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.

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 Three

This post is so long overdue, in fact, there’s a number of posts that are overdue, posts that I’ve been half writing in my head but never made it as far as here.  My life has been… complicated the past few months.  Not all ‘bad’ complications, in fact a lot of ‘good’ complications, but I’ve just not had any energy leftover to try and come back here and write the things that I need and want to write.  A lot of those complications are for other posts, though.  Here, I’m planning on writing about my tattoo and just how much of an effect getting it has made on my life.

If you haven’t already read parts one and two and you’re too lazy to go back, then here’s the sum up (if you’ve read my writing before, you’ll know my version of succinct and summing up is about six pages):

At the age of five, my mum lost her shit with me and after throwing a glass at me and beating the crap out of me, she picked up a piece of broken glass and carved the word ‘whore’ into my thigh.  It was carved into me numerous times over the years, by my mum, step-dad, clients, the scars overlap one another.

Back then, those 22-23 years ago, I don’t think she intended it to be a branding as such.  If anything, it’d be a little on the nose if that was her intention, but it’s definitely what it ended up being.  Then again, being on the nose doesn’t exactly discount it.  My mum was arrogant, confident that she wouldn’t be caught, wouldn’t be stopped.  And you know what, she might have been right, despite several investigations into CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation) in my home town (Which is now infamous in this country, you think trafficking, you inevitably end up thinking of my home town.) my mum and her ‘colleagues’ are still high and dry.  Whether it was her intention or not, it did become a branding, though.  Not just for myself, but for the other women and girls I was trafficked with, though, theirs came with numbers as well as the word ‘whore’.

It was perfect, not only was it a great thrill for clients, to see the word ‘whore’ carved out on the piece of meat they were about to rape, to see it in a place that only themselves and others that were raping her, me, would see, but it worked so well in destroying us too.

Waking up each and every single day, seeing the sum of what you are, what they made you, carved into you, knowing you can never wash it away.  You can wash away the body fluids, you can try and wash away the memories of what they did to you, you can dissociate so far away that you barely even remember, but you can’t get rid of a scar.  Each and every single day there’s a reminder right there, you’re a whore, you’re just a whore, you’ll never be anything more than a whore.  Your body isn’t yours, it belongs to them, the ones who sell you and the ones they sell you to.  Trafficking already has such a profound affect on the body, physically and emotionally, branding and in my experience, one that’s so on the nose, has an even greater effect.  How are you supposed to ever forget, move on with your life, deal with the memories and the trauma if there’s a permanent representation of it carved into your skin?

I didn’t look at my body for years.  Every time I did, I saw their hands, their bodies, I was reminded that my body wasn’t my body, that I had never had autonomy.  Even after exiting, so close to five years ago now, believing my body was mine was near impossible.  I hated my body, every single inch of it, but especially my thigh, especially those scars.  Even after they started to fade and reading the word became harder and harder, I couldn’t help but hate it, I couldn’t help but want to throw up each time I saw those shiny strips of skin.  Being able to read the word or not made no difference, knowing it was there was enough.

And that was where Survivor’s Ink came in, those wonderful, amazing and so caring women do so, so, so much to help women like me.  They fund tattoos so women can get their branding covered and that’s exactly what they did for me.  Despite being at the other end of the world, despite having never met me, these women reached out and gave me a level of love and care and understanding that I had so rarely seen before.

They found an amazing woman based here in the UK who was so kind to me, who did everything she could to support me, to find someone who would be willing to cover up my scarring as part of a charity project, to make sure she found someone who would do it right and not leave me with a sub standard tattoo.  She also offered to give me a voice, to get my story out and was so compassionate and understanding when I said I wasn’t ready.

That amazing woman found an amazingly talented tattooist and artist.  I have to admit, I was wary and on edge at first, I have not let a man touch me, especially not anywhere near my thigh in more than five years.  I wasn’t comfortable and I was incredibly anxious at the thought even though I trusted the women who had helped me so far to not put me at risk and I knew that my girlfriend would never let anything happen to me.  However, he was so gentle and understanding and professional that my fears were eased almost straight away.  Which is a pretty impressive step for me.  I can’t usually even cope being in a room with men without freaking out, never mind actually letting one touch me at all without freaking out.

