Positive self regard
I met Tanya (yes same name) through the school my children go to and at the time, Tanya also had children in the same school. None of our children (7 between us) were in the same classes, but Tanya and I, were both pregnant with our youngest, at the same time. I knew who Tanya was, but I guess it was pregnancy that saw us connect for the first time, at the school gates. My youngest was born a few months before Tanya’s and I remember asking her how she was doing, as her pregnancy developed. I added Tanya on to my social media, but this was the extent of our connection for a while.
I saw a local man was doing a lot of work with the homeless, in a nearby town and I wanted to get involved and help in some way. It is nice to give something back and doing so, makes me feel good. My life could have taken a very different path, at so many points in my life and I am very lucky that I have reached this point, relatively unscathed. I started to do a collection of requested items for the homeless, such as sleeping bags and thermos flasks, using my social media account to help with the push. Tanya saw this and caught me at the school, to talk about how she could help.
One day on social media, I could see that Tanya was not OK, as I picked up on something that she posted online. I later found out that she had suffered the loss of her granddad. I reached out to her at the school, to offer some comfort. I think I just gave her a hug and I told her that she knew where I was, if she needed anything; and I meant it. This was the start of what was to become, a beautiful, deeper connection.
I reached out specifically to Tanya, at a time I felt like I was looking for something. I had just had some email contact with my mum, after 19 years of no contact and it had not ended very well. I had initiated this contact with my mum with the view to disclose to her, the sexual abuse I had suffered, at the hands of her husband, my father. I thought, that in order to heal, I needed to tell the people who were actually there, what had happened to me. I never did tell my mum what I set out to, because I discovered she was not open to having a relationship with me. The impact of being rejected and unheard all over again saw my world implode. (I initially reached out to my G.P. and I was placed on a waiting list with a third party for therapy). I was lost and desperately seeking anything to feel better. I knew that Tanya held religion in high regard and that she was actively involved in church life. I did not claim to have religious opinion, but I did know, that when I had attended the school’s church services, I had felt something: a kind of warm, fuzzy, niceness, that I did not understand. I liked the feeling and I was open to exploring it. I had managed to establish a really good feel, for the type of person Tanya was. I reached out to Tanya because I knew that I could.
I started to ask Tanya some big life questions via text message, centred around her beliefs and how she found them. I was interested to know, whether she actively found religion or whether religion found her. I wanted some guidance as to how to make my own mind up about religion. Tanya told me that she did not have religion, but she had faith and proceeded to explain the difference to me. Tanya wrote very eloquently and I am not sure I understood everything she said, but I really appreciated her taking the time to engage with me, about something so personal.
Tanya sent an array of text messages to me, that were very long and comprehensive, but they tended to leave me with more questions, so she suggested we meet for coffee. She was very honest and open with me and she shared with me some of her experiences. Importantly for me, Tanya never tried to impose anything. Tanya and I started meeting up more regularly, usually over lunch, to talk about my big questions. She spent ages listening to me and helping me, to find my own way. I asked Tanya some very challenging questions, such as; How was it possible for two people, to share the same fundamental morals and values, who share a common want and need to help support other humans, and who have both got compassion and empathy, for one to have found faith and the other to have not? As big nasty things happened in the world, relating to terrorism and extremism, I asked Tanya if she thought these events were anything to do with religion, or whether it was just because of a deep routed and nurtured hate, within the perpetrators. Sadly, a friend was struck by cancer, for the second time and I asked Tanya why god created cancer. Her responses were always deep and meaningful and really made me think. But some of the questions I had, took me away from my original focus.
I told Tanya that there had definitely been some things that I had experienced, that were so unthinkably bad, I simply did not know how I got through them. I started to tell Tanya more about the traumatic childhood I had endured, that saw me seeking something. I told her that there had been times, when I no longer wanted to be here, living this life and that I had actively sought to end it. I had a deep trust in Tanya, that is rare to find and I think she understood in these moments, the reasons why I had reached out to her. Tanya is very astute and she definitely read between the lines, of the words I was able to say, and the stuff that was still too painful to verbalise. I shared with Tanya that I did not know, how I was still here, or indeed why. I found this piece of writing and it really struck something deep with in me. I sent it to Tanya:
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to him and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life, there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me, all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I
needed you, would leave me?”. The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you”.
I found it deeply comforting and it was the first time I allowed myself to think, that maybe something or someone, had been taking care of me the whole time.
