Raped and abused by an uncle, four episodes between approximate age of five to ten. The nature of the abuse was forceful, violent, terrifying, occasionally life-threatening, marked by sudden changes of behaviour and anger. I had no memories of it at all until the age of 46.
The dissociated years were marked by depression, anxiety, withdrawal, distrust, paranoia, jealousy, cynicism, under-achievement (school, college, career, earnings), a strong tendency to avoid all-male company leading to difficulty bonding with bosses and allies. I suffered poor health from hyper-immunity and anxiety disorders, asthma, eczema, allergies, and the effects of sleep loss, exacerbated by the physical conditions and the drugs given to treat them.
My adolescence was lost to withdrawal and depression, the belief that good things happened to other people, and to feeling as attractive as ‘sheep shit’. Late compared to peers, I had a few girlfriends, but was sexually naive and passive and too gentle to give climax. In terms of emotion there was a hard limit on how deep in love I would or could go. I was horrified by the risk of fatherhood, firmly believing the world needed no more like me, and I would not wish that on a child.
Later, I pursued dangerous activities: rock and ice climbing, winter mountaineering, sports motorbikes. Several hospital visits and many near-misses were part death-wish, part seeking a feeling of aliveness to pierce the fug of depression. Throughout, I had tendencies to self-sabotage, sending away most of the good stuff that came my way.
My early 40s saw an improved emotional state, moderation of dangerous sports, more friends and confidants, some deepening of relationships, leading to marriage, a sabbatical and 10 months travelling.
Revelation came suddenly while travelling, relaxing on a coral island. First, strong misplaced up-wellings of emotion, huge sadness, followed by remembered words and phrases, crystal clear in the voice, accent and manner of the abuser. These were followed by still images, then video clip memories. Sometimes the body moved involuntarily into the positions during abuse, then strong pain came. Then mental impressions of the proceedings of the rape came.
The main phase of remembering took two months, the snippets forming into four episodes at different ages. Each new revelation can take two to three weeks to remember following a pattern comprising: disturbed or thrashy sleep, volatile emotions, absence of mind, shifting body pains and shifting of ‘the furniture being moved around’. Terror can manifest early as a feeling of never finishing a pee, frequent toilet visits and a feeling of wetness, lasting up to a week. Something other than you is using the brain, analogous to a computer responding slowly when other programs are running. Feelings of vulnerability, dread and distress. Continued employment was only possible with formal involvement of occupational health and informal patience. My wife endured feelings of helplessness at witnessing distress, the tension of unpredictable good and bad days.
Recovery has progressed with one-to-one counselling from Survivors UK (via the Rape Crisis website) and One in Four. I did not fare well with a style of counselling where the client is left to fill the silence while being closely observed – I experienced too much dread of attending, and this affected me days before sessions. It was also becoming plain to me that counselling would not be brief and that to continue in employment I would need evening or weekend sessions. I benefited from a warmer, more coaching style in an atmosphere of safety that deep exploration was possible, without re-traumatising or dread. Continuing more deeply, old core beliefs and effects on my personality were revealed. I was astonished at the depth and profoundness of my surrender, abandonment and depression at the age of five, at the completeness of the human psyche at that age, and at the level of damage that is possible.
Examples of deep discoveries include: the schism between being loved and safeguarded then being tortured, terrified and taught that kids are vermin and are disposable; the breakdown in trust when loving parents smiling handed me to and received me from the abusing uncle; the decision that I was a lone species, someone who would never be a grown-up; anger contained at such great pressure that it cannot be used; avoidance of fatherhood being avoidance of being near to powerless precious creatures, a nearness which would have illuminated the wrongness of my abuse too strongly to bear; paralysis from core belief that using my voice brings retribution, escalation or humiliation; a default coping strategy of passive suffering.
Group sessions have proved important – deep trust and care for others is established quickly, which somehow transmutes into improved care of self. All experiences of others have some releasing or reassuring effect for me and enabled comparison of dissociated and conscious lives, filing in gaps such as family issues and common sensitivities. Seeing others improve over time was encouraging magic.
Professional literature on abuse includes psychic activation or hypersensitivity. From reading this literature I discovered that I have always used my ‘aura as radar’: I am extremely sensitive to my environment. This contributes to my ineffectiveness or paralysis near angry people and to feeling scattered, debilitated. I have found psychic training an essential part of gaining control over the quality of my life. Meditation and energy management skills have contributed to the success of conventional counselling. These skills have speeded my development of self-awareness, self-love, self-care and core strength. Several of my group said news of my ‘radar’ was important for them, as they realised something similar was happening for them.
One group member was nearing her court date as witness for the prosecution, which got me thinking, who would I want in the courtroom to support me? Certainly not my parents or my wife, they ought be spared the gory details, their presence would inhibit me. The best support I can imagine would be my group. I would volunteer for a survivor support group including court public gallery duties.
One in Four services have proved very effective and vital for me: one-to-one and group counselling, advice on reporting, police and legal systems and the offer of support through this process. Their survivor handbook has a section on PTSD, which helped me understand how I came to be the way I was, as has reading the work of Peter Levine on trauma. However 100% of my group report very poor experiences disclosing to their families, both in the immediate and the long term, which has heavy impact on healing and on the quality of life, so improvements here would improve outcomes. My own parents shrink from the news and try to protect their world. I have some sympathy with this and the disappointment has made me more solid and independent – as if an elastic band connecting me to my childhood has snapped, at last, and I am free to be an adult.
I have worked very hard to understand and defuse the power that abuse has had on my life, to unravel strands of personality – the innate and the effected, so as to not be defined by abuse. However I don’t know when the next dissociated memory will surface, what my personality and life would have been like, how many kids I might have had, etc. I am sensitive to news about celebrity abuses and identify strongly with the victims. So how can I claim not to be defined by abuse?
Due to this specialist support for childhood sexual abuse I am a success story, transformed. My abilities are unleashed, my sexuality is far less hindered, my quality of life is coming under my control. My professional life is stronger than at any time in the past, though this comes at an age where opportunities are diminishing. My physical health has blossomed as the weight of dissociated trauma is lifted. I am eternally grateful.