I got the first half of my tattoo done on the 5th Nov. last year and from that point onwards, my life started to change.  I think I maybe underestimated just how much of an effect getting it done would have on me.  I knew how much of an effect the scars, branding, being there had on me, but I don’t think I truly understood just how much of an effect them not being there would really have.  I think, well, I think I’d just gotten too used to things not going right for me, for things not changing for me.  Part of me didn’t even really believe it was going to happen, I was partially expecting to turn up there and for it all to just be an elaborate prank because of course I don’t deserve things like this.  And even when I get things like this, it’s so easy to believe it won’t make a real difference because what can really heal the pain and trauma of having been raped for the majority of your life?

I seriously underestimated it, but even from just having half of my tattoo done, where not even all the scars were covered had such a profound effect on my life.  I found myself not hating my body quite as much.  I couldn’t stop looking at it, even though I’ve spent the majority of my life conveniently pretending my right thigh doesn’t exist, letting my eyes just slip over it, but all of a sudden I had a new part of my body, a part of my body that was really feeling like it was mine, like it belonged to me.  I even wore shorts that revealed part of that area in the hot weather recently.  Something I have basically just never done before, if I’d ever worn shorts in the past, it was always with tights or leggings, I never just wore shorts, especially not ones where even just a small portion of my thigh would be visible.

My body, even with only half the tattoo, was starting to feel like mine again.  For a start, my mum would fucking hate my tattoo.  Even before I actually started looking like an ugly dyke, she said I looked like one and my tattoo will just emphasise that for her.  Strong women?  Pfft, not something my mum even slightly appreciates.  (It’s much harder to prostitute and abuse tough women, right?)  It’s kinda almost like a little ‘fuck you’ to her, to all of them.  Not only have I covered their branding, but I covered it with something that is me, because despite what I feel, despite what I believe, I do recognise that on some level I am strong because hey, I’d probably not be here now if I wasn’t.  It’s a sign of me healing the damage they did, it’s a sign of me getting stronger, it’s a sign of me valuing my body as my own and not theirs, it’s a sign of me taking my life back as my own, it’s a sign of me deciding that their rules have no place in my life any more.

And I truly believe that she (the tattoo) encompasses all of that, there’s such a quiet strength about her and I’m just so happy, she’s just so perfect.

Now that she’s complete, I’m in love with her even more.  I finally, for the first time in my life, feel like my body is mine.  If I could have a bath yet (I can’t for a little while longer), I actually would and I wouldn’t care, I wouldn’t care that I was able to see my thigh, I wouldn’t care that it was right there in front of me.  It’s mine, it’s supposed to be there and now all I can see is me, I can see my own strength, my own healing.

Getting this done was a decision on some level.  It was a decision to not give up, to not go back.  You’d think five years being exited would mean I’d already made that decision, but I hadn’t, not really.  Whenever things go wrong, whenever my independence and freedom is even slightly threatened, my mind goes back there.  The DWP threaten me and I potentially may lose all my income, my head goes there.  Whenever my mental health takes a turn for the worse, my head goes there.  When you’ve spent your entire life being a ‘whore’ then it’s easy to believe that that’s all your worth, all you deserve.  Especially when it’s been beaten into you, carved into you.  Especially when everyone around you has reinforced the idea over and over and over and over again.  How are you supposed to fight a lifetime of conditioning?  How are you supposed to ever believe you’re worth anything more?  And when your freedom is so fragile, as it always is because us exited women don’t exactly have it easy – mental and physical health conditions from trauma, low incomes, relying on benefits, no or very little work experience, no or very little education.  I’m actually one of the lucky ones, I have a partial university education, I was able to get placement and paid and voluntary work experience throughout university.  My mental health is fucked, my physical health not exactly great and I am relying on the DWP not trying to kill me, but as and when I’m able to work again, I do have a bit of a footing that not all other exited women have.  Though, then again, who looks favourably on a five year employment gap because you’re so bat shit crazy you could barely look after yourself?  But yeah, our freedom can feel so very fragile.  The risk of homelessness, not being able to find a legit job, loss of income because the benefits system is fucked, our own mental health (and the subsequent lack of care) and not being able to shake the feeling that we’re worth anything more.  Yeah, it’s easy to go back, it’s easy to believe it’s your only option.  Our own personal hells are also our own personal safety nets.

But, I think, I think I’ve decided I’m not.  Getting my branding covered up, it was a decision to not go back.  It was a decision to go forwards.

It’s weird, how a bit of ink can seem to change your entire life.  But then, I guess I knew that, not all brandings are scarifications, most are tattoos.  But this little bit of ink, it has completely changed my life.  It’s changed my life in so many ways and in such ways that I can barely even put them into words.

