The truth after the storm

On Friday I wrote a piece articulating my struggles with PTSD.  I’ve only recently begun writing about the ongoing consequences of my ex-husband’s choice to abuse me, mainly because I had this fear of people judging me as incompetent to do the work I do.  That somehow the ongoing impact of male violence on me would preclude me from contributing fully to addressing it.  I guess it revealed to me some of my own fears and prejudices.  That even though I work full time on ending violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice and though I would be the first to challenge language and attitudes which blame women for the abuse men have chosen to perpetrate, deep down the truth has been that I believed I needed to be fixed, no longer affected, in order to offer myself to the cause.

 

I regularly stand up and share my story.  A few years ago I spent time working at a few large Christian conferences for men.  More recently I have begun working with perpetrators.  And in all of those spaces, either telling my story, spending time within all-male spaces or working with perpetrators, I feel a responsibility to represent women well.  To not perpetuate the issues which lead to stereotyping of women, to challenge the misrepresentation of women, and when telling my story, to do it in a way that will challenge misconceptions, preventing anyone leaving after hearing me thinking that abuse happens to “those women, out there”.

 

I once spoke at a conference where I had been billed as “THE VICTIM PERSPECTIVE”.  I walked into the building with some other people attending the same event.  As we chatted about the day ahead, one woman said to me, “I’m very interested to hear the victim perspective.”  I responded, “Oh yes, it will be very interesting won’t it?”

 

After the event that same woman came over to talk with me, she told me I had shocked her, she would never have expected me to be a victim, that she would never hold those same views again.

 

Yet perhaps by sharing a story of being okay I have misled those who have heard me speak.  Perhaps those who are currently dealing with the impact of male violence or those with family and friends who have been hurt, I have suggested that there will come a day when everything is sorted, that being fixed is the aim.  Yet there is a sense that no matter how far we come, how good life gets; the pain of male violence doesn’t end.

 

This is why we must prevent it, why addressing the root causes of male violence; ownership, entitlement and inequality are so important.  Because once the damage is done, life will never be the same.

 

I attended an event called “Woman at the well” run by an organisation called Transformation Powerhouse a while ago.  During the evening one of the women leading the event said she had a word from God for me (I know those of you reading this without a faith may be a bit like “okay…” at this point, but bear with me).  She basically said that God had told her I have so so much love to give, but that fear is getting in the way of me offering it.  She (and God) are right.  My fear of being honest, of being judged too broken, of being patronised or disparaged has prevented me from offering my all.  Thinking that by telling of the pain as well as the victory would diminish me.  And yet the story shrinks if it is not told fully.  The ending of being fixed denies the truth of being broken.

 

I attended a session with a Human Givens therapist on Friday. I only needed one session in which she did something called the Rewind Technique.  It is an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms and basically resets the brain to factory settings and moves the trauma that has led to a serious episode from the lower brain (which deals with trauma) to the upper and then mid-brain which sees the trauma as a memory rather than an ongoing, current event.

 

I arrived at the session unable to communicate much, numb, exhausted and incapable of making decisions (anyone who knows me will realise that’s basically me losing my entire personality).  After the session I was back, my brain worked, I decided to go for food (both deciding and eating were impossible for me to do ninety minutes earlier) and I was able to think, laugh and generally be myself again.

 

Over the weekend I’ve felt quite fragile.  Although I’m back, social interaction is tiring and I’m vaguely subdued.  But I’m on way back to being normal.

 

So many people have offered their love, prayers and kindnesses over the weekend.  Texts, tweets, emails, direct messages, cake and offers drive miles just to sit with me.  Even when I felt unable to respond, the love and care has been much appreciated, so thank you if you are one of the many who have loved me!

 

I’m still the same person I was before I began sharing the downs as well as the ups, the feelings as well as the doings, but hopefully now I’m over the fear of being so vulnerable, I will bring more of the truth to this battle and as we know, it is the truth that sets us free.

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It feels like my soul has died

On Sunday I awoke from a dream and everything changed.  Since then I have barely been able to eat, talking wears me out, even typing these few words is a huge effort.  I have done very little work, the meetings I have had to attend require me to fake being myself which, although possible, is exhausting.  My usually super fast brain has slowed almost to a standstill and in the middle of sentences I will lose the thread of what I’m saying.

 

I am irritable and my ability to parent has become vastly depleted.  I have become impatient and snap at the littlest thing.  At times I become unable to move or speak and my husband has to physically move me and help me with basic tasks.  By early afternoon I am exhausted and have to sleep.

 

It feels like my soul has died.  All that’s left is a shell.  All that makes me who I am has been enveloped by deadness.

 

The dream wasn’t even that bad.  Nothing dramatically awful happened within it.  It involved me being almost physically transported back ten years and spending time with my ex-husband.  And now I am broken.

 

It turns out it probably wasn’t a dream, but rather a flashback.  A flashback isn’t a nightmare or a memory, it’s like whatever you are seeing is happening in the present.  And the brain and body cannot distinguish between the flashback and reality.  So for all intents and purposes, on Sunday I was transported back ten years to spend an hour with my ex-husband.  And it has messed up my entire life.

