An Interview with an ‘Almost’ Survivor
I recently did an interview with some of the local press as part of the publicity for the Wall of Silence exhibition that came to Burnham-on-Sea.
It was difficult to talk about it but thought I might share some of the conversation with you.
First of all, if you could tell me a bit about what you went through
When I was about 13 I was sexually abused by a ‘family member’. Subsequent to the abuse there was a need for that person to control me, to make sure that I didn’t talk about what had happened. Tis was basically done by emotional control / threats. I remember for example being told, “Do as you are told or THEY will come and take you away”
The result of this was that I almost totally suppressed the memories, denied them even to my self.
The result was, naturally, that this had a major impact on my emotional development and ability to form and manage relationships for example.
There is a quote that sums it up well, I think
“Many remain fixed at that child level of emotional development, as though the trauma put a stop on time. Adult information and knowledge are added as they grow up, but the underlying guilt, fear and inadequacy remain and govern much of their decision-making. The governing power of these feelings is seen in the compulsion to sabotage such happiness as comes their way. Relationships are strained to breaking-point by constant demands for proof of love (which can never be believed), by chronic jealousy (which cannot be comforted), by endless emotional tests (programmed for failure) and by sexual dysfunction (since pleasure is not allowed to the guilty).”
― from “Rescuing the Inner Child: Therapy for Adults Sexually Abused as Children (Human Horizons)”
Not to minimise the trauma of the abuse its self I sometimes think the subsequent emotional control and abuse that was used to keep me from speaking out was as bad and did just as much damage.
How difficult has it been for you to speak out about your experiences?
There are many problems with disclosing childhood abuse, and these will no doubt be different for everybody but there are some constants I think. When an adult think about talking about what happened there are the questions that leap into his or her mind.
- Will I be believed?
- Will people think it was my fault, remember this is something people who have been abused often believe about themselves.
- Will people think I am a bad person? Again, this is a self-belief held by many abused persons
- There is a shame and guilt in the minds of the abused person that makes it difficult to talk about the subject
- Where, as in my case, the abuse happened in a family context there is the addition concern about how will the rest of the family react? Will I lose that contact if I speak out?
- And for me there is the perceived belief in the generally population that if a teenage boy is abused by a Woman then he must have wanted it really.
So making that decision to disclose, to talk about it is a massive step that many find they simply can not take. Some will disclose anonymously, on internet support forums for example but many take the secret to the rave with them.
How much more difficult do you think it has been because you are in Somerset?
I think that living in Somerset, and not in one of the larger cities, is a major issue. There is little enough provision for adult survivors of abuse as it is but in the more rural areas that provision vanishes.
The NHS is cash strapped and where abuse services are funded they, quite naturally, tend to be for children.
When I disclosed to my GP, all he could offer was antidepressants and to refer me to talking therapies. They are only funded, in Somerset at least, as a 9-5 service. Which isn’t much use as I work full time! And telling your boss that you need time off for therapy because of childhood abuse isn’t an easy conversation to have, certainly one I haven’t managed to have.
What provision is available is in the voluntary sector, and again generally based around the need of children, such as ChildLine. I was only able to find one organisation dealing with adults who have been abused as children in the southwest, that being the Southmead project based in Bristol, again difficult if you live in Somerset. In my last conversation with them they had 37 people on their waiting list!
What, if any, help have you received/ what channels did you go down to try and get more help?
At the moment the only help I have received is the anti depressants from my GP. I am still waiting on upto 4 telephone sessions with talking therapies, nowhere near enough and not specifically tailored to survivors of abuse but more general how to cope with emotions and self harm.
After my GP, I have searched the internet, web sites for organisations such as NAPAC but with little success of finding help in the locality.
I am currently working on my own through a couple of books, one on dealing with anxiety, Generalised Anxiety disorder is a common result of childhood abuse and something I suffer from as well. And another on specifically looking at the impact of childhood abuse and its impact on adults, that is the book I quoted from above.
There are online support groups, and the members who are themselves survivors of abuse are incredibly supportive, but obviously, there is only limited help they can give. But the internet generally is not a great place to get support, it is ofcourse unregulated and you not every site is helpful and positive.
Do you think people often are unaware that experiences like you have been through stay with you for life?
There is, quite rightly, a big focus on child abuse and the impact it has on children. But I think what a lot of people forget is that these children grow up to become adults. And that many children do not disclose until they are adults. You just have to look the numbers coming forward to the IICSA enquiry to see that.
I have only told a few people of what happened to me, and on at least one occasion I was ‘advised’ that it was a long time ago, I should have got over it.
Because it is a hidden thing, both the abuse as well as the impact not being physical and therefor visible people simply do not understand the long term impact it has.
There has been a welcome understanding that solders who suffer from trauma for example, can suffer long term impacts to their physical and mental health this has yet to filter through to the public’s understanding of childhood abuse
What prompted you to bring the exhibition to Burnham/how did it all come about?
When I was looking into what help might be available I was directed to the Southmead project. Naturally I went to their web site and saw the details of the wall of silence, I was just hit by what it said, what it was about. It hit home in a very personal way, it said to me that I wasn’t alone,
I might not know the people who’s stories were on the wall, though I have spoken to one since, but the simple knowledge that others had gone through similar experiences to me, suffered similar consequences and had the same struggles was in a way liberating.
It enabled me to begin to see that what happened wasn’t my fault, that it wasn’t something I did and that there was hope of working through it.
I don’t say recovery because I don’t believe there is any way to recover from such things, it changes you forever. But knowing that there were others out there did show me that there was a way to heal and begin to make a life.
But it also brought home the fact there was, there must be, many others like me. Adults still unable to disclose, thinking themselves alone and that nobody would understand what they feel.
Stats from the Office of national statistics suggest that up to 15% of people have suffered sexual abuse as a child. SO if any individual wasn’t abused they almost certainly know somebody who was. How many of then speak out?
I knew I had to do what I could to bring the exhibition to Somerset, to make it available to those people, and to the people that know them, that work with them and even to those that love them.
And finally, have you got any plans for the future to raise more awareness or money for charities who support people through child sexual abuse?
Not at the moment.
After this I feel I need some time to work on my own recovery, my own health. There is a phenomena called ‘triggering’ where an event will trigger memories of past traumatic events. This can ‘trigger’ depression, self harm or other mental health problems. So working to bring this exhibition to Burnham has been something of a difficult, but worthwhile, path for me. So my immediate plan is to work with myself to bring myself back to some sort of equilibrium.
But in the future I believe there is a need to provide a safe space where adults in Somerset who were abused as children can talk and share with each other, It is something I would benefit from myself. I don’t think i am the person to make it happen, I don’t think I have that sort of strength, but its a project I would definitely support.