This blog reflects on an issue we are sure many survivors will relate to, the challenge of learning to love yourself. Thank you to the survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, for writing this blog, sharing their journey and for contributing something back to RSVP through fundraising for us. We are very grateful and hope you feel proud of how many positive changes you’ve made in order to reach a place where you know what a strong, capable and resilient survivor you are.
I think everyone struggles to like themselves at some point in their lives. Unfortunately for me, and so many other survivors, liking myself always seemed an impossible task. After six years of sexual abuse at the hands of a person I thought loved me, I even struggled to want to be in my own body, let alone like it.
My journey to recovery started when I chose to tell a friend of my abuse. I was 12. My friend didn’t think much of it, and maybe I didn’t either. I look back and realise that neither of us understood it. By 15, my abuse had become idle gossip amongst the other children at school. Whispers in the corridor, messages posted online, texts to my phone, things shouted at me across the playground… Only they weren’t gossiping in belief; I was branded a liar and an attention seeker. My nightmare had only just begun when I was called into the Head’s office and told that he would be informing social services and my parents. My parents… it was the thing I’d always dreaded the most. What would they think? What would they say? Watching them be told, along with my big sister, was truly heart-breaking. It is a memory that is etched on my brain as the start of a downward spiral in my life.
I’m not ashamed to admit, I was in a dark place. I stopped eating, grasping at the one thing I felt I had control over whilst my life appeared to be unravelling around me. I truanted from school, unable to bear the gossip and the bullies. I isolated myself from my family, barely able to take the guilt I felt from the pain they were in. Years passed by; I was stuck in a haze of my own misery, self pity and guilt, hurting myself because I always felt it was my fault.
It was my sister who pushed me to go to counselling. She made the call. She set it up. And I can honestly say it changed my life. Driving there by myself, walking into the room and speaking to someone about my abuse is the bravest thing I have ever done and a defining moment in my life. I finally started to like myself a little. The pride I felt when leaving my first counselling session has carried me, enabled me to pursue my career and to finally raise some money for a charity like RSVP and give something back to people like me.
I wake up everyday and remind myself that I am strong, I am capable and I am a survivor. It’s okay to put yourself first, it’s okay to look after yourself and it is most definitely okay to LOVE yourself. Every day, I read a new story and every day I am reminded that it wasn’t my fault. I have witnessed the incredible, unshakable strength of survivors and I intend to continue my journey to loving myself because of that.
Our thanks go to Cas who sent us her blog to share. She wants to see if anyone feels the same as her and show that if they do that they’re not alone.
The anxiety, it’s there squeezing at my lungs. What is there to be anxious of? Life. That’s what I fear. It’s a battle every day to feel even half functional; to think, to move, to do, to be. It’s just one long journey that I face every day. The waking in the morning, with a heavy head, heart and body, and wishing it was easier. Every day, much of the same.
I see what I do, what I can achieve. I help people worse off than me, I support organisations with quality, and I help save people’s lives. I do so much good in this world, but it’s all too hard, too much energy. I wish to stop it all, the anxiety of achieving all of this lays heavy on my chest. Though if I were to stop, the illnesses of the mind and body will win. I will shrivel and curl and hurt and hide. And despite knowing this, I crave it all.
I crave nothing, normal, no pain, no anxiety, and no trauma. I wish for it all to be gone, not happening to me or within me. It’s all too much. The constant thinking and planning, its hard work. Trying to eat right, sleep right, work right, do relationships right, plan right, move right, do right, be right. That nagging that sits in my brain makes the easiest of decisions the hardest to make. Thank god for coffee and not needing to know if I need it or not – I do. Simple.
I watch all of these people, they seem to know. They get this life thing. My mind tells me that they must have some struggles in life – life can’t be that perfect, but how do they do it? They just seem to be on this playing field of life and running free against the storms. How do they do this? Is there a knack to this life thing that no one has told me about?
That said, how many people have said similar about me; how confident I am, that I know what I’m doing. It’s all a lie I tell you, I don’t know. No one’s told me the secret. All I know is that I fake it through this veil of fear and anxiety. No one can tell, but it’s all fake. It’s not me. It’s all lies.
Though if I’m lying to the world, is the world lying to me too?
