Tearing Myself Apart

I’m so tired.  I’m so tired of having to tear myself apart again and again just to be able to qualify for things that I (at least used to) believe I deserve.  I just want a break, more than anything, I just want someone, somewhere to give me a break and not to require that I tear myself apart to get it.

This has mostly been prompted by Student Finance, but the PIP stuff definitely plays a role here.  Both require me to go into far too much detail, painful detail, about my past to deem me eligible or worthy or deserving.

Now, it’s not that I expect to be handed something for nothing, but I wish the systems just had a little more breathing room sometimes.  I really, truly believe(d) that I deserve a second chance at university.  I had so much working against me the first time around (abusive relationship, trafficking, homelessness, mental health stuff, massive amounts of debt from financial abuse and working several part time jobs just to name a few) and I really just want and need a break.

Student Finance doesn’t work like that, though.  I get given a slight break in the fact that not completing my third year last time around works in my favour and assuming my ‘Compelling Personal Reasons’ are accepted, then it’ll go through giving me two years of tuition fee funding including the free year that I have (because all students get four years).  But the fact that I went through hell and forced myself to finish my second year counts against me.  It doesn’t matter that I struggled, it doesn’t matter that I was dealing with significantly more shit than the average student, none of it matters because I scraped through and finished the year.

I know, this is sounding seriously ‘woe is me’.  But like, objectively, I did go through more shit than most and it was a constant battle to even just stay alive, never mind complete my first attempt at uni.

I just want a second chance, and there is a vague hope of that, I can appeal the decision that I know Student Finance will make and hope that they grant me ‘Compelling Personal Reasons’ for both my second and my third years considering my circumstances.

But to do that, to reach that point, I need to tear myself apart again.

They’re not gonna accept a casual letter saying it was hard, they’re not gonna accept a brief letter saying it was hard from an old support worker or my therapist.  They want details.  They want me to go so in depth that they can’t possibly deny that I had shit going on.

And it hurts.  Imagine having to go over and over and over and over the worst day of your life, to complete strangers.  It leaves you feeling so incredibly vulnerable and exposed; especially when copious amounts of shame are bundled in there too, which it always is when trauma is involved, no matter how logically you know the shame is ‘theirs’ and not yours.

It really does feel like you’re tearing yourself apart, over and over again, just so you can put yourself back together.  What kinda system requires that you have to destroy yourself and keep going backwards just so you can go forwards?

It’s so soul-destroying and re-traumatising.  I don’t want to have to keep going over the details of my trafficking and abusive relationships and experiences of homelessness and whatever fucking else they wanna drag out of me.  At least, not when I don’t specifically choose to.  Writing this blog is different, therapy is different, I’m choosing to expose myself, make myself vulnerable but when I have to fill out forms and go into so much detail that I don’t want to share is just… it’s not my choice, I don’t want to have to keep doing this over and over again.

I’ve been working so hard to get myself out of these shitty systems.  To be well enough to work, to be well enough to not need benefits any more.  But to even vaguely get out of this system I have to make myself worse again and again just to qualify for help, a second chance, a break, just to be deemed worthy and deserving.

If the appeal doesn’t go through, I’m out of options.  Student Finance will only pay tuition for my second and third years which means I need to somehow find £9250 to be able to even start.  Because exited women living off of disability benefits just have £9250 lying around?

Like I said, I don’t expect to be handed something for nothing (though I am vehemently against tuition fees, universities making a massive profit and the fucking Tories screwing everything up even more), but a bit of compassion would be so welcome right now.  I’ve had some good, sympathetic Student Finance advisers over the phone, but they can’t change the rules and the rules as they are say that I can’t start uni. without coughing up £9250.  My best hope is the appeal process where they can break their own rules, but then, we’re back to me tearing myself apart and putting myself through hell, making myself feel so vulnerable and exposed.

I’ve spent my entire life feeling vulnerable and exposed, not even just feeling it, I was always just so vulnerable and exposed.  Feeling that is never comfortable, but feeling it again, after spending your entire life feeling like that is just so triggering.  Flashbacks can be triggered by emotions just as much as they can be triggered by physical objects or experiences.  Feeling something that you felt in the midst of trauma again just takes you back to that point of trauma and in my case in seems especially so when you’re forced into that position by someone or something else and it’s not just a natural or accidental thing.

