Breakdown – Guilt

I figured this needed two titles, because let’s face it, this isn’t gonna be the one and only time I’m gonna write a post called ‘Breakdown’.

The 15th was my grandma’s birthday, a day that comes with flashbacks and memories and triggers, but strangely, it was none of these that pushed me into almost completely breaking down.  If anything, I’d half forgotten or forced myself to forget.  I’d spent the entire night writing and avoiding sleep, November is never a good month for me as I’ve said in earlier posts and my sleeping has been a whole new layer of bad as a result.  I gave in and finally tried to sleep at around 9am on the morning of the 15th.

I was lying in bed and despite the lingering sleep deprivation, found myself struggling with insomnia and my mind wandering.  I ended up, weirdly, thinking about my other grandma, the one on my ‘dads’ side (he’s not my dad, but just go with it), I guess my head had half realised the day and had vaguely clicked on ‘grandma’ as a theme.  I don’t really have any memories of my dad’s mum, I never got to see her that often and when I did, I was generally so out of it and just more focused on having a chance to breathe and not be hurt that it’s hard to hold on to memories of her, now.

What I do remember about her is that she was nice to me, she genuinely cared about me and she never hurt me, at all.  I remembered how no matter what I put her through (breaking down and acting out in her house – I was around four-five years old and for some reason I cut up her shower curtain before cutting myself, it was around the time that my mum started selling me out, so I guess I just dealt the best way I could, but my grandma wasn’t even remotely mad at me.  Suicide attempts.  Lack of contact.  Dropping completely off the radar etc. etc.) she always stuck by me, never got angry with me, was still just nice to me.  She wasn’t exactly a nice woman, she was horribly racist and a working-class Tory and I was often ashamed of her and the things she’d say about various groups of people, but she was nice to me and with a family like the one I had, that meant the world to me.

I was lay there thinking about her and I suddenly realised that I couldn’t remember her face, I couldn’t remember what she looked like and I had to really force the memory.  I ended up feeling so sick and guilty, realising that I hadn’t seen her or been in contact with her since I escaped three and a half years ago, that I hadn’t seen her properly at all for quite a few months before that.  I know she’s worried about me, when I escaped, I found myself sending a letter to my ‘dad’ and left a care of address (this was a bad move on my part, but barring the emotional impact each letter I receive has on me, I am safe.  I have never wrote to any of them or replied to any letters since.) and my grandma has been writing to me and sending me cards on birthdays and Christmases since, she’s repeatedly said she’s worried about me and that she hopes I feel able to get in contact with her soon.

I just ended up curling up in guilt and shame.  This woman who had never been anything but nice to me, who had never hurt me, who had no hand in my being trafficked is worrying about me because I left with no warning, completely disappeared.  I callously cut her off purely on the basis she was related to me, connected to my traffickers, I punished her just as much as I punished them.

My brain kept spiralling, I felt so much guilt over all of them, my entire family, including my traffickers and those that enabled them and/or abused me in other ways like my other grandma, the ones whose birthday I finally remembered it was.  I curled up in guilt knowing that I was missing her birthday, that I hadn’t been in contact for so long, that I didn’t even know if she was still alive or not.  Despite the fact that I know she hurt me, despite the fact that she knew I was being trafficked and abused and did nothing, despite the fact that she abused me herself, I was the one feeling guilty and so sick.  I missed her, I missed her so much because she was one of the few members of my family that could be some semblance of nice to me outside of the abuse.

I ended up in a huge spiral, missing my family, feeling so guilty for cutting them all off, especially those who had never hurt me (especially my little brother) and I just kept getting worse and worse.  I started questioning myself, questioning if it was even true, questioning what I’ve done.

What if I’d just made it all up?  What if none of it is real?  What if it never happened?  What if I over-exaggerated?  What if I’m remembering wrong?  I felt so fucking guilty, like I’d destroyed my family and my life over fucking nothing.  That I’d never be able to fix it.  That too many people know now; how do I explain to my girlfriend, my adoptive ‘family’, my friends, my therapist, other exited women that I just made it all up?  How do I get myself out of the mess that I made?  How do I fix things with my family now?

