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.

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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.

I Just Want a Little Peace

My last post was full of a bunch of rambling about just how hard healing from trauma is and how it’s a prolonged, time-consuming process.  The whole point of my writing that post was in order to write this one, because some of the things happening in my life recently have left me panicking about just how much time I’m allowed to heal for.

More than anything, right now, I just want to be left in peace, I just want to be given the time and the safety and the security to be able to heal, to be able to process my trauma and get myself to that ‘better’ place.  As I said about 1000 times over in my last post, it takes time to do that, time that I desperately need.

And time that I am facing threats to now.

For the past five years, I have been claiming and living on disability benefits as a result of my mental and physical health conditions that are a direct result of the trauma I experienced and that are made so much worse when actively engaging with and dealing with said trauma.

One of the disability benefits I am claiming, Disability Living Allowance, expires at the end of this May and as a result, I have to put in a claim for the new disability benefits, Personal Independence Payment (which encourages anything but Personal Independence).  This might not seem like a big deal, but with the Tories and the DWP, it actually really is.  The chances of being able to successfully claim PIP for mental health conditions is incredibly low and if you are somehow successful, you have to go through hell to get there.

I have a face to face assessment on Wednesday, actually at the exact moment that I’ve set this post to go up.  This is where a vaguely qualified medical professional gets to decide if you’re a lying scrounger or legitimately disabled – with a catch, nobody is legitimately disabled and it is actually their job to get as many people off of benefits as possible.  These assessments are cruel, malicious, calculated.  Every single aspect is designed to catch you out, trip you up, trap you, prove you’re a liar.  Even just going to the assessment means that you’re clearly capable of coping with change and that you are able to go outside and travel – another catch, if you don’t go you lose your benefits anyway and qualifying for a home assessment is again nearly impossible; my agoraphobia definitely doesn’t count as a legitimate excuse for not being able to go outside despite it literally being in the name.

I know, I know, you think I’m paranoid and being dramatic and just crazy (not crazy enough for benefits, though) except that I’m just not.  It’s been well documented, despite the Tories best efforts to hide it, just how fucked up this system is.  People in comas being declared fit for work.  People with serious and well-evidenced medical conditions being called liars.  Hell, just look at the fact that something like 60% of decisions are overturned at Tribunal.  I’ve been advised, a few times, by well meaning and caring people, to just tick their boxes and be honest, but that isn’t enough.  It’s impossible to tick boxes when the assessors outright lie, misinterpret information and who’s aim it is to not tick the boxes under any circumstances.  This isn’t a system where you can actually win, no matter how well you know how to play the game, it’s just not possible to win.

I’m shit scared.  I really truly fucking am.

You see, the thing is, this system works under two assumptions.  You’re either the most fucked up and broken you’ve ever been, legitimately disabled and completely unable to work (by their standards even if not realistic standards) or you’re 100% well and completely capable of working 40+ hours a week.  There’s no mid-point.  The thing is, my therapy is starting to work, I’m slowly starting to get better, even if the good days are still incredibly outnumbered by the bad days.  But there is improvement.  I’ve been able to trust enough to start a relationship.  I’ve been able to drag myself outside more often, even alone.  I’ve been able to more consistently attend therapy, though I have still missed a lot of sessions.  I’ve been able to work seriously hard on my eating disorder, eat more often and allow myself to gain weight without completely losing my shit.  I’ve not been self-harming as frequently.  I’ve not been considering just topping myself as frequently.  I’m getting better at being able to communicate and make eye contact and I’m actually starting to value myself more than I ever have.

But all of that’s a big fucking no-no to the DWP.  You see, you’re not allowed to get better.  You’re allowed to be ill, you’re allowed to be well, but you’re not actually allowed to move from one point to the other.  Because if you do, you’re instantly not disabled any more.  Because if you do, then you’re clearly well enough to go back to work right now.  It doesn’t matter that you’re only marginally better from the absolute worst point in your life, the fact is you’re better and therefore undeserving.

The thing is, right now, I’m not capable of working.  I still spend most days stuck in flashbacks, completely unable to ground myself.  I still spend most days completely dissociated and completely unable to explain what I was doing for the last few hours.  I still self-harm, though not as frequently.  I’m still unable to find the motivation to cook, clean, bathe, do much of anything.  I’m still a fucking mess, basically.  There’s been improvement, sure, but that improvement hasn’t led to permanent changes, it’s lead to a tiny increase in my abilities on select days.  And I know what you’re going to say, it’s not like I haven’t heard it 1000 times before.  ‘Surely doing something and being distracted will help.’  No, fuck off, it doesn’t.  I’ve tried the whole distraction thing, I’ve tried burying myself so much in work that I can’t think of anything else.  But trauma eats you from the inside out, you try doing that and you’ll end up topping yourself within a year.

I’m not ready, I know I’m not ready.  And for the first time in my life I’m listening to myself and my needs.  I’m aware of myself, I’m aware of where I’m at and I know I’m not ready to work a 40 hour week.  I’m not even ready to get myself out of the house on a daily basis.  I doubt I’m even ready to do, I dunno, 3 hours of volunteering a week.

The thing is, and this is a thing that the DWP have a complete fucking inability to even understand, I’d be able to reach the point where I can work a 40 hour week if they just fucking leave me alone.

Being on benefits is like having an axe constantly looming over your fucking neck.  It’s not just when you reach deadlines they’ll harass you (and trust me, it definitely feels like harassment), at any point they can decide to reassess you, to put you through the hell of that again and again and again and again.  For the last five years, I’ve been terrified that they’ll turn on me at any moment.  I’m scared of the post.  Scared of seeing one of those fucking envelopes.  Every single time the postie comes I’m terrified that today is the day that the DWP have decided to ruin my life, to cut off all my income and leave me with nothing.

