This Is My Body

I recently met up with some old college friends that I hadn’t seen for over eight years.  We all have children and partners and lives that have stretched out before us since the last time we saw one another.  I bumped into one of them when visiting my home-town a couple of months ago and we chatted about the eight years that had passed while her children made it clear that they didn’t want to stand around waiting for us to reminisce, so we agreed to meet next time I was visiting.

 

They say that time heals.  I’m not sure it does.  But time creates a distance from hurts that allows us to recalibrate ourselves.  We don’t have to be in denial about what was done to us in order to distance ourselves from it.  It’s been over eleven years since I left my ex-husband and I am far enough along the journey of healing that his impact on my life has become a distant memory and an occasional PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) episode rather than daily torture.  I’m no longer the person he moulded me into.

 

Bodies are often ignored in the healing process[1].  We focus on emotional turmoil or psychological affliction.  In therapy we talk about how we feel.  In understanding what has been done to us, we make cognitive shifts from one level of awareness to another.  Yet, all that is done to us is done while we exist within the same body we take forward throughout life.  Time and therapy can transform our minds and hearts, but our bodies remain the same.  We can’t download ourselves into another physical body.  We’re stuck with this one.

 

I met my ex-husband when I was 17 and at college.  The friends I met up with recently included the woman who introduced me to him.  She sat with us both when I found out I was pregnant.  After being released from hospital following a suicide attempt, it was her who I spent the evening with.  Another of the friends I met up with had seen razor cuts on my stomach when I stretched while wearing a short t-shirt at college.  The shame I felt when she confronted me.  Not being able to explain that he had done that to me.  Cut me with a razor.

 

While travelling to and from meeting with these friends, I was reading Getting Off by Robert Jensen, an excellent book about pornography and masculinity.  Throughout the book it describes in detail the forms of sexualised violence that exist within pornography.

 

I have been married to Mr GLW for nine years and free from my ex-husband for eleven years.  In that time, I have done a whole lot of healing and have discovered that sex can be awesome and life giving.  However, the same body that I inhabit now is the body I had when my ex-husband sexually violated me, and previous to that it is the same body I grew into whilst being sexually abused  by a neighbour.

 

Reading Robert Jensen’s book, I was reminded of the many ways my body was violated.  Of how my ex-husband used pornography to normalise that violation.  And how well that tactic worked.  I was convinced I should want all the degrading things that he forced upon me.

 

I read an article once where the author explained that the body takes seven years to completely renew all its cells.  She was counting down the years, months, days until that meant the man who raped her had never touched any of the cells in her body.

 

Christian culture loves the redemption narrative.  It loves the bad person who turns good, and the broken person who becomes healed.  Stories of women and girls “rescued” from human traffickers abound.  Stories about how many of those women and girls re-enter the sex industry, there’s not many of those being told.  We are sold the lie of full freedom this side of eternity.  Especially when there is no physical barrier to healing.  If someone has no legs, mostly (though not always) Christians will accept that there are challenges that person will face throughout their life.  With so called “emotional issues” rarely is this partiality of healing acknowledged.

 

Being raped happens to an actual physical body.  No amount of healing is going to undo what men did to me.  All abuse and trauma happens to us in an embodied way and Christian theology (with our Saviour who was born, lived, died and rose again in a physical body) should be much more aware of this than it is.

 

This body that I walk through life in has been raped.  It was degraded for a number of years and has survived my own attempts to kill and cut it.  I may be living in a place of great freedom, no longer constantly dragged down emotionally or psychologically by what was inflicted on me.  Yet, this body is the same body.  I type with the same hands.  I talk with the same mouth.  I walk with the same feet.  This is my body.

 

I don’t have some big revelation to conclude this with.  I felt compelled to write about this because I know that I am not the only one who is on this journey.  And if you’re reading this and are walking a similar path, please know that it is okay to never fully recover.  Living a wonderful life is not dependent on “getting over” the past.  Our bodies stay with us throughout all that we endure and (thankfully) all that we celebrate.  No matter how much physical distance or passing of time there is or renewal of cells our body goes through, we can’t leave it behind, for our body stays with us.  And though the pain and horror is difficult to overcome, it can be okay.  And we can be okay.

