Saturday, 20 May 2017

Donate Button: an Explanation

This blog has always been a labour of love - that is, of love for all of us who have experienced sexual violence. I have poured time, energy, and tears into the writing (plus the contact with those who shared their stories with me), and felt so glad that I was able to. Then I stopped being able to, and eventually realised I needed to take a break. Almost one year ago, I posted on the blog's facebook page

Hello, All. 
I want to thank you all for following this page, for reading the blog, and for sharing it with those you love. Your support has meant so much  πŸ’—
You might have noticed that the blog hasn't been active recently. I still care passionately about sexual violence, but other things have been taking up my energy. 
In the past year, both of my parents have died (in their late fifties), and my eight year relationship ended. It's a lot of loss in a short time, and I've started blogging about it, as part of the grieving process. I think it's helping.
But even though These Are Not My Secrets is dormant at the moment, the posts are all still there, and the message is still true: if you've experienced sexual violence, you have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed. You deserve healing and happiness. Your stories are your own to tell, and the people who love you will believe you. 
I don't know if I'll be posting here again - let's wait and see.
With all the love in the world, Jam X

My life is still very busy (I am halfway through a four year degree in a healthcare profession - I had to take a year's break from that, too!) and I am still, of course, working through my grief, but I'm hoping that maybe I can find space for the blog again. 

Recently, it was suggested to me that I add a donate button to the blog. 

The horror! A combination of culture and politics means that I am incredibly uncomfortable talking about money, and the idea of a donate button (or donut button, as I prefer to think of it - send donuts!) felt awful. But, it was argued, there may be someone out there who *wants* to donate, but currently can't. Any money that is donated will go toward my therapy, which is wonderful, but expensive and ongoing.

So, when you see the shiny new donut button, please do not feel any pressure whatsoever. Unless you actively *want* to send donuts, it is not for you. I truly am just so happy you're here, reading the blog. 

And if you do send donuts, please give me your email address, so that I can thank you. 


And, because I've not used the word yet, and I fear I may have my Englishness revoked if I don't: sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry! πŸ˜‰

πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’š

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Submission from a female reader from the UK.

This post discusses rape in a relationship. This is a topic I struggle to talk about, as it's so taboo. "Marital rape" has only been recognised as illegal in England, Wales, and Scotland since 1991, and in Northern Ireland since 2009. Regardless, rape is rape, even if the rapist is your partner. Indeed, the betrayal of trust is enormous when the rapist purports to love you. To then live with that person, knowing that they raped you, must take such a toll.

The author's words are exactly as I received them.

...

To the rest of the world he was quiet, bumbling, polite – a bit of a throwback, with an understated, dishevelled charm. Or dull and odd, depending on one’s perspective.

When Trevor and I first became a couple, my friends couldn’t quite understand the attraction. We were very different, but I insisted that underneath our obvious differences were twin souls. Or something. I was 23, had married young and foolishly, and was overjoyed to be swept up in a shiny new romance.

Very early on (maybe a week after we’d met at a party, when I was still telling myself I’d simply met a lovely new friend) Trevor started telling me stories about other women – exes, crushes, women he’d stood beside while waiting for a lift – there were lots. One of the first stories he told me was about a friend, Nina, whom he’d first met online. He and Nina had become close, and almost had sex. He rejected her. Nina then began dating Dan, his closest friend at university. This was when things between Trevor and Nina and Dan went suddenly sour.

On one incomprehensible occasion, he told me, Nina had walked up to him, slapped him in the face, and walked away without a word.

Over subsequent months, Nina and Dan conducted a small but persistent internet hate campaign against him, via the blogging and poetry websites he used. (This was before Facebook and Twitter.) Their attacks largely focused on accusations that Trevor was drawn to women with mental health issues, fetishised them even. He became very emotional while telling me this story, and I desperately wanted to assure him that he was not the person they had portrayed him to be.

The slap, he confessed, had worried him. It was as if, he said, Nina “believed” him to have “done something”. I probed, and he volunteered the concern that he might have raped Nina, but have no memory of it. He had often worried about this, he told me.
Hearing these words from a person I believed to be gentle, kind, and principled (in fact, I barely knew this man, and my naΓ―ve trust was baseless), shocked me. “There is no way a person could forget raping someone,” I insisted. “It can’t have happened.” I reassured him of this countless times over the next eight years.

Eighteen months later, Trevor and I were living together. I had ended my marriage and moved, with my child, 150 miles away to a city where I knew no one. Trevor knew all about my past by then: the sexual abuse and rape I had been a victim of in childhood, and the mental health issues it had left me with (complex trauma, although I didn’t have that terminology then). The move had left me isolated, and I was experiencing a period of depression, for which I was seeing a psychotherapist.

One Sunday morning, Trevor raped me.

We were lying in our bed, and I was in a mute, dissociative state. (This is seen in people who have experienced trauma, as a self protective mechanism.) I was still, silent, and unresponsive. Had I been interested in kissing, cuddling, and sex, my behaviour would have been the opposite: as an enthusiastic sexual partner, I expressed consent fervently. But not that morning. On that morning, I was lost in an inner pool of despair, unable to express anything verbally. I simply needed to be left alone.

