa did it, why can't I?

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only abuse survivor who thinks this way. We can do it, and do it so well. One of the reasons we're more sensitive to other people's pain is that we recognise it. We know how much life can hurt, and it hurts us again when we think of others having to experience such feelings .. feelings of pain, fear, loneliness, abandonment, confusion, loss, grief .. and unlike the college ragger* who feels justified in teasing his juniors simply because he was teased by his seniors, the majority of us abuse survivors will not go on to abuse another generation.

We're out to save the world, and that is a lovely thing on the face of it. The problem is that as abuse survivors, we're usually out to save every single person in the world, save one. Ourselves.

Here's a terrible secret:  we're not Mother Teresa. We're not founts of unconditional love. We're not even noble martyrs.  Apart from our sensitivity to the pain of others, we have a hidden agenda. We want to be loved. We want to feel worthwhile. We want the world to know that we're not the bad, useless pieces of trash that we secretly suspect we are. We want to reassure ourselves that maybe we aren't.

This is such a deep secret that it's a secret even from ourselves. 

In spite of our hidden-even-from-ourselves agenda, we will get a lot done. We will save some lives. We will change some attitudes. We will bring some hope. But we will do all this at the cost of ourselves. It's wonderful, all that we have done, and will do, for the world. But alongside our messages of peace or justice or compassion, there's another. It doesn't negate the fine work we do. But people learn by example. What we do, not just what we say. If I treat myself like dirt, while serving the world, the world will, of course, lap it up. But the world will also learn from us that self-compassion doesn't matter. And it does. I have it on good authority that it does. Jesus didn't say, "Love thy neighbour". He said, "Love thy neighbour as thyself."

If you're not an abuse survivor, you may wonder why I consider this such a big deal. Actually, even if you ARE an abuse survivor, you're likely to wonder the same thing. It's because we survivors are so good at hurting ourselves, because it's almost second nature. We learned long ago that there was something wrong with us. We understood when we were children, that our problems were ours alone, and not worthy of attention or sympathy. Do we really want today's child victims of abuse growing up thinking the same thing?

Mother Teresa did not have leprosy. And if she had, she would have treated herself with the same dignity, care and compassion that she treated every leper she met. She wouldn't have let her own wounds grow septic, or look at herself in the mirror with scorn and disgust, ignore the medicines on her dresser, then head out to tend to others in the same condition.

I think it's something to remember the next time I'm tempted to bend over backwards for someone, IF IT MEANS that I will be harming myself.  Because I now know enough about being a survivor to know that this is just what I will do. I need to set boundaries - limits to what I can and cannot do. I need to learn how to say "no". I need to start telling the difference between truly helping or just enabling. I need to start exploring why it is that I can treat myself with a degree of disrespect and cruelty that I would never dream of imposing upon others.

I need to do all this because my childhood was raped and my life has been affected by that more deeply than I'd like to admit. But now that I know the hows and whys of those effects, it's my responsibility to see that I don't hurt myself any more than I have been.

This doesn't mean being "selfish". It means being loving towards myself, just as I am to others. It means that I value and respect all life, all of God's creations. Including me. I may want to save the world, and I certainly will continue to try and do so. But as a survivor, I have a tendency to give more than I should. Blood donors don't drain their bodies of every drop. They give what they can afford to. They give and it hurts, but it does not harm. And their blood will only help someone else, if they themselves are healthy.

All of this boils down to two things:

1. I matter. My life and my happiness and my health matter. If I can't treat myself with love, then whatever it is I am giving the world, it's not true love, and I'm nowhere near Mother Teresa.

2. Even if I can't yet bring myself to accept that "I matter", I need to understand that no matter how much "blood" I "donate", it's polluted. So whether it's my blood, sweat or tears, I need it to be pure and healthy, untainted by my distorted thinking about myself.

Moral of the story:  Because I'm a survivor, I need to take extra care, more than others would, of caring for myself. We can save the world, and perhaps we will, but we mustn't leave ourselves out in the process.

* ragging is the term used in India. I believe it's called hazing in the USA.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

I see your knots.

