Being a survivor.

First things first; a little disclaimer: We don’t normally do this, but today we’re posting something that’s already been posted elsewhere. You can see the original piece here.

When Anna sent this in, she told us straight away that it had already been posted elsewhere, but after reading it, we knew we wanted to post it. It deserves posting, and the subject deserves awareness.

This is such a strong, powerful piece. When you read it, be prepared to feel anger, sadness, and then awe. Anger and sadness at what people can do to each other, and awe at the way people can survive and deal with these things that others do to them. Anna, you make us proud. 

I am running the BUPA 10k this year at 10 o’clock on the 27th May. It is the first professional race I have participated in and has come to represent a terribly important milestone in my life.

I am going to be raising money for Refuge, a charity that exists to help women and children who are suffering, or have suffered from domestic abuse. Please visit my page at www.JustGiving.com/Anna-Teresa to sponsor me, and help Refuge perform their vital work in the network of safe-houses they provide, as well as invaluable practical and emotional support for victims of abuse.

I have chosen this cause because I know first-hand what it is to live with domestic abuse. I know what it is to grow up with it. The damage it causes is irreparable. The scars are permanent.  I used not to be able to look in the mirror without seeing someone disfigured with loneliness, guilt, and shame.  

But I have discovered that some healing is possible and this realisation is one I feel I need to share urgently. I have begun to be able to look at my reflection and see myself appear out from underneath the shadow of my past, despite the fact that the spectre of my abuse, my abuser, can be discerned in the very shape of my face.

I put my progress down to the fact that I have started talking about it.

I believe that the ignorance there is around the matter of domestic abuse – what actually constitutes abuse, how common it is, the devastating and irreparable damage it leaves in its wake, how to recognise the signs, how to help – is due to the misapprehension that it should be kept as a private matter, behind closed doors. This attitude is dangerous and seriously compounds the damage. It means that people are not sufficiently equipped to either recognise or deal with it.

This is what happened to my family. We did not get help, we didn’t even think to ask. As a direct result of the secrecy and shame around our abusive home environment, it quietly and devastatingly became a normalised part of our lives. Not only that but something we felt we deserved, we had brought on ourselves, and needed to keep hidden away as a terrible guilty secret, hidden from even those closest to us. This is why I feel it is so desperately important that I speak out, so others might learn from our experiences, our mistakes, and happily, our progress!

At first I wanted to use my participation in this run as a means of starting to be open about a subject which has, until recently, been a debilitating personal secret. Now, I hope to achieve much more than that. My openness has already effected a dramatic positive change in my life. Through talking about it, I realise now that it was not my fault, that I did nothing wrong, that I should not feel ashamed. This was such a impossibly difficult realisation! Since beginning this process I have received constant validation that I do not/should not have to feel this way. More than that, this deep visceral shame which played havoc with my rational mind, is a reaction I share in common with many abuse victims, and so I need to feel less bad about that too! It is such a relief to discover that all the vices, negative thought patterns, destructive behaviours that one can fall foul of in situations such as this are not unique to oneself. They do not indicate a personal weakness or evil – quite the contrary – they in fact make you a rather text book case! They are, in fact, nothing but symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by external events and thus eminently more excusable and forgivable than the dark and blackened soul I always believed I had been cursed with at birth and that lurked, brooding dark things, somewhere deep within my chest cavity.

I believe now that I am doing the right thing, although I did not initially have such courage in my conviction – indeed, I am still caught by choking moments of fear and anxiety, and haunted by nagging doubts and guilt. I believe I am doing the right thing because so many people have reassured me that this is the case. Although this decision on my part, to speak out SO publically, might belie my narrative of doubt, guilt, shame and misgiving, it has in fact been a constant process of proving my rational mind right, against my most stubborn and vociferous, irrational deeper psyche. I can’t begin to explain what a battle it was for me to write this blog post.

It is the individuals who have come forward to me so far, offering sponsorship, support and precious words of encouragement that have led me to believe that has fastened my resolve in this process, as well as done wonders for my confidence and day to day happiness. And for that I am filled with gratitude. The impact of this process on my life has been profound and manifold. I feel powerful and in control, regaining an agency and ownership over my own past and memories, my own body and soul, and my own future.

Those who have offered to share their own stories with me have moved me most deeply. Part of the reason why I felt the need to do this was to reach out and find someone else who had gone through similar experiences. Firstly, as not really understanding why I particularly was victimised growing up, led me to believe that it must be something uniquely monstrous about myself to have deserved this treatment – paranoia of a very self-involved sort I am still trying to escape from! Secondly, it is so hard for people without that shared experience to truly comprehend what it can mean with respect to long term mental health, just how much power memories alone can hold over one, even long after the events, their lack of a point of reference again compounded by the silence and shame surrounding the issue.

However, beginning the process of communication has begun to break down even what I used to suppose to be an insurmountable wall between myself and those I love the most. We are making huge strides. Please visitwww.JustGiving.com/CynthiaRickman to see just what progress our little family is making together.

Another fear I had before I started this process was what on earth I would find on the other side. My past, my secrets, my depression, my anxieties seemed such an endemic part of me – what on earth would be left of me without them? A scary thought – changing – the idea of eventual ‘recovery’ and whatever that might mean. But even more terrifying is the thought that nothing would change after all, and that after all this, I would be left with nothing left to hope for.