 

 

[1] This is changing within PTSD treatment, with practices like Somatic Experiencing.

Always Broken.

Content Note: This blog talks about self-harm.  

Today was difficult. It was one of those days where my brokenness presented itself to me, stark and true. Fissures in my soul, opening.

There’s been some challenges recently. My mum died in January and my grief is the sometimes realisations that comes with my mum’s terminal illness being less than four months from diagnosis to death. Personal and professional challenges collide in me, not big enough to be a crisis, not small enough to shrug off.

I’ve written before about my ex-husband; about what male violence does to the soul, about the reality of PTSD.

I hated myself. From age eight through twenty-two I was subjected to abuse. There’s specific ways men’s choice to sexually abuse destroys the soul. Shame and self-hatred reign. The feeling of being less than, of being impure and defiled drill deep into a person’s core. I began cutting my wrists when I was sixteen. I legitimised it the first time by making the shape of a cross on my skin. I’d been in church long enough to know “my body was a temple” and that cutting myself was a sin. I’d poured out my feelings on pages and in poems, yet in self-harm I found a coping mechanism that “worked”.

It’s been years since I cut myself, at first because of my children then through my experience of Jesus. Yet, no one tells you there’s no such thing as being an ex-self-harmer. When life is challenging, the desire to cut rises unbidden.

I was shaving my legs today and the razor twisted, an inch long cut, bright red blood. The need rose within me. I panicked. Alone in the house I knew it would be easy to go back to that place. I gathered the razors and rushed to lock them in the car

Out of the house. Out of harms way.

I rarely swear, but the f word forced itself out of my mouth as my brokenness rose from within me. Tears flowed. I wailed. Still broken. Always broken.

My twelve-year-old daughter and I went to the cinema to watch Pitch Perfect 2 this evening. It was wonderful. I left the cinema delighted vaginas had been mentioned, touched by the film’s primary focus on women’s relationships and lives. A scene towards the end with women of different generations singing together left me weepy. As we stood up to leave I was so pleased to have such films for my children’s generation. For me, Ten Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions were the most popular movies; the messages within them about gender and relationships are appalling.

My warm feeling didn’t last long. As we left the cinema, a drunk teenage boy and his friends were walking past. He asked me for a cigarette. I explained that I didn’t smoke. As I walked away, arm in arm with my precious pre-teen daughter, this young man shouted, “I bet you those two are twins. I would so bang them.”

Pitch Perfect immediately became a drop in the ocean. A momentary lapse within patriarchy. I drove home hiding the terror rising within me after witnessing one of the many ways my amazing girl is going to be objectified and diminished. In a space where boys have been raised on pornographies and girls are “banged”.

Yesterday my son’s six-year-old friend began objectifying the teenage girl who delivers papers. A little boy shouting after a teenage girl, displaying his understanding that girls are for looking good and being shouted at by boys.

It’s easy to see three isolated incidents. My personal struggles. An offensive teenage boy. A shouting little boy.

Yet the personal is political. The isolated incidents follow a pattern. I am broken because men broke me. They chose to break me. Men who started out as little boys believing that girls are for looking good and being shouted grow into young men who comment on how much they’d like to “bang” a twelve year old and her presumed sister.

Self-harm is very often a symptom of male violence. The man may not be pulling a razor across skin, but he rips her soul into so many pieces that it becomes logical to tear her skin into pieces too.

As we travelled to the cinema today, my daughter placed herself In Charge Of The Tunes. “Clean” by Taylor Swift came on. I’d never heard it before. She sang:

You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

Hung my head as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning

That’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning

Gone was any trace of you

I think I am finally clean

The Bible declares that Jesus died for our sins. That we are washed clean by His choice to give up all power, coming to earth, living a life of Truth and dying on a cross. We are “washed clean” because of Him.

This teaching has been warped by many. Responses to the Hillsong/Mark Driscoll petition have told me we should be forgiving him, not petitioning against him. Wiping the slate clean.