At one of our meet ups, as our relationship became stronger, Tanya and I started talking about the idea, of the ‘gifts’ we have been given. I have an ability to read people and I have a sixth sense for the pain that they are holding. I can see what words can hide, and I feel like I absorb some of the negative emotional energy, when people start to open up; I really feel the emotion behind the story being conveyed. Tanya told me that my sensitivity is attached to my gift and it is a hint as to where I am supposed to fit in to people’s lives. She said I sense other’s pain, but it is as though their pain speaks to me, calling me into their space. She said that for me, to sense the pain she felt when her granddad passed, was not enough. Tanya’s pain spoke to me and unlike other people in her life, I heard it and refused to ignore it. I hugged her and I held out a comforting arm and I would have done the same to anyone. Tanya told me my gift was reaching her. She said other people are deaf to the needs of others, but I hear and actively respond. I told Tanya that I thought her gift, was helping others to understand theirs.
Tanya extended her hand and invited me to a Christmas carol service at her church, that she was leading. She told me it would make her Christmas if I went, and that I had been a very important part of her year. I took my eldest two children with me. The people at the service were so welcoming and very understanding of the fact I did not know what I believed, but they did not seem to mind me taking the time, to be open minded and to explore ideas. They were the most accepting people I think I have ever met. I felt a warmness and a contentedness that I can’t explain and I was very touched that I had been invited.
Therapy began for me in February this year, just two months after that Christmas service. I met up with Tanya very quickly after starting therapy; we had lunch in a pub together, while our children played in the soft play area. I started to be more explicitly honest and open with Tanya about the reasons why I was in therapy and my reasons for searching for something. Tanya told me that she had previously cut out a few people from her life. She went on to tell me that our relationship, was very meaningful to her and this stunned me.
Tanya also invited me to her women only event, at her church, on a Sunday in March this year; she had organised it in her capacity as Women’s leader. I was very aware that I teach on Sundays in my role as a private tutor, but I so desperately wanted to go, especially as Tanya had invited me in to her private place of faith. I was secretly pleased when I woke that day to a cancellation and I had a small window of opportunity to be able to attend. I went alone and the only person I knew there, was Tanya, although I recognised some of the faces from the carol service. I found Tanya at the venue, while she was busy serving food to the ladies for lunch. Tanya literally gives the best hugs and I was happy to receive one, but I was not expecting to be invited to eat with everyone else.
The ladies at the event were very welcoming and open, and they were very honest with me, who was a complete stranger to them. I felt more comfortable than I ever have felt, in such a social situation and I felt things I was not expecting to feel. I quickly was introduced to a lady called C (I have not asked her permission to tell this story, so in order to protect her identity I will call her C). C told me about a friend of hers, who had been bereaved and she told me how, she was trying to be supportive to her friend. I was a little surprised when C went on to say, that she could not understand, how her friend had not managed to get over her bereavement in 2 years, despite all of the help and support C had showered her with.
C continued to talk and slipped into the conversation, that an event in her own life, had taken her 17 years to get over (and she was still not quite there). I could not help myself and I could not remain silently listening any longer. I had to point out to C, that despite the fact she was concerned about her friends bereavement 2 years previously and her inability to get over it, she herself was disclosing to me something she had not gotten over in 17 years. She started to view her friend’s position very differently, as a result of me high-lighting this fact to her. I made a difference. Here I was, surrounded by people who had faith, claiming to have found none myself (but very open and willing), making a difference. I went on to tell C that despite her best efforts, she could not help her bereaved friend, other than being there to comfort. I told C, she could not fix her friend and that her friend, needed to fix herself and this was not a reflection of the care and support C herself was providing.
C asked me if I had faith and I told her, that I would reach the same destination as her, but no, I did not have faith. I told her that I had good morals and a good understanding of humans and empathy and compassion. C and another lady (I don’t remember her name), disagreed with me intently. They both told me that I do have faith and that I thought in a very similar way to them. They told me I was a deep thinker and I was half way there to recognising faith. They told me I have everything I need within me and that I needed to stop searching for answers. I’m not entirely sure that I understood everything they said to me, although it all made a lot of sense at the time. I came away from this event with an ache in my heart and I was very emotional.
I have wasted a lot of time and energy focusing on what I have not liked, not being kind to myself, punishing myself in-fact, not being my best self, not really being myself at all. When I left church that day I felt warm and calm, strong and empowered but, also a little foolish. I feel like I have been searching for something this whole time but it has been with me all along: I just had not been listening.