This body is mine now.  This life is mine.  And I could never put into words just how grateful I am to the people that made this happen.  I don’t think I’ll ever have the words.

The words I do have are this, please donate to Survivor’s Ink.  I know I’m not especially good at putting into words the effect that they have, but they do so much good and tattoos aren’t cheap, travel isn’t cheap but the effect that it has, the fundamental difference it’ll make to the lives of women who have been prostituted is immeasurable.  I can’t put into words just how much they’ve done for me, just how much of a difference this has made to my life, but they really are just so amazing and do such important work.

I’ve not included the names of the individuals who helped me because I don’t know how comfortable they’d be with that and I’m too lazy/out of it to text/email and check.  But know that I truly appreciate everyone involved, from the amazing women at Survivor’s Ink, to the wonderful woman and journalist over here who helped me so much and offered me a voice, to the amazing tattooist who so kindly designed and tattooed this wonderful piece of art and my wonderful girlfriend who stood with me and supported me every step of the way – even when I was crushing her hand during the tattoo!

RS.

Oh, whoops, I almost forgot to share my beautiful art work!!!

Before

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Halfway There

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Done!

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Any name suggestions would be greatly appreciated!  She’s a Valkyrie so a Nordic/Valkyrie name would be great, but I can’t decide!!

RS.

Branded – Part Two

As I said in my last post, today is the last day that I have to live with all of this.  Tomorrow, all of this is going to change – I’m no longer going to have to live with the ramifications of my branding, I’m no longer going to have to look at ‘whore’ carved into my leg, I’m no longer going to have to hate my body (or at least not quite as much) and this is all thanks to the wonderful Jennifer Kempton and all the other wonderful women at Survivor’s Ink.

Tomorrow I will be going to get my tattoo, covering my scarification, my branding.  For the first time in my life, I’m going to be able to look at my leg and not see the word ‘whore’.  I’m going to be able to look at my leg and not see what it was they made me be.

I don’t even really know how to feel about this.  Part of me is so excited and so hopeful that it’ll change so much for me.  That it’ll help me not hate my body quite as much.  That it’ll help me feel like my body is actually mine for a change.  That it’ll hide some of the more obvious and visible signs and reminders of my trauma.  That it’ll help me feel like I no longer belong to ‘them’.  I don’t know, I’m just rambling at this stage.

I have so many mixed emotions.

The thing is, this is a massive step in my healing journey and I’m starting to question if I’m ready for it.  I am, I know I am ready for it, but it’s also such a massive change.  I know it’s ‘just’ a tattoo, but it’s so much more than that, it’s something that I’ve wanted for so, so long but never really believed was possible for me.  I’m skint and I’m basically always going to be skint and paying for a tattoo is so far out of my budget, but then, this wonderful and amazing organisation is offering me the help and support to make it happen.

I haven’t really believed it was going to happen at all.  I’ve been talking to Jennifer and other people connected to Survivor’s Ink on and off for the last few months and I still just never believed it was actually going to happen.

Nice, positive, good, healing things don’t happen to me.  Let’s face it, I have terrible fucking luck and I was constantly waiting for there to be a problem or some reason why it wasn’t going to happen at every turn.  That’s part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to write these series of posts because, well, what was the point in getting my own hopes up when it still might just not happen?

That, of course, isn’t a reflection on Survivor’s Ink, I trust that they absolutely would keep their word and do whatever they could to help me, but as I said, good things just simply don’t happen for me and I just couldn’t let myself get my hopes up.

But now it’s here, now it’s happening, this time tomorrow I’ll be on my way to get my tattoo and for the first time in my life I’ll be able to look at my leg and not see the word ‘whore’ carved into it.

I know this is such a rambling post, but I haven’t even really had time to process how I feel about all of this because I just couldn’t let myself believe it was actually going to happen.  How are you supposed to emotionally process something if you don’t actually believe it’s going to happen?

On top of not really believing it’s going to happen, I’ve been so scared that it’s just not something that I deserve.

Other women had it worse than me.

It was never really meant to be a branding.

It’s so faded now compared to what it was, why am I even complaining?  It’s not as obvious or vivid or anything as a tattoo, it’s just an old faded scar.

I’m not worth this level of care or attention.

I’m not worth people spending money on me (especially not this much, omg).

I’ve self-harmed in the same place in the same way myself, so I’m just as responsible for it as they are.