Trevor ignored all of the signs that he should have known meant “no”: my silence, my stillness, my lack of eye contact. This was not how we had sex, not ever. He climbed on top of me as I lay on my back, and I kept my face turned away from him, staring unseeingly through the wall, which was inches away. Tears welled up in my eyes. This was not sex. I wanted it to stop, but I felt as though I was miles deep under my skin, too far to climb back up in time. All I could do was wait. Trevor finished, and he lay down beside me: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. He was kissing my shoulders as I cried, silently, still turned away. “I’m so sorry.” He stayed close as I slowly, slowly felt my way back into my body, regained the power of speech. He kept apologising, “I’m so sorry”.

He was sorry. He knew it was wrong. He knew what he’d done. He was sorry. He was sorry that he had raped me. I accepted that he was sorry, and we didn’t talk about it. We never talked about it.

In recent times I’ve wondered how much my mental health, and my relationship with Trevor was coloured by him raping me.

Rape takes away a person’s agency, and tells them that their wants and feelings do not matter. To receive those messages from the person who says they love you more than anyone, and who then continues to behave as though nothing bad has happened… that sounds like the pattern of a child abuser.

I can’t accept that Trevor raping me was anything other than an expression of his power. It certainly feels unlikely to have been an expression of passion. In actual fact, mine was the greater sex drive, and I frequently felt shamed by Trevor, for wanting sex when he didn’t.

Our relationship continued for a number of years. We weren’t especially happy, but he always insisted that it was “the nuts and bolts”, practicalities, rather than an issue with our connection.

Sometimes, in a way typical of those living with complex trauma, small things would arouse in me an overwhelming panic, and I would need to get away from Trevor, to get out of the house, to be alone in order to calm down. When this happened, he would do everything he could to stop me from leaving the house. He would pin me to walls, he would hide my keys, he would shout and hurt me. In the aftermath, I would try to end the relationship, but he would never let me.

Aside from these explosions, I continued to feel content and invested. I believed that we were in love, and although we did not see the point in marriage, I expected to be with Trevor “forever”.

Then life got complicated, and my relationship with Trevor was a casualty of that. He did not love me any more. The breakup was brutal and complicated, and came at a time when I did not have the emotional resources to cope. Despite my begging him to go sooner, to stay with a friend, Trevor took a month to leave. As much as possible, I stayed elsewhere during this time, but there were evenings when we were both in the house at the same time.

On one such evening, things fell apart. I was hurting so bitterly, and his being so casual as though we were just housemates was causing me to spiral. I said some horrible things about Trevor and his new, much younger girlfriend. (That it would be nice to no longer feel intellectually challenged, for instance.) He was furious, angrier than I’d ever seen him, and began to verbally tear into me, telling me that I was a nasty person, that I would always say the cruellest possible thing, that this was why he didn’t love me, that he didn’t feel safe with me, that –

I was stunned. “You raped me.” The words, incredulous, were out of my mouth before I could stop them. It felt like a betrayal, like telling a terrible secret, even though I was telling it to the one person who already knew. But I was angry: he was telling me that I was nasty, that he felt unsafe – he who had raped me!

Nothing could have prepared me for what came next: “What?” He didn’t remember. How could he not remember? How could he rape me, be sorry, so, so sorry, and then forget? He made me tell him about it, so I did. I described staring through the wall, my face turned away from him on top of me, the tears flowing over the bridge of my nose, the burning hollowness in my chest. I described his apologies, and my forgiveness.

I expected, at this point, for him to argue. To return to his refrain on my nastiness, to call me a liar. But he didn’t. Instead he crumpled. How could he do that, he asked me. How could he ever trust himself again? He was in tears, and I found myself pushed into the role of comforting him, reassuring him. I knew this was not right, so I told him that he should probably speak to friends about this, which he accepted. I hoped he would speak to friends who knew me, and who I respected, but I feared that he would choose his new girlfriend, or a particularly sycophantic female friend he’d made online.

A few days later, I asked if he’d spoken to anyone about it. Yes, he said. Two women. He seemed uncomfortable with the question. Had they told him I was a liar, I asked him. Yes, he said. They had.




I have told four friends about this, in the year since. One tried to tell me I was mistaken, that he hadn’t raped me. That it had been sex. She and I are no longer friends. Another, knowing Trevor to be a quiet, calm man, asked me if I was sure. I told her I was, and she believed me, although it grieves her to think he could do that. She has known me for 20 years, so she knows I am telling the truth. Another, who perhaps wants to keep her lines of communication with Trevor open, had very little to say on the topic. Because I love her, I haven’t pushed it. And the last friend accepted my account, unconditionally. I am so lucky to have her.

I think, very occasionally, of Trevor’s new girlfriend. The same age as I was when he and I got together. Was she one of the ones who told him I was lying? Would I have done any differently? I listened to his story of Nina, to his concerns that he had “done something” – raped her and forgotten. I told him he could never do that. But I was wrong.

I think that to an extent this is something that we all do. Shushing out of one’s mind the stories that do not fit with one’s picture of a new love, of who they are, of what you will be together. Imagining that what the two of you create together will be a perfect, redeeming love. That nothing from before will matter, that it isn't even real. But it is real. And reality always catches up with you.



...

When we experience sexual violence, we are never to blame and we should never feel ashamed. These Are Not Our Secrets.

All submissions to the blog can be found here. If you would like to share your story anonymously on this blog, email me: thesearenotmysecrets@gmail.com - I'd really appreciate it if you could include your age, gender, and nationality.

All of the posts and pages can be easily found via the blog's contents page. Have a look.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Submission from a female reader, aged 20, from the UK.

This post shows the devastating effects sexual assault can have on a person's mental health, but it also shows that recovery is absolutely possible. It's such a powerful message, and one that is important to remember if you're struggling.