I don’t know what I even want to happen here; I know that they can’t just hand me the money, I know that it requires me proving that I deserve a second chance.  I just wish it wasn’t all so cruel.  I wish this wasn’t going to be a consistent fact of my life.  I hope that once I’m off the benefits and once I’ve secured myself tuition fee loans that I won’t have to do this any more, I can’t imagine any other system or part of my life where it’ll be required that I go into so much detail about my rapes and abusive relationships and trafficking, but I’m just so scared this is going to be a constant.  I’m so tired and I just can’t keep tearing myself apart like this.

Being told over and over that I don’t deserve help, don’t deserve support, don’t deserve a measly fucking break is just so painful.  I spent basically my whole life being told that I’ll amount to nothing more than a ‘whore’ and being basically told the same thing again and again just ends up being so painful.  And when you reach that level of pain, it’s hard not to think that maybe they were just all right.

I think, more than anything, I just hate how much of an impact they’ve had on my life.  I hate knowing that none of them will ever have to tear themselves apart like this.  The biggest reason university was so hard for me the first time around was Dom.  Trying to survive an abusive relationship (particularly one in which you are also being trafficked) is almost impossible as it is, trying to do it and also focus enough and find the time and energy to write essays is even more impossible.

And maybe this is just all my fault, maybe I should never have even attempted uni. the first time around.  But it was the only escape I had, it was the only chance I had.  I had no real work history at that point (thanks trafficking) and I was destined to either do menial work and barely survive, especially considering all the mental health conditions I was fighting – and struggling even more than I did considering Dom liked to nick every penny I earned.  Going to university and getting a qualification was my only route out of the general working class trap of menial work and the addition of abusive, thieving dickbags.  It was also my only escape from him most of the time; he wanted me in the house consistently, he didn’t work and didn’t like the idea of me working (barring ‘working’ of course), at the age of 19 he was already an adept benefits scrounger (he claimed he was a carer despite never going anywhere near his step-dad) so was home all the time himself and had no qualms about potentially dragging me down with him; my only way to be out of the house, away from him, the only way I could negotiate it was uni.  I don’t know why he let that slide, but he did.  Maybe it was the ‘free’ money.

But, anyway, he’s not gonna have to deal with any of this shite.  He’s never gonna have to beg, expose himself, make himself vulnerable, tear himself apart again and again.  He’s never gonna be in the position I am now.  He’s never going to suffer from what he did.  And I am, again and again, it’s gonna come back and fuck with my life somehow; whether that’s flashbacks, a bad credit score because he fucked me over so many times, fucking up my chances at uni., a crash in my mental health, health problems from old injuries, my ability to even fucking vote safely etc. etc.  The life-long consequences of domestic abuse are never ending, but only for me/us, never for him/them.  Even if I was to report him to the police and assuming the police and the CPS actually take my case seriously (haha!), he’ll face what?  A few measly years in prison at most?  Not exactly a life-time of consequences.

I just hate it.  I hate that I have to keep tearing myself apart and I hate knowing they don’t have to do any of this shit.  I hate knowing that my life was left in pieces and that it’s my responsibility and my responsibility alone to try and put it together.  I hate knowing that I’m always going to be the one facing the consequences, big or small.  I hate knowing that they’re living the good life out there somewhere, high and dry and little to no consequences ever coming their way.

RS.

Five Years Free

It’s been five years.  I don’t even know how to quite process that.  Five years.

For the first time, I’m not anxious, not really.  Usually, in the weeks running up to this date, I’m so hyper-aware of it, I find my anxiety is building more and more as it gets closer and the flashbacks get worse and worse.  But I have to say, this year, I’m just not really feeling it so much.  I’m aware it’s there and, as I said last year, there’s really traumatic memories involved, but I’m just not feeling the same sense of panic and emptiness and fear that I’ve felt in previous years around this date.

I guess, maybe, it’s because I’m doing better?

