Exactly 17 years ago, I was just 14 years old and I had already been raped, more than once.
17 years ago, I was naive and trusting. I didn’t know what he had just done, or what he would go on to do.
My abuser groomed me over a period of several months. He was clever, cunning and deceitful. He knew exactly what to say, when to push and when to back off. He knew when I was disbelieving and what to do in order to make me believe him. Slowly, carefully and even patiently, he transformed me. I was completely and utterly controlled by him. Once he had me where he wanted me, the abuse was easy for him. It didn’t matter what he did, I always blamed myself. He was so confident in himself even laughing at the authorities because he knew I would never say anything against him.
It has been 17 years since it first began and 17 years on I am still suffering. Sexual abuse is horrific. The shame, oh God, the shame….the self blame, the secrecy, the silence. It is like a sickness, it spreads, infecting everything in its path. I downplay, I minimise, it is a way of coping, but the reality is rape after rape after rape is utterly soul destroying. Rape and abuse wrecks lives. And 17 years on, I hurt more than ever.
I may be healing, but I was broken. He broke me, completely. I am too embarrassed and even ashamed to share the half of what the abuse did to me and how I reacted and dealt with it..but I am certain that it broke me. Those who know me now, probably wouldn’t see that, but I remember, I felt it, I still feel it. My heart was shattered and these are not meaningless words, or exaggeration. They are truth. They are my truth and the truth of all the many, many survivors of abuse.
I may look OK, I may act OK, but I am not OK. I have not been OK for 17 years. I have not been OK, since he intruded on my life. Like so many others, I have and continue to live with what my abuser chose to do to me. I live it every minute of every day.
17 years on and I am struggling with the knowledge that I am still suffering. I am ashamed. I am so embarrassed. I know I should not be, but it remains.
17 years since the first kiss
17 years since the first assault
17 years since the first rape
17 years since my childhood was stolen.
17 years since my life changed forever.
I am horrified by what he began 17 years ago. I am deeply disturbed by what he did and what he caused. I shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed, because what he did was hell. What I carry within me is horrific. What I have seen and what I know, what was done to me and what I was forced to do- you cannot know how deep those scars run, how much my soul aches, how badly my heart has been broken.
17 years on and I am telling, what I could not tell.
17 years on and I am feeling what I could not feel.
17 years on and I am fixing what he broke.
17 years on and I think I am only just beginning to understand the impact of what he did.
I found this very emotional to write, but also helpful, I feel as if I have released a lot within this post.
*There are some potential triggers further down (another warning is posted) please be careful.*
I cannot escape the past, it is hitting all at once. My body aches from memories of what I once endured. My legs and thighs are screaming at me, every single time I move. The abdominal cramps hit in waves, taking my breath away.
So I fill my home with flowers, because I don’t know what else to do.
I admit I am utterly miserable. I am quiet today and a little withdrawn. With little energy to do much else, I am remembering as if it were yesterday, the first time, the group rape and many others.
So I have filled my home with flowers in an attempt to comfort and distract.
This month is so triggering, there is nowhere for me to hide. My body remembers even where my mind will not. I am trapped. Trapped by time, trapped by this season. Trapped.
So like so many days before, my home is filled with flowers. Today yellows and reds are dressing each window sill.
My home is beautiful, my home is clean and comforting, the beauty I create is not only important on days like today for my own sanity but is crucial for my healing.
I remember the first few times in vivid detail, the dust, the dirt, the smell, the chaos and the dark. There was this sense of foreboding that seemed to sort of ooze from the walls. I remain disturbed by the memories of that environment.
It was like another world, one no one should ever have to experience. There were screams and shouts from the other flats around us and within that chaos we were alone in the dark and there on a mattress of filth upon filth, there on blood stains of past abuse…my innocence was so brutally taken.
And it was there where the stains were soon mine, it was there that I swear, a part of me died and it was there I grew to fear the dark and loathe the dirt. It is there, my mind so often takes me to, it is there I have to fight to return from… every. single. day.
So I fill my home with flowers and bask in their beauty. I light candles, I am soothed by the gentle flicker and comforted by their scent. I surround myself in light, in blankets and in cushions and in textures and in patterns, in quiet and in peace.
I cannot help but fear that a part of me still resides back there. Therefore all the beauty I surround myself with is to chase away the darkness that I fear will imprison the rest of me. In the light, he can no longer harm me.
I strive to create beauty, I strive to create light. Right now it is for me, but I hope one day for many others too. And that, I pray, will be my life.
Sharing my story is always difficult, the first time is always the hardest, but it’s not like it ever becomes an easy thing to do. It does change over time though and I never regret it.
Yesterday was agony. Agony and exhausting. While attempting to share some of my story of that night, there were moments where I felt as if I wanted to climb out of my own head so I could escape the horror of my own memories, yet I was spurred on by a need, a desire and will that I have come to trust.