The author's words are exactly as I received them.

...

I'm not ashamed of my story. 
My story is not a story of rape but sexual assault and violence.

I'm not scared to speak out about this or ashamed. 3 years ago no-one knew my story and still only a few do who helped me come to terms with what actually happened. I want people to know that you are not a victim, you are still a person. Nothing that has happened to you defines you.

When I was 13 I started going to a youth group, I used to travel once a week for an hour on my own. I had a friend at this group who used to stick with me, a few months later I met his friend who was a few years older than me, we all hung out a few times which started becoming a normal thing and we all got along. He asked me to go out with him, I said no as he was too old for me and he left it at that. The next time I saw him we were stood outside having a cigarette at our group and there was just us two. He started moving closer to me and was then right next to me. I was leaning against a wall and so was he at this point. He spun round and pushed himself onto me. So close I could feel every disgusting inch of him. Practically crushing me to the point where I couldn't say or do anything. I just thought to myself, oh it'll be some sort of joke. Then his hands were on me. It made me feel sick to my stomach. I couldn't speak or move and I was just frozen. The feeling I can't even describe. I was in shock with it. His hands were down my trousers, I was in tears at this point. Silently crying to myself, not knowing what I could do. Then my friend started to walk through the door around the corner and he let me go. I was still stood in shock and felt sick from it all. Every time I met up with my friend and he was there I used to always stay on the other side of the room and with someone. But whenever he did end up alone with me, he always tried to touch me and It was scary knowing he could get away with it.

This was when I went in a self destructive downhill spiral which I couldn't seem to get out of. Still not really coming to terms with what had actually happened and just pushing it out. 

A year or so later, I was drinking, and doing other things I shouldn't be doing at the age of 15. However for me that was really my way of coping with everything that I was going through. I was out in town one weekend with my friend we'll call her Sarah. She wanted to nip to her friends which was only 15 minutes away, so we started walking there, I was fairly tipsy but the walk sobered me up. We got to her friends house and I'd never met these people which was scary for me to deal with. My friend went upstairs to have sex with one of the guys which meant I was left alone with his friend. We started talking and he seemed genuinely nice, just chatting away. Next thing I remember was being crushed with his body on top of mine. I had blacked out with shock. Knowing it was happening again and I still wasn't able to fight back or say anything was soul destroying. His lips were on mine and I was trying to get away, I couldn't move under the pressure of him. My wrists were bruised, my top was over my head and I couldn't move. His hands felt disgusting on top of me and I couldn't move. I was crying, trying to shout. I couldn't do anything. I was hit. I hurt everywhere. I managed to get away when he let my wrists go and I struggled to get out from under him. He kept grabbing me and pulling me back. I managed to get out the house. I had no top on and looked a state. I had nothing left of myself anymore. 

I suddenly had no dignity and everything was gone. I felt no hope after what I had been through and thought that would always be me, I'd always be the victim and never be able to gain control of my life again.

I ended up in a really deep hole that I couldn't get out of and I was killing myself with what I was putting my body through. I went to the doctors after some pushing from a friend. It was the most daunting thing I'd done. But I got help, I had therapy to help me over come my depression and PTSD. 

I finally managed to come to terms with what happened and that I am not to blame for it.

...

When we experience sexual violence, we are never to blame and we should never feel ashamed. These Are Not Our Secrets.

All submissions to the blog can be found here. If you would like to share your story anonymously on this blog, email me: thesearenotmysecrets@gmail.com - I'd really appreciate it if you could include your age, gender, and nationality.

All of the posts and pages can be easily found via the blog's contents page. Have a look.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Freezing

It's now one year since I began writing this blog. It's been a very busy one, full of highs and lows: frantic studying, deteriorating health, and heart breaking bereavement, but also wonderful friends, and so much love. And you lot - reading my blog, sending me messages, and sharing your stories with me. Thank you for contributing to this crazy rollercoaster <3


I've written before about ways in which victims of sexual violence are blamed for perpetrators' actions. This can take many forms, and while all are lies (sexual violence is always the fault of the perpetrator - no exceptions) some are more pernicious, more difficult to argue against. One tactic used by apologists for sexual violence, rape-deniers, victim-blamers is to create a falsely specific definition of what constitutes real sexual violence, and then to discredit anyone whose experience falls outside of this. 


So, I'd like to address one such lie: "real victims fight back"

Many victims of sexual violence describe an involuntary "freezing" reaction to rape or sexual assault. If you've read my story, and the readers' submissions to the blog, you'll know what I mean. Maybe you yourself experienced sexual violence, and you froze. For years after I was raped, I felt guilty for not fighting back. I felt like I couldn't legitimately call what happened "rape", because I hadn't done anything to stop it. I felt like it was my fault. 

But this freezing reaction is both common and real. One study found that 37% of rape victims experienced immobility, or freezing, during the attack (40% were mobile, 23% were intermediate). In non-human animals, a freezing reaction to threat has long been observed: tonic immobility, thanatosis, playing dead, playing possum - all names for the same response. Think of a rabbit in headlights. More recently, (for example here and here) science has recognised its presence in humans, too.