Of course I would be a very different person to who I am today had I not had an abusive childhood. However, another generous and inspiring lady I have met through this process has taught me something very important. Each negative attribute I have developed in response to trauma has an associated positive quality. As long as I don’t allow myself to sink too deep into the inward looking mire of depression, the self-awareness it cultivates can only be a positive attribute. Insecurity means I constantly question my actions, and whether I am doing the best I can by myself and by others. The guilt I feel due to insisting this devastating truth upon those I love the most demonstrates that I care enough to believe that our lives can be healed, that we can talk about the past and look forward to the future as a stronger, happier family.

I know that my journey will not be everyone’s. Making myself so vulnerable in such a public way, by speaking candidly about my past was a bit of a rash gamble which fortunately has paid dividends for me. However, I hope that my example might encourage others to feel they can open up about their experiences, and the effect it has had on them in whatever environment feels comfortable and appropriate for them.

There are so many good things that I can now recognise as having roots in the blackness of my past. I continue to feel fear, anxiety, doubt and guilt but these feelings are now accompanied by love, hope, joy, the burgeoning sense of a new, strange, but fantastically exciting freedom. And most of all I feel humbled and blessed at having discovered more genuine human connection, understanding, forgiveness, and support than I could have hoped to encounter in a lifetime.

I sit writing these words with the first summer sun brightening through my window, my world widening out around me, my future opening up ahead, and my past dropping away behind.

If you would like to help my family and I in our journey towards recovery, and help us raise money for Refuge, please sponsor us for our run on the 27th May. www.JustGiving.com/Anna-Teresa

www.JustGiving.com/CynthiaRickman

If you are reading this and need help please call the 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline: 02073957713


Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Health, Life
10 interesting thoughts on this

10 Comments

  1. Chirsty
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I am not sure there are words to convey well enough how amazing and inspiring your story, and your incredible personal strength are Anna. I am in awe of you and how far you have obviously come on such a difficult journey. I hope anyone who has ever suffered in a similar way comes across this piece and finds a way to move towards the sunshine too. Much love. X

  2. Posted May 22, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Anna, you are such an inspiration and so brave. Thank you for sharing your story, I agree that it is so important that this issue is talked about openly to help raise awareness and ensure that those affected know how to get help and that they are not alone. Refuge is a fantastic charity x

  3. Fran M
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Wow, you convey your situation so eloquently. You seem to be dealing with your situation in a balanced, noble, great way.

    I love that you have acknowledged the impression that your experiences have had on your personality – and that these have irreversably shaped you as a person – but are striving to use this self-awareness as a positive. Truly awe-inspiring.

    I wish you all the best for your future, and that you continue to relish the hope and light emerging.

    x

  4. Amanda M
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to read more about how you are dealing with this. I have an ulterior motive: I was hit as a child – not often but badly. I don’t seek to say I went through anything like what you did but it was there on a smaller scale. My father had a nasty temper and he took that out on me (although once he thrashed my brother so badly he had to ‘eat’ through a straw for days): I had black eyes and bruises from about the age of 3 or 4 and one of my earliest memories was being given a back hander from the front seat of the car as I lent forward to ask a question (I was about 4) and being told the story to tell at school to explain the black eye (I was 8).

    I still am very jumpy about sudden noise or movement and that’s without all the insecurity, the ‘I can’t be loveable if my own father did this’ stuff. I am now (permanently) estranged from my father but the rest of my family won’t talk about it at all now and tries to pretend it never happened. I try to leave it behind me but I don’t think I do very well at it – how do you deal with it continuallly nipping at your heels? You sound so well-adjusted!

    • Gwen
      Posted May 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Gosh, Amanda. Thank you for posting this and adding to Anna’s story.
      I hope that you have been able to access local services – women’s aid groups, councelling etc, that may be of help to you. There are some wonderful organisations out there, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with them xx

    • Fran M
      Posted May 22, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      I have no useful info but just wanted to say I hope you manage to find some support/info to help you through this.

      Hate that people can be made to feel inferior for so long by someone else. Good luck x

    • Posted May 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Hi Amanda, thanks so much for your comments. Please feel free to email me, my address is included on my JustGiving page. I’d love to talk to you about things, it feels like there are some useful similarities between our situations, for example, the response and attitude of my immediate family. It’s been a long road for me, but I do feel like I have made strides, especially recently. Whilst I can’t profess to give ‘advice’ (as everyone’s situations are so different, and my journey is definitely still work in progress!) I can talk to you about my experiences in recovery, what’s worked, what’s not etc. And just that actually, i.e. talking about it, especially to women who have experienced similar things, is what I have found to be THE MOST useful/inspiring/rewarding thing of all. I do hope you get in touch. Much love x

      • Amanda M
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

        Am currently on honeymoon but will be in touch when I’m home again. Thank you.

  5. Gwen
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    What an incredibly moving post. I’m afraid I don’t have much more to say, except that I admire your attitude hugely and hope that you continue to enjoy the positive emotions that you have found.

  6. Posted May 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for all your precious, kind words about my post. I’ve only just responded as I’ve been very busy organising a pub quiz to raise more funds for Refuge. I managed to raise £1165 on the night! That achievement, and all the wonderful comments to read on AOW today really remind me of how far I’ve come. Much love x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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