 

Over a year ago I had a similar incident when I was watching a programme and a violent assault suddenly took place on screen.  My brain stopped working on anything but a superficial level for about 6 weeks.  This is what I wrote back then.

 

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I can go for months, over a year without any problems and then, without warning, everything will change.  A friend of mine likened it to someone suffering epilepsy, “it’s like you’re walking across a stage and you know that at some point a trap door may open up underneath you, but you don’t know when.”  Which is basically what it’s like.  The challenge is that PTSD is not socially acceptable.  If it’s not a physical illness, it doesn’t really exist for many people.

 

Reporting of the recent cases of Oscar Pistorius and Ched Evans have often focussed on the perpetrators’ rights to continue with their lives.  That justice has been served and regardless of our opinions, we must respect the process.  Yet the problem is much greater than individual cases.

 

What does justice look like for me?  My ex-husband has received no court based consequences for what he did to me.  And even if he had, at most he would have served two and a half years in prison.  The majority of what he did wasn’t even technically illegal.  Still, ten years later and I am still coping with the consequences of his choices to hurt me.  As are my husband and children.

 

In many ways punishing him won’t change things for me, the trapdoor will still open underneath me, life will still stop when something unpredictable triggers my PTSD symptoms again.  But maybe it would make a difference for the next girl he hurts, maybe it would prevent him having the same access to girls and young women?  Maybe it would change the perception of the impact of abuse and rape on the individual?

 

Regardless, I am still broken.  There is this deep pain that simmers below all the symptoms and ways in which the trauma affects me; that I will always be broken.  That no matter how many years pass, who I am or what I do; I will still be broken.  And don’t feel you need to rush to reassure me that I’m not broken.  Because to do so denies the impact of abuse and rape.  It breaks people forever.  It smashes and breaks people in a way that cannot be repaired.

 

In the least awful parts of this week I have some confidence that things will improve.  That I will become myself again.  In the darkest minutes and hours, I wonder if this time the damage will be permanent, if this will be the time when I lose myself forever.  I am going to have a session of something called the Rewind Technique this afternoon, which will hopefully sort some of this out and repair the damage that has been done to my brain by the flashback.

 

I know I should write something to complete this piece, to bring it to a close, but my brain has shut down again.  So I’ll leave it here for now.

PTSD

I didn’t want to write this. I didn’t want to admit it to the world. I didn’t want to be one of those people who seem to have a barely disguised compulsion to tell the world all their nasty bits, a bit like an emotional, online version of Embarrassing Bodies. I also didn’t want to be a mess or a failure or anything like that.

 

I wanted to be the fixed one. The one that in spite of the things done to me, conquered it all and was okay, always okay. I felt a pressure to be okay, to represent all those who have experienced abuse, to show the world we’re not stupid or miserable or mad. We’re just people, regular normal people.

 

Yet, a month ago I watched a scene on a TV programme and my brain broke. Since then I’ve been broken and messed up. I’ve stopped being able to talk much, or think much or feel anything. I have occasions where I become unable to move or speak, where I can’t be touched and I feel a darkness in my head that is pure hopelessness. I can’t pray, or spend time with God because I can’t feel anything or think straight.

 

Google told me the proper name for my brain breaking is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and yet I can’t have a broken brain, because I have to be okay, because that’s what I am, a broken person, made good and just like everybody else.

 

Then God introduced me to an amazing woman called Jenny Edwards. She told me how the horror, terror and trauma of what I experienced has got stuck in the animal part of my brain, which isn’t capable of higher thinking. While it’s stuck in that part of my brain the trauma isn’t considered a historical memory, my brain thinks the trauma is continuously happening to me, to which my body and mind are responding to accordingly. She explained that there are some therapeutic processes which will allow the trauma to move from the animal part of my brain to the human part and that they are easy to do.

 

It turns out my brain isn’t broken, it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

 

You may be wondering why I’ve written this, if I didn’t want to. I’ve written it because I realised that if I am willing to share my story, I need to be honest about what it’s like to be here. To tell the world that when someone chooses to abuse another person, the consequences will last a lifetime. Not in some emotional feeling, but in very real, neuro-scientific ways. To empower those who are hurting with the knowledge that these symptoms are not something we imagine or can just get over, but a very real problem with the brain. And that help is out there.

 

So while I work with specialists to get back to being healthy, I want to be honest and acknowledge that who I am will be always be marred by the abuse perpetrated against me, and that being healed is not about denying that, but owning it. That forgiving the perpetrators doesn’t happen in the same measure as I feel fixed and normal, but that forgiveness for the perpetrators is offered regardless of damage I continue to live with. Just like if someone had cut off my legs, I would continue to disabled, the abuse perpetrated against me means I am likely to have debilitating episodes for the rest of my life, and telling the world that is okay. It doesn’t reduce me, it doesn’t define me, but it is who I am. And that’s okay.