Now, I am by no means an endocrinologist, but I do have a very hazy understanding of the physiology behind this "freezing". To give you a fuller picture, here it is, in all its hazy glory:

  • When an individual's safety is threatened, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in - with the aim of saving the individual's life.
  • The adrenal gland swiftly dumps stress hormones (including adrenaline and cortisol) into the bloodstream, causing (among other things) blood-glucose and blood pressure to rise, preparing the individual for "fight or flight". 
  • Of course, in a violent situation it may not be possible to fight one's attacker, or to run away. And so, without any conscious input, the body freezes.
In the context of sexual violence, the freeze response may seem illogical or unhelpful, but if one's predator were an animal with keen motion-vision, it might save one's life. 

So what am I hoping this blog post will achieve? Well, should there be any apologists for sexual violence reading - anyone who thinks that "real victims fight back" - then I hope they will read the research I've linked to, and reconsider their position. And if you're reading this having experienced sexual violence (whether recently, or years ago) and you froze... well, I hope that what you've read here can be another brick in the wall between you and guilt. You have nothing to feel guilty for, nothing to be ashamed of. You did nothing wrong. These Are Not Your Secrets.


...

All of the posts and pages can be easily found via the blog's contents page. Have a look.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Getting Help



As much as I'm sure you're all capable of using Google, I thought I'd round up information on a few organisations which might be helpful if you've experienced sexual violence, or if you're supporting someone who has.



Rape Crisis support women who have experienced sexual violence: www.rapecrisis.org.uk

Survivors UK support men who have experienced sexual violence: www.survivorsuk.org

NAPAC support adults who were sexually abused as children: www.napac.org.uk

The Survivors Trust is an umbrella organisation - you may be able to find support near you: www.thesurvivorstrust.org/find-support

MOSAC support parents and carers of abused children: www.mosac.org.uk

Samaritans are available 24/7, if you need someone to talk to: http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

Not an organisation, but Dr Nina Burrowes's book "The Courage to be Me" is available to read online at her webiste: www.ninaburrowes.com/books/the-courage-to-be-me/preface/ It's a great way to start thinking about your recovery.

If you want to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, you can find a clinic via the Family Planning Association website: www.fpa.org.uk/find-a-clinic
I've been tested for everything - it was much less horrible than I expected, and the peace of mind is invaluable. STIs can cause infertility, or shorten your life, but most are treatable. Either way, it's better to know.


This NHS page isn't a pleasant read, but in case it's helpful: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Sexualhealth/Pages/Sexualassault.aspx

These are UK organisations, as they're the ones I know about. Based on where the blog's mostly being read, here are a few international pointers:

USA: www.rainn.org
Australia: www.1800respect.org.au
Ireland: www.rcni.ie
Rape Crisis Network Europe: www.rcne.com

Please comment if there's an organisation you think should be added to this list - especially if you're from a country I've missed out! 

However you choose to get help, I hope that you do it. Don't let the shame and silence hold you back. You deserve recovery, health, and happiness. These are not your secrets.

Friday, 20 February 2015

1988; 2006


I've previously written about a sexual assault that happened to me when I was 11, and about being raped a few months later. Sadly, these are not my only experiences of sexual violence. 

Writing about the child sexual abuse I experienced has taken me longer, because it is a more difficult story to tell. By which I don't mean more emotional, but that the narrative is less clear. More like a jigsaw puzzle than a book. You will see.

...

At the beginning of 2006 I was 21. I was working a very draining job, and doing an Open University degree; I had a four year old son, and I was unhappily married. Life was busy, stressful, hard.

My mental health (although never good) had been steadily worsening over the previous months. Since my son was born, I had worked so hard at coping: as though I could just box up all of my mental health issues, and hide them under the bed for 18 years. Being a good mother, wife, person, being normal was all that mattered. But the box full of crazy was starting to leak. My self-harming was getting out of control, my eating was more disordered than ever. Anxiety and agoraphobia were starting to make leaving the house difficult.

One evening that January, my husband and I were at home, and our son was tucked up, asleep. We had probably been drinking alcohol, or smoking cannabis. Both were usual means of self-medicating at this time, as we had both struggled with mental health issues for years. I tended to take it gently, though, as I had a busy life to keep on top of. 

I don't remember anything triggering it, but suddenly my head was full of pictures. I had experienced "visuals" while using drugs before, but this was different. My field of vision was full of layers of images, liquid and merging into each other - when I tried to focus on one corner, that part changed to something else: a wooden dining chair; my favourite fork from when I was small; a door; the BBC test card; a stamp, with the Queen in profile; a wooden gate; a cloudy blue sky. But the image which swam in and out the most clearly was a serifed number: 134. I couldn't stop seeing these images. Eyes open or closed, they would not go away, and I was terrified. My husband convinced me to get into bed, and he sat with me, calming me down, until I fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning, my eyes were my own again, but I could not stop thinking about number 134.

Over the next week, more images came - less confusing, but more worrying. I had been so frightened by what had happened, that I had sworn myself to sobriety, but even without intoxication, they kept coming. The way in which the images appeared changed, over time, and I realised that most of the images were of a house. A familiar house. From the street I grew up on. The house over the road? What was the neighbour's name - Jill?* I had no memories of ever having been inside that house - but these pictures, flashes of memory: walking up the drive, my small hand in a bigger hand; standing at the door, head craned up; walking up the stairs; sitting in the bathroom, hearing adult laughter - could these be real? And 134... a door number? Jill's house couldn't possibly be number 134: it was three doors down from our friends at 124. What was my brain doing?

Without giving anything away, I asked my mum whether I'd ever been in the house over the road. Her response surprised me: "I don't think so... but Jill used to babysit you, at our house, while I was at work." When was this? It was when another neighbour, Monica, had ceased to be available on the right days. Jill stepped in. 