I cast around for proof that it was real and it was as if my brain had completely shut down, I couldn’t find any memories or flashbacks of abuse.  I was finding excuses for the physical proof I had.  The old injuries, I obviously got them some other way, clearly not trauma related.  The scarification, the branding, on my thigh – I’m a self-harmer, I clearly did it to myself (I casually ignored the fact that it had been there for nearly my entire life, I ignored the fact that I remember it being there before I could even spell the word). 

I started doubting everything, convinced myself I’d just made it all up, convinced myself that I was just a fucked up piece of shit and a disgusting human being and that I should just die.  I couldn’t stop crying, sobbing, screaming; so disgusted with myself, so overwhelmed with what I’d done.  I just curled up and I just wanted to scream.  I just wanted to cut, so badly, cut out the sin, cut out the dirt, cut out my lies, bleed out my guilt and my shame.  I just wanted to starve myself, stop eating again because how could someone like me deserve to eat anyway?  I just wanted to kill myself, because I knew that was the only way out of my lies.  I managed to avoid actually hurting myself, purely on the basis that I couldn’t move.

More than anything, I just wanted to go home, to go back to my family, to try and fix the mess that I’d made.  I just about managed to convince myself to wait, knowing that if there was even the slightest chance my memories were true, that I’d be putting myself at suck risk if I did go home.

I eventually cried myself to sleep, stupidly exhausted and drained and I woke up feeling marginally better.  I still felt so guilty, I still missed them so much, but I was just about holding on to my truth again, just about able to tell myself that I wasn’t lying, that my memories were real, that I couldn’t go back home.  But for those hours that I lay there crying, I was just so convinced that I’d made it all up, just so convinced that I should go home and try and fix everything.

I’ve spent the rest of the week kinda numb, kinda in a daze.  Thursday was my mum’s birthday, usually one of the worst days of the year for me, the day a breakdown is basically guaranteed but I got through it… OK?  I knew, I knew from the moment I woke up that my joviality and the fact that I was OK was an act; it was too much, too much OK-ness, my brain was clearly trying to make me feel more OK than I was, but it was what I needed to get through the day.

I didn’t even care that my adoptive family had all forgotten; they usually make sure they’re here on the 19th, make sure I’m not alone because each year since I’ve left I’ve been more prone than ever to go back  home.  My girlfriend was here, so I wasn’t alone, but honestly I don’t think it would have mattered anyway, I was just so numb.

I cancelled therapy on the 19th because I didn’t wanna poke the hornets nest, I didn’t want to spoil what was even a false sense of feeling OK on a day that is usually one of the worst for me.  I didn’t want to take away one of the very few things what was gonna get me through the day.

I have just been in such a daze, since, I still feel it now, still feel kinda numb, kinda not anything.  Not like I should be, not like I know is under the surface.  I’m still struggling to hold on to knowing that I am telling the truth, that it is all real.

Other than really bad sleep, a lingering sense of anxiety and nausea and my head occasionally drifting, I’ve actually been OK since I broke down Sunday.  I know it doesn’t sound like an especially bad breakdown, but I know I can’t put exactly what I was feeling in words, but I was in so much pain, felt so much guilt, just missed my family so much and I wanted to hurt myself more than I have in a long time.  I just wanted to tear myself apart, destroy myself completely.

I’m so scared of those feelings coming back.  I know I’m far too numb and I know there’s so much under the surface of that numb.  I know there’s so much hurt and so much pain and so much guilt just waiting for it all to wear off and to be able to overwhelm me again and I’m just so scared.



Finding Safety as a Radical Feminist

My therapist spent a good portion of today’s session helping me try to find a sense of safety in the world again, in an effort to deal with the memories and experiences I described in my last post.  She wanted me to be able to reclaim that lost safety, to find a place in the world where I felt confident and safe and that I wouldn’t be hurt or violated again.

She basically tried to get me to believe that their are good people in the world, that I’m not destined for these kinds of things to keep happening to me, that this isn’t always just going to be my life.  She basically went the ‘not all men’ route.

Now, she had good intentions; she was trying to help me rebuild my sense of safety and my confidence and ability to be out in the world.  She’s not naive, she recognises the dangers, she knows that there are extremely dangerous men out there, she knows the risks for survivors when predators are around (part of the reason why she wants me to be able to build up my confidence – to get that ‘if you touch me, I’ll rip your balls off’ kinda attitude), she knows that my lack of confidence and timidity is going to make me vulnerable.

