Monday, 8 August 2011

The Worth of a Person...?

Self worth is something that most survivors of abuse have a real battle with.  Abuse causes us to believe lies about ourselves and question our validity as members of the human race.  Ok, so that might sound dramatic but I think it's an accurate statement.  When someone is treated as sub-human over and over, degraded and ignored; used and dehumanised, is it any wonder that survivors question whether they have any worth as a human being?

I know that every human on the planet has equal worth... even the ones that make really terrible choices. I know that our worth is based on who we are, not what we do.  Having that head knowledge doesn't always do  what it should though.  I struggle to believe in my heart what I know in my head is true. It's a battle... and one that I don't always know how to fight. But fight I must, because the alternative is to allow the things that happened to me to define who I believe I am and that is a grave error. I know that. So, here I am. 

I grew up believing that I wasn't wanted. I was not a person in my own right. I had no rights. I learnt quickly that the people around me wouldn't entertain the notion that I was a human being with feelings and needs and a mind of my own. I learnt that my value was in what I could do - who I was didn't matter. I grew up believing that a person had to earn their worth. And so I tried to do just that. 

It didn't work.

Eventually I learnt to accept that my only purpose in life was to serve the needs of others.  I actually think it was a good thing to learn the value of serving others and I'm grateful for that.  There is a line though, where serving others crosses into denying yourself an equal status as a fellow human being.  For me, it's a very easy line to cross.

When I was around seven, I became a Brownie.  I loved it and think it's an excellent thing for girls to get involved in when they're growing up.  The ethos is a good one and teaches children to care about more than just themselves.  For me, because of the circumstances of my existence, it reaffirmed what I believed in a way that I'm sure Lord Baden-Powell (the founder of the scouting movement) would have never wanted.  

When I made my Promise, I promised that I would "do my best to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and help other people and keep the Brownie Guide Law".  I took that seriously.  The Brownie Guide Law was this: 

"A Brownie thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day."

I think that's a good thing to teach a child. Perhaps though it would have helped me if someone had clarified that "thinking of others before myself" doesn't mean the same as "only think of others and never of yourself because you will never be worth as much as another person".

I think having worth doesn't mean never making mistakes, or never thinking of yourself. It doesn't mean giving up everything that matters to you in order to fulfill the needs of someone else.  It doesn't mean constantly trying to repay a debt of kindness that someone dared to offer you. If someone chooses to be kind to you, as one human to another, it is a gift, not a debt. 

All people are people. Every person has just as much worth as another person. Everyone needs love and kindness. Abuse took away the belief that I am just as much a person as my neighbour. It made me think so little of myself that I would consider it an honour to clean the toenails of another person because I was not even worth that honour. 

Now as an adult who has choices and new experiences of life, I have the chance to re-wire my brain to believe that actually, I'm a person too.  I have thoughts and feelings; hopes and dreams... and that's totally ok!  It's not a terrible sin to admit to those things... because actually, I'm a human being too! And even though it's hard to do that re-wiring, and those old beliefs are so deeply ingrained, it is something that I must do and something I hope every other survivor out there who battles with this too will also choose to fight with me.  

We all are human beings.  We all have worth... because we are who we are. There isn't a single person on the planet who is worthless.  It doesn't matter how much another person may treat you as though you're worthless, you still have intrinsic worth as a member of the human race.  Loving others doesn't mean you have to despise yourself.  I'm still learning that one.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Fatherless Father's Day

This Sunday, it's Father's Day.  I guess for most people, this is a happy day - a day to celebrate having a wonderful dad, and showing your appreciation for all he's done.  For people like me, it's a very painful day. 

It seems as though everywhere I turn, there are painful reminders that I don't have a dad.  He's not dead, but he's not in my life.  And when he was in my life, it wasn't something to be celebrated because he hurt me in ways no father ever should.  I still love my dad, and that makes things like Father's day hurt all the more I suppose.  He's still my dad, even though he's not, if you know what I mean?

There seems to be a trend on places like Facebook these days, where people post things 'in honour' of certain things relevant to upcoming holidays or special days.  Today I saw this:

"If your Dad is, or was, a hard working man, and is your hero, has helped you no matter how good or bad you were, and is just the best Dad ever, if you are blessed to still have your Dad, or if he is the brightest star in the night's sky, paste this to your status and let everyone know you are proud of your Dad. You can replace a lot of people in your life, but you only have one Dad."