This confused me. I had so many memories of being babysat by Monica: playing with the duplo with Monica; eating lunch with Monica; watching Monica fold towels; being in the garden with Monica; hearing stories about Monica's older and very exciting son; Monica helping me to write a letter to the fairies. How could I have retained these older memories of Monica, but remember nothing at all about Jill - a woman who had apparently been a regular fixture in my life for quite some time?

I didn't understand.
...

This next part is hard to write: I cannot remember a time before I was sexualised. I cannot remember not having an awareness of sexuality. And not having guilt and shame about my body. I didn't know what sex was until I was ten, but I can remember, with absolute clarity, being five years old and knowing things that I should not have known. It never occurred to me that somebody might have shown me these things.

This is harder still: despite having been potty trained precociously early, I suddenly became incontinent aged four. My parents assumed that it was in protest against the birth of my brother, and that it would soon stop. I learned to hide it, manage it, but I was a teenager before I regained full control of my pelvic floor. I cannot tell you how much I disgusted myself. It never occurred to me that somebody might have caused me an internal injury. 

...

One day, I was at home, alone, and suddenly all of the fragments of memory - sights, sounds, feelings, physical sensations - slammed together. It was violent, intense. I threw up. 

Jill, who lived over the road, sexually abused me.

I still lived in the town I'd grown up in. I made my way, shakily, across town, to the street I had lived on from a few months to 15 years of age. I stood outside Jill's house, the house over the road from my childhood home. And there, on the gate: 134.


Maybe this seems like nothing to you, but to me, seeing the number nailed to the gate, serifed exactly as it had been in my mind, at a small child's eye level... it gave me permission to believe myself: Jill, who lived over the road, sexually abused me.

...

The next few weeks were horrendous. My head was so full, I thought it would explode. I desperately wanted to talk to my mum about this. Maybe she could shed some light on things. I wanted her to know. But I felt certain she wouldn't believe me. I didn't know what to do.

I spoke to a dear friend. I told him all about the images, the memories, number 134. I told him about the sexual assault, about the rape. I told him that I wanted to tell my mum, but that every time I imagined telling her, I imagined her getting angry and throwing something. My friend listened to everything I said. I had never experienced empathy like it. After I'd finished talking and crying, my friend told me that he was going to pray for me, and he was going to fast. Religious beliefs entirely aside, that is an incredible show of support for someone. I was overwhelmed by his love and solidarity. 

It gave me the strength to talk to my mum.

My relationship with my mum has never been straightforward. Now, in 2015, it is better than it has ever been. She even reads my blog. (Hello, Maman!) But in 2006, we barely spoke. So, it was foreign territory for both of us when I sat her down and told her everything. Everything. About the sexual assault, about the rape, and - somehow - about all of the memories that had recently resurfaced. And she didn't throw anything.

Instead, she believed me. And she told what she remembered. Coming home from work one day, and three year old me telling her "Mummy, we went to Jill's house!", and the shock on Jill's face, the hasty explanation, it not quite adding up. I never mentioned going to Jil's house again, but I know that we didn't stop going. Bumping into Jill at the shops, stopping to chat, and Jill asking my mum about me - only me - I am one of four, but Jill never asked about my brothers. Lots of little things - each meaningless in isolation - all knitted together now. 

...

By this point, my under-the-bed-box-of-crazy had burst open. Dealing with these memories, dealing with the truth, was too much for me, and my carefully constructed attempt at normal had fallen apart. By March, I was in a full-on meltdown. 

I went to the GP, and told her as much of the story as I could get out, shaking and hyperventilating. She referred me to a consultant psychiatrist, and I had to do it all again. Finally, I was referred to a therapist for cognitive analytic therapy. Bit by bit, I told her everything. Being believed, being understood, was amazing.

Through therapy, I started to learn to trust myself. I learned that memories of early trauma resurfacing in adulthood is not that unusual. The concept of dissociation - which the brain uses to protect one's ongoing functioning - means that memories can be inaccessible for years, decades even. It doesn't make the memories not real.

Should you like a bit of evidence (I do!), this paper is from a 1999 study into memories of childhood abuse.

It's the same mechanism that causes some adults who experience car crashes to have a "blank" in between buckling their seatbelt and waking up in hospital. It was suggested that my memories may have been "triggered" by my son reaching the same kind of age as I was at the time of the abuse.




...

It's now nine years since the memories resurfaced, and - as far as I can tell - 27 years since Jill sexually abused me. 

I'm still learning about the impact of the sexual abuse, and my other experiences of sexual violence. Over the past year, I've been coming to terms with the idea that all of the apparently discrete issues I've been struggling with (for almost two decades) are in fact symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

In a recent post, Broken, and also in my account of being raped, I talked about the impact that experiencing sexual violence had on my mental health, particularly in my teens and early twenties. I plan to write about the continuing effects of PTSD, soon.


 ...

This post has been added to the My Story page, along with other posts about my own experiences. Please have a look, to get the full picture. 



*All names used are pseudonyms.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Submission from a female reader, aged mid-thirties, from the UK.

This story - about minimising sexual violence in one's life, ignoring its impact, and coping - sounded so familiar to me. It seems that so many people who experience sexual violence assume that their story isn't bad enough to be worth telling, that they didn't suffer enough to be worthy of others' understanding. 

Sometimes it's only when looking back, years later, that we can see the truth.

The author's words are exactly as I received them.
...