The Duggars talk of their son’s abuse being resolved in him finding Jesus. Wiping the slate clean.

Yoder’s sex offences are a gap between aspiration and behaviour, his important teaching is more significant than his choice to sexually abuse. He is a “well-known pacifist” despite violating over 100 women. Wiping the slate clean.

Women are not slates.

We are not slates that are wiped clean when an abuser repents, or purports to have. A woman’s healing is not linked to an abuser’s redemption. It simply does not work like that.

As I listened to the Taylor Swift lyrics I realised no amount of standing in the rain is going to make me clean. Jesus can stand with me in the brokenness, but He can’t wipe away the abuse and violation. It’s not Men In Black. There’s no zapping and the memories are gone. Women live with the consequences of men’s violence for the whole of our lives.

I’ll move beyond this day. Life will become joyous again. I will be okay. But the patriarchy continues. Little boys objectify teenage girls. Teenage men want to “bang” girls. Adult men rape, violate and decimate women in every country in the world. And the church colludes. And Jesus weeps.

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.

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.

The Other Side of the Darkness

Almost three weeks ago I wrote “This Is What Male Violence Does”. The response was so encouraging, with people sharing the post and telling me how much it had impacted them.

 

When I wrote that post I was in the midst of feeling hopeless. I was filled with despair. I couldn’t function. I rarely produce anything in those moments of absolute darkness, yet it seemed that writing would make the pain less meaningless.

 

One of the terrifying things about the darkest days is that there is no guarantee the light will dawn again. The desolation is such because it feels like the end of all goodness and life. Practically I wonder whether I will be able to work again; if I can’t work, then we won’t be able to afford to pay the mortgage or eat. Emotionally I wonder whether I will feel that dead and devoid of life forever; will I have to fake happiness from that day forth so my kids won’t worry about me. The fear then overcomes; perhaps I will be lost forever.

 

Yet that day was not the end. By late evening something had changed within me. By the next morning I was filled with gratitude; thankfulness for my life, my family and God.

 

In the midst of the pain I was unable to work, but once the blackness dissipated I had so much work to do that it has taken me almost three weeks to have the time to sit down and write what the other side of the darkness is like.

 

For me, it is in God that I find light. It is in the redemptive power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that I can be raised to new life. Counselling, anti-depressants and practices of journalling, resting and processing pain have been integral to my healing, yet above all those things is the knowledge that I am beloved of God. It is that which has pulled me through the darkest of days.

 

The reality of what was done to me, of the terrible experiences I went through are not the end.

 

Many ask, “Why does God allow suffering?” But as someone who has suffered I have found that to be the wrong question. Bad things happen. People choose to do terrible things. Yet, the question is, “Do we want to go through suffering alone or with the knowledge of a greater purpose, the truth of a God who suffered and died to show us love, the comfort of Holy Spirit?” Some people try to explain what my ex-husband did to me by reducing his culpability, “Broken people break people” is what they offer me, yet understanding the WHY of suffering will never lessen the pain or the consequences. It is those who have shared their suffering with me, those who have walked with me without the simple answers that have most helped me; not those who can reel off a list of verses (Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind…) that offer a quick fix to my deeply broken spirit.

 

I cannot guarantee I will never have another day like the one I had a few weeks ago. But in this place, on the other side of the darkness, the knowledge of God’s love and a deep thankfulness for all I am and have is stronger than that which has gone before.

This Is What Male Violence Does

Today is my son’s 9th birthday.  He is an amazing child; intelligent, articulate, funny and extremely cute!  I am married to the most extraordinary man, who has selflessly given so much of himself, his gifts, his time and his energy to enable me to fulfil that which I have been called to.  I have an 11 year old daughter who is wonderful; clever, sensitive, funny, kind, beautiful inside and out.  Today should be a day of celebration and for my son and daughter that is what today is.

 

I have wept most of the morning and the pain inside weighs me down. Most of the time I feel blessed to have such a beautiful life, most of those who know me, know me as I am now; confident, strong, articulate, filled with the spirit of the living God.  Yet, today I weep and am filled with great pain.