I know I’ve had a rough patch, the DWP will always throw me into a rough patch and I’ve really been suffering the past few weeks, but overall, I have been doing a little better.  Or, at least, I’ve been able to process a lot of trauma and do a lot of that whole ‘healing’ thing and as a result, I’ve been able to get a lot of things straighter and clearer in my mind.

I’ve found my voice, as a result, has gotten so much clearer too.  My voice doesn’t shake quite as much, my hands don’t hesitate when I’m typing quite as frequently when it comes to saying words like trafficking, rape, domestic abuse, incest.  I’m not hesitating, I’m not doubting myself.  For years, even if on some very logical, objective level I’ve known the words were real and relevant and applied to me, I’ve doubted myself so much.  I’ve always had that moment where a pit of guilt in my stomach bubbles over.  How dare I use those words?  How dare I say such horrible things about my family and people who (supposedly) cared for me?  How dare I take words away from real survivors?  I have no right to use these words.  It’s taken me such a long time to believe them, to really believe them.  To fully understand their weight and how they apply to me.

I guess, I’m finally starting to reach a point where I can truly put the blame and the shame and the guilt where it belongs.  I’m finally starting to reach a point where I can see that I was a victim.  That they victimised a child, a traumatised young woman.  That they did these things to me.  That I’m not the one that made them happen; either through my own actions or ‘bad’ behaviour or through some weird twist of fate that deemed me nothing more than a ‘whore’ and deserving of everything that happened to me.

I’m not there completely, not yet, I still have those moments of doubt, those moments where the guilt bubbles up inside me.  But I am getting there and I really have moved so far in the last few years.

I think, in all honesty, one of the most important things I’ve done in the past five years is focus on me.  Which is odd, considering how much of a class based theorist I am.  You’d think I’d’ve done more than this blog to try and reach out, do more for women like me.  But I couldn’t and it was right that I didn’t.  For a start, I crashed in a seriously spectacular way five years ago today and even if I wanted to do more for others I just couldn’t.  Immediately after exiting I was a mess (as I discussed a little in this post).

I was in such a severe dissociated state that I barely remember anything of those weeks, months.  I remember that I spent the first night just sitting in my friend’s flat.  Just staring, barely even blinking, at the wall.  I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep.  All I could think about was how much I wished I was dead.  That was a recurring theme for those months, really.  I was basically just an empty shell and I wished for nothing more than death.  Weirdly, I never actually tried to kill myself at that point in my life.  Which is odd considering how much I wanted it.  I’d like to say that there was some innate survival instinct in me that recognised the magnitude of exiting, the freedom and the potential life that came with that.  But to be honest, I was probably just so empty and running so much on auto-pilot that I barely had the strength to even just kill myself.

The one thing I remember more than anything was just how alone I felt.  I wasn’t alone, not really.  People who really truly cared about me had helped me escape, they’d saved my life.  I played a role, of course, I had to want to leave, I had to want to accept their help, but without them I simply wouldn’t be here now.  But, I still just felt so alone.  I had ‘support workers’, but I didn’t feel like I had friends any more.  I was hiding out in a hotel for the three weeks immediately after escaping and I just felt so alone.  I had a few friends come and visit me there, though they were distant friends, old friends.  Friends who had no real clue about what was happening to me, why I was really in that hotel.  I may have let a few details slip, but they didn’t really know.  My closest friends, the friends I considered to be my ‘family’, they were absent.

I understand, actually.  Dealing with trauma is never easy, even if it’s someone else’s and they were all young.  I mean, we were all in our early-mid 20’s and while they were all experienced workers, none of them had ever really dealt with anything like me.  I understand why they kept their distance, why they didn’t know what to say, how to talk to me.  I understand why my old ‘support worker’ had to take me to them, why they never came to me.  I don’t really blame them, I don’t know if I would have wanted to be around me either.  But, understanding doesn’t stop just how much it hurt.  I felt so abandoned.  They were a big reason why I escaped in the first place.