Once upon a silent time

Once upon a time – isn’t that how childhood stories go? I was 6 and my babysitter’s teenage son put his penis in my face. It may sound odd, but apart from telling my vastly over-worked mum I did not want to go back to that babysitter and did not like her son, I did not think to tell anyone for decades. I think I have told three people in my life, including my husband. It struck me that in my telling of my story I was quick to state it really was not a big thing, (no penetration etc.), that others suffered more than me, and it was not such a big deal in comparison.

I was wrong. It was part of an unseen web that has criss-crossed my life. My mother, who is beautiful, wise and giving, had not had the best of fortune in the men department. Father figures in my life included an abuser, a lovely man with schizophrenia who was paranoid and aggressive when he did not take his medicine, and a gentle, troubled man who later took his own life. My mother, with the untimely death of her own father, had not seen what to expect from a healthy relationship. It’s not about gender, but about experience. No one is ever responsible for being abused, but it can be hard to tell if your positive experiences have been limited. It is possible though.

My road was rocky for a while. I have been sexually misused by a partner and was later raped by someone who I had called family for years.  I realise in retrospect that I did not name it rape at the time because he told me it wasn’t. Then I saw the little girl in me, with the babysitter’s son’s penis in my face and all those years of putting it to the back of my mind, filed under ‘could have been worse’. The worst silence is the one we hold inside ourselves so not even we can hear our own stories.

The ‘friend’ hurt me during a hard time in my relationship where sexual intimacy had been long lacking. When he had asked me if I was happy I had said “Not yet, but I am working on it.” I had trusted this person who I had known since my late teens and shared many life experiences with. We were affectionate friends who had not seen one another in a while due to him living abroad. I don’t really know why I still trusted him because one 1st of May, when I was 18 and he in his twenties, he had held a knife to my throat while off his head on a cocktail of drugs.  Somehow, my frightened child’s voice had hushed that memory and brought a million others to the fore, refiling that unsafe moment in my past (along with the penis in my 6 year old face) under ‘could have been worse.’

 A group reunion, many miles from home had bought many of us together in a familial way, reminiscent of the old days. There were hugs and teasing between us all. These were later reframed for me as flirting when I was told I had wanted it. He blamed me for not cumming because I was frigid. For several days I was so shocked, pained and confused I did not know whether to believe him. When I had said “no, I don’t want this” and he told me I did, should I have pushed him harder away? I was in shock, both during and after as to how or why this was happening. When you love someone as family you can’t quite believe it. That love and shock stopped me punching, scratching, screaming though I was inside. For a long while it delayed me understanding that it had happened.

A week after I got home I found myself taking an overdose, not  consciously trying to kill myself, but just to remove the pain at all costs. It shook me that I could do that. I had been through quite a lot in my life, but tend to be positive.  It was not only that pain but the issues in my life that had lead me to the fragile position which he had abused. He left me with a damaging but not lasting infection. For years he intermittently tried to make contact. His story was it “just had not worked out”. His explanation reminded me of that teenage boy saying to a 6 year old me, “You want to suck it”. 

‘Once upon a time’ is a phrase used for stories that transcend time and change our perceptions of the world and ourselves. Once upon a time something made me feel that abuse was to be expected.  I am now turning my own story into a story with me as my own hero. Beyond surviving, I choose to love and flourish. There is the magic in my story that I found by learning to hear my own voice. 
 ...

All submissions to the blog can be found here. If you would like to share your story anonymously on this blog, email me: thesearenotmysecrets@gmail.com -  I'd really appreciate it if you could include your age, gender, and nationality.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Regret and Resentment - on Sarah Vine and rape denial

Last week, Sarah Vine* wrote a column for the Daily Mail, which was theoretically about consent. In actual fact, it was a perfect example of rape denial; calling on the old Knickerless Slag trope, Vine created a twisted narrative, in which there is no rape, only lying women.

By talking about women making a "disastrous sexual choice", Vine is ignoring the fact that when a perpetrator rapes a victim, the victim has no choice. The perpetrator takes away the victim's choice, the victim's agency, the victim's personhood. The perpetrator turns the victim into an object to be acted upon.

Again, by referring to women making "stupid mistakes with men" Vine is putting the onus on the victim. But this is some next level victim blaming poison: Vine's argument rests on the premise that instead of rapists choosing to rape, women are choosing to have sex, and then "crying rape". 


This message is so dangerous. It tells victims, "You weren't raped, you're just a whore." It tells rapists, "Don't worry; she wanted it." It tells society, "Rape isn't a problem. Carry on ignoring it."**

Vine seems to be speaking from personal experience, when she describes waking up the morning after what she calls, "non-violent sexual encounters in dodgy circumstances". (The fixation on physical injury being a key indicator of rape! Fancy seeing you here!) Apparently, in her day, such women would have a shower and "a bit of a cry", before boxing the whole thing up, and knuckling down to a lifetime of blaming themselves. 

To me, there's a real whiff of something here: regret and resentment.

Let me explain.

My paternal grandmother, Nonna, is a 93 year old Italian wonderwoman, and I love her very much. After the second world war, Nonna came to the UK, speaking no English whatsoever.*** She met a handsome Pole (with fluent Italian, but no English), they got married, and my dad was born. Nonna has spent almost 70 years in the UK, and still speaks an utterly bonkers Itanglish, full of "badgins" (badgers), "puppets" (puppies), and instructions to "thrumanaway" (throw it away). 

