“He was a trusted odd job man. A fireman. Tall, dark softly spoken. Her father was working hard building the motel units. Mother was organising workers. Both were too busy to notice that their daughter had been lured into the dark tool room at the rear of the property. There the damage was done”.
It was not just aMum’s death that triggered the emotional free fall. It was the pent-up emotion of a secret held for decades which had over time severely impacted on my inner self esteem. When I was seven I was the victim of childhood sexual abuse by a trusted employee of my parents.
At seven I was a busy joyful youngster. Learning ballet, entranced by magic, stars, the moon. Dressing up my dolls and my pure white cat who was my trusted friend. I played all daylong with two imaginary friends for company, Stretnin and Kengrin. They could do anything. My father once said “are they better than me”? “Can you walk on water Dad?” That silenced him! My brother, three years younger than I, was fun too. Sometimes we would hide behind the motel units and make huts in the bushes.
And I played alone. I was so in love with climbing trees. I could quickly scale up huge trees on the property then jump from the tree to the flat roof of the motel units. A silver flat space, hot underfoot. The sun beat down. I could watch the activity below, my parents going about their jobs, the busy activity of a motel. Cars arriving and leaving. FPeople coming and going from the office. Cleaning staff moving about with their trolleys full of fresh linen and cleaning equipment. Then back to the tree, with its branches like a staircase winding upwards. Leaning back against the bark, scratchy on my skin, the coolness of the leaves shading me. Life living at the motel was full of adventure. But one day everything changed. The man put a stop to feeling joy and put profound shame and guilt there in a secretive seductive swoop.
No-one knew. I was stunned and silent Somehow I knew I would not be believed if I told. The impact of the sexual abuse was largely kept in check by my own resilience and outward show of coping, calm and hard work. I grew up, attended school, was a very fast runner, skilled at gymnastics, a loyal and trusted friend. I was a dreamer and a thinker. I may have looked good on the outside but like a rotten apple I was imploding inside. Nothing I could achieve through study and career helped ease the inner pain. Years later, I have achieved a happy marriage to my soul mate, strength and bravery through three pregnancies, two cool kids and strong female friendships. These are and always will be my most outstanding achievements but even so nothing, it seemed, could stop the self hatred and self bullying.
Counselling started in January 2011 for sexual abuse in the 1950’s Decades of secrecy, shame, guilt and blame leaked out of my brain to the counsellor. I worked through how to heal and what I thought I was healing. To me it was as if I had bound up this abhorrent childhood experience. Bound it in a part of my soul much like a cyst. Over time the cyst would leak dark thoughts and the memory could never be expunged. Flashbacks were triggered automatically during sex. With counselling I realised I had to work on excising the ‘cyst’. There would always be a scar but I could work with that, accept that.
During counselling I started to gain strength. Strength to dig deep down into my soul and find the part of my life trapped there. I likened it to there being a room blocked off with thick concrete and somehow I had to get in open it up and let the light in. See what was there and face it. Perhaps it was being able to tell a professional counsellor the story. Let it out and to have my feelings validated. It was excruciating to tell the story and to this day I am unable to say it outloud except to myself. Eventually I wrote the whole thing out and read it to her through heaving sobs.
In one moment of clarity early in the year of counselling I realised that even though 50 something years had passed I would report the crime to the police. I summoned up the courage and presented myself to the central police station. Immediately the complaint was heard it was sent to the Sexual Abuse team. Details were recorded and investigated. The man had drowned in April 1980 while out fishing. April is my birthday month I turned 30 that year unaware he had left the planet. No, there was nothing on file of any reports of sexual abuse. A paedophile. He would definately have sexually abused other young girls. My reason to report it officially was for all the women like myself who had suffered and been unable to tell. I had a gut feeling that if I was one there would be many more. It was a step towards healing. One small step of thousands.
The huge impact of the childhood sexual abuse had allowed me to send hate-mail to my brain over the years and the story needed to be reworked for me to fully ‘love myself’. During the counselling year I instigated a monthly behaviour change to lead myself from self hate and ‘bullying ‘ myself to’ loving myself just the way I am’. An idea for the monthly behaviour change would come to me at the beginning of the month and I would send the idea to my brain through writing it down, thinking about it and constantly reminding my brain. I would say “this is what we are doing now”. It was as if my brain would be surprised but enthusiastic – “OK, sounds good!” Like a great buddy.