Before them, I’d never really had real friends.  I’d never had anyone that really cared about me or had taken the time to try and understand me and my life.  And while some of them were older friends and had been around for a long time and while it is possible I had people that cared about me before that point, well, frankly, I’d never felt the same.  Not because I didn’t care about them, not really, but because I couldn’t let myself.  I couldn’t let myself care about anyone or anything else and I couldn’t let anyone care about me.  I’ve had so many people tell me that they care about me, that they love me, but that always resulted in my getting hurt.  So I stopped letting people in.  Until them.  Until that group of friends showed me so much love and care.

It gave me a taste.  It gave me a taste of freedom.  It gave me a taste of love.  It gave me a taste of mattering.  It gave me a taste of things I had never, ever had.  And it was them I had in mind when I finally made the decision to leave.  I didn’t want to be alone and closed off and hurt any more.  I wanted friends, a family, I wanted to be cared for and able to care for others.  I wanted a ‘normal’ life.

But then they backed off and I was alone and heart broken and hurting so much.  To have one of the biggest reasons you exited in the first place taken away from you so soon after actually exiting.  It really fucking hurts.  And it became my biggest reason to go back.  What was the point in escaping to a life of loneliness and emptiness and hurt?  I had that where I was and I also didn’t have incredibly violent people searching for me.  What was the point in trying?

I understand their reaction and distance, but it really did hurt.

Where was I going with this?  Oh yeah, the hotel and the months after.  The sum up is that I was a complete fucking mess for a really long time and even if I wanted to do more, do whatever I could to help and support other women like me, I simply couldn’t at the time and I wouldn’t have been able to for most of the last five years.

And the simple truth is, it’s good that I didn’t.

Now, I have so much fucking admiration for the exited women that throw themselves right out there.  Who have devoted their lives to helping and supporting other women to exit, to campaigning, to setting up safe houses, to setting up amazing organisations.  I just have so much respect for them and I’m so in awe of their courage and their strength.  But it’s not something I could have done straight away and it’s not something I should have done straight away.  And I have to say, that part of me does worry about some of these amazing women, I see how much they hurt and they struggle and it sometimes makes me so sad that they never had the chance to heal.

I’m not saying I did it better, I’m not saying I did it the right way, I’m not saying that these women are stupid (like I’d ever say that?) for putting their work before their own healing and recovery.  I’m saying that it definitely wasn’t the right thing for me and I’m saying that I do have some concern for my sisters who I see struggling now.

I’m not stupid, I know that not everyone was as lucky as me.  I know that not everyone has the chance of exiting and getting good therapy, with an experienced trauma therapist (or somehow, magically, even a therapist with a lot of experience in working with prostituted women) straight away.  I was very lucky in that regards.

Really lucky, actually.  Lucky because it has given me the chance to really try and process and heal from some of that trauma.  So many women have processed and healed from their work, but I just couldn’t do that.  I wasn’t strong enough to do that.  And now, now that I’m five years from exiting, I’m glad that I didn’t.  Therapy and healing and processing trauma has made me so much stronger and more determined than I was five years ago.  I know that as and when I’m ready to go into that kind of work, (Which seems almost certain to me, if not trafficking and prostitution directly then at least some support work around other women who have experienced trauma.) I’ll be in a much more stable and capable place than I’ve ever been before, I know that I’ll be able to do that work and do it to the best of my ability.

I’ve done similar work before and each and every time I’ve just ended up burning out and quitting/leaving because I’ve just not been able to take it, especially not with the weight of my own ongoing trauma.  Looking after myself first and foremost has put me in a position where I know I can spend the rest of my life doing what I can for other women.  My future plans belong to another post, though.

It’s been an incredibly long journey and I’m nowhere near done yet.  In reality, I’ve only had a handful of EMDR sessions (again, the detail for this belongs in another post) but already they’ve made such a fundamental difference to my life and I know that with more sessions and more of a focus on processing and dealing with trauma will make such a difference to my life and put me on track for that future.

I’m in such a better place than I was five years ago and not only because five years and one day ago I was still being trafficked by my family and having the crap beaten out of me by my ex.  I’m in such a better place, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  And for the first time in my life, I actually believe that not only is this gonna stay the case, but I’m gonna end up in a even better place.

RS.