Sunday, August 31, 2014

Breaking the Silence - Interview with Susan


*Trigger warning: description of childhood sexual abuse and mention of attempted suicide. It's not graphic, but may be triggering to some*

Written by: Adryelle

Breaking the silence of past abuse can be difficult, some people are stuck in denial about their past until something may trigger things to light. I had the opportunity to interview Susan (Twitter name @shinybluedress) about her past experiences and how she broke the silence and how she began her healing process. After you read it feel free to leave comments on what has helped you speak out!
Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Adryelle: Susan, Tell me your story briefly?

Susan: I'm a 54 year old intensive care nurse - wife to an amazing man, 32 years married and a mother of two grown up kids and also a grandma. I live in the UK. I was sexually abused from aged 4. My earliest memory is of being in my cot when my uncle came in and did something. At that age I saw it as just a game - because that's how he presented the sexual act to me. I was also rewarded with hugs and a story and he sang me to sleep afterwards. Being so young I didn't even know what it was, let alone that it was wrong. 
Over the years the abuse became more serious in terms of what he did. He occasionally visited the family home and would be involved in my care when mum was unwell or working. I looked forward to his visits because I was vulnerable and needy. My mum was unable to provide the emotional support /stability that I needed and I always felt she despised me. In contrast my uncle praised and validated me. As he mixed the abuse in with the "good"care he gave me - I craved his attention - ANY attention that he gave. As I grew older and became aware of my body I developed a deep sense of shame about what I was doing. I never questioned that it was all his fault. I was the dirty disgusting person who engaged willingly in such things. It was my guilty secret. 
Later from aged 11 he got me involved with other adults in a home grown porn ring - films and photos were taken and developed in a room in the house where it all took place. The transition was relatively easy as I was already highly sexualised and he used emotional blackmail to ensure my compliance. He told me he had debts to pay and that he was suicidal with worry about them. I feared that I would lose him and I would have done anything to keep him sweet and keep him with me. It was here that I was also groomed by a woman who was very much the facilitator /organizer of the "ring". The things that happened in that room were detestable, unspeakable acts against me and at times I would dissociate by sending an imaginary girl called Suzie into the room instead of me. Suzie was "bad" and did much of the bad stuff while I looked on or hid behind a curtain ( In my imagination that is). 
Then I became pregnant just before my 13th birthday and miscarried. My uncle scarpered and I never saw him again. But because I was dependent on him and I loved him I went looking for him! After this I had to go into care for a while as my unstable mother became mentally ill and was hospitalized. When she was better I came out of care and went back to living with my mum, but the woman found me and I engaged in a relationship with her. Later I got myself involved in escort work. Basically all my childhood I had been rewarded for sex. I learnt I could get money and I knew too easily how to do it. So when I was a very young adult this woman got me clients and to this day I have issues with females. I find it hard to trust them or to trust myself. I use my hubby as a shield, so basically I can tolerate women and behave "normally" with them as long as he is around.
I became a Christian at age 19 and started nursing too, meeting and marrying my hubby shortly after. I do feel I was rescued by these three lifestyle choices and think I would be dead by now if they hadn't occurred. I'm told I am a high functioning survivor as I've managed to hold down a career and relationships despite everything. I know I'm very fortunate compared to many many many other survivors.

Adryelle: How old were you when you really started to work on your healing and break the silence?

Susan: It wasn't until after the birth of my daughter. I was about 27. I couldn't connect with her emotionally. I couldn't parent her - I couldn't give her what she needed from me as her mother. I was scared I would damage her, so I sought help within my church. I went to a close friend, but I couldn't even speak out about who abused me. I was gob smacked when she prayed for me. Then she sat silently for a while before saying "it was your uncle wasn't it? Your mother’s brother". I believe God told her this to help me break the vow I was made to make as a child to never tell anyone. It was a huge breakthrough.

Adryelle: What was the tipping point that made you want to seek healing?

Susan: I didn't disclose much more at that time. I was helped a little in terms of understanding how much I hated myself and in turn was projecting that onto my daughter. I had so much rage inside me, but I learnt to control it enough to parent her a little better. But I didn't seek professional help - I just buried it all again and endeavored to move on. I thought that it would all be okay as long as I kept trying to be a good person and a good mum. I was in complete denial.
It was years later - in fact it was in 2012 when I was 52, that I finally sought help again. My personal life fell apart when something terrible happened - and everything unraveled and all the memories came to the surface. I was in despair - so much so that I went into the garage and tied a rope around my neck. I was desperate and I really scared myself. Then a short while later I was at a Coldplay gig listening to them perform the song "Fix You". The next day that song was playing again and suddenly something finally broke inside me and I howled and howled and howled. I thought that if I didn't seek help, I would die from the torment in my soul.

Adryelle: How did you tackle the shame and guilt?

Susan: This has been the hardest part. The counseling I received was key. I had a huge brick wall of guilt and shame and somehow, piece by piece in therapy, the bricks were being removed. I needed to unpick the memories - it was very in depth work - disclosing very shameful things that were done to me. My counselor was unshockable, wise and sensitive and with each memory would show me the truth - helping me understand that I couldn't possibly be to blame. For a long time I couldn’t process that knowledge though - so deep inside I still felt ashamed and guilty. But it's a process that takes time and a lot of hard work. There were water shed moments along the way that helped the pennies to drop. I engaged in the community of survivors at the Pandys.org website and talking through stuff with other survivors helped enormously. I also joined a survivors group meeting fortnightly - I knew these survivors weren't to blame for their abuse and I began to let myself off the hook deep down too. But I had to keep standing on the truth, instead of believing the lies in my head and heart that it was my fault. Sounds easy but it wasn't. And I still have a wobble about this from time to time. In fact it's a daily battle.