 

Nine years ago today my beautiful son was born 3 months premature weighing only 2lbs 6 oz. He was born premature because a week before his birth my ex-husband raped me.  Nine years ago today at 5.30am in the morning I gave birth to a tiny precious life and immediately he was whisked away to be ventilated, I didn’t get to see or hold him.  In fact the first time I held him was about 3 weeks later.  I was then put on drugs to keep my contractions going for another 4 hours in case anything from the birth was still left inside me.

 

I saw him briefly before he was transferred to a hospital an hour away. He was in a large plastic box, naked, hooked up to machines, his chest moving mechanically as the ventilator kept him alive.  There was blood on the towelling mattress where they had pierced his skin with intravenous drips.

 

Later that day I went home to collect my clothes in order to be driven by my dad to stay in the hospital with my precious son. My ex-husband was in the house and took forever to let me in.  2 years previously he had been placed on the sex offenders register after being found guilty of sexually abusing teenage girls.  As I collected my things, I realised there was a teenage girl hiding in the house; her jewellery on the fire place.  Hours after watching me give birth 3 month early, he had invited a fourteen year old girl to the house and abused her.  I couldn’t face calling the Police.  The last time I called them to report my ex-husband’s abuse of teenage girls, the officer who interviewed me said to me, “Don’t you think you should stop allowing him to see teenage girls?”

 

I can’t remember much of those hospital days. I remember it took a lot to convince my ex-husband to bring my two year old daughter to the hospital.  That in the end, it was less than two weeks after the terrible event of my son’s birth which convinced me to separate from my ex-husband, for the last time.  That I would express milk using an electric pump in a little room, day and night.  That my daughter and I lived in hospital for five months in total.  That I would take her swimming, to the park and to toddler groups, because she would remember being neglected in favour of sitting in a hospital room with a tiny baby on the edge of life, but that my son wouldn’t remember that I could only sit with him for a little while at a time because my daughter needed the stability.

 

I only cried a few times in that whole five months; once was when a nurse told me not to touch my son so much as it could cause him distress. People naturally want to stroke tiny babies in their plastic incubator boxes.  But you can’t stroke them because their skin is too fragile.  All you can do is gently hold their head and their bottom and even then, not for too long.

 

My daughter would do her dolls’ observations, checking their temperature and using the little pink sponges we used to wet my son’s tiny mouth to pretend to wet her dolls’ mouths. We shared a room in most of the hospitals we stayed in and it was only because we lived so far from the hospital that we were allowed to stay, most parents travelled in each day.

 

After a month of being in hospital with my son, I reported my ex-husband to the Police. Friends took my daughter out while I made a statement at the police station.  It took hours.

 

One of the hospital cleaners asked me where my ex-husband was. I said we had separated, she asked me why I’d let such a good one get away.

 

During the time I was in hospital I would pray, a lot. At first I prayed for my son to live.  Hoping that he would make it through.  And then God clearly said to me that I needed to stop praying that my son would be okay.  He said, “Stop praying for him to live and start praying for my will to be done.  Can you praise me the same this week, with your son alive, as you will praise me next week if your son dies?”  In that place of utter desolation, God wanted to take away even my hope of a better future.  And I thought for a long time about whether I could and from that moment on I stopped praying for my son to live and began praying for God’s will to be done.

 

I don’t explain this lightly or without knowledge of how this sounds to those who do not have a relationship with God. But I can tell you with all surety, that I would not be who I am today without having surrendered everything to God.  Because when everything is stripped away and there is nothing left, it is then that true freedom and life can be found.

 

The only weekend I had away from the hospital was when I went back to my house to move all my possessions out. My ex-husband left the electricity key so low in credit that it went off during me organising the house, which meant I had to collect the key from him.  I removed everything of mine from the house.  Cleaned it from top to bottom, so that I could collect my half of the deposit back from the landlord.  This was the same house my daughter had spent most of her life in.  The same house I had tried to commit suicide in.  The same house at which a neighbour punched me in the face for being married to a sex offender.  The same house I had been sexually abuse in day in day out, called names, constantly devalued, intentionally been made exhausted.  I stored my possessions in my parent’s garage and travelled back to the hospital.

