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.

Peace and Loneliness

I’ve been seeking peace of mind for some thirteen years, since my abuse came to light and I finally broke.  I hoped to find it with my husband, but the marriage brought more fear and sadness. There was also laughter, sharing and wonderful cuddles ( I shall miss those) but the shadow of that fear and sadness loomed large above two people who in order to be themselves could not be together.

Peace of mind to me means living free from threat and fear; it’s a sense of safety, security and wellbeing.

I’ve yet to find that but in the new life I’ve made in the three years I’ve spent living in my adopted city home, I have experienced happiness, joy and contentment. Above all I’ve found me and quite frankly that’s really something to shout about. The freedom, the contentment that feeling comfortable within yourself can bring is immeasurably marvellous; it makes my heart sing.

I have always been able to picture the real me or my true self, my authentic self, if you prefer. The abuse I experienced could not obliterate that image but it did severely compromise my ability to be me.

In the last two years I’ve lost a lot of weight –  much of that piled on some years ago in the aftermath of my initial breakdown – and it’s meant shedding a physical and psychological burden. I was trapped inside somewhere, by losing weight I’m breaking out. I no longer cringe when I catch sight of myself, in fact I often beam! Photographs are still difficult because of issues with my teeth – which I hope to soon address – and my ongoing alopecia. My hair loss is permanent, I am teaching myself to just ‘rock it’! At last I have the confidence to wear clothes that I love and finally begin to develop the sense of style I could always picture. Shapeless cover-ups are long gone. I’m experimenting with make-up – not to hide but to enhance and most of all for FUN. Last week, for the first time, I had my eyebrows waxed and I loved it! I did it because I wanted to do it; I felt pampered. I grew up being schooled to ignore my own needs and to believe that self-care was a bad thing – self indulgent, selfish, an unnecessary frivolity.

It took a lot of hard work to recover from an anxiety disorder and agoraphobia and until very recently I still found it difficult to go into small shops. I live in an area with a fabulous old fashioned style high street filled with independent shops – an artisan bakery, a greengrocer, a cheesemonger, a health food store among them. I was too fearful to enter them because their small nature, their intimacy, felt too exposing and left me with nowhere to hide. I felt I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t worthy of being there. NOT ANYMORE!! I stride out with a funky basket on my arm (bought some years ago and saved for just such a moment that I was determined would come) and away I go. Now in my forties, I’m beginning to live.

 ****

Yesterday was difficult. I felt acutely lonely. Those feelings began on Friday evening and I felt bad about being so affected on a day when I’d had a considerable amount of meaningful contact. I rarely get so much and usually would ensure it sustained me for days.

There was an appointment at the GP surgery with a nurse with whom I have connected. During my mammoth weight loss programme she offered, unprompted, to accompany me to a local pool to fulfill a dream to swim again after a gap of many years; to ‘hold my hand’. Her compassion and willingness to engage quite took my breath away. My burgeoning self confidence received a bonus boost. I haven’t yet taken her up on the offer, although I did buy a swimming costume last year, but I hope to do so later this year. I still have a lot to do and limited spoons with which to do it and have had to accept that I can’t do everything at once. She was pleased to see me yesterday and recognised me although we have only met twice, the last time some months ago. It’s a simple thing but being recognised, feeling a connection, means so much. I’d lived so very long in isolation having lost all links due to illness and the abuse. I have no family, having had to cut myself off from what was left of it because I was being abused. Friends had distanced themselves then disappeared, some outraged that I’d had a ‘breakdown’ believing mental illness to be not an illness but a weakness or character flaw. Others were suspicious, appearing to think I had ‘gone a bit weird’ claiming abuse that couldn’t possibly be, so dazzled were they by the polished veneer expertly laid over our family to hide the soiled lives beneath. For years it blinded me too. Perhaps others just didn’t know how to deal with me. I distanced myself from the few who remained fearing further rejection or ridicule.

Back to Friday and I arrived at a lunch date with a friend, buoyed by my encounter with lovely nurse and it too was lovely – another connection and growing friendship. Our conversation was lively and varied. Talking about my situation and the realities of Operation Fight Back (my endeavour to recover from a recent set back and continue my lengthy ‘rebuilding programme’, in the wake of my marriage ending three months ago) was, is, helpful. Without an outlet, pressure builds to dangerous levels. However, talking and sharing as oppose to silently getting on with it, brought my isolation into sharp focus. My friend talked about being ‘adopted’ by older friends following the deaths of her parents. I’ve long dreamed of that happening to me – that may sound a bit drippy! I’ve had little experience of relationships with a parent figure that wasn’t toxic. I feel the absence of healthy versions of those relationships. I don’t have someone to look up to, to turn to, to seek advice from, or feel loves, cherishes, knows and accepts me. That’s how it is, I live with it, I seek to keep developing myself and my life … then who knows what might happen? Still, sometimes that loss, that absence, that pain, punches me on the nose … really hard. Watching Sport Relief  that evening I was undone. It featured a report about a 92 year old gentleman’s sense of loneliness following the loss of his much beloved wife to Alzheimer’s Disease. I felt for him so much but when the television  presenter spoke of the terrible problem of loneliness among the elderly, I wanted to shout at the telly you don’t have to be elderly to experience terrible loneliness. 

I ran yesterday (stats at the end of this post) morning but that and the bare basics were all I could manage. I felt low and I was hurting. Texts from two friends later in the day offered welcome respite. I hung on and today dawned more brightly.  The *?!*?’* is back in its box.

Treadmill stats for Saturday:

12mins 20 – all run = 0.73 distance and 67.1 cals

Operation Fight Back: Day 8 – Part 2

I’m listening to, and really enjoying, tracks by the Brazilian singer and composer Caetano Veloso after receiving a recommendation from a friend yesterday.

I’m doing OK today. I’m not dancing on the ceiling but my mood is nice and steady. In the terms of the mood app that I’m trialling at the moment, today began at less than OK (OK-), with the help of my routine and strenuous efforts to stay in the moment it quickly progressed to better than OK (OK+) before settling at pretty good. I certainly felt pretty good yesterday and I’m feeling pretty bloody marvellous to have progressed from being actively suicidal (actively in this case meaning making plans) to feeling pretty good in seven days, by way of mindfulness, exercise and a strict routine. That’s not to say that anyone who is experiencing suicidal feelings can ‘just turn it around’. If you’re not familiar with what it is to be suicidal then I’d ask that you please do not run away with that idea. I’ve been dealing mental and physical health problems and recovering from the effects of abuse for many years. I’ve learned a huge amount along the way and I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to apply a lot of it this week. That is gratifying, but doing so is also exceedingly hard work. It is, in my view and that of many others I’ve spoken to, a battle to recover.

Today’s treadmill stats: 12mins 35 = 10mins run (I upped the tread speed another notch today) 0.68 distance and 63.1cals. I enjoyed it today too.

Today’s further aims:

  • Make a vegetarian stew & this paté – except I’ll be using butternut squash instead of sweet potato – both variants are lovely!
  • Write a letter which cannot be put off any longer!
  • Give myself a manicure and pedicure
  • Take out the bins
  • Some further writing and/or creative journaling
  • Continue to build on yesterday’s eating really well achievement!