That might seem like a negative attitude to take, it might also sound vaguely like victim blaming, but it’s a reality we have to face.  Survivors, of all kinds, are vulnerable to further abuse.  CSA survivors are vulnerable to trafficking and domestic abuse as teenagers and adults.  Rape survivors are vulnerable to other rapists.  Predators have this unique talent of spotting potential victims and part of that is our lack of confidence in the world.  That is not to say, of course, that our rapes and abuses and traumas are our own fault just because we weren’t confident enough, but it is a vulnerability we have and one that we have to recognise in ourselves and other survivors.

The slight problem with my therapists approach, however, is that I don’t see the world in the form of there just being a few dangerous men out there, I don’t take the ‘not all men’ approach.  I’m a radical feminist, so yes, all men are a risk.

And this is where I’m going to struggle.  I know I’m going to struggle.  I’m not naive, I know that as a woman I am always going to be at risk.  I know as a trafficking survivor I am always going to be vulnerable.  I know that men are dangerous.  I know that even if not all of them are traffickers or violent, hide in the bushes with a knife style rapists, that they are all potentially violent and potentially rapists.  (There are more than enough studies that show that men have and will commit rape under certain circumstances; especially if you don’t use the word ‘rape’ in the question.)

I might have a relative degree of safety as a lesbian; I’m not going to be dating men or pursuing relationships with them.  I generally live as much of a separatist lifestyle as possible, at least the majority of the time (barring the odd gay men or two who have spent years earning my trust) and my main contact with men is within public life, on the streets, in shops etc.

But this doesn’t give me a full level of protection (especially not taking into account lesbophobia) and it never will.  I’ll never be able to have a full sense of safety as I know that all men are potentially a risk.  This isn’t just a survivor’s attitude, a survivor’s misgivings and lack of trust; this is a realistic analysis of the world.  I’ve been on the violent and abusive side of men, I was always going to have difficulties trusting men and regaining a sense of safety, but trying to do so whilst engaging with radical analysis?  I’m not so sure how easy that is going to be.

I know that all men are a risk to my safety; how am I supposed to find any kind of sense of safety in a world where that’s true?


Flashbacks Galore

For some reason, so many people still seem to underestimate just exactly what living as a survivor entails; so many people seem to underestimate the reality of our mental health, the things we’re able to do, the things we live with on a daily basis.  Part of me, of course, knows this is just another general silencing tactic.  You ignore, dismiss and belittle the mental and physical health conditions that survivors live with then it’s easy enough to ignore, dismiss and belittle the traumas that caused those responses.

Even within activist circles, even amongst those that proclaim to support and stand by survivors underestimate those realities; they will one minute be declaring their everlasting support for survivors and the next, be talking about how certain mental and physical health conditions just aren’t real or be questioning a survivor’s mental health.

I know that here, I’m probably talking to those that do believe and acknowledge the lived realities of survivorship and I equally recognise that I don’t fully have the words to get across just how awful, difficult and painful life can be whilst healing; whilst living with everything that we have to live with.

However, after a fucking horrific night, I feel the need to write this, so here goes.

Flashbacks aren’t fun, don’t expect them to be pleasant reading.

I’ve spent the night curled up in fear from flashbacks, resisting the urge to scream, resisting the urge to self-harm until I could focus on another source of pain – one I have control over, restless and hurting and desperate to do anything to make it stop.  I tried to sleep, briefly and repeatedly found myself suffocating under the weight of the duvet; my head seeing and feeling man after man climb on top of me, feeling their breathe in my face, hearing their grunts and their moans and their disgusting words.  Every time I started to drift off, the flashbacks would become more intense, my brain seeing vulnerability and a lack of resistance in my sleepy state.  I just wanted to scream and keep screaming; to self-harm; to throw up; to do anything and everything to break the state I was in.

Despite this blog, despite my steps into activism, despite my living openly as a survivor, I still doubt the words that I use.  I still doubt my own reality.  I feel like a terrible fraud, that I have no right to use words like ‘rape’ or ‘abuse’ or ‘torture’ or ‘trafficking’ or even ‘survivor’, that I am causing harm to real survivors when I do so, by lumping my experiences with theirs I am taking away the care and attention and support they need.