Ouch. :(

Sometimes it seems like from every angle, people around us are rubbing in the fact that our fathers weren't who they were supposed to be, and it's so painful! As for the above status... on the one hand, I kind of agree - you can't ever really replace your biological father.  He is who he is. However, I believe you have two families in this life - the one you were born with and the one you choose. 

Yes, I long for my dad to be my dad... to love me and treat me as he should... to love me no matter what and to do everything in his power to prevent me from harm... to accept me for who I am and be proud of me.  Truth is, he hasn't ever been that and I don't think he ever will be.  When it comes to my biological father, I have to accept that I will always be 'fatherless'.  That hurts, and it's okay to admit that. I don't know if that pain will ever go away. 

At the same time, I have other people in my life who do love me and who do treat me in the way family is supposed to.  In spite of the pain that comes with being "fatherless", I am learning what it means to have a family - a real family.  I am grateful for that and I know I'm truly blessed to have found that after everything I've been through.  Maybe one day, Father's Day won't hurt so deeply. Maybe one day I'll stop trying in my heart to chase after something that I cannot have.  For now, I choose to allow myself to feel what I feel, to accept that I can't change who my dad is... and to learn to trust the new 'real' family in my life.  

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Living Life to the Full

The recent #alicebucketlist trend on Twitter as part of an incredibly brave teenager with terminal cancer's list of things she wants to do in the time she has left made me think. Abuse can be totally devastating and has the potential to destroy our lives. Having a reminder that life is worth living in spite of it all can be empowering! It can be so easy after all we've been through to slip into depths of depression and hopelessness. It's easy to give up on life. Yes, so much was taken from us, but there is so much more out there than that!

I don't know about you, but the things I've been through make me realise all the more how valuable life is. The years that were taken from me, I can never get back... but that makes me all the more determined to make the most of the rest of my life and take back more than was taken from me!

So... I thought I'd write some kind of 'bucket list' myself. A list of things in my hopes and dreams for the future of my life. Things to live for and things to fight for.

1. Get better! (I've been ill for most of the past year)

2. Get my PhD!


3. Meet as many new people as I can, from all over the world, and learn from them.


4. See the world!

Image: Total Law TM

5. Have an art exhibition at a good gallery.


6. Live a life where I'm not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and where I am not ashamed of being me.

7. Do a Post-doc in Israel. (random I know but hey... it's my list!)

8. Own a horse.

9. Learn to speak another language fluently. (or several!)


10. Make a positive difference to other people's lives.

11. See the Northern Lights.

12. Camp in a desert for a week.

13. Attend a masquerade ball.

Image: graur codrin

14. Make a quilt by hand.

15. Take tea with the Queen.

16. Write a book... and get it published.

Image: Surachai

 17. Name a star.

Image: nuttakit

18.  Own a Beulah dress.

Visit: Beulah London

19. Watch one of Shakespeare's plays in the Globe Theatre.

20. Raise £1000 for Love146.

What would you put on your list? What would you regret not doing with your life? Do you have dreams or ambitions?  You deserve to live life to the full, and to reach for your dreams. Life is what you make it... don't waste it!


 And thank you Alice for inspiring me - I hope you get to do as many things as possible on your bucket list. xx

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Things Social Workers Investigating Possible Abuse Need to Know

I read an article on the BBC news site yesterday and it made me really angry. It's a piece about how intervening adults don't listen carefully enough to children they are concerned about.  Nor do they pay enough attention to the concerns voiced by other adults about those children. There is so much emphasis on supporting the parents that the voices that need to be heard are often sidelined... and that is just not okay. 

I understand the need to provide help to the parents or guardians of the children about whom concerns have been raised, but surely it is more important to listen to the needs of the child?  When I was growing up, a number of people contacted Social Services because they were concerned about the welfare of my siblings and I.  I'm not sure who exactly reported things, or what was said (except in one case where a family member raised their concerns)... but nobody ever did anything to help... nobody ever listened. I still feel hurt by that today.

The thing is, people investigating possible child abuse/neglect cases need to listen much more carefully and not just listen with their ears. Every time a social worker came to our house, I begged silently with all of my heart that they would 'hear' my voice and that they would help us. But my voice was truly silent to them.  I tried to tell them in other ways. They didn't hear.  There are a few things that social workers and other investigating forces really, really need to know and understand...

