Self-styled ‘abuse survivor’ … and proud?

I came across this statement on Twitter recently. It pulled me up short.

Abuse survivor opinion tweet

I hadn’t gone looking for it or anything like it. It appeared in my timeline, ‘retweeted’ by one of the people I follow.

As I read the words of the tweet, I remember thinking that I’m a ‘self-styled’ survivor. I also remember that I didn’t have the slightest urge to rage at this tweeter and that made me smile. There have been times when I would have felt very angry indeed, as were many of the people who replied to the tweet on Twitter, hurt on behalf of all ‘survivors’, and so got myself very worked up in spirited defence.

It’s perhaps a measure of how far I’ve come that I was able to quietly reflect and focus first on reaffirming for myself why I sometimes choose to declare that particular status and, with another smile, realise that I feel confident in it. I have gone on to wonder in the days since I read it what might have prompted such a statement from the author of that tweet. It could simply be the work of a ‘troll’, someone who gets a kick out of making inflammatory statements online seeking a reaction, particularly one of hurt, from others. I deliberately chose not to look up the author of the tweet, for the sake of self-preservation, at a vulnerable time. However, since writing the bulk of this post I have now taken a look. I saw that the author defines herself as someone who writes about false accusations and ‘pseudo victims’. Sometimes people make things up, some people do generally like to play the ‘victim’ in life. I’m not deriding the woman, I haven’t looked deeply enough to know what she’s really about. I’ll just say that I think the tweet that prompted this post was misguided.

However, this post isn’t really about that tweeter. This post is primarily about me. I know, I am such a narcissist …

I wanted to write this post because communication is hugely important to me. I believe that good communication is fundamental and can be a real force for good by facilitating greater understanding, Unfortunately, in the years since my status as a survivor of abuse became apparent I’ve learned that many people don’t care about much beyond themselves and their own. Empathy and understanding are too often in short supply, while intolerance and ignorance proliferate. What are prejudice and intolerance if not a lack of knowledge, more specifically a lack of understanding and the absence of empathy? Add fear to ignorance, and watch intolerance and prejudice spread like the proverbial wildfire.

I want to reach out to those people who do care enough to want understand more than their own immediate experience … those who can see past the end of their own noses. I know, now who’s making inflammatory remarks?! What the hell: I’m not perfect and I do despair of reluctance to take a broader view.

I don’t wear the label ‘abuse survivor’ like a badge. It’s not who I am or what I’m about but it is a large part of my experience. I was abused for many years, and beyond childhood. The effects of those abusive experiences have been devastating and have pretty much decimated my life – wrecking my health and costing me, among other things, a career, relationships and a family of my own. I don’t say that lightly. For me, to ‘whinge’ is to cringe; I’m relentlessly positive, driven and upbeat and find it difficult to be otherwise. I’d rather pull out my own fingernails that have anyone think me a negative or downbeat sort of person.

I don’t declare myself abused and decry the terrible impact of it for fun or attention. I say it because those are the facts and because the impact was so great that recovering myself and my life became a full time occupation. I use the term ‘abuse survivor’ when I need to begin to explain my circumstances and also to connect with other survivors.

My Twitter bio. includes the phrase ‘abuse survivor’. Despite the title of this post, I actually don’t see myself as being a ‘self-styled’ abuse survivor. I am a ‘self-styled’ Wordsmith. That word, a cheeky nod to my love and life of writing, also appears in my Twitter bio. Describing myself as an abuse survivor is nothing more or less than a statement of fact. I use it on Twitter because it’s there, and via WordPress blogs, where I’ve found it possible to connect with other survivors – for mutual support and learning. It’s not to say ‘oh poor me‘ or ‘oh look at me‘. Given the amount of shame that survivors feel – that one is pretty much universal – that’s hardly likely. It is to say here I am, this is a part of my experience and I’m here if you’d like to connect. 

