Thursday, 20 October 2016

How to Talk About Abuse 💭

When I receive an application from a guest poster, I look at their blog. I try to gain a little bit about the person and then I look at what they want to write about to see if it fits in with my own idea for where I want my blog to go. Often, the person doesn't know what they want to write about so I offer suggestions about what I would want to hear from them.

When I recieved Jennifer Peacock-Smith's application, I went to her self-titled blog and was immediately intrigued by her opening statement:

"Writer, Blogger, Chronic Abuse Survivor & WIP (in all ways). This is the blog about all the pieces of my broken life, heart and soul. My journey of hope, loss, abuse and a TCK finding a Tribe and somewhere to belong."

I wanted to know more about her journey because I was interested in her story and because I'm nosey but with the response I got back from Jenn, I've learnt so much more about how to talk about abuse from a victim's perspective. The story doesn't just stop and as more and more time passes, the story will change and evolve but here Jenn shares her thoughts on how even though the story needs to be told, they are never simple.

Hannah asked me to talk about my story of chronic abuse and asked some questions which are so valid and vital to any story: what happened? how did you overcome it? how did you become strong again, to be the person that you are today?

I love that she asked me these questions, but the problem comes in the answers. They are so broad and overwhelming and painful and complicated… But all stories of any kind of abuse are stories that need to be told and none of them are simple. 

As human beings we like to see things in boxes. We like to see things through our own filters and we like the short versions. I get that, I truly do and most stories do have some level of a short version. “I got lost in the woods for 3 days and got frostbite and third degree sunburn” captures the basics of someone who was lost, suffered and was eventually found alive. But, it misses the tragedies along the way; the dehydration and the close calls, the unbearable cold in the night which caused frostbite or the searing heat of the day which caused blistering sunburn. 

Unlike stories of a single incident (acute traumas which are huge “one off” events), chronic traumas (smaller events but many of them occurring over a long period of time) are harder to explain. We all know what it feels like to be hungry, to be freezing cold and to get sunburn. To go through all this is something hard to fathom but most of us can imagine it and empathise with it. Missing a meal every day over a long time is a different kind of pain but I think that most of us can imagine that as well, ...and that the chronic nature of it would also have an impact.

On the surface, we can’t all relate to abuse however, or at least we don’t think that we can. We do know what it is like to have our feelings hurt, but often we are comforted and consoled by someone who cares for us. There is a combination of knowing what it “feels” like, but also not seeing it as abuse as such.

In this day and age of awareness, if a child went every year to a Sunday School camp, looked lost and frightened much of the time, but blossomed and looked happy as the days progressed and then at the end she refused to get on the bus to go home, alarm bells would go off. If year after year when it was time to leave camp, she curled up on her bunk bed and wouldn’t come out of the room, if she sobbed and cried and begged to not be sent home, someone would be asking some pretty big questions, especially if it was happening year after year.

But back then, when I was that little girl, they gave me a hug, told me that I have lovely parents, that I mustn’t be silly and popped me on the bus anyway. Part of the problem was that there weren’t alarm bells to go off, because if you had a roof over your head and happy parents who sent you on camps and put food on the table then what did you have to complain about? There was no alcoholism or divorce and everyone was fed and “healthy”. All the right boxes were ticked and so everything had to be perfectly fine.

The bigger part of the problem, I guess, is that I didn’t have the words even when I did get the chance to speak. Just like on that bunk bed when the wonderful lady came to console me and send me on my way. 

How does a child explain what loneliness and isolation and neglect of your heart and soul is? 

I didn’t even know any of those handful of words said right there, never mind their meaning. I am not broken and damaged because of a strong swift force that came along and turned my world upside down. Instead, I was broken and damaged by a constant set of waves, like being in the ocean too deep, where you never quite get to catch your breath before the next wave hits you. You spend your life gasping for air and surviving, without ever actually learning how to swim. My story is that of a long list of waves. From the outside looking relatively benign, but on the inside beating me up pretty badly. Emotional abuse is something that only as an adult I am able to put words to and my story is one that I am only now starting to tell for myself, before I am able to tell it to the world. But to the few who have read bits and pieces, they have all related to one way or another.

My journey to healing has been extremely long and hard, and I am not quite there yet, but I have learnt that in order to be heard, I need to tell the story as a whole. I am not there yet, and I am hoping to have it published when I do, but it is not just about sharing my story. It is about encouraging others to find and own and eventually tell theirs. My story is ultimately a redemption story, a survival story, and it is also one of the costs of survival. 

My journey has already been more costly than I could ever have imagined, but by the same token, everything that I have lost, I learnt that I never really had in the first place. We all have a deep desire to be needed, wanted and loved by our parents. I had to let go of that need in order to rise above the squashed broken person that they had made me into and in the process I lost my parents: they have disowned me. In many ways, it was one of the greatest costs of all in life, but as my psychologists keep reminding me, I never really had them in the first place.

I have learnt recently in therapy that there are two very distinct parts of me; the broken frightened damaged me and the strong independent determined me. These two parts have fought through my life to see who could win but without understand them, they both did in different ways and at different times. 

This is something that I didn't choose, I believe that it is just something that I was given; a determination and drive, a faith that is real, deep and strong and with one person or another by my side, cheering me on along some of the way. I have tackled this the same way that you eat an elephant; one bite at a time.

I love all her metaphors and similes!

Like Jenn says so many times, the story is a long and hard one and I'm so glad to see how far she has come. With that, like many sufferers, the story is not easy and it takes time to become okay with sharing. I hope that she is one day able to share it as a whole.

To read more and follow along with Jenn's story, go and read her blog on all things writing, including EDS (her condition) and chronic champions. Additionally, she loves her creative section and is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest too.