Now, ten years ago, I was working in a primary school with a huge Somali intake; so many of the parents spoke no English. The parallel with my own family background really affected me; I decided to train to teach English to speakers of other languages (ESOL). I told Nonna of my plan, expecting her to be delighted. Her reaction surprised me: "Pah!"

Nonna's opinion was that ESOL was wasted on these "bladdy foreign", and the idea of government funding being used for such a purpose positively enraged her. Nonna herself had just muddled along, why couldn't these people do that? "When I come here, we get nothing!" And if nothing was good enough for Nonna, then it's good enough for everyone else.

Nonna regrets never properly learning English, and she resents others receiving help that she never had. Hence her anger.

So, back to our friend Sarah Vine.

I'm sure you've already joined the dots, but just in case: I believe, with absolute certainty, that Sarah Vine has been a victim of sexual violence. I believe that Sarah Vine woke up one morning, feeling confused, and ashamed, and disgusted. I believe that Sarah Vine could not bring herself to utter the word "rape", even in her own head. I believe that Sarah Vine coped with this the best way she knew how, by retelling the story for herself, recasting herself as the agent, a woman who chose sex, a person who got what she - at the time - wanted.

I believe that Sarah Vine has regretted this decision for years, maybe decades. But, after all this time, she doesn't know how to go back. I believe that Sarah Vine resents the sea change that we are starting to see in attitudes to sexual violence, towards victims of these crimes. Why couldn't it have been this way when she was raped? Why didn't she have the chance to recover, to heal?

Sarah Vine, I am so sorry that somebody took away your personhood. I am sorry that you are still angry. But please, rather than arming yourself with some kind of sexual violence Stockholm syndrome, and denying that any women are ever raped, instead admit to yourself that you  were raped. 

It's not easy, it's not quick, but it is worth it. 


And, Sarah Vine, these are not your secrets.




*Whose husband, incidentally, is former Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Toad of Toad Hall. 
**If you haven't watched it already, Dr Nina Burrowes video "How are sex offenders able to get away with it?" is well worth eight and a half minutes of your time!
***In fact, because she came from a large, poor, tenant-farming family, Nonna never really learned to read in Italian. To this day, she cannot read her own post.





Friday, 30 January 2015

Dr Nina Burrowes on "Getting Away With It"

Because we all have only limited time to read and watch an unlimited internet, I haven't previously written a post solely to point out someone else's work. However! When people have emailed me about their experiences of sexual violence, I've often linked them to a video by Dr Nina Burrowes, "The Cartooning Psychologist". And now I want you all to see.

All of Burrowes's work is outstanding: she uses her understanding of the psychology behind sexual offending behaviour, and presents it clearly, and without jargon. 

The video below is about how sexual offenders "get away with it". I would recommend it to everyone, but especially if you've ever been raped or sexually assaulted by somebody known to you - what some might call "date rape".

Burrowes refers to "sexual abuse" whereas I use "sexual violence", but terminology is irrelevant to this vital message.



...

I'll leave it at that for today, and I'll come back to the excellent Dr Nina Burrowes another time. However, if you've already watched the above video, digested and assimilated it, and are ready for MORE, click these links for: Dr Nina Burrowes's website, and her youtube.

I hope that you'll find watching this video worthwhile, and that it will help you to understand the reality of sexual violence. These Are Not Our Secrets.



Thank you, Dr Nina Burrowes, for your permission to use your videos!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Submission from a female reader, aged 24, from the UK.

I found this submission really challenging to read. It seems like the woman who wrote it is still struggling to come to terms with her experience. 

Rape is rape; there are no extenuating circumstances, there are no excuses. All stories of experiencing sexual violence are different, but they all share one thing: they are never our fault.
 
Please read this story, and leave a comment for the author. 
 
The author's words are exactly as I received them.
 
...
 
In the early hours of the morning on New Years day last year I was raped by a man who I had met three times before. 
 
The day before, I had come out of a 4 year relationship. I had driven to the other end of the country to try and save my relationship. We lived together for 3 years, but were struggling to survive a few months of long distance. When we finally called it a day, I found myself miles from home, and all alone on new years eve. I climbed back in my car and drove another hundred miles to a friends house, crying the whole way and praying for a lorry or a bus to knock my tiny car off the road and kill me.
 
It didn't. I made the journey.
 
My friend was holding a party. I had met some of the people there a couple of times before and they all helped me to drink my problems into oblivion. Particularly Him. He kept my glass full of drink and let me smoke his cigarettes. 
 
Everyone else went to bed. I had the spare room and he joked that he would have to sleep on the sofa, unless I wanted him to stay with me. I smiled and said no. Very clearly, no.
 
A few minutes later as I sat in bed and cried, I saw his shadow hovering outside the bedroom door. He knocked and asked if I wanted a drink of water. I went to the kitchen and he made the joke again Yet again I replied no.
 
The next time he didn't knock. He just came in. He climbed into the bed and wrapped his arms around me. Told me it would be okay, and that I would get over my ex. I would be better without him. Someone like me would find someone else in no time. He told me to close my eyes and pretend I was my ex. 
 
He raped me. He raped me, and the thing I feel most guilty about was that he manhandled me first and brought me to a dreadful sobbing orgasm. I had stopped saying no by this point as I had realised it wasn't going to stop him and so I just closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. I hate that part. Hate that I gave up and cared so little about myself that I just stopped fighting.
 
I never told the friends whose house I was at. I didn't want to ruin her friendship with Him. I didn't come forward because I was so ashamed. Plus I didn't want to ruin the guys life did I? I rang my ex and told him and he didn't believe me. Called me a slut. Said that he would never touch me again. 
 