Where does pride come into it? Well, I imagine that ‘survivor pride’ … no, as far as I’m aware that isn’t a thing nor am I trying to make it one. I use the term loosely for the purposes of this blog post only … is something akin to Gay Pride. Once again, it’s not about narcissism. We don’t have ‘Heterosexual Pride’. We don’t have it, because we don’t need it, anymore than we need ‘White Pride’. Homosexuality, however, has long been the subject of oppression, abuse, ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. It remains illegal in parts of the world, and persecution is not uncommon.

If I’d held on to my sense of self faced with that lot, I’d be damn proud too.

And that’s how I feel about being proud to be an abuse survivor. I can’t change what happened to me, it was vile and appalling and has come close to killing me more than once. I’m not proud that it happened but I’m proud that I am not bitter, that I am a kind, caring, empathetic, inclusive, creative, vital … and witty(!) … person in spite of it. I’m extremely proud that I’ve achieved that after such terrible experiences and in an ongoing fight to thrive in the face of a scarcity of empathy and appropriate support and resources.

Like so many things in life, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach does not apply to ‘abuse survivors’. We are not a homogeneous group. Each survivor’s experience of abuse is different – abusers too have abuse in common but are otherwise varied. Abuse is often a life-altering experience with recovery sometimes life-long, but there are some for whom the impact is smaller. There’s no right or wrong way to be an abuse survivor. It is what it is according to each individual’s experience.

I have encountered enormous strength of character, courage and kindness among survivors. But that’s not to say that these people are ‘saints’. They are real people – as complex and varied as anyone else – who happen to have also endured something truly terrible. Abusers don’t discriminate, they’ll abuse whomever or whatever they can get. Abuse happens in all areas, all walks of life.

I could describe in graphic detail some of the abuse that I have experienced and that of other survivors I have got to know, either through work or friendship. I have knowledge that bleach couldn’t sanitise, but bluntly disgorging it here to attest to the veracity of the ‘abuse survivor’ would be crass. That’s not to say that I don’t think greater awareness of what people have to endure, survive and how they can struggle to go forward in life, and why, wouldn’t be helpful.

I believe in freedom of speech. That author of that tweet exercised hers. I’m happy to say that I’d fight for any abuse survivors right to declare themselves as such, and for their freedom of speech.

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I feel like I just ran a marathon 

9:55am I’m in bed, heart racing and body exhausted as though I’ve just collapsed over the finishing line at the end of an arduous race. 

I’ve just completed my first session with my trauma therapist since the 8th of February. I’ve phoned in for our regular session (this is a voluntary sector trauma therapy service that is delivered by means of a 50 minute weekly telephone call) most weeks in the intervening period but have been unable to utter a single word, not even so much as hello, and have felt utterly compelled to hang up. This is not a natural course of events for a chatterbox like me who is ordinarily an engaged and proactive therapy client.

Fear, even terror, and shame forced the silence, exacerbated by my having not yet established a relationship with my therapist, as I only became her client at the very end of last year. There’s much to unpick within that fear and shame. In the simplest terms, it’s fear that, after the terrible events of last year, there is now no hope of receiving any support, and shame at being who I  am, where I am. The terror is at potentially being hurt again by a ‘caring professional’ and, worst still, that if no help is possible, my fight to not only survive but to thrive could have been in vain. 

It’s taken a lot of work on my part to get to the point where I could today regain my voice. For a moment there as I wrote that I had the urge to cry hang out the flags … I did it! 

I may write some more later about the content of today’s session but my focus here is on the result of the session.

I feel glad that I was able to reconnect with my therapist today. We don’t yet have any real connection and I wish we could have talked for so much longer than 50 minutes but it was something, and it was helpful if only in as much as I could share some things and feel heard. 

I feel a renewed determination to try to finish the, to date, 75% completed pair of blog posts telling the story of the last year. In order to write about it, I must confront the events of the year and that is proving to be traumatic. 