The slightest indiscretion, perceived or otherwise, can be used against you.  The entire system is so malicious.  I’m not allowed to get better, only be better.  So all the work I’ve been doing to try and heal from my trauma actually counts against me.  If they were to leave me alone, I’d actually meet their fucking goals of not needing benefits, but they won’t leave me alone.

Each time I get one of those letters, I end up crashing, once again.  Worse than anything else really makes me crash any more.  The constant threat to your income, your security, your freedom is just way too much to take – especially when you’ve never had security or freedom before.  Since I got my letter for the face to face assessment, I haven’t been able to sleep, to eat, to do anything.  I’ve been sleeping, or attempting to sleep more specifically, for more than twelve hours; spending most of that time lying awake, panicking, being filled with suicidal thoughts, feeling vulnerable and exposed which inevitably leads to my brain oh so kindly reminding me of all the other times I’ve felt vulnerable and exposed (read:  flashbacks).  I’ve been so depressed that I’ve become an even more useless piece of shit than I usually am; I can’t remember the last time I cleaned anything, including myself, I can’t remember the last time that I was able to cook or take care of myself or enjoy something or well, anything.  I’m a mess.  And it’s the DWP who pushed me back by 10000000 steps.  Great tactic for an organisation that ultimately wants people off of benefits.

I was doing so well, I was getting better, I was looking towards the future.  I was working so hard in therapy, working so hard to move forwards with my life.  Considering going back to uni, if not this year then at least next year.  Really working towards not being stuck here, not being on benefits for the rest of my life, not constantly drowning in trauma.  And they took it all away.  They’ve pushed me back so far that I can barely see myself getting through the next few hours, never mind having an actual future.

The face-to-face assessment itself is terrifying me too, and not just because of the potential consequences it’ll have on my life and stability.  Last time I had one of these assessments, I was put through hell.  From what I’ve heard from others who’ve been through this process, I had a rogue assessor, but hell, have you seen what my fucking luck looks like?  The chances of me having another rogue assessor are so fucking high that I just outright refuse to let my guard down and believe last time was an anomaly and the same won’t possibly happen again.

The guy I saw (and this was after specifically requesting both a home visit because of agoraphobia and a female assessor) was utterly disgusting.  He spent the entire time repeatedly pushing me to say what caused my PTSD, I initially tried pointing to the letter that was on his desk which I knew already said so much more than I was comfortable with, but he continued to push and push and push until I just desperately looked at my friend and old support worker to help me.  She tried to say what was in the letter and he cut her off, insisted I had to speak despite the fact that I was clearly traumatised, distressed, having a panic attack and couldn’t stop crying.  He said that if I didn’t speak to him then the assessment was over there and then because I wasn’t co-operating, I knew if that happened I’d lose everything so I forced myself to do it despite the sheer level of distress I was in.  This then, of course, lost me points because that obviously meant that I was able to ‘communicate clearly’.  He made me say over and over and over what it was that caused my PTSD, kept making me go into more and more detail, each rape, all the details for each and every single rape.  It was like the sick freak was getting off on it, getting off on hearing the details, getting off on making me say it over and over despite how distressed I was – probably because of how distressed I was because men are fucking creeps.  He barely asked me how my disabilities affect my daily life, didn’t ask any of the standard questions, didn’t do the assessment as he was supposed to and I ended up not initially qualifying for benefits because of it.

I was such a mess for so long afterwards; I was so dissociated, I basically don’t even remember the weeks following.  I just know that he pushed me so far that I ended up in one of the lowest points in my life and was very seriously considering suicide as a result.

I don’t know what this assessment is gonna be like.  I might be lucky, for like the first time in my fucking life, and get a kind, understanding assessor but even that won’t help me if the ultimate aim is to declare me fit for work and not disabled.  I know that even without a rogue assessor these things are not designed to be sensitive and gentle; so many people are torn apart by this process day after day and today it’s my turn, again.

It’s not even like I’m just expecting or wanting to be handed this stuff, I just want to be left in peace.  If they could just accept my life is my life, especially because they’ve put me through this hell so many times before, especially because each time they’ve ultimately decided that I cannot cope or look after myself or work or function on a day to day basis, then I’d be fine.

Each time they put me through a re-assessment, each time I get one of those letters, each time they threaten my income and my security and my freedom I end up so much worse.  I end up taking so many steps backwards.  I end up moving further and further and further away from the point where I won’t need to do this any more.  I just want some peace, some time; healing takes time and that’s really all I ask.  I just want them to leave me alone for long enough to actually get ‘better’, to actually finally reach the point where I can be the one that turns around and tell them to ‘fuck off’.

RS.

This Shit is Hard

Healing from trauma, regardless as to what that trauma is, is hard.  It’s not even easy to put into words just how hard this work is.  It requires so much strength and energy and time.  I’ve been trying to ‘heal’ on and off for years; all my earlier attempts were completely unsuccessful, trying to heal from trauma while that trauma is still ongoing is nearly impossible, especially if your mind has successfully dissociated to the point where you can’t even remember all aspects of your trauma, even trauma that is still happening or the fact that it’s still happening.  This time around, I’ve been working on this whole healing thing for about five years, since I exited/escaped.  And as a result, these last five years have been complete and utter crap.

Trauma itself has such a massive effect on the mind and mental health; the brain works in such a way where it will do anything and everything to keep you alive, the thing it values almost the most is your own survival.  Our brains, however, aren’t especially good at their job.  They can and will fuck you up in the name of your own survival.  And well, it worked, for me, but it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t incredibly fucked up and still am.

Basically, that’s what flashbacks and trauma related memories and pain and suffering is.  Your brain is trying to give you a wake up call, trying to tell you that something is and was wrong and that ultimately you need to deal with it or everything is gonna be fucking terrible forever.  A lot of people try and silence this, distance themselves from it, either through dissociation, drugs, alcohol, convincing themselves they love it and it’s a choice, self-harm, eating disorders etc. etc. etc. they try and funnel this pain into something else or just try and numb it out altogether.