More than any of the others, it’s been the stuff about how it’s so faded now compared to what it was.  I suppose you can barely even make out what it’s supposed to say any more, though I certainly can.  So many more women are having to live with so much more vivid reminders than me, yet for some reason I’ve been deemed worthy to get this help.  Surely I can live with a couple of faded scars?

But as I said in my last post, I’m not living with them, not properly.  The thing is, no matter how much they fade, no matter how obvious or not they are compared to what they used to be, they’re always going to be there.  I’m always going to be able to see them, I’m always going to be able to notice them, even if they’re not obvious to others at all.  I guess what really matters is the effect they have on me.  And I do know that even if they fade to the point where I’d need a magnifying glass and extremely good lighting to see them, they’re still going to have exactly the same effect on me and my mental health and my view of myself.  I need this gone.  I need to be able to start my life again.

And the thing is, I know this really will be a new start for me.  It’s come at the perfect time, at the time that I’m making so many other changes in my life (on which I’ll write about more in another post) and at a time where I can really start claiming my body and my life as my own.  It’s such an important and huge step for me and I think that right now I can never fully know just how much of a change this is going to be for me.  I can’t possibly know just how much it’s going to change my life for the better.

I know it seems like such a small, silly thing.  I mean, at the end of the day, I’m just getting a tattoo (my first, actually) and for most people that’s not a big deal at all, but for me, it means the entire world and I can’t possibly thank the amazing women at Survivor’s Ink and the amazing tattooist that is going to be doing the work enough.  I never expected nor felt I deserved an opportunity like this and it truly means the world that it’s actually happening.

I can’t say that I’m not scared or anxious about tomorrow, but I’m definitely excited too.  I can’t really put what I’m feeling into words, I don’t think I even really know what I’m feeling at all.  I’m just so… happy that this is finally happening and I’m so happy that I’m going to have the woman that I love right there with me, holding my hand (here’s to hoping this supposedly great dissociater and bearer of pain isn’t a total wuss when it comes to tattoos!).  I’m so happy and so grateful that this is finally happening.

This, right here, is my leg as it is.

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Tomorrow, it’ll be something so entirely different, something that is me, something that is mine.  The start of something new.


Survivor’s Ink is truly an amazing organisation that provides so much help, support and relief to exited women.  Please support this amazing organisation and provide tattoos like mine by donating here.  And if you’re also an exited woman and want support, there’s an application form here.  They’re all truly so kind and so caring and I really do recommend getting in touch with them if you need.

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.

How Much is Too Much?

This is a topic that comes up for me from time to time, usually after I’ve shared something in more detail than usual, regardless as to whether that’s with my therapist, my girlfriend, my friends or here on this blog.  I have a constant, overwhelming fear that I’m saying ‘too much’.  Logically, I know that a good chunk of that is in relation to trauma.  I’ve spent my entire life having silence and secrecy enforced upon me, either in really direct ways or more indirectly, but either way, the message was the same:  you say anything, terrible things will happen.  So it’s not surprising that now I have the same response – I open up and I start to panic that I’ve said too much and used too much detail to say it.

But regardless of those old messages and those old fears, I still feel as if I am saying too much, particularly here, particularly in a space that is quite so public, particularly in a space where people don’t need or want to hear all of those details.  I always feel so guilty, honestly, I feel so guilty for putting those thoughts and those images into others heads, especially those who know who I am, who know me as a person rather than just as the anonymous blogger that I am to most of my readers.  I always feel the need to take back the words, to edit them into vagueness and obscurity, to find a way to write them without the detail and the trauma.

I never understood why I have always had such a need to ‘get it all out’ in such graphic detail.  I’ve come up with so many theories over the years.  Ranging from my being a sick freak who just gets off on it for some reason to being a huge attention seeker.  But, logically, I know neither of those things are true.  Even if I was ‘attention seeking’, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.  ‘Attention seeking’ is a phrase thrown at, particularly young, women to dismiss their perfectly legitimate emotions and ways of expressing trauma, trauma they’ve usually suffered at the hands of the patriarchy.  ‘Attention seeking’ wouldn’t be a bad thing, whether it was for my own individual sake or collectively on behalf of other exited women and other CSA and rape survivors.  But, it’s not the case.  I know myself well enough to know that’s not why I write and that’s not why I write in such detail.  I’m not a fan of attention.  I don’t like people paying attention to me, I don’t even really like people noticing my existence.  I reject pity and people telling me they’re ‘sorry’.  If I wanted attention at any point in my life, it wouldn’t be something I wanted as a result of this.  I don’t want to be typecast as a survivor, a victim, an exited woman, an activist.  I’m a person, a whole person, and I want any attention I do receive to be on the basis of who I am as a person, survivorship included, but not exclusively limited to that.