This is the second part of a powerful letter written by Bibi, a survivor. You can read the first part here
We come into this world helpless and we survive despite the efforts (or lack thereof) of Grown Ups. We learn very early on that no one knows what they are doing. That we are alone in the world. We learn that people hurt each other and that there are a hundred different ways that we are unacceptable or unlovable, which means life or death for small squidgy humans. Our brains react quickly to this threat to survival by trying to be acceptable to everyone. We are constantly alert and focused on possible situations where we will come up short, or worse, attacked or hurt. We come face to face with our limitations before we get a chance to explore what we can do. Everyone around us needs something. We are always at someone’s beck and call. The Grown Ups are abusers, neglecters or just not able to care for us. Sometimes they are all of these things. We are stressed and we are overwhelmed but there is no one to turn to. We are knackered. But we don’t know it, because there hasn’t really been anything else to compare it to. We have lost our identities and our Selves, before we even formed them. Our bodies experience pain from a young age, on a regular basis. We might have relationships or children eventually, but there’s a part of us that’s always alone. Alone like being 4 years old, standing on a rock in an asteroid belt in a galaxy far from the earth.
If we are lucky, we find support, or resources and we break free, slowly, extremely painfully and with many false starts. Many will not and this is a much under-estimated tragedy.
We replay in our minds and re-enact in our lives the traumas and stresses of our childhood. We find ourselves dragged back into the same situations we want so much to leave behind. Until we collapse like a star into a black hole. Maybe more than once. But each time we come back a little brighter, a little more resilient and a little more “us”. Our tendency to shine is as strong as our tendency to collapse – but we don’t know it. When we find ourselves around the right people, it starts to become clear that because we fall apart into so many pieces, there are more opportunities to shape ourselves in different ways, so long as we have the right support.
It’s scary. We are like children, new born and vulnerable. Everything seems new, and at the same time has strange, sharp strings that attach to our past lives. We are finding out who we are and pushing our boundaries and those of others. Sometimes too far, sometimes too little. We learn that we have this helpless squidgy thing inside of us that needs our protection and care and we are scared. We have not seen what care looks so we try many ways to rid ourselves of our vulnerable parts, or lock it away but it will not go and at some point we realise it is us.
We have to be our own Grown Up. It’s not fair, having to bring yourself up and it’s extremely hard work – but we are wiser than most, because we are at once, both older and younger than our physical years. We are still so much the child we were but we are also adult enough to use our intellect and knowledge. And it is never too late. Our brains are like putty. Really dried up, rigid putty, that you can slowly carve new grooves in by just going along the same track, over and over.
With our adult outsides we can go places and have experiences that real children could not. The earth and all its life-forms have treasures that can stir our latent creativity and playfulness which may have been frozen years ago. We can learn and discover and we can slowly find our place, where we can thrive. We can choose how to grow up, stop doing things out of habit, or because it’s expected. We can get to know our inner squidgy helpless thing better and better and choose to give it everything it needs. We build our Selves. And though we may face more sadness and difficulties, and our bodies may give up, we do not regret.
Because whatever we do, we have given it all we have got. We have faced demons that many could not imagine and we have fought battles many would never understand. We have created ourselves from a thousand shattered fragments and we have seen the other side of a black hole. We are survivors.
This powerful and moving letter is written by Bibi, a survivor.
A letter to anyone who has gone through life backwards,
Yes you read that right. No I am not talking about time travel. I am talking about the order of life “lessons” you learn.
We come into this world a soft squidgy completely helpless being. We have to win people over with our lovely smell, smile, gurgle, squidginess, burps or we will die. To not be liked as this overgrown embryo, is life or death. Without someone who loves us, who would protect our squishiness, or feed our bodies, or train our brains for life we wouldn’t survive. Love is survival. No less than food or water. So it’s hardwired in our brains. We need to be loved and accepted or else…..death.
