Tuesday 28 August 2012

A Palindrome Dad is not the Same Thing as a Dad...

My therapist says my dad is a parasite, feeding off me. Even now. He fed off me all through my childhood... just fed and fed and fed and fed... never giving me anything good in return.

He gave me life but spent my entire childhood trying to suck it out of me... and now he doesn't have contact with me but he's still sucking.

I think people hate me and I think that I'm useless and stupid and a failure. Isn't a dad supposed to make their children feel like a human being who other people could actually like... someone who is valued for who they are and not just cast aside because they aren't the absolute best of the best of the best?

To him, I'm only worth something if it benefits him. I'm not worth anything for just being me. I don't remember a time when he was loving or kind. His 'love' was selfish. My heart and mind and body didn't matter. His 'kindness' was cruelty.

I was a non-person there to serve him and to take care of his responsibilities. What about his responsibilities?

I was was never allowed to be a child. I was never allowed to have feelings or thoughts or value.

If I cried I was punished. If I was upset I was ridiculed. If I was hurt I was humiliated. Isn't a dad supposed to comfort their child?

I tried so hard to be as good as I could possibly be. I tried to be quiet and polite and respectful and obedient and compliant. But I was only deserving of punishment, humiliation, pain and mind games. Isn't a dad supposed to make their child feel better?

I was terrified of him and tried so hard to do everything 'right'. But he enjoyed taking away my safety. Isn't a dad supposed to want their child to feel safe?

If a dad is supposed to be loving, kind, gentle, wanting to provide, wanting to keep you safe, wanting to protect you, wanting to help you be the best you can be and being proud of you and there for you no matter what...

And if my dad was cruel, cold, sadistic, self-seeking, dangerous, critical, condemning, humiliating, controlling, manipulative, mocking and constantly trying to break me...

... I guess he wasn't ever really a dad.

So why does my heart shatter every time I remember the truth of who he was/is? ...why does my everything hold onto him so tightly and not want to let go? Why do I still call him Daddy, when he's not even been a Dad? 

I don't want to disrespect him by saying these things, but they are the truth and the truth really really hurts right now... and I'm broken.

Monday 13 February 2012

Love is....?

When I was in my early teens, I was given an assignment at school on Valentine's Day to write an essay that answered the question "Love is...?". I remember it clearly because it totally stumped me. That was my first realisation that I actually had no clue what "love" was supposed to mean. I remember we had to spend a period of time brainstorming as many answers to that question as we could come up with. My classmates kept popping out answers every few seconds. My paper stayed blank.

That was over a decade ago. Today I am still puzzled by the concept, particularly when it is related to other people loving me. "Love" is a scary word for me. Saying the words "I love you" is incredibly uncomfortable and I struggle to say them. Showing love through actions is easier for me than expressing it verbally. I'm not sure why that is. Receiving love from someone else is near impossible and it's an issue I really need to overcome. The problem is I still don't really know what love is.

credit: www.xkcd.com

If I ask myself what it means for me to love someone else, I would say loving someone means giving up your life for theirs... it means giving as much of yourself as you can give. It means putting aside your own needs in order to put another's before your own. The University Rabbi asked me the other week "If you were on a desert island with another person and you only had one bottle of water, what would you do? Give it to the other person or keep it for yourself?" I said "give it to the other person". It wouldn't really occur to me that there was an alternative option. Love to me means giving up your own life to save another.

I guess in a way that is the ultimate demonstration of love, but perhaps my interpretation of that is a little bit screwed up. Someone once said to me "If someone doesn't know how to love themselves, how can they love someone else?" It's a good question. The question that naturally follows from this is "what does it mean to love yourself?". This is a bit scary to me because if I love myself then that might make me arrogant or selfish... there's a fine line and it's one I'm terribly afraid to risk crossing.

I spent my whole childhood denying that I had needs. I wasn't allowed needs. I didn't deserve to have any need met. I was apparently innately selfish and needed to learn to always put others before myself. I tried with everything in me to achieve that. On top of that, the kind of "love" I was shown makes the word "love" repulsive to me - it fills me with shame and disgust. The maternal love I feel towards my siblings is different - I love them so much it hurts, but any idea of love towards me makes my stomach churn. I wonder if I will ever truly understand what it means to be loved, but I'm aware I need to figure out how to allow myself to feel as though I have a right to be loved first and that's a tough one!

credit: http://loveislove.me

So my question is, what does love mean? ...What does it mean to love someone else and what does it mean to be loved?  When you've been through severe child abuse that's screwed up your understanding of love, how do you come to understand it as it should be and what makes it feel safe?

Friday 6 January 2012

Guilt is Powerful

So here I am again, trying to find the words to write. I'm not feeling particularly eloquent so please bear with me! It's been a while since I last wrote... I've started seeing a new therapist after a while of not really doing therapy (at least not in a productive way - my last therapist was more of a hindrance than a help tbh)... I've started my PhD, which I'm so so happy about (feels like its been a huge fight to get to this point but now I even have a scholarship! How awesome is that?!) and I'm still battling with illness which I guess is character building but I'm not enjoying it much!