For a while, I thought I took the graphic detail route to really highlight the extremities of prostitution and domestic abuse and rape and CSA.  Because whilst so many activists and allies say they understand, that they care, that they’re here no matter what, I do believe that so many don’t understand.  They can’t understand.  Not really, not fully.  I’ve been there, I’ve lived that, I somehow survived that and there are times where I even feel like I don’t fully understand, where I can’t possibly find the words to express the sheer level of hurt and pain and trauma.  It’s impossible to fully understand the depths of depravity and sorrow and hurt that exist if you haven’t lived it – it’s almost impossible to grasp even if you have lived it.  The more that we shy away from the detail, whether it be for our sake or others sake, the more we minimise the abuse and rape and torture of that world.  How can we truly advocate for the abolition of prostitution and pornography if we get all wishy-washy when it comes to the details?  If we’re constantly playing it down and hiding the worst from others?  I don’t want to be the one that puts those images into others heads, but let’s face it, we’re not listened to at the best of times and are often dismissed as being overly-dramatic or because ‘some people choose it’, we need to speak on the realities or we’ll forever be silenced.

But even that I don’t feel is the reason why I so automatically go for the graphic detail option.  Going for that level of detail is something that I’ve done for a long time, whether it be in my own journal or in therapy etc. but it’s something I’ve always just done.  If it was just to raise awareness and ensure those realities and my truth was heard, then it wouldn’t be something that I do so naturally outside of those situations.

I guess for me it’s just something that I need to do, it’s just my brains way of processing what happened to me.  Some survivors need to process through art, some with body based therapies, some talking through metaphor and around the actual words, some through really graphic detail in order to purge every last painful piece.  I guess I’m just one of those that has to purge out every single detail.  It’s never been enough for me, never been overly healing or resulted in much processing to just talk vaguely around it.  My brain insists on remembering far, far, far more than it should and the only natural response I have left is to get out as many of those details as possible in order to process them and heal.

I hate it, though, I hate it more than anything.  I hate dumping my trauma on other women.  Men caused my trauma, they caused this pain and they should be the ones to feel the weight of it.  I don’t want to cause distress or pain for my sisters, but let’s face it, since when did men give a shit anyway?  And I know it’s going to be my sisters that will advocate for all of the prostituted, I know it’s going to be my sisters that really care.  Men generally only care on the basis of their mothers or their sisters or their daughters or their girlfriends or any number of their female ‘possessions’.  They care on the basis that it is a personal violation to them.  We care because we know it’s a violation of all womankind.

Caring is hard, it’s painful.  It means opening ourselves up to the pain and the traumas of all women.  It means being so painfully aware and it’s probably one of the hardest things to accept and deal with as a radical feminist.  I think Dworkin said it best, really –

One of the things the women’s movement does is to make you feel pain. You feel your own pain, the pain of other women, the pain of sisters whose lives you can barely imagine. You have to have a lot of courage to accept that if you commit yourself, over the long term, not just for three months, not for a year, not for two years, but for a lifetime, to feminism, to the women’s movement, that you are going to live with a lot of pain.

– Andrea Dworkin, “Feminism: An Agenda” from “Letters From A War Zone”

I never really wanted to be the one dumping my trauma on other women, I really want men to be holding that pain because it was men that caused that pain, but as the quote above says, being a part of this movement means we do feel that pain and it’s hard, beyond hard, but it’s what we’ve committed ourselves to.  I feel that pain every time I hear my sister’s experiences, I feel that pain every time I talk to friends and other womyn.  I don’t mind bearing others pain, I’ve never cared about myself enough to care too much about what I take on, but I never wanted to be the one causing pain to others.

I guess it doesn’t really matter, there’s more than enough ‘good’ reasons to be using the level of detail that I do.  It helps me on a personal and an individual level and it gives a voice to all the prostituted, all the exited women, all the women that didn’t survive along the way.

I still feel guilty and I’ll always feel guilty about the level of detail that I use and the harm I may be doing to other womyn, but these words are far too important, they need to be heard both for my sake and for the sake of thousands upon thousands of other womyn.

RadSurvivor.