For some of us, as we get older, things get progressively more complicated. We start out with Grown Ups Who Know Things and as we get older we slowly learn that Grown Ups aren’t magic. They don’t always have answers, sometimes they have wrong answers, and that no one really knows what they are doing (to some extent). You realise you ARE the Grown Ups and it’s scary. Maybe you have a mid-life crisis. If you have chosen to create mini humans in your laboratory of love, or if you have a job where you hold people’s lives in your hands, then this feeling is probably most likely magnified. It descends upon you as your first little wriggly squidgy thing appears in your arms and you can see that its very life relies completely and utterly on your ability to be a Grown Up. You were not long ago completely helpless and now you are in charge of a completely helpless squidgy thing? You aren’t ready. You are stressed and freaked out. You feel overwhelmed. You are at the beck and call of beings that need so much. All of the time. And you are knackered, Never have you been so knackered. Your brain is fried. And you feel like you are losing your identity – your Self.
But maybe you go to therapy or find new friends and learn to rediscover your Self. As you get older, your body starts giving up on you, it complains all the time. You lose friends, you lose family. You might need to start caring for your Grown Ups, who suddenly seem so small and fragile and helpless and squidgy. You might go through traumas, divorces, moving house, illness, redundancy, bereavement. Life is hard. You wish you could just be a carefree child running in a field of daisies again, your biggest problem being that your ice lolly is the wrong shade of yellow. But it also has a lot of good stuff, thought you may have your regrets.
We are all human and we all feel pain and loss but some people experience these things in reverse. They could be rich beyond your wildest dreams, or poorer than your worst nightmares. They might be fat or thin, loud or quiet. There’s no class of person that is immune, but if you grew up in poverty there is more likelihood of being a part of this group.
This group of people are forced to live life backwards, because of adversity in childhood. In life, stress is helpful. Hardship builds character. But toxic chronic stress as children means we lose our childhoods, our identities before they are formed and many years of our lives.
To be continued…
Hi, I’m Chris and I am a survivor.
I wanted to share my experience of watching the TV series “13 Reasons Why.”
You may be asking “why are you sharing this?” Well, for those that haven’t seen it yet and are thinking about watching it, I just wanted to give a little insight and health warning; as a survivor I found that watching this series was harrowing. I also suffer with depression and anxiety and have come back from a dark place, and within this series there are some very graphic scenes which could easily cause upset and trigger painful thoughts and feelings that you might feel overwhelmed by. I had these thoughts and feelings, however due to the support that I have had from RSVP and from family and close friends, I have the awareness and tools to understand what I was thinking and feeling and be able to process them.
For those who have seen it, you might know what I’m talking about. When life is trying to throw its worst at you, sometimes it can be hard and you feel alone, and dark thoughts and feelings can take over. This series tries to deal with topics such as suicide, bullying, drug use, self-harm and cutting, sexual violence and also includes scenes of rape. Although this is a TV series, it is realistic in parts, and can be very thought provoking, I know it made me think of my dark times.
To help you and other survivors, I’ve collated “13 Reasons Why Not To” in the hope that if you watch the series and find things tough, or dark thoughts start setting in, you can read my words so you don’t lose hope and give up.
1. It really is ok not to be ok; dark times, despair and crying are not signs of weakness.
2. You might not know where to find it yet, but there is still hope.
3. There are people who believe in you and will listen and care.
4. Even if you don’t realise it yet, you have the strength to move beyond this temporary despair and pain.
5. Don’t be ashamed to talk to someone who will listen, your friends or family, a neighbour, a counsellor or the RSVP helpline.
6. Things will begin to get better, light always follows darkness.
7. You deserve much more than ending your life this way, you are precious and have a lot to give the world.
8. Hurting yourself, will also hurt the ones that love and care for you.
9. Nowhere in the world is there anyone else like you; the world needs you, so embrace your uniqueness.
10. A permanent solution is not a good fix for a temporary issue.
11. The way you feel right now will probably not be the same in a day, month or year, you never know how you might feel in another moment.
12. Write down your thoughts, they will look different on paper.
13. Last but not least, to be able to experience life in its fullness, even if things are not good right now, will give you the chance for things to be different and positive in the future; you just don’t know what could happen.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If “13 Reasons Why” has already affected you, please talk to someone, especially if you have experienced any of the topics within this series, there are people that will listen, believe and support you. Chris.
Here is the second story from Ann, a survivor and client at RSVP. You can read Ann’s first story ‘The Inspiration To Have a Life’ here.
My grandson said these 3 little words to me such a long time ago. It got me thinking of all the years I have locked away my feelings.