I’m no professional, this is just my best understanding after everything my therapist has taught me over the years.  Basically, the brain gives you flashbacks so you can process the trauma because unprocessed trauma will try and eat you alive.  The brain gives you flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma so you can realise, on some level, just how much of a mess your life is and how unsafe people in your life are and how you need to try and get away from those people.

That’s what happened to me, slowly, in stages, but it’s what happened.  When I was fourteen, I started getting flashbacks.  I was still in a really fucked up point of my life, still being raped and abused on a regular basis by both my mum and my step-dad (despite them being separated at that point, though that’s definitely another post) and I was still being trafficked.  Dissociation is a wonderful and weird thing, though.  At this point in my life, I only really knew a few things consciously, clearly and consistently.  I knew I was depressed, I knew I was having regular panic attacks, I knew I was self-harming, I knew I wasn’t eating, I knew I was drinking (and probably too much), I knew that I was always high and always needed to be high, I knew I was engaging in a lot of dangerous things (again, that’s another post), but what I didn’t know was why.  I had no memory of the things that had happened to me and my dissociative disorder was so severe that I equally had no recollection of what was still happening to me.  It was like, the me at school, the me during the day, was a completely different me than the one who went home and got sold to several men.  One me couldn’t really, properly remember the other me and her experiences.

As I said, I got my first flashback when I was 14, a memory of what I now know to be the first time that my step-dad raped me, when I was 8.  From there, I started to get more and more flashbacks about him and also about my maternal grandfather/my father.  I still had no conscious recollection of the fact that my mum was also raping and abusing me and selling me.  However, I did have flashbacks and memories that made it clear that my mum knew what my step-dad was doing to me and by the age of 16, after a few suicide attempts, some serious self-harm, numerous interventions by mental health services which were sooooo useful (if anyone has any experience of CAMHS you’ll know what I mean) and some seriously bad mental health, full on crisis days, I decided I couldn’t deal with any of it any more.  I couldn’t deal with knowing that my mum would let someone do that to me.  I couldn’t deal with the increased numbers of arguments with my mum, all the yelling, all the times she hit me, burnt me.  I couldn’t deal with being treated like a slave all the time (if only I knew back then the extent of that), doing all the housework, doing everything in that house.  I’d had enough and on my 16th birthday, dead on at midnight, I packed a few things into my school bag (mostly school books because I apparently still valued my education?!), called my dad to pick me up and went to my grandma’s house.

I got there and after long argued conversations over the phone with my mum, which included her telling them about my step-dad, with a typical my mum spin, namely that I’m a giant whore and I fucked her boyfriend, I finally got told that my grandma would think about me staying and both her and my dad kicked me out, past midnight, on to the streets and told to come back after school the next day.

The flashbacks built up to the point where I was able to realise enough and process enough of my trauma to try and make myself safe.  It didn’t work, not completely.  I had limited contact with my mum in the following years, but I was still being trafficked and hurt by her and her boyfriend, especially as he lived just round the corner from my grandma.  While my brain put me through hell with the flashbacks, it was also trying to ensure my own survival.

It did the same five years ago.  In the months prior to my eventually escaping and exiting, my mental health went to shit.  I was getting constant flashbacks and this time not just limited to Paul and the things he did to me (memories of which eventually included some aspects of trafficking).  I basically got the full play-by-play of my entire life.  I eventually reached the point where my mum had been and still was trafficking me, I could remember client after client after client, I could remember my mum raping me and abusing me and hurting me, I started to make connections between the way my family and clients treated me and what my now ex was doing to me at that time.  Despite putting me through absolute hell and crashing my mental health to a point where it had never been before, I was learning the lessons my brain was trying to teach me.  I wasn’t safe.  I wasn’t safe with my now ex.  I wasn’t safe with my family.  My life was in danger and it always had been.

This massive crash eventually made me make a decision.  I had to leave, I had to escape.  I had to cut off almost everyone and everything I’d ever known to keep myself safe.  I had to not only make myself safe but I had to process the trauma and the memories and the pain or it’d kill me just as surely as they would.

I did leave, five years ago next week.  And it was because of the flashbacks, it was because of what my own brain was doing to me that I did.

My brain screwed me over, though.  It might have saved my life, but it’s now left me in a place where I cannot deny my own trauma.  Where I can only dissociate myself from those memories to a certain extent.  Where I know that I have to deal with or die from it.

I still get flashbacks, I still have dissociation, I still get severe anxiety and depression, I still can’t go outside without getting so panicky, feeling that everyone around me is either going to hurt me or has already hurt me.

This post has gone so off course.  How do I always end up rambling so much?

I’ve been working on healing and processing trauma for the last five years, very seriously during very intense therapy.  And it’s not easy.  I’ve spent the past five years feeling like I’m fighting for my life, even if I’m not actually physically fighting for my life any more.  Trauma work is so draining and so painful.  One of the only real ways to process trauma is to relive it, fully, to be able to process what it was we experienced and what we were actually feeling at the time.  Not relying on dissociation or numbing techniques.  Really feeling it and then really processing it and then really healing from it.  And that takes time, especially if you have a complex and extensive history of trauma.  It takes time and it’s painful and you will hurt almost as much as you did when you were going through it.

I’ve been working so hard for the last five years and I’ve actually made so many significant steps, but I’m not done yet, I’m nowhere near done.  Most of those five years were focused on just staying alive, building trust and safety, surviving the flashbacks and the suicidal ideation and the sheer mental hell that trauma leaves you in.  I’ve only really been working seriously and consistently on traumatic memories for the last year or so, now doing EMDR to be able to really process them.