I had indeed found the switch to turn on change. Over time and thinking it came to me that my brain needed to have a new script. I needed to have a talk with my brain and let it know that the old habit of bullying myself was being made redundant. It was simple. Give my brain the new goal/rule. Persistently, daily, I would remind my brain of the new healthy choice and then wait for the brain to message me back. Send the idea back to me as a fresh wonderful thought. I felt confident that my brain would work in this way for me. That my brain would “position” me so to speak, set me up for success rather than failure. Then it was just up to me to carry the idea out. Effectively my brain would work with me not against me. There would be no allowance for negative thinking.
So I would no longer be ‘voluntarily’ doing my own thing, being ‘lazy’ procrastinating, then feeling bad about myself. My brain buddy would put the idea forward I just needed to comply. Now that’s the hard bit. Complying. Not just thinking, agreeing but doing and accomplishing. Especially hard when, for example, just back from work I feel tired. I flop on the bed and my buddy says “you wanted to go for a swim, just a friendly reminder” “Yes but I’m tired” “well over to you” says my buddy There is the moment. Obey my brain, or lie on the bed? Over time with persistence I am learning “Go with my brain – she’s fun, she’s my lifelong buddy”.
Procrastination is becoming a thing of the past. I am getting successful at accomplishing my goals. Play the piano for half an hour, sew a bit, get down there to the gym, to the sea for a refreshing swim, for a walk. Just get off the bed and do one small thing. Great. Well done.
Throughout the first year each monthly change rolled alongside the new one and like a snowball at the end of the year all the changes had been instigated. Then the next year it would begin again but would not be so hard, just rolling along and doing my best. It is not a quick fix and takes constant reminding to the brain of the ‘new thinking’ and ‘healthy behaviours’. The monthly changes are sort of like ‘New Year’ resolutions.
For the previous decades I have been a New Year resolution-maker a fanatic and failure. I would faithfully at the start of each year write a list of resolutions to ‘improve’ myself but they would be overtaken by ‘life’ and my pre-packaged negativity to myself. There was no execution plan. Unable to be attained they would actually serve as ammunition to myself to bring myself down. I would retreat to my haven, my bed and waste time and castigate myself.
Achievement builds on itself. Once I had managed to achieve five months of positive behaviour change – wow – my soul responded! The layers of protection built like walls around the memory of sexual abuse started to be eroded. I started to love myself.
I had found a way in to heal my damaged soul I felt that I started to find a way to look inside my soul to find the hurt and pain. I likened it to the ultrasound when pregnant and you see this little blinking light and you hear this profoundly miraculous sound from deep within the body – a heartbeat! I tapped into my soul like an ultrasound but through connections in my brain. I found the painful memory wrapped up like a cyst in the depth of my soul. Felt its pain. It was like I tapped into the wound and found ways to reduce its size and ability to stall my progress. It was like I had been searching for this way to heal it.
When I finally hit on a way the path became clearer and clearer. I was like a small child hacking myself through tangled thick bush and towering trees through dark spaces looking for the light. Eventually I arrived at this awesome solution through my own thinking. Then it was a matter of standing up and going through with the plan. Let my brain know the new way of thinking then let it direct me through. Try not to obfuscate the brain’s instructions, just go with it. This part takes some learning.
Over the years I had been sort of living on two roads. Using autopilot to steer through my world-visible life and blocked on the other by a huge pile of rotting rubbish, high wide and impossible to pass. Ideas for getting out centered around improving myself making myself better, then I would be OK, admired. I found I needed to sit exams, find a rewarding job, keep trying to get better and better but to no avail. I could never be OK. Others thought I was wonderful. But not me. The world saw me as calm, capable, caring, strong, brave, resilient, responsible, reliable. I had all these qualities and more. The quality of loving myself unconditionally was blocked with the ‘rubbish on the road’. Trying to move it always ended up in despair and degradation. I was no good, too fat, undisciplined, hopeless, helpless, unworthy, good for nothing. lazy, useless. Any derogatory term I could muster at the time.
The bullying lead to lower and lower self esteem and even less inclination to start any project. So the necessary work was done which was my paid job and anything ancillary to that. My hubby was at home and looked after the kids. I shared my stories with him. He knew the background, my pain, shame, guilt, negativity to myself. He believed me when I told him I had low self esteem and hated myself. He couldn’t buy it though. How could I hate myself. I presented as confident, calm. Can I have low self esteem and look confident. A paradox. He loved me just the way I was. Adored me. His support was golden, a gift, a blessing. I could do whatever it took to heal. He listened to my latest updates ad infinitum. This man had arrived in my life already hard-wired to love me, support and validate my feelings. He was my courage as I travelled along my emotional highway.
I just ticked over doing my job, loving and bringing up my kids, keeping up with friends, looking after my aging parents when they needed help, eventually nursing Mum throughout her last years co-jointly with my brother. I needed to heal my soul myself and it would take time.
I will post again soon
The girl in the lavender dress