I would like to be able to write that my disclosure was the best choice I had made but post disclosure I felt so out of kilter that I hadn’t found the initial relief I had always dreamt about. My therapist had been great when I did tell him – he believed me and was angry on my behalf but I found it hard to properly hear his words of support. And it all felt a bit surreal.
For now I inhabited some strange and foreign mindscape and my isolation in many ways felt as deep and as painful as it had been during the abuse years as a child/teenager. Disclosure didn’t make for an easy time in any area of my life.
Partly because I felt so alone I began to have an overwhelming need to tell people. I yearned for support, for people to know about the abuse. I ached for the same kind of comfort I had yearned for as a child. And so began a phase which found me telling people and because it was all to the forefront of my mind I would often blurt it out fairly indiscriminately and in the process hurt myself over and over when the support and care which I sought wasn’t forthcoming. It’s fair to say that most people generally had little idea how to respond and came out with platitudes and what not to say to an abuse survivor. Their poor responses continued to fuel my desperate search for support and understanding – what was it with people that so many failed to ‘get it’? I wasn’t asking for the moon but for simple TLC and understanding and many times was left sorely wanting.
In the end it though it took the kindness and challenge of my dear friend Sarah, also a survivor, to highlight what I was really doing and who enabled me to eventually bring a halt to this mainly disastrous cycle of continuing to hurt myself. I couldn’t see what I was doing to myself even when people’s responses continued to fall short of what I was seeking. Such was my need for comfort.
It would be wrong of me to paint a totally black picture of this time even if those feelings dominated. A few people did know how to respond, did ‘get it’ mostly because they too were survivors of abuse, and their support was heartfelt – an oasis in the desert. However, I remember feeling particularly disappointed when a friend and fellow survivor felt unable to support me long term because she didn’t want to go back to that stage in her own past and I remember feeling quite desolate and somehow betrayed even as she had been honest. After that I felt very vulnerable when with her and learned to keep my distance. It was a friendship on its way out.
So what did help me? I read a lot. The Courage to Heal book was a constant source of encouragement as were other titles – namely Strong at the Broken Places by Linda Sandford. I was particularly drawn to the title – taken from Ernest Hemingway’s novel ‘Farewell to Arms’ “…The world breaks everyone and afterward some are strong at the broken places.” Powerful words which spoke to me and somehow held me together. In time I would find information and support through reading books on trauma but that was further down the line because it took me months, indeed a few years before I came to realise that I had been traumatised. Minimising is a defence many survivors use and it has taken me and various therapists a long time to untangle its effects. Even now and the tendency to do that still rears its head every so often.
It was about this time that I heard about a Support group for survivors run through the Mental Health Services and I think I must have accessed it through my GP. I went along for an initial assessment and was deemed to be sufficiently able to access the support they were offering. The group met weekly for a couple of hours, facilitated by a pair of psychologists. I’m not sure it met my needs because at that stage I hadn’t yet found my voice and found it so hard to speak up within the group and the facilitators didn’t ensure that everyone had a fair chance to speak which meant on several occasions one or two folk would be allowed to dominate the group for the entire session.
However, it was through this group that I gained the website address for a book service which was 2nd to none and which meant I could buy books without the embarrassment of ordering books through local bookshops. Though it has stopped selling books, the service continues to list a wide catalogue of books and the site also offers other useful resources for the benefit of survivors. http://www.dabs.uk.com/. Please note that HAVOCA also has a bookshop (run via Amazon) that generates a small revenue for our community.
I continued to phone The Samaritans when life felt particularly bleak, write in my journal and continue my weekly therapy which provided a safe place to begin to explore my abuse. Those early sessions were a mixture of needing support and comfort and yet often being unable to accept what he was saying because I felt so guilty and dirty and convinced he was disgusted with what I had done/been made to do. I could not make eye contact easily – fleeting glances in his direction but no sustained sense of being ‘held’. I started sitting on the floor because that is where I felt safest and least vulnerable – needing to feel grounded and the floor supported me physically and emotionally in a manner that sitting in a chair could not.
The overwhelming feelings that I found so hard to voice were namely utter shame and embarrassment at what I had done during the abuse. It would be many months; years even before I was able to accept deep down inside that I wasn’t to blame. That it wasn’t my fault. My psychotherapist was so patient especially in those early days when I couldn’t’ see past the awfulness of what I had done. During some sessions he would hug me and his safe touch meant the world and through that safe physical contact I did feel ‘held’ and accepted too. Many therapists do not hug their clients, but he did – always at my request and never of his own volition and I shall always be grateful to him that he could understand the significance of that safe contact.
This was a hugely tough time of my life – I didn’t find the support from my husband because he had no idea how to respond in a positive way. He couldn’t’ understand why something that happened so long ago was continuing to cause a problem. He kept saying that I just needed to move on. He was hurt too because I’d never managed to tell him in the early days of our marriage and why had I this need to drag it all up again now. He also doubted me because up until my disclosure we were still being intimate and had had a child for heaven’s sake. I felt torn. And I found myself not being able to explain myself to him. It must have been one hell of a bombshell to land on him so unexpectedly and he clearly had no idea how to respond. And so he left me alone with it all and stuck his head in the sand. That has sadly continued.
If I had known how post disclosure might be I doubt I would have taken the momentous step. And even years down the line I sometimes still wonder if I made the right decision at that time.