I felt like I was not inherently bad or worthless or faulty, in that moment. This day made me see that I am not a bad person and I am not all of the things I believed and internalised, as a result of my parents treatment of me. It made me feel like sticking two fingers up at my parents and screaming from the roof tops, “You were wrong about me, it’s not me: it’s you”. I felt like I did have value (even if others can see it and I can’t). I felt a calmness I have not felt for a long time; a validation. I felt peaceful and powerful, full and satisfied. I was reassured that I am exactly where I should be and I can make a difference, when I allow myself to be myself. I felt like I knew what I needed to do. I could reach people and I could make a difference and I knew this focus had to be directed to other people like me: other survivors of childhood abuse.
The feeling and the focus, I felt that day at church, diminished as I went through therapy. I started to unpick memories and emotion that had been trapped for 20 years and it has been, an extremely hard journey. I realised I carried guilt and shame and that they did not belong to me. These emotions, have been preventing me from becoming my best self. I noted, how a lot of my first thoughts are negative and I look for evidence to support these negative thoughts. I have fear and worry for things that have not yet happened and I beat myself up all the time. I am my own worst enemy and I discovered I do not like myself very much.
As therapy moved towards an ending, the focus of sessions changed form unpicking the memories and feelings attached to the abuse, to making me strong enough to continue doing the work on my own. I wrote a few things I considered a tool box, designed to help me through the dark days to come. I wrote about the things I had learnt in therapy, to remind me how far I have come. I wrote about my self harming behaviours and my self-destruct button, in an attempt to try and stop myself from continuing to do it.
I wrote this piece to try and focus on my positives and to get back to the head-space and belief I had, that day in March. Writing this has not been easy and has felt like I am blowing my own trumpet, which does not sit well with me. This has lead me to question who I am.
So who am I?
Trying to identify who you are, when you feel so affected and disconnected from reality is not an easy task. Trying to find and focus on positives, when you feel so negative and low, is hard, but I needed to try. So what qualities and attributes do I like about me?
Tanya told me that I have a knack, for reaching out and obtaining what I need. At first, I could not see it but: I joined the gym and consequently met my guardian-angel, best-friend, who has held my hand through every step, of my healing journey so far; I reached out to Tanya, to ask her big life questions and I have made a wonderfully supportive friend, who believes in me and makes me feel good about myself; I joined the Havoca forum and I have met a whole community of people, who understand the effects of child abuse, having had sufferance themselves; I knew I needed professional help ,with processing and healing and I reached out to my Doctor, for help accessing the correct support. I am aware of my limitations but I am resourceful, so maybe Tanya is right.
If I set my mind to something then I will achieve it, whether that be passing my GCSE’s, continuing through University whilst battling depression, abstaining from alcohol, or losing 7 stone in weight. I am determined and there is nothing I can’t do. Being told that I can’t do something by someone, triggers the deep routed stubbornness I possess. I then embark on a personal mission, to prove that person wrong.
Honesty is something that stems from a childhood of secrecy and is a quality that is very important to me, as well as being something I demand and expect. I think I have learnt a little diplomacy and tact as I have aged, but I do tell people exactly what they need to hear. I can’t help but be honest. I can be economical with my truth and quiet secretive, (which is an inherent feature of my star sign, Scorpio), but I can not lie. I have a sixth sense for lies and it is a behaviour I can not tolerate, especially from my own children. My children know, that lying about something, lands them in more trouble. Lying, to me, shatters trust and when that is broken, I simply can not rebuild it.
I know what it feels like, to feel so desperate and hopeless, so consumed with painful memories and stuck in a personal hell, that never ends. I know what it feels like, to be surrounded by people and to still feel so alone. As a result, I pride myself on being a caring person.
“Always leave people better than you found them. Hug the hurt. Kiss the broken. Befriend the lost. Love the lonely”.
I found this little quote and this is always what I try to do; this is exactly how I try to live my life. Something as simple as a smile, can make such an amazing difference, to how somebody else feels about themselves, their day and their life. Reading between the lines and reaching out on suspicion, is something I also try to do. Letting somebody else know, that you are there, is such a valuable thing to be able to share. I have been very lucky, with the people I have met and who are in my life now, but it has not always been this way. I know how I have felt and I also know the difference, that having someone to talk to has made to me. I can and will continue, to play that forward.
People tell me that I am strong, but I don’t feel strong. Strong people keep going when times are hard and there was a time, when I desperately tried to give up. I was consumed with pain which, I was unable to process and depression took over, but, I did get out of it. I am still here, where many people may have crumbled. As part of my healing journey, I went back to the railway and there were Samaritans signs on the bridges. I crossed these bridges to get to the spot I used to sit on the line, while suicidal. Something really spoke to me that day. It occurred to me that maybe someone had chosen that specific spot, to end their life. It also occurred to me, that it could have been me. I’m still not sure what I believe in-terms of faith, but this has some validity for me:
“Keep your head up. God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers”.