Adryelle: What has been your biggest challenge through your healing?

Susan: I was forced at the age of 12 to touch a younger female child and this has tormented my soul. Also the feelings of arousal that I remember having from a very early age - and this together with the rewards I got from engaging in the sexual activities, made me feel like I wanted it and I liked it. I look back and remember how I felt at the time and it makes me shudder. It's hard to shake off. I was well and truly groomed. I also battle with a chronic form of PTSD, which I'm learning to control but it's really hard some days - and nights. The nightmares are the worst and they haven't left me although their frequency has diminished.

Adryelle: What would you say to women / men who still haven’t spoken out about their abuse?

Susan: It's a hard burden to carry this sort of secret and to suffer in silence. Keeping quiet just makes the secret fester away deep inside and can affect you emotionally and mentally, so it's hard to cope with daily life and relationships. But it doesn't have to be this way. I would urge anyone with this type of secret to find a safe person and take that very brave step and tell them. It takes huge courage and the journey may be long and painful but it's the first step to peace and freedom and empowerment. That said - survivors carry the pain and legacy of their abuse throughout their lives. It truly is a life sentence. But getting help to deal with the past can help you cope better with your life both in the present and the future.

Adryelle: What advice can you give women / men who have spoken out but are struggling through the journey?

Susan: Make sure you have a good support network around you if possible. Counseling can make you feel worse before it gets better. Be gentle on yourself - there will be hills and valleys - even if you feel you've come a long way in your healing journey. It will be one step forward and two back at times. And speaking out can make you feel so vulnerable and exposed too. Counseling may be something you'll have to be "in" for many years, but that's okay. If it helps you cope with the valleys then so what. It takes courage to go to counseling - it's not for weak people.

Adryelle: What are your future goals in speaking out on sexual abuse and how do you want to help others?

Susan: Since I did a radio interview, I've had so many folks in real life come and talk to me about their past and I've been able to help them find some support - one person has asked me to go to court with them just to support them through this horrendous process.
I suppose I want to keep talking about it - getting it out into the open. Hopefully it will help people see that they are not alone and this will help them begin to unlock their own past and start a healing journey. There are so many taboo subjects too (like the arousal a child can feel) and we need people willing to talk about it and to put it into context.
I've also been asked to be a testimony speaker at a midwives conference - highlighting how difficult it is for some women to undergo personal examinations. I'm hoping that there may also be an opportunity to help at the survivors group in the future.
I also want to use my voice to help non-survivors understand why we feel the way we do. It's still a mystery to many. The grooming process just isn't understood for a start.
Then there's kids safety, education et cetera. I've had a meeting with a theatre company that uses drama to convey difficult subjects to school children. They want to do something on child abuse and have asked if parts of my story - especially the grooming process - can be used, converted into drama somehow. Stay updated on that by following me on Twitter (@shinybluedress)!

Basically I can't change the past - I can't help that little girl that I was forced to touch - I see her face every day - it stays with me. But I can turn what's happened to me into something good and productive. A bit like poppies that grow on waste land. They say that nothing is wasted. Not even terrible trauma like this. It's empowering to speak out finally. It's healing in itself. It scratches the itch of pain if that makes sense. I just wish I'd not left it for so long.

Written by: Adryelle
Country: United States
Website: www.adryelle.com
Twitter: @adryeIIe
Instagram: @Adryelle

8 comments:

  1. No-one can change the past, my friend, but anyone can start from here and make a brand new ending. Like you have done. God bless you, Susan, you are going to help a lot of people with this. Powerful. x

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  2. Susan thank you for sharing your story. In no way shape or form are you or any other survivor responsible for the vile acts of abuse that was carried out on them.

    Many people contacted me to say that my story had helped them and your story will do the same.

    Congratulations by sharing our stories we will help others gain their freedom by breaking the silence and lead a happier and healthier life.

    Well done xxx

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  3. It is only by speaking openly can we ever hope to help others. The silence and shame need to be broken. Its the abusers fault. Well done to you. Keep up the good work.

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  4. A wonderfully brave account Susan, sending love and wishing you well...

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  5. AS A SURVIVOR,-I ONLY READ PART,OF YOUR STORY,PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR THAT,BUT I HAVE READ,TO MUCH FOR ONE LIFETIME,AS A 1950S SURVIVOR,MY HEART TRUELLY GOES OUT TO YOU,-AND ALL SURVIVORS,-PEOPLE WE EXPECT,TO PROTECT US,HAVE OFTEN,BEEN OUR TORTURERS/ABUSERS,--POLITICIANS-POLICE,-JUDGES,PRESS/MEDIA,-CORPORATE-EXECUTIVES,-ETC,-SHAMEFUL,-DISGRACEFUL,-HOW THESE,SO CALLED,PILLARS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT,REALLY BEHAVE,--AND WE GET BRANDED CONSPIRACY THEORISTS,-BY OUR CORPORATE POLITICIANS,-PRESS/MEDIA,,BUT THE DAY WILL COME,-WHEN GOD JUDGES THEM,

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  6. So pleased to work with Susan in the #CSAQT support group/Twitter chat-- she's touching so many lives and lifting others up as she's come forward with her own story of abuse. She works hard- stopping by not just #CSAQT but our "sister" chat #sexabusechat on work breaks, and retweets a LOT. Because the U.S. media doesn't spend a great deal of time reporting broadly on UK news, I'd have no idea about the current hearings, investigations, et al, if I hadn't gotten the links from her. It means a lot to me, because my own experience with maternal abuse, and being a man... well, people don't speak of such things so much. Her support really means a lot to me.

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