So much anger, pain trapped inside, causing so much suffering towards myself. That horrible feeling of being worthless, useless and no good to anyone let alone yourself. Just a waste of space, a waste of air.
Thoughts of having to do good for everyone else, just to be accepted as a human being. Not able to accept praise, the feeling of not being worthy of any. I always felt like the one in the wrong having to take all the blame for other people who had done bad things to me.
So much shame, dirt, ill feelings, ugliness and hate only I could feel for so long. The feeling of being alone even in a crowded room, just there to serve others needs.
Never The Same.
Never feel the same, wanting to belong somewhere no-one can ever feel the same as anyone else. Maybe they can see the pain in another person’s eyes, not truly feel their pain. The feeling of wanting to belong, to feel SAFE!
From a very young child feeling the pain of lies and suffering, of shame and hurt. Growing up too quick, hoping no-one else ever feels like I do. Wanting to speak out but afraid of being called a liar, told you would be locked away or beaten for telling. I was locked away for not going to school, I was hit by my eldest brother so I was afraid that something even worse could happen. I so wanted to DIE.
Feelings I wanted to share, someone to believe me and try to understand, how this little girl suffered from the age of 3 years old, for so many years feeling like there was no end to her pain.
But she was wrong she found RSVP.
Expressing traumatic experiences of sexual violence and sexual abuse through words can be difficult. It can be hard to find the words, to say them and to contain the feelings that talking can bring.
In this post Beth expresses herself through a picture she has created to explain what abuse can feel like. We know it’s a courageous step for Beth to allow us to share her painting as part of the 2017 Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
Many people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence don’t feel ready to talk to anyone in their life. However they find drawing, painting, writing, photography and music some of the many varied ways to express and share things in a way that is meaningful to and manageable for them. We are certain that Beth’s creation will also be meaningful to others too and be one of the different ways that we can help to raise awareness and understanding, after all a picture can often say far more than words.
Thank you Beth.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse which I was subjected to for 26 years. After telling no one about my trauma I had suffered I decided one day enough was enough and since that day I have never looked back. I would not lie and say every day is a bed of roses, it’s not but with the enormous help and support I have had and still get I cope by taking every day as it comes, some are better than others but that is life.
My case never went to court but I was proud at what I had achieved knowing that although my abuser was not in prison the authorities were aware of him. My experience encouraged me to give talks to police detectives letting them know what it was like from a survivor’s point of view. This was very rewarding the feedback was good and I did this for 18 months, only stopping due to cutbacks.
The Rape & Sexual Violence Project are outstanding they have helped not only with counselling but supporting me via their ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advocates.) I have first-hand experience of the ISVA service as unfortunately I had to attend hospital for major gynaecology surgery. I would not have gone through with it without their support attending clinic appointments with me and coming to the hospital on the day of my operations. This made a huge difference to me. The service is without doubt 5 star and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
All survivors must remember people do care and I am hoping to restart my talks with other police forces up and down the country, thus improving things for other survivors that come forward. If I can give help and support to someone wanting to come forward, then I know I have given a little bit back from the help and support I received.
Spirit of strength
At RSVP we salute the strength, courage and resilience of the people that we support. This inspiring and beautiful poem written by Zoe celebrates these qualities and describes her journey to re-discover her voice and use its power to speak out for justice.
You took my dance and you took my song
You took so much while I was so young
You stole my smile and you stole my laugh
The girl I was, you tore her apart
With your cruel words and your violent deeds
Your only thought – to fulfill your needs
You took my trust and you took my care
You made me wish that I wasn’t there
Made me believe for so many years
That what you did was what I deserved
The words I’d carved deep into my skin,
They spoke the truth of who lay within
These words, I now see of who they speak
Of those so cold, disgusting and weak
You’re many faces and many names
But underneath you’re all the same
Cowards and bullies, men with no souls
To hurt and shame – your pathetic goals!
But with all the things you took away
You failed to see what it was you gave
My strength of spirit is thanks to you
My courage and resilience too
And now I can speak of what you’ve done
To you, I will make sure justice comes!
Picture credit – Strength by Colleen McMahon used under a Creative Commons licence.