I have an inquisitive mind and I don’t accept things at face value. I take the time to ask the questions and I listen, to try and find the answers. At the beginning of therapy, it was suggested that I started to write a journal. This organically led to poetry and the beginning of my book and writing extended essays, around topics that required more exploration from me. I was brave enough to share some of these pieces. The feedback I have received, has shown me that I have an ability to reach, relate and connect to people, so I deduce from this, that I am articulate.
I have 3 children, I run my own private tutoring business and I have a gym addiction. I pride myself on the fact that, everyone gets to where they should be and on time. I would rather be 10 minutes early, than one minute late. I can take this as evidence for the fact, I am organised and disciplined.
My tutoring business has grown without any advertisement, simply through word of mouth and I know I am incredibly lucky. I have a waiting list of people for tuition and support, in Maths and English. I was head-hunted by a University to deliver professional skills test support, to undergraduate teachers, and I have been invited back to deliver to different cohorts. I am good at my job and an effective tutor.
What I need to remember
When the thoughts are chaotic and the irrational takes over, I need to remember that I am doing all of this, to become a better version of me. I am trying to become a better mother for my children, but I will still get things wrong, like every other parent on the planet. I struggle making big, adult decisions, because I feel like I have no real point of reference, but I am doing, what I believe to be right at the time. I need to listen and trust myself and believe in the decisions I make. Some of the things I have written, were messages to myself and not from myself.
People can ask me for help and I can now also ask. A friend of mine, was struggling financially and mentioned the fact her pay day was approaching (2 years ago?). I offered to lend her some money and I did this simply because she verbalised her need. I reached out to the same friend recently, to ask for her help in return and it felt good. I needed somebody to look after my youngest child, so that I could attend a therapy session. She instantly agreed to help me and she said she was honoured to have been asked. She told me that everyone likes to be asked. I need to remember this.
I am only human and I have the same fears, worries and insecurities, everybody else has. The things I think, are not necessarily because of the abuse I suffered. I have revisited places, to face memories head on. I am brave. I am strong. I am now saying this is me and this is what happened to me, but I need to remember that I am more than the ‘shit’ that has happened to me. I have a choice and I can chose what I am going to allow to impact. I can say “No! I am not taking that on today”.
I have a great support network around me, who enable me to find my way, without telling me ‘the way’, who listen and never judge. I need to remember other people do not see things how I do, because they have not walked in my shoes. I need to keep communicating and trying to help them understand. I internalized a lot and I believed I was hated and so I hated myself. People do care about me and I only need to think of the help and support, visits and kind words, I received after my emergency kidney operation in April, to see that.
I’ve said before that I don’t value or feel the value of the things I have, or have achieved, but how can I, if up until this point, I’ve believed myself to be worthless, faulty and damaged. I need to be kinder to myself. The things that happened to me are not my fault. I am blameless, because I was a child.
The scars I bear of the self harm, are reminders of the fact I survived. I’m still here and I am still here for something. I can reach people and I can make a difference, but I can’t ‘fix the world’ as much as I would like to.
Things I can do to help myself
• Journalling has been about checking in with myself, taking care and stopping to listen and take notice, of my thoughts and feelings and is something I will continue to do, because it aids my sleep and sense of clarity.
• I can make time to be around people, who make me feel good about myself, to really connect with people who love and care about me. I have met some wonderful people, who see the value in me. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that these people were sent to me, to help me to see this value.
• I started a mindfulness course and as well as being relaxing and calming, it helps me to be more aware of thoughts, emotions and sensations. Mindfulness helps me to remain in the moment and encourages me to remove myself from the auto-pilot monotony, that sees life pass me by.
• I need to take better care of me and one of the ways I can do that is to set boundaries. Learning to say no and recognising when I need to say yes, are things I need be more conscious about.
• I am going to spend some timing thinking and writing about the things I would say, to other people in my position. I need to practice what I preach and accept some of my own advice.
• Creating a pool of things people say about me, comments and feedback, has been suggested, as a tool to improve my self-esteem. This could be another tool in my box I can use on the bad dark days.
• Celebrating my own successes and taking ownership for them, is something I lack the ability to be able to do. I allow negative thoughts to ruin my success and distance myself from it. This has to stop.
• Accepting compliments without the very loud critical voice, telling me that the person complimenting is being untrue, is a new goal. I am going to try and be more gracious.
• Continuing to reach the inner child and trying to comfort her, will hopefully see a more connected and united self; one that does not need to segregate the different roles I play.
• I am a bit of a gym addict and the natural endorphins released from exercise, help to lift my mood. Looking after myself physically will hopefully lift my sense of worth.