1. An abused child is NOT going to tell you flat-out that they're being abused.  

Silence - an abused child is not going to tell you flat-out that they're being abused

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious being they've been told never to tell ...and the fear of what will be done to them or the people they love if they do is more than enough to keep their lips sealed.  Kids aren't stupid. Telling something without a guarantee that they'll be safe after telling is a really, really bad idea. 

2. The 'family' you see when you visit is very possibly a total act. 

Fake family - The family you see when you visit is very possibly a total act

In an abusive family, there are unspoken and spoken rules that require its members to behave in certain ways in order to present a 'normal' front. But please, use your eyes! When social workers visited my house, everything on the inside of me was screaming for them to see beneath the surface.  Watch the subtle reactions of the children and the adults in that house when they act out their interactions. Please, please don't just listen to the obvious communications.  Please don't assume that if a parent is appearing to be affectionate, that all is well. Look for signs of repulsion underneath the smiles.  Look for well hidden flinching.  Check for the looks,  body language and cues between family members and trust your gut.

3. Talking to family members together and expecting to hear the truth is foolish. 

If you talk to family members together, the kids won't feel free to speak the truth

The dynamics of an abusive family are incredibly complex and if you think that discussing things all together is going to give you the information you need, you're wrong. Be assured that every move the abused person/people in that family make will be heavily under guard of the abuser(s).  An abused child cannot tell you what is happening when they know they are being closely watched by the one hurting them.  Even if you separate the children from the adults and try to speak to them that way, it's not likely to work. The family dynamics are far too powerful, even if you have just two family members together.  Do not underestimate the power that the presence of another family member can have.

4. Don't expect all the children in the household to be in the same situation.

Odd one out - remember not all the children might be treated the same by the parents

I remember one time a social worker tried to get me and my siblings to tell them what was happening, through drawing pictures on a big piece of paper all together. I can tell you now, if you'd have done that with me on my own away from my siblings, you'd have seen something very different.  There were things being done to me that I was trying to protect them from knowing.  There were things done to me that weren't done to all of them because they were 'good' and I was different. They knew that and even they were monitoring what I 'said' or drew. Even with my parents out of the room, I was not safe or free to say what my insides were screaming. Please, speak to the children individually.  I cannot stress enough how much of a difference that might make!!

5. Be aware of the consequences of your visit.

Your visit will have consequences for the children and they might be holding on in the hope you'll return to help

Every time a social worker or other investigator visits an abusive home, there will be consequences for the abused.  The very fact that you are there, means that someone said something.  It doesn't matter if it was the person being abused or not, the abuser(s) will assume it was ...or that the abused child was somehow careless at covering things up.  There will be consequences. Please, don't just file away your report and forget about the case, even if you didn't manage to get enough evidence to take action. Please check on the child... even if it's away from the home. If you don't, they'll feel like you're someone who just came  and made things worse and didn't care enough to come back. 

6. Little things can make a difference. 

little caring acts can make a huge difference for the child

There was only one social worker who visited, who came back. She didn't take any action but I get the feeling that she suspected something. After her first visit, I wanted to die. Literally. The consequences were bad and I felt as though no-one would ever hear my silent cries for help.  I felt abandoned and ready to give up. Even though that social worker obviously didn't get the evidence she needed to take action (and I could tell you exactly why she didn't), she came back one last time to give me a teddy bear. She probably will never realise the difference that made. Okay so it didn't stop the abuse.  It didn't get me out of there. It didn't make the pain go away.  But for a child who was at the point of wanting to just curl up and die, it was a flicker of hope. A simple act that said "I care". It was one of the only things that ever said to me that someone might have noticed something.

Look for non-verbal communication

Finally, please remember that children are not stupid.  They need to know what's going on.  If they're anything like I was, they want to be prepared for what's coming next and to do that they need information.  Explain what's happened and what's going to happen.  Don't just leave them and move onto your next case. Tell them if you're going to come back or not. They might be holding on in the hope that you'll come back and rescue them.  I know I did... but no-one came. No-one heard.  No-one made it stop.

I wasn't able to speak then, but I am speaking now... and I hope that my voice will speak for the children who can't speak for themselves today.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Breaking the Silence

My last post was about the courage to use words.  Since posting that, I've been finding it so difficult to not be silent.  How is it that speaking out can so easily silence me?  My heart has so much it wants to say but my mouth is frozen. How do we break the silence? When the fear creeps in and takes control, how do you find your voice again?

Sometimes, maybe you just have to start with one word and take it a word at a time, until the chains of silence start to break...

