Journey

Everybody has a book in them, or so it's said. But it's something else again getting it onto the page and to a place where it might be shared.

I have been writing since I was a child. Always, my dream was to see my name on the spine of a book. Books gave me life, a dream to live by. Through their portals I could escape easily into other worlds. Books also saved my life ... yes, really!

This is the story of my books and my journey as an author. I hope it will inspire and give hope to writers young and old.

Getting published can be a waiting game. It's hard .. and it's getting harder. But then sometimes it happens in unexpected ways and suddenly, we are living the dream. And we realise that it isn't after all the winning that is important so much as the journey along the way.

I would love to hear from anyone who connects with what is written here. A signed copy of any of my books is available. You have only to write and ask:

janineharrington53@gmail.com







Friday, 3 March 2017

WHO CONTROLS YOUR LIFE?

'Control', Copyright: Janine Harrington

So ... the big question I'm asking is: Who or what controls your Life?

Think about it for a moment. I know we'd all like to say: 'We control our own lives'. Of course we would. But is that an honest answer? Could it rather be:

The Bank, if you own your own home, but pay a mortgage?
Finances, with the need to meet deadlines for payment of bills?
Your parents or family, in making decisions intended to do the best by you?
Your Job, which maybe brings stress and deadlines, a boss or colleagues you can't work with?
Illness or disability, which affects everyday living?

Who or what dominates your thoughts and makes you feel confined, restricted, controlled?

Okay, there are many many answers, depending on circumstances and, not least, the kind of person you are. But be realistic about this question. We might like to think we're in control. It's our Life after all ... as are the choices we make. But then again, are we really in control of our own Life? Or is someone, or something, doing that for us? And are we happy for that to continue? If not, is there something we can do to bring about change?

The Media over this past week has been heaving with stories about elements of Control in one form or another, clearly illustrating how Life can be riddled with conflict, challenge, even pain, if we're not taking charge of our own life and everyday decisions.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has promised new measures to protect victims of domestic abuse who, up until now, have been let down by the legal system. An increase in convictions is forecast as the 'Domestic Violence and Abuse Act' comes into force, making it easier for victims to come forward, allegedly with a view to stamping out relationship control forever.

A worthwhile dream, and of course, I support any measures which end people living in control, dominated by a partner. But I'm not sure how this dream can be realised unless people in power truly understand elements that make up control and just how effective the mindset of being controlled really is. No matter whether their Controller is still around or not, Control can dominate every aspect of your Life!

In the '80s and '90s I was an Abuse Consultant. I wasn't just writing and researching, but actively campaigning for changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime. My aim was about protecting families, leading self-help groups where people shared experiences and supported one another, and teaching workshops, helping those outside the experience to better understand. I was also counselling abusers/paedophiles in and out of prison. Without working with the source of the problem we have little chance of understanding the problem as a whole. Most abusers/paedophiles had little or no conception of the lifetime effects they imposed on their victims. They are handed a sentence in court, held against their will in prison for a length of time, then released into society where, without necessary therapy, they continue the same destructive pattern of behaviour.

Frankland Maximum Security Prison was where I first worked with Lifer Groups and offenders. Many went on 'Suicide Watch', believing I was coming with hate in my heart, out for revenge. However, nothing was further from the truth. Because they were an essential element to the jigsaw of understanding the subject as a whole. Listening and learning from them could stop another woman being hurt ... or at the very least, bring measures to effectively protect and bring understanding to a complex issue.

I recall the woman who came to me hoping to stop another being hurt.  She was the seventeenth to have been violently beaten by the same man. I worked with the man for years while he was in prison, meeting and talking to his parents and family, seeking answers from his past as to the reasons why, reading screeds of documents and other paperwork related to his case which reached back in time. Finally, yes, we found answers as a collective, working together. However, even knowing those answers still meant it was the man himself who had to change his cycle of behaviour and effect change, to know what to do and where to go when his actions warned he was becoming a danger.

I am a firm believer in working as a collective, with all agencies - professional and voluntary - coming together with the aim of widening understanding, pooling knowledge and resources to effect change.

My first book in 1984, published by Mainstream, was the diary of a battered wife: 'A Crying Game'.  It was heralded as the first book of its kind. Written on a day-to-day basis, it showed my reality of living in violence. Through letters I received from readers in response to that book, I realised just how widespread the problem really was ... and this was in 1984!!! In 1988, I wrote an advice book for families living in violence, including an extensive directory of places to go for help: 'Behind Closed Doors'. And in 1989, this was followed by: 'Home is Where the Hurt Is' focusing on surviving child sexual abuse; both published by Thorsons (now HarperCollins). However, in recent years, I updated these books as I met and ultimately married a man I believed to be my 'happy-ever-after'. Sadly, today, the concept remains a dream. He was leading a double life. Why did he marry me? I have no idea. All I do know is that for the first time I thought I had found love. For the first time in my life all my barriers came down. I felt free to be myself, to truly be Me. But then, almost two years ago, after five years together; he went off without warning to live his other life with someone else. I had a breakdown. I was just so shocked, unable to believe that this man was capable of hurting me, taking away not just my love, but my confidence, my self-esteem. I did take control of my life by divorcing him. Yet even as I did so, I realised how easy it is to step back into a mindset ... feeling the need to ask permission, without the ability to make even the simplest of decisions for myself. Perhaps our relationship had never really been the reality I believed. Perhaps care, concern, protection, even love was wrapped up in control, and I never really left my past behind.