Last night I had a very solid realisation; those words are appropriate.  It’s one I’ve had before, but with time it always fades until each of us is ready to accept and believe and truly feel that reality.  Last night was that night for me (but who’s to say if it’ll fade or not this time), the realisation that I have actually been raped and abused and tortured and trafficked hit me and it hit me hard.  It knocked the breath out of me, I couldn’t breathe, I had panic attacks, the flashbacks overwhelmed me, I weeped and I weeped and I weeped for the pain I’ve endured.  ‘Rape’ and ‘abuse’ and ‘torture’ and ‘trafficking’ are not just meaningless words I’ve abstractly assigned to my experiences, they’re real and they’re powerful and they’re my reality – and it’s a reality I’m not so sure I can live with.

I didn’t know what to do with myself or my body.  I was writhing in pain at the realisation, I was weeping and sobbing, to the point where I ran out of tears and sound.  I was consumed with flashbacks to the point where I simply gave up trying to resist them and let them overtake me.  I was feeling as much as seeing; I was feeling those numerous men on top of me, I was feeling the pain and the tearing and the injuries.  I was feeling every touch, their weight above me; my body was remembering as much as my mind was.  I couldn’t move from where I was laid, I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do more than writhe from the pain and beg and plead for it to all stop.

By the time morning came (though the light itself made no difference, I have not slept without a light on at night for more than a decade) I was still struggling, still suffering from flashbacks and pain, I was still finding it hard to breathe, still soundlessly sobbing, still wanting it to stop.

I gave up on any prospects of therapy fairly quickly; I had zero sleep, an incredibly bad night and I simply didn’t have the energy to get up, get dressed, go outside into the world.  This probably wasn’t the most sensible response, maybe therapy was exactly what I needed today, but the thought of going outside not so long after a terrible fucking night was far too much.

As far as most people are concerned, I have agoraphobia, which on some levels is definitely true, but in reality, my fear of the outside world, my inability to leave my flat is a direct response to my trauma.  I become convinced that the moment I step foot outside the door, I will be hurt again.  That my traffickers will find me, that a client will recognise me, that any man on the street is capable of and will hurt me (which fuck, we know is true because men fucking suck); my fear of this is especially heightened at the moment.  Just a little less than a year ago I was assaulted on public transport, the thought of going outside alone at the moment, at this time of year, is terrifying to me.

But, no matter how crazy I am (yes, I am crazy, I’ve accepted that.  No, you don’t get to call me crazy), life doesn’t stop.  It would be so easy and at times probably healthy for me to just not go outside, ever, but the reality is I live alone and unless the cat suddenly decided to go out and do a food shop, I need to force myself to do so many things.

And this is where the sticking point comes in.  People expect those with real mental health conditions to be thoroughly incapable of anything; to be permanently having panic attacks and flashbacks, to never eat, to never go outside, to never do anything, but life doesn’t work like that, especially not if you live alone, especially not if you’re skint.  I’ve been lucky enough to have been oh so graciously deemed eligible for benefits, but I still don’t exactly have the money to be ordering food deliveries every week.  Life still has to happen.

I still post on Facebook, I still write this blog, I talk to friends, I sometimes go outside and socialise, I go to the shop, I feed the cat (though probably not as often as he’d like), I just about keep on top of the cleaning, I have an amazing relationship and an amazing girlfriend.  I can fake my way through a bad day if I have to.  All of which works against me because I really mustn’t be ill, it really mustn’t be that bad if I can pull that off, right?  But what you don’t see is how much of a cost doing those things has on me.  You don’t see me curled up in fear, you don’t see me utterly exhausted, begging for sleep, downing coffee after coffee to avoid the nightmares, you don’t see me flinch at the slightest touch, burst into tears at the slightest sign of conflict (OK, actually, some of you that actually know me did see that happen tbf), unable to move from the exhaustion, being slowly surrounded by a pile of pots I’m unable to wash, the inability to eat, ordering take-away after take-away because cooking takes too much energy.

I lost track as to where I was going with this post, but to sum up, life fucking sucks for survivors and it takes time to heal to reach a point where it sucks a little less.  But today, you’ll see me outside and socialising and forcing myself through, because that’s what I have to do no matter how much I just want to hide.