I need more time, I just need more time to be able to carry on working.  For the first time in my life, I can see a future, I can see something other than what I’ve always known.  I can see that ‘better’ that so many people keep promising me.  But I need time, I need time to work on the trauma, to process it and heal from it.  Bit by bit, I am working and even just working on the smallest aspect starts to make a real and noticeable difference to my life, but there’s still time to go before I am a real, functioning human being again (well for the first time, let’s face it).

I know that with a few more months of EMDR (if there’s anything even vaguely close to being a ‘miracle cure’ for trauma, this is it, seriously) I can be in such a different place than that I’m in now.  Already I’m starting to see so many changes; I’m more confident, more assertive, I’m starting to be able to make eye contact, I’m starting to be able to communicate more clearly, I’m starting to value myself, see myself as worthy, I’m starting to think of the future in a way I just never have before, I’m starting to be able to go outside more often without breaking down with fear and terror of getting hurt again, I’m starting to be able to eat more consistently again – even in front of other people.  But I’m not there yet, these progressions are time-sensitive, it doesn’t take a lot to knock me back again, especially because, in the short-term, the work I’m doing to reach these milestones is the exact thing that will knock me back again.

I actually really believe that I can do this.  I can see the me in a few months time being so incredibly different from the me I am now.  I’m working so incredibly hard.  There aren’t even words to fully explain just how hard this work is.  It’s like you have to completely break yourself down, destroy yourself over and over and over and over and over again in order to really closely examine those broken pieces before you can even attempt to put yourself back together.

It hurts, it hurts so badly.  Each time I do trauma work I’m left suffering.  I’m left with incredibly strong, vivid flashbacks; the kind where it’s almost impossible to ground yourself, the kind where it’s so hard to hold on to the here and now and convince yourself it’s not really happening, that it’s over and you’re safe.  I’m left with such severe dissociation that I just lose track of everything around me; I can’t keep track of time or conversations or TV plot lines or just about anything.  I have little to no focus and I basically become utterly useless.  I’m left so depressed and anxious; I can’t sleep, I can’t make myself go outside, I can’t eat properly, I can’t find the motivation or energy to do much of anything.  My suicidal ideation and my thoughts of self-harm increase massively.  You can’t stare into hell without it looking back at you.  You can’t focus on your own memories of extreme trauma and pain without feeling at least some of that pain and hurt in the here and now.  In the long-term, this therapy is making such a massive difference to my life, but in the short-term, immediately after sessions and for some time afterwards there’s nothing but pain.  That’s the price you have to pay to heal from trauma.  You have to heal or it’ll kill you, but the pain of doing it can be so severe that it feels like it’s gonna kill you, regardless as to how good your therapist is.  And I have a damn good therapist, who makes sure I take it at the right pace and I’m as grounded as possible afterwards, but that doesn’t change the fact that just doing this work is so beyond painful.  The long-term effects though, it does work, I really am working towards getting better.

I’m not better, I’m not even all that close to being better, but I’m getting there and I’m working on it and I just really need the time and the freedom and the support to do so.  And that leads me to the post I had every intention of writing with this and is now clearly going to be my next post, which will be posted tomorrow.

RS.

Branded – Part One

I’ve been writing this post on and off basically since I started this blog (on another platform), each and every time I’ve found an excuse to not write it and even when I have I’ve done so in the lightest way I possibly could, I’ve done so in a way that doesn’t really say anything at all because to do so would hurt me too much.  This is a topic I’ve struggled with, well, for as long as I can remember.  It’s one that’s always caused me so much pain, shame, turmoil and to even just think about it leaves me feeling sick.

I decided to write this post today for one reason and one reason only.  Tomorrow, I won’t be able to write this post.  Or at least, I wouldn’t be able to write it from the same perspective that I have now.  Tomorrow, it will be gone, hidden.  Tomorrow I’ll no longer have the permanent reminder of trauma and pain and hurt etched into my skin.  Tomorrow, at least this one aspect of my trauma will start to heal.

My life as a five year old wasn’t easy.  I’ve been told five year olds should have it easy, but that certainly wasn’t my experience.  By this point, I was already being sold to men, but nowhere near to the same levels that I would experience later on in life.  My main concern at the time was my mother.  Each day, after school, I would have to pick my younger sister up from nursery, before long, they stopped questioning where my mum was, they got the usual response of ‘she’s outside having a cig’ each and every time and eventually just accepted it.  Whether they suspected that I was my sister’s primary carer at the age of five or not, I don’t know, but otherwise she would have been there all night before my mother remembered so it was much easier for me to take her.  Upon getting home, I had to both take care of my sister and clean the house to perfection.  My mum’s levels of perfection were beyond anyone’s I’ve ever known, and I’m a pretty huge perfectionist myself.  If things weren’t done to her standard then that meant trouble for me.

This one particular day, after picking up my sister, taking care of her all evening, feeding her whatever I could find and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning my mum finally came home.  I was kinda proud of myself, I knew I’d done a good job on the cleaning, I knew I’d done everything she’d expected.  She went to inspect the house as she usually does.  After a while, she came back downstairs with a glass in her hand, a glass I had apparently missed.  Now that I’m older and now that I understand my mother a little more, I think I hadn’t missed that glass at all, I think she had hidden it somewhere in her room so as to set me up, so as to give her ‘justification’ to punish me that night.

She threw the glass at me and then proceeded to beat me for not having cleaned properly.  She beat me with her fists, her feet, a plank of wood she always kept near the back door for this exact purpose.  The wood had nails hammered in one end.  Thankfully on this day I hadn’t done enough to deserve that end.  I dissociated.  Completely disconnected myself from my body so I couldn’t feel the pain.  I went as far away as I possibly could.

At some point, she took off my pants and sat on top of me.  She picked up a piece of the broken glass and started cutting into the top of my right thigh.  The sharpness of it drew my attention, a different pain than the one the beating had given me and breaking me out of the dissociation.  It hurt so badly and I panicked, trying to push her off of me, but I had no chance, the weight of an adult on a five year old body is not one that can be easily moved.