Because your knots look like knots. Obviously! There they are, right in front of my eyes and I'm thinking why on earth does this woman not realise she is tied up in knots that only she can undo?? And, by a strange coincidence, this obliviously-yet-obviously-knotted woman is looking at me and thinking the exact same thing.

I see her knots. She sees mine. But neither of us can see our own, even though the knots are very, very similar.

That's often how it is with survivors. It's so easy to see where a friend is wounded, or how she's sabotaging her health and happiness. Why is it that we can't see it in ourselves?

I think it's because we've grown up with our knots. They started so long ago, and one led to another, and finally we're so used to them, we think that's how it's supposed to be. We don't see the chaotic mess that's grown and tangled itself around us, we see a pattern - the pattern of our lives - and we think that's just how it is. The way we are.

And yet along comes someone with a very similar tangle of knots and we see it straight away for what it is. You could say we RECOGNISE it.

recognise, verb: to know again:  to identify as known or experienced before:  to see the truth of:  to acknowledge the status of.

I need to become more aware of this. I need to realise that every time I see the unseen in someone else, it's because I'm recognising something, that it looks familiar because it IS. I need to understand that it's not some deep psychic gift or psychological intuition .. it's just a reflection of the Me I've been refusing to look at.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Teachers' pets.

They taught us well, those first teachers. Our worst teachers. 
We may have forgotten their lessons, but we still follow their rules:  
Sit! Shh! Down! Obey! Roll over! Play dead!

Sit = Stay there, don't move. Don't dare run away.
(We tend to do the same thing with danger, today.)

Shh = Not a whimper, no screams. Don't say a word.
(We still know it's useless to try and be heard).

Down = Under your skirt, under my face. Don't talk with your mouth full.
(We still know our place.)

Obey = Do what I want, do what I say.
(We think it's our choice now, the games that we play.)

Roll over - and over and over again. Don't look for a way out.
(We now lock our own cells and hand out the key.)

Play dead = it's not just your body but your life in my hands.
(Every day we perform, make believe we're alive.)

We "grow up", we "forget", we "get on with life", we "put it behind us". But years after the abuse, we still face life and respond to it in the same way we did as children. The abusers are alive and well and living inside our heads. Knowing this will not make them vacate the premises. But it's a starting point.

Friday, 4 November 2011

And neither were we.

"You are not a bad person. You are a very good person who bad things have happened to."

Sirius Black says this to Harry (his godson), in the film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I've watched the film more times than I count. Every time it  gets to this scene, I start to cry.

Some of the tears are for me. And some are for all the other survivors out there, both friends and strangers, people that I KNOW believe themselves to be bad people, because of their childhood.

Not because they were abused.

But perhaps because they did not scream or struggle enough.
Perhaps because they kept the secret.
Perhaps because they thought it was their own fault.
Perhaps because they could not bring themselves to put the blame on anyone other than themselves.
Perhaps because they got physically aroused by the abuse.
Perhaps because in spite of everything, they still loved and depended on their abuser.
Perhaps because they went on to act out the abuse done to them, on others.
Perhaps because their grades dropped at school and they lost interest in hobbies.
Perhaps because they ate and ate and got fat, or binged and vomited and got thin.
Perhaps because they, never being taught that they have a right to say "No", were easily used by others who saw the potential for further abuse.
Perhaps because they never got to learn what real love is, and so they confuse sex with intimacy.
Perhaps because they turned to alcohol or drugs to find some comfort and escape.
Perhaps because they were told that anger is a bad thing, and still believe that the suppressed rage that wells up every now and then proves how awful they are.
Perhaps because they still feel dirty.
Perhaps because they still feel dirty.
And yes, I meant to say that twice.

Perhaps because there is no magic godfather to tell them this truth, that none of their reasons are valid, and that they are simply good people who bad things happened to.

Perhaps because they haven't learned the truth yet, they haven't yet learned to cry all the tears of grief, anger and betrayal that are stored up inside. But I've been learning the last ten years and though I don't yet have all the answers, I have this truth now, together with new understanding, new strengths and new hope. I have tears to spare, and share, until you find your own.