So here is an attempt to break my silence...

of speaking, of remembering, of sleeping, of being, of feeling...

I know the shame isn't mine to carry, but I don't know how to get rid of it. It's a silencing shame and cuts right to the core of my being...

Fragile, small, cut off, discarded... tossed aside after being used.

Super-sensitive and utterly exposed.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Courage to Use Words...

There are words that are used to describe certain things that as a survivor I absolutely hate to hear, never mind use.  They make my stomach flip head over heels and everything in me tries to shut them out - as if by not allowing myself to connect to them I remain untouched by them.

When I was a teenager I went out of my way to make sure everyone thought I was clueless about sex, even to the point of being ridiculed for it. It worked in making sure no-one found out the truth. 

Denial is a powerful thing.  It takes a lot of courage to step out of denial and turn to face things you'd rather push away forever.  I'm still working on that but I still find it extremely difficult to use words that other people use to describe certain things.  Here are a couple of examples...

Rape - ughh. So many people, particularly young people around my age or younger, seem to use that word in a joking way.  For me it's a word that makes me want to run away and hide.  Rape is not a joke. It's not funny.  It's awful... and it destroys people.  Not too long ago, I couldn't even bring myself to say the word in any context... never mind a personal one.

Pornography - I feel afraid to even type this word.  It is a word that seeps with shame and degradation.  My past is full of being degraded and humiliated and during those times I wished and wished with all of my heart that no-one could see me.  Taking pictures and somehow immortalising those awful, soul-destroying events... there isn't a word that does justice to summing that up. 

Wouldn't it be nice if people would choose their words more carefully when they make jokes or simply throw words around without considering what they actually mean? On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice if those of us who've been on the receiving end didn't find it so devastating and frightening to use words to speak out?

Courage is a word that makes me stop and think. I've learnt that having courage doesn't mean you have no fear. I think it's the fact that you are terrified and yet you still do the thing you are afraid to do, which makes you courageous.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Safe Refuge

Sleep is proving to be a big problem for me right now. I'm having one of those rough patches where I either can't sleep, don't want to sleep or I'm dragged back into the world of abuse night after night in my nightmares. I'm tired but I don't want to sleep.  What a silly place to find myself! 

Wouldn't it be nice if sleep was like a holiday where it's full of beautiful places, relaxation and friends. :) I didn't sleep at all last night again and spent most of today trying to get some sleep (I haven't really slept for the past couple of days at least and I'm ill too so not really a great combination).  There's somewhere that is the most special place in the world to me and I use it as a safe haven to try to go in my mind when I need that extra feeling of safety. 

There are deserts... but with beautiful oases tucked away, where there are waterfalls...

...and life in the dry and seemingly dead places...

...even the desert itself has it's own beauty... like the sun lighting up the mountains in the evening...

...then there are sunsets that take my breath away...

...and beyond the desert there are rushing rivers that get my heart racing...

...and a beautiful lake where the sun sparkles on the water making my heart light up with joy...

...with quiet shorelines where the water quietly laps against the pebble beach...

... where I can dip my toes in and let the cool water gently soothe me and fill me with peace and contentment.

That's where I try to go when everything is raging inside and the darkness of my dreams and memories try to take over. I'm grateful for the beauty in the world even when my life has been full of pain and terror.  I still had nightmares when I slept a little today.  I probably need to take some time to try and deal with the stuff that my mind isn't letting me avoid right now... but it's good to have somewhere of refuge and safety to help give me a bit of relief in the midst of all of that.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Those Grey Kind of Days

It's been raining for a couple of days straight. Okay so maybe that's not that unusual for this part of the world, at this time of year (or any other time!).  At least the gales seem to have stopped. The wind has been howling down the chimney and rattling the whole house for the past 48 hours or so. Now it's just that grey kind of day - grey, dull skies, rain splashing everywhere at a seemingly constant rate.  Sounds depressing right?

Sometimes getting through rough patches in our healing is a bit like riding out a storm.  The wind might howl and rattle you inside and out for a while.  Then the rain starts to fall and splish sploshes on everything.  But after a while, the sun comes out and everything starts to feel warm and bright.  One thing I've noticed  is that even in the midst of the howling wind and the relentless rain, we can find comfort.  It's on the grey kind of days that it feels nice to snuggle up in something warm, with a hot drink and comfort food... just letting the rain fall and appreciating it.  After all, if it didn't rain we'd be in a rather dire position!  We need those grey days just as much as the sunny days. Both serve an important purpose and sometimes taking a step back and realising that can be quite enlightening!