 

 

Three months after he’d been born my son was moved to a less specialist hospital. I knew that if I moved back to my home town, I’d re-enter the relationship with my ex-husband.  I now know that is because of something called Trauma Bonding, at the time I thought it was because I was too weak and pathetic to even keep myself safe.  We moved to Gateshead.  And my son’s care continued.  Twice after being released from hospital he stopped breathing and went blue/grey.  I resuscitated him, once in a car, once at home.  When we arrived by ambulance at the hospital, I would play colouring in with my daughter on the floor, watching as my son was surrounding by medical professionalstrying to save his life, smiling at my daughter saying, “Isn’t that wonderful colouring in? You’re doing a brilliant job!”

 

My ex-husband was charged with rape. The Police contacted me and asked if I thought he should have bail.  “Of course!”  I said, “He wouldn’t hurt me!”

 

He would call me and threaten to tell people about the bad stuff he’d made me do. He would call me and say he couldn’t remember what he’d done.  And I would call him.  When I needed support, when there was news about my son’s health, when I couldn’t cope with not having spoken to him.  I genuinely believed the only person who really deserved to hear me moan about how hard life was, was him.  One time he spent twenty minutes telling me on the phone how terrible a person I was.  I cried and pleaded with him to stop, but I couldn’t put the phone down.  No matter how much I wanted to.  He controlled me absolutely.  On two occasions while on bail, he manipulated me into sleeping with him.  The Police thought he may threaten me to keep himself out of prison, but he used something much more effective than fear, he didn’t have to threaten me to keep himself out of prison, all he had to do was pretend to love me.

 

When asked by consultants, “Are you on your own?” I would respond with, “Yes!  I’ve separated from my husband.  He is a registered sex offender.”  I couldn’t just say yes.  I needed to explain.  To prove I’d really tried at being married, that I wasn’t a failure, or worse, one of “those” single mothers the media goes on about (turns out there’s no such thing!).  This meant that my ex-husband wasn’t allowed on the children’s ward where my son was being cared for.  I received a phone call via a hospital payphone from the police officer who was responsible for my ex-husband’s rehabilitation process.  He proceeded to shout at me over the phone, berating me for “stopping a father from seeing his child.”  Apparently I shouldn’t have told the hospital about the conviction.  I think it convinced him of my vindictiveness towards my ex-husband.

 

At one point my son contacted bronchiolitis. I came into the intensive care ward to find him paralysed by a drug that stopped him pulling the ventilator out of his throat.  All his veins had been used and the only one left was on the top of his head, so they had shaved the area and put a drip in there.  He was ventilated and still needing to be resuscitated every two minutes.  They said they were sending him for a lung bypass which they explained had a 70% chance of physical or mental disability.  On his way to the specialist hospital he miraculously began improving.  They didn’t need to do the bypass in the end.

 

Eventually my son was released from hospital on low flow oxygen, not long before my daughter’s 3rd birthday.  After turning a year he rarely needed any medical treatment.

 

This is what male violence does. Men take the lives of women and children and destroy them, rape them, kill them.  And no matter how wonderfully we rebuild our lives, no matter how beautiful the restoration is, every birthday is never just a celebration of life, it is also a reminder of death.  I was 21 years old when my son was born, I am now 30.  And each year seems to get harder, as the years travelled show me more clearly what I have lost.  My wonderful husband and I have chosen not to have any children that are biologically ours together.  The two I brought into the marriage need to know they are enough, and God made it clear to us that we shouldn’t have more children.  And though that decision was right and obedience to God is always worth it, the pain of knowing that my pregnancies and the early years of both my children were filled with such pain is something I mourn deeply.  This is what male violence does.

 

I don’t have any life giving words or clichés about how it all gets better. Even though it does.  Because for now, in this moment, the cost feels greater than the cause.

 

Yet, by the time I collect my wonderful son from school, no matter how much it hurts, I will greet him with the biggest smile, because it’s his birthday, and for him that means it’s a really happy day.