There's something I want to write about but I always feel very wary about writing anything more detailed about my past , I suppose partly due to fear, partly due to shame and partly due to not wanting to dwell on negative things. One of the things I've had to come to accept recently though is that sometimes facing hard things and talking about them and acknowledging their effects, is not the same as getting caught up in negativity... It's just being real and finding the courage to admit things to myself and to others who might care about me.

So, I suppose this is one of those times. I hope you don't mind listening.

As any abuse survivor knows, recalling what we've been through and trying to make sense of it, can be a seriously confusing thing! We often doubt our own memories or have blanks, we struggle to piece things together and when we discover more information that we didn't know before, the confusion can enter a whole new level.

I grew up believing I ruined lives... that I wasn't wanted, that I was hated even. I grew up hearing the words "I wish you had never been born!" on a very regular basis. I was taught that the emotional well being of both of my parents was my responsibility. Any violent outburst was my fault. Any suicide attempt was my fault. Any abandonment was my fault. Everything was my responsibility.

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was 16, I was at breaking point. I couldn't take the abuse anymore. I couldn't fight to survive anymore...at least, not if I stayed there. I had to get out. It was the hardest decision of my life. It meant leaving my younger siblings there, something that up until that point was the only reason hadn't tried to run away. But I knew, if I didn't get out then, I never would, and neither would they. I don't want to say where I managed to go because I'm concerned to stay anonymous. I did manage to go somewhere that I could continue my education in safety, with safe adults taking care of me with other children, far enough away that it felt safe.

Anyway, when I was old enough to leave that safe place, my mother was threatening to kill herself if I didn't go back home to look after her and my siblings. It wasn't a threat I took lightly. I knew it was a very real threat and I believed she would carry it out. The emotional and psychological turmoil I went through over the following weeks was awful. I was a wreck because I knew if I did what she wanted, I'd be back where I was and would probably never leave... Whilst at the same time if I didn't go back I would be responsible not only for her death but for leaving my younger siblings to deal with it. I made the horrible decision that I still battle with guilt over now, to not go back. She responded by taking a massive overdose and if my youngest sister hadn't have found her in time, and if the paramedics hadn't have been as skilled as they were, she would have managed to do what she tried to do.

I spoke to her about that day yesterday and am now feeling very confused and even more guilty. Apparently there was more going on than I was previously aware of...

I don't speak to her often but she's more stable than she used to be and I have good boundaries. It's hard having contact though because she still won't acknowledge the extent of the abuse she inflicted on me and my siblings. She acknowledges what my father did and I guess that's easier for her to do. But she doesn't even remember that threat she made to me. I know for a fact she did and I have battled with it for a decade since it happened because the guilt is not easy to get rid of... But her version of events is always different and justified somehow. 

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So what I didn't know was that whilst this was going on, my brother was having a break-down. My mother found him "in that corner of his room" rocking and cracking his knuckles. My heart shatters at that image. I know it only too well. He was terribly abused and that was how he responded when things had got particularly bad. My mother apparently was shocked and "concerned" at that sight. I'm not sure that's as caring as it sounds. Knowing how she was, I imagine that she lost it on him for being ridiculous or something... but she doesn't remember it that way. Whatever happened, it resulted in him getting up and leaving that house and not going back ever.

My mother called the police and social services (I can't quite get my head around that lol) only to discover to her horror that he was at his school with the headmaster because of her actions. He has told someone and the headmaster and social services made sure he never had to go back to that house again. After that was when she threatened me with her suicide and followed through on that. My youngest sister discovered our nearly dead mother. And she refuses to speak to me now.

I told my mother "you know ----- blames me for that?". She replied "oh, no she knows it was your brother's fault!"

Sigh. I know now (at least logically) that the only person responsible for that suicide attempt was my mother. Not me. Not my brother. My mother won't accept responsibility, even now. My brother has never been back and now only has contact with an aunt and uncle.

I still battle with guilt for leaving my siblings with her.. for not being there to protect my brother for whom my heart still breaks... for not going back when I knew that threat wasn't an empty one... for not being there to find her unconscious body instead of my sister... for not being there. That guilt is soul destroying and I wish I knew what to do with it. I wish I knew how to deal with the confusion and the emotions.

Guilt is powerful.

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!

Image: .public.randomnotes.org

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

Image: www.meetmeet.co.uk

4. See the world!

Image: Total Law TM

5. Have an art exhibition at a good gallery.

Image: www.artec.org.uk

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.

Image: thisisatruebeauty.tumblr.com
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!)

Image: www.languagesunited.co.uk

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!

Image: elegantwordart2.blogspot.com

 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.

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