I decided my ex must be right. Nobody in the world knew me better than him, or so I thought. I found a thousand ways to blame myself for what had happened. To absolve my rapist and make it my fault and not his.
 
A year later, and I am finally starting to come to terms with what happened. I can't believe how easy it was to punish myself. How everything I read in the press allowed me to resent myself for  being drunk, for wearing a dress and make up and for talking to him that night. For not screaming. I see a cognitive behavioural therapist who tells me that I can still report, but I still am scared of ruining his life. I genuinely don't believe he thinks of himself as being a rapist.  I still haven't cried about what he did. I haven't stopped moving long enough to cry. I just carried on with my life and pushed it down. I know it's there which is why I speak to someone and why I am sharing this but I don't know how to let this out and hurt properly. 
 
He apologised to me the next day. "Sorry about last night. Wasn't the smartest decision I have ever made." The whole group of people from the party went to the pub for food and he offered to pay for my meal to say sorry. 
 
I will keep his secret. I will even keep it from him.

...

Leave the author a comment; tell her what you think. 
 
All submissions to the blog can be found here. If you would like to share your story anonymously on this blog, email me: thesearenotmysecrets@gmail.com -  I'd really appreciate it if you could include your age, gender, and nationality.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Broken

Throughout my teens, I had an inescapable feeling that I was broken. I had no clear idea of how I should have been, but I knew that this wasn't it. There was something wrong with me - everything wrong with me: I was a faulty human being, and it was all my fault.

My body was disgusting, shameful, wrong. All wrong. I wanted to cut it up into tiny pieces, make it disappear. I tried.

I was crazy. Crazy crazy crazy. Deviant. Other people didn't think this way, think these thoughts. Nobody else was broken like this.

I saw the way my friends' parents looked at me. I saw the mistrust and fear. As though I might infect their clean, normal children. Bite into them, and turn them into zombies, vampires, or worse: the same as me.

And maybe they were right.

Everybody else seemed so normal, so complete, so utterly unlike me. Even my friends. Especially my family.

When I was 15, I met Tasha at a gig at an arts centre. She went to school in the next town, but we knew some of the same people. We recognised the same brokenness in each other; the magnetism was immediate: "Hey, dollface."

Tasha knew she was broken, but she didn't feel the shame that I felt. Or, at least, she didn't let on. Tasha was proud to be her. While I was hiding my repulsive body under jeans, t-shirts, jumpers even in the summer, Tasha was going out in a nightie. While I wanted to silently disappear from existence, Tasha wanted to fill the world to bursting. 

Tasha saw the world as divided: the two of us - beautiful, brilliant wrecks - and everyone else - ordinary, envious, dull as ditchwater. I remember Tasha describing another girl: "She's pretty fucked up for a normal person." An enormous compliment, but still, an acknowledgement that this girl was not truly one of us. The friendship with Tasha was too intense, too exclusive, and it only lasted the summer. 

Along with the friendship, I lost Tasha's ability to revel in the brokenness, and I was back to hating myself.

As time went by, the self-loathing got worse. I've mentioned before about the self-harm, disordered eating, and suicide attempts, but it was more complicated than that.

My head was filled with intrusive thoughts, of flaying my flesh off, down to the bones, of digging my nails in and ripping my face from my skull. I itched to tear myself apart. 

But, what if dying wouldn't be the end? What if there was an eternal hereafter? What if I was trapped, being me, forever? The idea that being me was inescapable terrified me. I used to cry at night, feeling the walls of my bedroom closing in, desperately wishing I could simply cease to be.
 

Teenage angst is normal. Believing oneself to be fundamentally unworthy of oxygen is not.

...

This is a blog about sexual violence, so I'm sorry if this post seems off topic. The thing is, I am now able to look back, and see with perfect clarity that everything I've just described to you was a direct result of sexual violence. I was sexually abused aged three to four, I was sexually assaulted aged 11, and then three months later I was raped, shortly before turning 12; OF COURSE these events would have repercussions. No adults knew about any of what had happened. And it didn't occur to me that it was relevant.

It never, never occurred to me that there might be an external reason for feeling the way I did. For being the way I was. That something - something not my fault - might have broken me, rather than me being innately inadequate.

At various points, between 12 and 16, I was made to see different counsellors, psychologists, people who were meant to help. Or, at least, meant to make me normal. I was on anti-depressants, several different types, for the whole time. Not one of the adults in my life - parents, teachers, doctors, educational welfare officers, counsellors, psychologists - nobody asked any questions that could have led to me telling them about what happened to me. So the secrets stayed secret, and I stayed crazy.


...

I believe that there are lots of people who, just like me, were victims of sexual violence. And that they, just like me, will suffer mental health repercussions. Not necessarily in the same way, but repercussions that prevent them from being the person they would have been otherwise: happy, healthy, free.

So, if you have been keeping a secret about experiencing sexual violence, and any of what I have described sounds familiar to you, please understand: there is nothing wrong with you - none of it is your fault. 

Nobody is innately broken, but sometimes people do things which can temporarily break us. 

Recovery is possible. It won't happen overnight, but it is worth it. All of the feelings above, I still feel sometimes. I'm still at war with my body. 

But, I know where the feelings come from, I know it's not my fault, and I know that these are not my secrets.

...


All posts about my experiences are collated here.

If you've ever felt broken - maybe you still do, now - please comment. I know that there are hundreds of you reading this blog, and I would love to hear what you think.