These memories are like a poison or an ugliness that I have been forced to carry for way too long..it does not and has never belonged inside me. I imagine it as a dark liquid, so dark it is almost black. At times it is calm, almost still and I can pretend it isn’t there, but then there are times when it is like it is bubbling, like it is boiling and I am burning from the inside out. I have to purge it all in order to survive. While that purging is agony in itself, there is always a blissful relief when it is finally out.
Yesterday, on my blog post I held back, greatly. Letting out just enough to feel a release. I remember that night in detail, I remember it all. Every sick thing they did, every word they said, the terror I felt, what I did to get through it… and part of me wishes I could have shared it all. There was/ is such a need to get it all out again… but here is not the right place.
Telling is painful and that is to be expected isn’t it? I am fearful of the pain, of course, fearful of over sharing, fearful of making others uncomfortable, but it is the fear of rejection that paralyses me. If I tell and you leave, if I tell and you ask me to stop, if I tell and you treat me differently, if I tell and you do not believe me. That is truly terrifying for me. After all I have been through I believe the deepest scar is from the rejection and abandonment. I fear those more than anything else is this world. So I hold back. I always hold back.
It may not have seemed like much..just a few words to describe a horrific and disturbing incident…but sharing my story in that way on here, was incredibly hard and horribly painful. It was the hardest post I have ever written.
Today was my last therapy session for a few weeks. I felt heavy throughout the session, weighed down by the pain in my chest and drained by the continuing conflict between my head and my heart.
There was validation as always and also a very big relief to sit with my feelings- which is new in itself.
We talked of the difficulties of October, of why and what. I cannot share here (nor do I want to) the specifics of the abuse that are behind many of the triggers I face this month. I was able to discuss some of that today, which helped. It helps that my T knows so much, that he makes the connections between the abuse and my triggers without more than a few words for me.
I shared with my T my decision to take an anniversary off work later this month. It feels so right, I deserve that, a day to feel whatever I need to feel. That anniversary is an incident I have dealt with extensively in therapy and processed in my own time. It is an incident that is issue free. But it still took place, it was still done to me. Talking and processing does not undo it.
Though they do not cause flashbacks, the triggers remain. And it hurts more than it has ever hurt before.
This time of year especially. The fallen leaves, the smell of damp. The chill in the air, the darkness. They all remind me of the night I was raped by a group of men.
It isn’t flashbacks reminding me, or nightmares tormenting me, but I remember. I remember as if it were yesterday. And I can’t escape it, not when out of every window lays reminders, not when each time I set foot out of the door, I am hit by the October air and the memory of what they did.
I want to share some more of my story, as much as I can on here at least.
*Trigger warning here. Please be careful.*
It is strange the details you remember, things like I distinctively remember the smell of dampness and I remember the way the chill of the air felt on my exposed skin. I remember the feel of the trousers my first attacker was wearing. I remember how his hair felt on my fingertips as I tried to push him away. I remember my second attacker vividly, the words he said have stayed with me. The taunts and the insults, but the compliments particularly.
I left the building with the first rapist and the darkness was sort of swallowing us as we walked away from safety and from light. Because of that darkness, my most vivid memories are of what I smelt, what I felt and what I heard. There was an assault that made me lose consciousness, and when I came around I was in that total darkness. In my drunken state, it took time for my eyes to adjust. Forced to rely on my other senses, I could only feel the depraved and sickening sexual assault that was being done to me.
I was flat on my back, laying on a bed of soggy leaves. I remember the dark shadow above me, the pressure on my legs and abdomen. Frozen to the spot, I was rooted beneath this monster. There I reasoned. There I made excuses. There I tried and I fought in the only way I knew. Ignored completely, the violations worsened and pushing him away only served to make him angry.
Pleading and reasoning, I was forced to my feet into further assault. Force, aggression and cold. It was so, so cold. Shivering, shaking and pressed against a wall, movement from behind and
The distinctive noise of trodden leaves, breaking twigs. Laughter.
Pushed to to my knees and scared out of my mind.
Then more shadows in the dark, closing in from every side and
Laughing, taunting, insults and
A horizontal world in an abyss of darkness
Pain. Stinging. Sore. Burning
Fear, terror. More begging, pleading.
Sweat, semen, vomit, tears.
That was difficult, and so very painful. But it was also a relief. It is increasingly helpful to talk (write) about that night. I think I am entering a new phase of healing with this where I want and need to be heard in a way I haven’t been before.
Thank you for reading.
Autumn is here and I am not quite sure how to feel about it. I love this time of year in some ways. I love the clothes I can wear. While I’ve worked hard and made some massive improvements in feeling more comfortable wearing skirts and dresses during summer, I am so much more at home in tights too, plus boots of course, or jeans and boots. On the days I feel vulnerable, those clothes are so very comforting.
I love the comfort food I get to cook and eat, I love to wrap up warm with my boys and go out stomping in the leaves. I love the changing weather..
Tonight, while it was still light- I was sitting on my kitchen floor, with the doors open and I was listening and watching. Watching autumn happening right in front of my eyes. The cool air, the low light, the wind blowing the colourful leaves to the ground. It was amazing. It was beautiful.