Realistically, I’m unlikely to wotk on those posts today as I’m shattered having only slept for 90 minutes last night. I’m genuinely struggling to keep my eyes open and my brain focused. I’m looking forward to an early night. I hope to work on completing those blog posts tomorrow. 

Overseas Visitors 

According to my stats, I’ve had a visitor from Switzerland today. I think that’s a first for heartsetonliving.

As a passionate communicator reaching people thrills me, but there’s a sense of the wistful, the romantic somehow, today about reaching someone in a place I’ve never had the opportunity to visit and which until now hadn’t visited me here. 

It’s good to blog.   

Champions

This is just to say huge heartfelt thanks to those who leapt to comment on my previous post within mere minutes, seconds even.

I’ll try to reply individually but please pleaae please know that each one of those comments is the equivalent of a life raft or a chink of light in an impossibly long and dark tunnel.   

If you’ve never been alone in the world, without anyone in your corner, wirhout anyone to whom you can say “I need help, please come now”, if you’ve never been desperately vulnerable and at risk, then your value here on this blog might be difficult to appreciate. I’m telling you that it’s priceless. x 

I am awake and content to be so. 

I’ve woken this morning, for the first time in many days, without the feeling that I can’t bear to be awake.

This morning I did not so desperately clamour to again escape into sleep that I forced myself away from wakefulness and into a half sleep, punctuated by nightmares of the darkest variety. 

This is progress.

***** N.B. Hello again dear readers. It’s been a while since I posted, and there is quite a story a tell. It would be too large a task to try to bring you up to date all at once, and it would certainly overwhelm me, and perhaps you too. With that in mind, I’m going to do as a middle-aged American woman, with a passion for fly-fishing and a plethora of strategies for overcoming the overwhelming, once told me … don’t try to catch up, just jump in where you are. I trust that in doing  this the fuller story will, in time, unfold. This is likely to be one of many ‘bite-sized dispatches’. In the meantime, I’ll just say that it feels good to be back and that I hope you’ll encourage me in my quest to post regularly. *****

Euphemisms: Where’s the harm?

TW: Mention of #suicide in relation to #suicideprevention.

I love language. I love it all, from accent to puns, colloquialisms to sesquipedalia.

I read Linguistics at university – essentially the science of language. I’m no expert, but language fascinates me no less. I love to write and I like to write about language, among other things. Its usage particularly interests me, since I find communication equally fascinating.

Euphemisms are common, certainly here in the UK where we do love a good euphemism.

We’ve so many euphemisms for death alone that someone’s probably published a book dedicated to them. But isn’t it all a bit Voldemort? As J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” 

I wrote recently about the question of whether language usage could impede suicide prevention. Listening to a GP speaking to a patient, during an episode of the current series of fly-on-the-wall medical documentary series GPs Behind Closed Doors, I was taken aback when I heard her ask,

“Have you started thinking about doing something silly?”

Say what?

Silly is … clowning around; blowing raspberries; playing with water pistols; a whoopee cushion.

We need to talk about suicide. We REALLY need to talk about suicide – but do euphemisms help or hinder conversation? Statistics declaring suicide THE biggest killer of UK men under the age of 45 hit the headlines this week, thanks to Professor Green. That is not news to be taken lightly. I’ve twice been bereaved by suicide. I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts more times than I’d like to remember and ten years ago I attempted suicide. I am far from alone in that.

I’d argue that the euphemism ‘doing something silly’ is harmful. I think it trivialises suicide, infantilises it even. Doing something dangerous, yes; doing something desperate; definitely.

However, what matters most in terms of suicide prevention is that we are talking. Silence kills.

Perhaps euphemisms are very useful in helping us to communicate around difficult subjects? I would generally rather people were more direct. I think that leaves less room for misunderstanding, and helps to normalise speaking about the thing, such as death or more specifically suicide, itself.

Thanks for reading. I love a good discussion and I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Are euphemisms generally helpful? Should we be more direct? What about in terms of suicide prevention? You could comment on this post, or tweet me @heartsetonlivin .