She laughed at me, said ‘it’s not going to stop until you learn to behave or you’re dead.  If you want it to stop so bad you should just kill yourself.’

When she got off of me, I clearly remember already knowing what it was that my leg said, leading me to think that this wasn’t the first time she’d done this and just merely the first time I remember it happening.  I knew that she had (once again?) carved the word ‘whore’ into my leg.

As she walked away, leaving me lying on the kitchen floor, my leg still bleeding.  She threw the first aid kit at me, stocked full of painkillers and nothing else (my mum got a lot of hangovers), she said again, ‘if you want it to stop’, I knew what she meant and I can say I seriously considered it.  At five years old I knew what it was to want to die, to want to take my own life.  It’s my earliest memory of having suicidal thoughts, but certainly not my last.  I spent most of the night on the kitchen floor staring at those painkillers and wanting more than anything else to just make it all stop.  There have been so many nights since where I wish I had taken an overdose that night, knowing that if I just had I would have saved myself seventeen years worth of pain and the pain of living with that trauma since.  Though, I know now, that I would have missed out on so much good, too, even if that is only recent.

‘Whore’ was carved into my leg repeatedly over the years.  Either as a punishment, whilst I was being raped or simply because it had faded to an unacceptable level.  Mostly it was my mum, but occasionally my step-dad/mum’s boyfriend and sometimes even clients.  The scars overlap one another, now, but I can still clearly see it.  Can still clearly see what they always deemed me to be.

I’m ashamed to say there were times where I carved it in to myself as an act of self-injury.  At times I just became so overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with shame, guilt, self-hatred, disgust at what I was, what I did, what my life was.  Where I would just be so disgusted, hated myself so, so much that I would carve it into myself in anger because that was what I was, right?  That was all I was worth.  That’s what my life was and I hated myself for it, I hated myself more than words could ever say.  Even this paragraph seems so empty compared to how I felt at those points.  I’ll never be able to put into words just how much I hate myself at times, especially back then, especially when my body was being used each and every single day by gross, disgusting men.

It’s a little on the nose to be a branding, but that’s what it ended up being.  I don’t think that was the intention, really.  It started as a way for my mum to shame and humiliate me, to make sure I knew exactly what I was worth.  But as the number of clients increased, as the trafficking of me became more and more organised and as my mum became involved in a trafficking ring, it became so much more.

I was, in a way, different from the girls trafficked alongside me.  I was owned by the same people, but I was more exclusively a possession of my mother (and at times her boyfriend, depending on her mood and whether she was pissed at him that day or not) and I was treated differently as a result.  I was simultaneously more special and worth less than the other girls.  I belonged personally to one of the traffickers in the ring, but was deemed public property for all, deemed most worthy of some of the worst punishments because I was worth less.  I don’t know how to explain this, I don’t know how to say this.  I’m not gonna say I had it any better or any worse than the other girls, but at the same time, I was in a different position.

Before my mother joined that ring, it was really small, just a handful of girls and no branding in sight.  It was barely even really a trafficking ring as such, it was more a group of paedophiles and violent men who were sharing out girls to rape amongst themselves.  It was more for their personal enjoyment and less about profit.  It was her influence that made it grow, that victimised more girls, brought in more clients and therefore more money and introduced branding to the group.  My ‘whore’ scarification was repeated on the other girls, though theirs included numbers.  Despite my not having been the first girl trafficked there, I was considered number one, zero even.  I was the prototype.  Years of abuse and rape and conditioning at the hands of my mother meant I was considered the best example of what a whore should be, a training regime to be modelled.  I didn’t fight, I didn’t kick up a fuss, I didn’t cry unless it was expected, I could dissociate well enough and far enough away to take un-imaginable amounts of pain.  Once again writing any of this sounds like I’m bragging, sounds like something that I’m proud of.  I’m not.  It’s not something I wanted, it’s not something I worked for.  It’s what I was made into.  My being the ‘perfect whore’ (as I was so often told I was) was purely the result of repeated rapes and beatings and pain and conditioning from my mother.  I became what they wanted so I could survive.

Again, it seems really on the nose for a branding, but the clients lapped it up.  It was private, the top of the thigh where only they could see, only if you was raping one of us would you see that part of our body.  It suggested pain, having a knife digging into your leg isn’t a pleasant experience and the clients got off on it, knowing what we must have gone through to be their ‘whore’ for the night.

More than anything, it was a sign of our ownership.  When I was thirteen and pregnant, I went out looking for my own ‘work’.  I was convinced that if I could just make enough money, I could run away with my child and start a new life.  This lasted all of thirty seconds.  I found myself in the back of a local take-away with men who have since been arrested for running a trafficking ring in the same town my mother ran hers.  They had agreed to rape me and were willing to give me a good chunk of money for doing so and were willing to let me work from there if I proved good enough.  One of them saw the scarification on my leg and freaked out.  He’d recognised it and had decided he did not want to fuck with any of my mother’s property.  He gave me £50 and told me to leave and not tell her I’d been there, that he didn’t want any trouble.  I don’t think he knew who I was, he just knew I belonged to her.  There have been times since where I’ve realised I could have gotten significantly more than £50 if he’d known I’d been her daughter.  Seeing a grown man actually scared made me realise just how much power and influence my mum had.  He’d given up the chance to rape a vulnerable, pregnant teenage girl because of her.  I belonged to someone else, I was not his to rape and definitely not his to sell.

This is the bit I don’t want to write, the bit I’ve been avoiding writing fully for so many years.  You see, those scars are still there.  They were last carved into me on the 3rd May, 2012, the last time I saw my mother, the day I exited.  And each and every single day I have to live with them.  And trust me when I say they’re not easy to live with.