Sunday, 30 January 2011


I've been struggling to find words the past few days.  It's hard to 'get stuff out' if you can't verbalise them... okay, so I know there are other ways to find release, but I guess sometimes I just wish I could get the words out.  I've never been good at keeping a journal.  My usual excuse is "I don't know how to find the words to explain or describe what's going on in my head and heart" so I just don't write.

I have been struggling a lot with various knotted messes in my head this past week, and I don't know how to start unwravelling the tangled mess of spaghetti.  Sometimes there just aren't words to describe the emotions or the memories or the confused thoughts.  Sometimes there are words but I'm too afraid to speak/write them. Sometimes no words are good enough.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Need more layers... or something.

Do you ever feel like no matter how many layers of clothes you put on, you're still naked? Like that shame won't go away? I am safe now and have been for a while, but right now I just keep feeling stuck in that place where everything is stripped from me and I'm not a person - I'm an object that is bartered and used. I can't seem to get my head to stop playing those 'movies'... the flashes of having everything stripped away, literally and metaphorically. And what's left? standing, sitting, lying, crouching... exposed, frightened and ashamed... waiting.

Right now I feel afraid again.  I feel once again like a ball in a game, being thrown around and passed to different 'players'.  Who cares about the ball right? You just do whatever you want to it because it's part of the game and as long as you get your kick, who cares what state the ball is left in?

I want to feel safe again. I want to feel like that shame isn't consuming me. Putting on more layers of clothes isn't working (funnily lol). I just want to be a person. Someone who isn't naked or ashamed.  But right now, I feel broken, and I don't know how to find the pieces to put back together again.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


There's a quote I love: 
"Friends are the family you choose for yourself" ~ Author unknown
I think for survivors of abuse - where the abuse was perpetrated by family members, or for whom 'family' has never had safe connotations, it can be a way to learn what family is supposed to be like.  I guess my understanding of 'family' is still a work in progress, but one thing I know is this: my 'real family' are made up of my closest friends.  I really appreciate the survivor friends I have too - there's something really special about that.  I hate that those friends have had to go through so much, just as I'm sure they hate the same for me... but I know that they understand and we can help each other though the tough times.  Sometimes there just aren't words to explain what's going on, but we understand each other without needing to use words because we get it.

I treasure my friends and even though I struggle to understand the concept of being cared about, I'm grateful that we don't have to go on this journey alone and we can be there for each other. My 'true family' are those friends. :)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

10 Things That Are Good For The Soul

In a world where our stress seems to have stress of its own, there's nothing like taking that bit of time to refresh your soul. It's easy to get bogged down by the negative stuff in our lives, but balance is good. Neglect your soul and what's left? You might as well give up now.

Here are ten things that I think are good for the soul.  What about you? What would go on your list?

1.     A close friend (or a few!) - someone who knows you inside out and who loves you anyway.
2.     A loyal dog - who doesn't like to be greeted so enthusiastically by a tail wagging, nose-nibbling, ball of fluff?!

3.     A special place - somewhere you feel safe and blessed. A place to just breathe and be.

4.     Duvet days! Sometimes everyone just needs to take a day when you stay in your pyjamas, curl up on the sofa with a warm duvet and lots of comfort food. Bliss!

5.     That good old British tradition is one close to my heart - a steaming mug of tea will make any problem feel better for a while. :)
6.     A proper belly-laugh! Laughter is definitely good for the soul.  It is, after all, the best medicine!

7.     A 'freedom activity' - everyone has one... it's that something you do where you can just let go and, well.. go! Something that makes you feel alive and free.  For me, it's flying off into the countryside on the back of a horse.

8.     Sobbing.  Okay, so that one sounds a little depressing, but you know what? We're all human, and we have feelings.  Sometimes just letting yourself feel the release that tears bring, can just make things feel that little bit better.  Everyone needs to let the tears flow sometimes.

9.     Beautiful things.  A glorious sunset... a picturesque painting, a perfect flower... a star-filled sky. Take your pick!

10.     A helping hand.  No matter how bad things get, there will always be someone struggling just as much, if not more than you. Helping make things easier for a fellow human being, whether it's just a listening ear or helping with something more practical, you can make a huge difference to someone's life, and there's nothing like the feeling you get from doing that!

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