My heart was heavy as I watched. Heavy and conflicted with love and hate and fear for this season and the one beyond it. Things have changed, yet not enough that this year will be without triggers. In fact in some ways, I anticipate that there will be more this year. Pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, my eyes are opening to what it really was- to a greater depth than I’ve ever known before. So how on earth can this year be easier? How, when even just my last session saw me facing more reality, more truth? The more truth I discover the more I remember and the more I hurt.
I have no therapy tomorrow, and no therapy for much of October and that adds to my fear of this season. I have one session between now and the last day in October. In between I have numerous anniversaries. Anniversaries that I have mostly faced in therapy, but still painful, horrible anniversaries. Some that hurt now, more than ever before.
And everything about this season reminds me. The air, I swear it tastes the same. The way the wind sounds in the trees at this time of year and the smell. My God, the smell. :(
Next week begins the worst month of the year. I hate October, I loathe it. October it started, I mean really started. October when the pain began, the violations and the fear. October when those men raped me. October when I was forced to go back at 16… October.
I read the word October, I say the word October, I hear the word October and all I can think is “rape”. October signifies rape to me. So much rape. Him, them, him, him, him….
I made a decision today. A decision to (try) not to fight the anniversaries in the way I normally do. No pretending, no avoiding, no forcing myself to be normal. It happened, he did that, they did those things and it’s OK to hurt, it’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to admit I am not OK.
For the first time I am taking annual leave on the anniversary of the gang rape I suffered. I refuse to pretend it is a normal day, I refuse to fight my own pain in order to work or to socialise with my colleagues. Why shouldn’t I allow myself to be home, where there is safety and comfort and a loving, gentle husband close by? Normal routine will not make it go away, it will not stop the pain. Believe me, I tried.
October is coming, and I am so afraid. November and December.. too and it goes on. Numerous anniversaries and reminders everywhere.
I long for Spring already.
Triggers can be anything- I mean ANYTHING at all. After a few years of actively dealing with PTSD, I’m well aware of a lot of my triggers, however there is always something new- not necessarily surprising, but new.
It’s not the things you would expect either- I can, mostly, read of the experiences of other survivors, without triggers. It is the details of the way they were treated after, like with the abuse in Rotherham, UK, that are triggering.
Music from back then is triggering, photos, certain noises, loud, shouting men, certain words other people use, even gestures, or particular looks, that can remind me.
Sex is probably one of the more obvious ones. Sex can be highly triggering, I am very fortunate to have an amazingly patient and loving husband. Together, we have managed to get through some things that trigger- to go on and be able to enjoy those (PTSD/ therapy dependent)..and for those that cannot be overcome, we have learned ways to avoid them, while still being able to enjoy an active and loving sexual relationship.
Smell, is my biggest trigger. I have a keen sense of smell and I find it is smell that can provide the most comfort. However, a triggering smell can bring me to my knees or even make me physically sick. I go to great lengths to ensure I am surrounded by comforting smells. Cigarettes, weed (which I don’t smell too often anymore!) and damp are all smells that trigger, certain types of men’s after shave and even male body odour can be a trigger too.
More recently, my triggers haven’t just been smell- and yet I am unable to pinpoint what the triggers are. I know what I see and feel, but not the cause. That is always hard. It’s much harder to work on appropriate grounding when I am not sure of the cause. I do much better at grounding when it can be aimed at a specific trigger, i.e smell- I can light a scented candle or I can do loads of laundry, so my house smells like my favourite washing powder. With these recent flashbacks, I can only do more general grounding and it just isn’t working as well.
Now, as I said above, ANYTHING, can trigger. On my Facebook today, there was a photo of kittens tearing up toilet paper in a bathroom. That perfectly innocent and perhaps to some, sweet photo, almost caused a wave of flashbacks for me. The combination of kittens and a toilet was a trigger, a very big- I’ve-not-dealt-with those-memories-yet, type of trigger. Without specifics, my abuser has 3 kittens.. I have some very horrible memories of his bathroom and further fragments of traumatic memories with cute, little kittens featuring heavily.
Kittens, toilets. How messed up is that?
Triggers are hard to describe, I find that so frustrating. It’s unfortunately, a big part of my life, where the simple, innocent actions of others can trigger me and send me spiraling, or at the very least, cause me a lot of pain and exhaustion. Because I struggle to describe what a trigger is, I cannot possibly ask people to alter their behaviour or even explain why things can be difficult for me. And even if I could find the right words, what about the questions? The “what caused it?”, or whatever, that could come up. Then what? I don’t know how to talk about this openly- it is horribly painful and lets face it- how many people really want to hear it?
How can I explain that your picture of your cute kitten is incredibly upsetting, or when you wear that aftershave, I am terribly afraid of you, or when you say that phrase, I feel I am with my abuser again. Further and more importantly, what if I told them and they didn’t care? I’d alter my behaviour- and have done and continue to do so, to protect others from pain.
Would anyone alter their behaviour in order to protect me from triggers and the resulting trauma and upset??? Painful experience tells me it would be unwise to ask.- and that is something I find deeply upsetting. :(