Every time I have to change my clothes, have a shower, even just sitting on the loo, those scars are right there staring up at me.  Right there reminding me just how little I’m worth, reminding me of all the pain and the trauma and the rapes, reminding me of everything I’ve had to live through.  They feel me with such shame and guilt and humiliation, each time I see them I get flashbacks and memories pushing their way into my head, reminding me of everything I’ve been through so as to live up to that word.  Reminding me of everything that was done to me because that’s all I’m worth.

I’m a trafficking survivor, so finding a comfortable space within my own body is almost impossible as it is.  Each part of my body has been touched, hurt and violated by waves and waves of men.  Each part of my body holds a memory.  Each part of my body remembers the trauma that was done to me.  But this?  This just adds a whole new layer of pain and hurt that I can’t even adequately put into words.  It’s one thing knowing just how little you’re worth, but having it quite literally carved into you is a whole new layer of pain.  Having to see each and every single day that you’re nothing more than a ‘whore’.  Knowing that that’s how you’ve always been viewed.  Being scared that that’s how you’re always going to be viewed.  I can barely look at myself and especially at those scars without feeling so disgusted with myself, so ashamed of myself and all the things I ‘allowed’ to happen to me and my body.

I can barely allow myself to be naked, to look at my own body (what kinda body-positive feminist does that make me?).  I can’t shower without getting panic attacks and flashbacks.  I can barely touch that part of my skin.  I can’t even have a piss without it being right there in front of me.  When I was younger, I used to wrap bandages around it, so I could hide it from myself and others.  Now I just opt to never wear shorts that don’t cover it.  To never let others see it.  I don’t swim unless I’m wearing trunks (and swimming used to relax and calm me so, so much).  I still flinch and freak out if anyone touches my thigh, remembering all the clients that used to stroke and lick it as a part of their own sick pleasure.

But it’s not just about comfort, either my own or other’s, it’s about me.  This is supposed to be my body, but whilst their word, their views, their ownership is carved into me, it can never be mine.  It’s always going to be ‘theirs’.  And I can’t live with that constant reminder any more.  I can’t live with it always right their in front of my face.  I can’t live with seeing it each and every time I undress or shower or go to the loo.  I can’t live with the reminders every time the scars itch.  I can’t see ‘whore’ every time I look at myself – I need to see something else, something of my own choosing.  I want to be able to reclaim my body, reclaim myself – or well, my body has always belonged to them, so it’s less about reclaiming and more about finally making my body mine.  For the first time in my life, having my body belong to me.  I don’t want to be their ‘whore’ any more.

The thing is, as of tomorrow, I won’t be!

But more about that in my next post as this one has already been rather wordy!!

RS.

Disability, Benefits, Homelessness and a Catch Up

It’s been quite a few months now since I made my last post, life has been, well, kinda all over the place.  But then, if you hadn’t figured it out already, life is kinda all over the place for victims of prostitution.  The mental and physical health conditions that we live with after exiting are numerous, the effects they have are powerful and best of all, they intersect with and play off of each other – one gets worse, the other gets worse which makes another get worse which makes yet another get worse; until you’re left with a big, tangled mess that feels utterly impossible to get out of.

This whole process is exacerbated when something happens in the first place – whether it be something basic and day-to-day or something much bigger, but if something happens to set us off, we just keep spiralling until it either works itself out or we reach such a level of dissociation or numbness we just simply don’t give a shit any more.  I’m starting to reach that level of dissociation and numbness with what’s been happening to me the last few months, now, but then it partly has actually gotten somewhat better with reassurances from those I love.

If you read my blog frequently, you might remember one of my last posts before my hiatus.  It was a post around homelessness and some of my experiences whilst I was homeless as a teenager.  In that post, I expressed a fear of what would happen if the DWP and the Tories finally came for me and the disability benefits I receive as a result of my mental and physical health – I was scared of what so much seemed like the inevitable road from losing my benefits, to homelessness, to being forced back into prostitution just to be able to survive.

It appears I somewhat jinxed myself writing that post because less than a month later, a letter arrived in the post with my ESA50 form.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s a form the DWP sends randomly to people claiming disability benefits to re-assess them.  They’re sent with no warning, no specific reason, no necessity.  They’re random, sent out to catch out the so called ‘benefits cheats’ and they’re fucking devastating and terrifying as well as generally being soul-destroying.

I crashed very quickly after getting the letter.  Slipping into a severe state of depression and anxiety.  I stopped being able to eat or sleep; even when I could manage to eat it made little difference because I was throwing up several times a day from the anxiety; even when I could manage to sleep, it didn’t really matter as I was having so many nightmares I was unable to sleep properly.  My immune system took a battering with the stress and within a few months I managed to get two bouts of the flu, a chest infection and norovirus as well as an increase in my general level of un-wellness – allergies, migraines, joint pain, normal headaches etc.  To top it all off, my C-PTSD got so much worse, I was having so many more flashbacks and to put it lightly, everything was just terrible.

To explain it mentally and emotionally is hard.  I was worrying about and fearing so many different things at once; the form and the letter and the whole situation plus the potential futures it might result in did a serious number on me.  The futures aspect is fairly self-evident – I was terrified of losing my income, becoming homeless and being forced back into prostitution, but it was also so much more than that.  I was given a safety net; told by the woman I love, the woman I am planning on moving in with later this year anyway, that if it came to it, I could stay with her and she’d look after me.

You’d think the offer of such a safety net (and the knowledge that friends would offer the same if it came to it) would be amazing, but there were points where I genuinely believed that living on the streets and being exploited were actually the better options.  This might be difficult to explain, if you’ve never been in a situation where your trust and dependency on someone has left you at serious risk then you’ll never be able to fully understand it.  I’ve been independent for more than a decade, now, since I was 16.  I’ve lived with abusive partners who have stolen from me and abused me and exploited me, but I’ve never depended on them – I’ve always been the ‘breadwinner’, always the one working and earning.  If I was to ever have left them (which I clearly eventually did) I was the one that was going to be financially OK (even if they had robbed me blind and left me with lots of debt), I was the one with the income.