This powerful story comes from Lily, one of RSVP’s inspiring clients.
Surviving solely… struggling for my children. Many years passed before I reported the incident when someone, who I had confided in, asked me if my wellbeing would be better if I reported the incident or not. I had stopped considering my wellbeing.
Reporting the incident to the police was very difficult for me as I no longer trusted people and did not want to be labelled any more. I was frightened by their suggestion that I contact RSVP, although eventually I did pluck up the courage to do so. I was extremely relieved – they were really caring about helping me manage my anxiety, and with their support, I realised how exhausted and overwhelmed I was with being silent. With the help of RSVP and the police I have now been heard.
Failure of Services
Passing information about attacks to service providers for almost 20 years, I had been ignored – rather, I was seen as a dysfunctional woman, passed from service to service and allowed to fall through the net. Was this really the easier alternative for each and every one of those service providers with whom I came into contact? I still question this. This attitude by society further contributed to my silence and gave platform to the perpetrator’s abuse.
Silence is not always a Matter of Choice
With a couple of incidents already dismissed by me as ‘out of character’, the most serious incident occurred one night, several years later. As I lay asleep in bed, with the children in their rooms next door and their doors open, I was woken being raped by my husband. I leapt out of bed and, conscious of the children, quietly ‘screamed’ at him asking him what he was doing. I rushed into the bathroom. I felt filthy, and the sensations experienced were not those that I wished to have. I haven’t been able to get clean since, and don’t talk about this as it would almost feed the story I want to forget. He left the bed, swearing, angry at being discovered and stormed downstairs.
Aside from making one phone call the next day to someone who should have known better how to respond to distress from close family, but didn’t, the next day was, and still is a blur. It wasn’t for many years that I was told that I’d made another call to friends, who on arriving saw the distress of my children and me. I have no memory of this.
Living a Lie
My silence was driven by shock and fear. I felt locked in, claustrophobic, with flashbacks characterising my life. Nevertheless, it was important that my children had their life without knowing the depths to which their father would stoop. This was so, so hard.
I survived by presenting him as a perfect person, and in many ways he was: good-looking, extremely talented, very charming, yet he had nothing positive to say about me, ever. He drank his way through all day, every day, from the first day I met him, I never considered that this shaped his behaviour, but it did.
My head was in a constant turmoil following this incident. I did not know how to handle this turn of events. I made excuses to myself about his behaviour. I felt powerless, panicky, dirty and embarrassed, but desperately wanted the children’s father to be the person I thought I knew he was – the face he presented to others. My levels of anxiety and panic just grew and grew with his mounting unpredictable behaviour.
I struggled increasingly to respond to peace, with the result that I was seeking out situations where I would be uncomfortable just because they were more familiar to me. Peace although my preference, was now out of my comfort zone and caused a sense of panic – I am naturally a very shy person and work best with familiarity. Gradually, my personality was changing from one where I always saw the best in people, to one where I was initially suspicious and distrusting. Adopting a tough exterior, I struggled inside to cope with many situations, and failed to explain this to others. This was written off as my ‘being difficult’. I tried hard not to let my children see this, but I can see now that it must have become apparent.
Whilst I have always survived, there are several important parts that contribute to my recovery, and which have enabled me to start to feel free. Perhaps the most important are being able to voice my experiences, being listened to and believed, and with support given to help me make informed choices about what I want to do for me.
As I try to build a new life, I feel stronger and more energetic as I am confident about my truest friends and family. Being able to trust myself has been a critical part of my personality to build on for myself, and I use this to reflect on how I am when someone shares even one tiny part of their trauma with me – I feel humbled that they have been able to do this. I feel honoured that they consider me worthy of hearing their story, and I use this as a spark to ignite my fire where my soul can sing again by supporting others to voice their experiences.
It can never be acceptable to ignore the voice of someone who reports rape and violence. Our society has to change, and organisations such as RSVP and ourselves, the survivors, we are the positive power force, who are critical in raising awareness and driving change. Our voices need to be heard. RSVP played, and continues to play, such an important part in my life.
My life should not be just about survival. I have survived for years, and survival is a shape shifter, taking many forms. Life is more – it is about being able to feel free, being able to dance, to sing and to feel. It is about being able to be me.