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.