Since the age of 16, I have never allowed myself to financially or for much of anything depend on another person.  I’ve been in relationships with them, lived with abusive men, been exploited and manipulated but I’ve never actually depended or relied upon another person.  Tenancies have always been in my name, I’ve always been the one with the income (even if it has at times only been benefits) or at least not the one without an income, I’ve never emotionally depended on another person for my own survival.  Until recently, I’ve never really even trusted another person.

To put myself in a situation where I completely relied and depended on another person, especially in terms of money and housing was terrifying.  She’s my girlfriend and I trust her more than anyone and we are intending on moving in together, but whilst I would only be contributing a pittance of benefits, at least I would be contributing.  If I was just living with her, relying on her financially, that would be unthinkable, the thought was so incredibly terrifying to me.  I was so scared of allowing myself to be that vulnerable, to be at risk of homelessness (again) after a single argument, to have my entire life in someone else’s hands.

I know this seems awful, I know if there’s anyone I can trust, it’s my girlfriend, but I really just couldn’t get myself to the point where I could trust it, where I could let myself be that vulnerable and that dependent on another person.

I’ve gotten past that, now, or mostly anyway.  I still have reservations in terms of the strain that it would put on our relationship if the worst happens and I lose my benefits, but I know that I could accept her offer of a safety net if I need to.  I trust her enough to accept that offer.

The form itself sent me completely spiralling in a different direction; in fact, it sent me spiralling in two opposite directions all at once.  This isn’t just me, this is the typical response to these forms that I’ve seen from many other disabled people.  You see the form has a magic ability to make you feel both like you’re a complete and utter fraud who isn’t disabled at all and just swindling the system and like you’re a useless piece of shit who can’t do anything without help.  It both makes you feel as if you’re not really disabled while simultaneously making you feel the full weight and extent and limitations of your disabilities.

The system itself is set up so disabled people are no longer disabled, set up in a way so that as many people as possible get refused benefits.  A few years ago, one of the questions was along the lines of ‘can you manage 12 stairs?’, 12 stairs being a normal flight of stairs in a house that many people with various disabilities struggle with, now the question is ‘can you manage 2 stairs?’.  How does that even make a difference, really?  A person might be able to handle 2 stairs, but if they can’t handle 12 that still means they can’t make it to the top floor of their house, still means they can’t make it to the bathroom without support, still means they can’t live life without constant supervision, but that’s all OK, because they can handle 2 stairs.  I’m one of those people that falls in the gap.  My knees are screwed from past trauma and resulting injuries and weakness.  I can handle 2 stairs, most of the time, though there may be times where they give out or lock or dislocate, but when we reach 12 stairs I often wobble, fall into the side of the wall, my knees give out and I’m generally just a bit wobbly and shaky and definitely not going to be winning any races.  But most of the time I can handle 2 stairs, so not a problem.

The questions are dehumanising, unclear and unfair.  You fill in the form feeling like you’re a fraud, like you are one of those ‘benefit scroungers’, like you’re going to get caught out at any moment.  But on the other hand, it leaves you with a stark reality of your life when you start ticking the questions off.  If they’re designed to be almost impossible to successfully get through, then how can you be ticking off quite so many boxes?  Realising just how much you’re unable to do alone, just how much your life is affected by your disabilities can be so soul destroying, can leave you feeling so useless and so worthless – which are feelings we already have an abundance of after being trafficked and prostituted.

Realising that actually, I can’t always pick up heavier things with my hands without randomly losing grip (nerve damage); that I can’t walk from here to the tram stop, just over 100 meters without being in a massive amount of pain and so completely exhausted I have to sit down if I can; that I haven’t been outside by myself more than 3-4 times in the last few months because I’ve been that terrified; that I dissociate not just now and then but almost every single day I spend in my own head, barely aware of what’s happening around me; that I’m still a massive risk to myself, that suicidal ideation crosses my mind every single day and whilst I know I won’t act on it, the thoughts are still there as are the self-harm related thoughts – every time I cross the road I think how easily I just could, every time I chop vegetables I think how easy it could be, every time I light a cig. how easy it’d be.  Every aspect of my life, the ones above and so many others, where I had briefly acknowledged that I was struggling and maybe slightly disabled, I realised the full extent.  I realised that these were things that I struggled with on a constant and permanent basis, not just one-offs.  I realised that I hadn’t had a single moment where I hadn’t at least had a background of slight anxiety in my entire life.  I realised that I’ve never been fully connected to my body and my surroundings, that I’m always at least partly dissociated.  I realised that I hadn’t come anywhere close to ‘recovering’, that ED thoughts plagued me on a daily basis and I’m constantly thinking how easy it would be to just fast, to just skip this meal, to just start losing weight again.  I realised that my life is a complete fucking mess and that I’m really, really not well and definitely not able to work.

The combination of thinking that I’m a fraud and the true extent of my disabilities and the lingering threat of losing my income, potential homelessness and the vulnerabilities that brings all resulted in the same thing – unmanageable levels of worthlessness and uselessness, overwhelming depression and anxiety, practically giving up on caring for myself and such an increase in my suicidal ideation.  I stopped sleeping, barely ate, stopped managing my home, stopped leaving my home, practically quit therapy and healing and recovery, took a massive hit to my immune system and was throwing up daily from the anxiety.

I’m finally starting to get past that, a little, and starting to be able to put my life back together but I know that I’m going to spend however long it takes living in fear of that brown envelope and I know that when it arrives, I’m probably just going to end up right back where I started with the first envelope.

RadSurvivor.

A Fresh Start

I am ready to have the upcoming
year bring me new life.

Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? – Lundy Bancroft

This is another one of those kinda things that I just scorn at.  I don’t do self-care, I don’t do mindfulness, I don’t do hope, I don’t do future.

The thing is, when you spend your life being prostituted, abused, raped, used, manipulated, controlled; when nothing is yours, when you have no choices, no freedom, no rights, then you kinda give up on the whole ‘future’ thing.

I spent my life barely expecting to see the next sun rise, never mind the next month or the next birthday or the new year.  I didn’t plan any further ahead than I had to.  When I was forced to plan further ahead, I either made it up, not holding on to any real expectations or I just nodded along, not really expecting to be here when the time came, not really daring to hope.  I knew that at any moment I could come across an extra violent client, that my mother could completely lose control, that Dom would kill me, that I’d just give up, that I’d just become another statistic.  I never expected to see the next day, so I never planned any further ahead.

I lived my life in a way that reflected that, even after I exited.  I made sure that my flat was reasonably clean, that I never owned too many things, so once I was gone, there wouldn’t be too much for others to handle.  I always had my important paperwork organised so, again, it wouldn’t be too much for others to handle.  I made sure I always had a bag packed, ready to go, either back home or to just up and leave here if I needed to.  I had the number for the Cat Protection League in my phone, so I could ensure my cat was taken care of.  I always had a stash of pills on hand so I could check out any time I needed.  I’ve nearly always lived in a way so that if I don’t see that next sun rise, I’d never be too much hassle to anyone else.

I never made New Year’s Resolutions.  I never made plans for my birthday.  I never actively planned future career choices.  I refused to play ‘in five years time…’ style games.  I refused to engage with my therapist when she tried to get me to plan for the future.

It’s just not really a skill I have.  It’s an alien concept to me.  So often, it really does just feel like I come from an entirely different world; a world where futures don’t exist, a world where career options don’t exist, a world where needs and wants don’t exist and when it comes to engaging with this world I just feel lost and confused.  Plan for the future?  Why the fuck would I do that?  I’m probably going to die today.  It doesn’t matter anyway, this is all I’m ever gonna be.  I’m never getting out of here, so what’s the point?

I’m still slightly bemused each time I see the sun rise; even more bemused when I see a New Year come in or I reach another birthday.  I don’t quite understand how I got as old as I am.  I should have died by now.  Statistically I shouldn’t be alive.  Medically I shouldn’t be alive (I have technically died before now).  I just shouldn’t have made it this far and it’s always a little bewildering when I realise I have.  I’ve been free for nearly four years and I’m still utterly bewildered when that sun rises.  I’m still so surprised that I’ve somehow managed to survive another day.

So yeah, when it comes to hopeful little messages like this one, it’s hard to just not laugh.  A year?  An entire year?  Ha, like I’ll make it that far.

But then, I guess things are different now.  There’s no more pimps.  No more punters.  No more abusive boyfriends beating the crap out of me each day.  There’s just me.  And my girlfriend.  And my cat.  And the biggest risk out of those is, well, me.  (Though, the cat does have a tendency to try and trip me up!) 

My life has changed a lot, recently.  There’s the obvious, having escaped prostitution and escaped Dom, but it’s changed in so many other ways, too.  I built closer and stronger connections with my friends, I made new friends and allies, connected with my sisters – both survivor sisters and not, engaged more and more with radical feminist theory, started to find some level of joy in simple things, started a really healthy and positive relationship.  And all those changes have meant that, for once, I am actually planning for the future.  At least for the short-term.  I know where I want to move to.  I know what I want to go back to Uni. to study.  I know who I want to be with.

If I’m being honest, I think I’ve already had my ‘fresh start’.  It started the moment I decided to exit and simultaneously get away from Dom.  But I was so trapped in flashbacks and memories and trauma and pain that I could barely have that real ‘fresh start’.  I was stuck in a limbo.  No longer being prostituted or beaten or abused, but not healing or moving forwards, either.  I was just stuck in a limbo.  Constantly teetering on that edge.  Constantly on the verge of returning to my own life, because whilst it might have been so horrific, beyond what words can describe, it was at least something I knew.  And this world?  This isn’t something I know.  I understand the language of abuse and threats and violence and trauma.  I don’t understand the languages of love and compassion and care and freedom.  But I’m learning.  Good Goddess, I’m learning.

It’s only really been the last year or so that I’ve been able to make any real changes at all, that I’ve really had something that resembled a ‘fresh start’, that things have actually been getting better for me.  I can’t really remember what it was that changed.  I know I was working on an incredibly hard memory; a memory that left me with so much guilt and shame.  A memory I couldn’t deal with and I was more than prepared to just kill myself over it.  As far as I know, the people around me had no idea how badly I was doing.  I was hiding my suicidal ideation from everyone.  It was so far past suicidal ideation.

I don’t know what got me out of that.  I honestly don’t.  I somehow managed to forgive myself for Nicky’s death, which is surprising considering I still blame myself so, so much.  I at least stopped holding myself quite so accountable.  Honestly, I don’t even know, I don’t know what got me out of it.

But things changed quickly once I was out of it.  I was really engaging in therapy, in healing work.  I was building more and more connections.  Making new friends; friends who would persuade me to stretch out even further and build even more connections.  I started a relationship (which is something that I never, never would have been able to do before).  I even started doing things like travelling.  Meeting up with large groups of people.  Going away for the weekend with people I barely knew.

I already had my new start.  Whilst last year was filled with terrible, terrible things.  With so much pain.  So many flashbacks.  Even though I barely even made it through that year, considering how close I was to either killing myself or going back.  Despite everything, last year was quite possibly the best year of my life.  (Holy fuck, I have low standards.)

I still might not really believe in the concept of ‘futures’, but I think I might actually kinda have hope, this year.

Who’d’ve thought it possible?

RadSurvivor.