Control happens insidiously and over a long period of time, with the cage growing smaller, the strings tightening so gradually you don't even realise they're there. It was through working with and supporting families, I identified the four ways in which abuse can happen:
  • physical
  • mental
  • emotional
  • sexual
or a combination of one or more of the above. Abuse happens across the social spectrum. Anyone can become a victim. Anyone can be controlled in whatever form that might take, at any age, for however long. The younger it starts, the easier it is to be manipulated and controlled, with a Mindset owned by the Controller, a pattern of life dictated by him or her. Males and females become victims. Whatever the race, creed, colour and religion, it is possible to be made to feel worthless, powerless, helpless, to the extent of not being able to think or make decisions for oneself.

The Battered Women's Syndrome is recognised in the States, and identifies a pattern of behaviour displayed by the victim, whoever their abuser may be. The Syndrome has four main characteristics:
  • the victim believes what is happening is their fault,
  • the victim has an inability to place responsibility for what is happening elsewhere,
  • the victim can fear for their life and/or the lives of their children,
  • the victim has an irrational belief that their Controller, whoever they are, is omnipresent and omniscient.
The Battered Women's Syndrome is a form of Post-Traumatic Stress - a severe anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to an event, resulting in psychological trauma, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope. In psychological terms, it manifests itself with:
  • flashbacks and nightmares;
  • everyday things causing triggers which make them feel they are living in the past, re-experiencing the trauma;
  • phobias;
  • extreme anxiety;
  • panic attacks;
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep;
  • feeling angry without reason, but unable to do anything about it, internalising rather than externalising;
  • self-harm as a way of either wanting to cut out the bad part of themselves they believe is causing what is happening to them, or else showing people how bad they hurt if they cannot express their feelings through words;
  • anorexia or bulimia as a way of taking back control in at least one area of their life when everything else appears beyond them;
  • ongoing helplessness and fear.
Any measure aimed at enabling and supporting people caught  up in domestic violence and therefore controlled by someone in their family; is encouraging as a deterrent. People need to know they can take back control of their own lives and live without fear. However, alongside this measure, it also needs education to create a wider awareness and understanding of what being controlled actually means, with counselling and support to enable and empower victims into surviving enough to better know themselves, to heal the past through therapy, and have the courage to move on with their lives without the threat of falling into other controlling relationships for the future, usually because it feels familiar.

From a personal perspective, I know what it means to be controlled from an early age.

Updating my first three books and writing: 'Betrayed', followed by 'Please Don't Hurt Me Any More' and 'Forbidden Secrets', all published by FeedARead in 2012 made me re-evaluate my life, my own experiences of abuse and being controlled ... especially as life developed in an unexpected direction from that point on.

Abuse began for me aged four with a specialist at a hospital I attended three times a week. I was a good girl. Therein lies the key to the problem. That isn't to say girls shouldn't be good. But they should be taught that it's okay to say 'NO!' even to an adult when they're doing something that doesn't feel right. Children should learn to respect their own bodies, and go by their gut instinct, knowing where there is a safe space to question and share when things don't feel right. In those early days, I probably would have said my parents controlled my life. Everything they did, they did out of love ... to protect, to guide, to safeguard and love in all ways their first precious offspring. In the early 1950s, the word 'abuse' wasn't known, much less talked about openly. Authority figures were revered. They knew best! So even though I did tell 'the secret' when I was six years old, and displayed classic symptoms of an abused child ... wearing five pairs of knickers overlaid with a pair of dungarees, blocking the hospital from my mind once home, which was my survival instinct kicking in, remembering only the donkey ride as my reward for being a good girl, together with the cream or chocolate cake ... I continued to attend the hospital until I was nine years old. Thereafter, we moved. I still had appointments to keep with the same two specialists. But at the age of fourteen, I went on strike! Uncharacteristically for me, I refused point blank to ever return to the hospital because a letter had arrived to say that the 'good specialist' had died, leaving me totally in control of my abuser. My absolute phobic fear of hospitals and specialists continues to haunt me all these years on.

This abuse was not by someone within the family. He was a figure of authority. My parents trusted his judgement. Left alone with him at the hospital as Matron led my mother to the Waiting Room as she became increasingly unwell prior to the birth of my sister; settling her with a drink, and thereafter with pram and then pushchair at her side, was acceptable then. And yet, from the way he conducted the abuse, it is possible to learn how easily control shifts, and to understand how families become more and more ensnared. There again, I can't help wondering how many hundreds if not thousands this one specialist abused during his lifetime ... given that paedophiles in prison owned to the fact that each sexually abused 100 different children each year!

The specialist never talked about it. He got me used to a pattern of learned behaviour. As I entered his consulting room, he would frown as he saw my mode of dress - dungarees and not a dress. He preferred my Miss Muffet pinafore. Much more accessible! Then the layers of pants. What was that about? I didn't really know. I couldn't have explained if I'd ever been asked. I just knew I didn't feel safe, from the moment I entered through the dark green door into a kind of living hell ... until the appointment was done. He spoke only to my doll Rosemary who sat on the same cork bench at my side. He never addressed me direct. It made it all the more confusing and impossible to actually put what he was doing into words, and tell the secret of what was happening to me. He didn't threaten. He never even told me what he did was a secret. I just knew. In time, he only had to nod meaningfully towards the green-curtained couch for me to obediently go and undress behind the screen of curtains. Why do I have to take my clothes off when all he's going to do is measure one leg against the other? It was a question left unanswered. Finally, he turned his back towards me. His jacket stood out stark and crisp and white against the dark green curtains surrounding us. I'd focus on the green until it felt like I was swallowed up by it. Unable to see his actions ... I could only feel them. And it hurt! It burned!! Only later, with a violent husband, did I realise what the wooden tapered ruler left on display at the end of the couch represented. Everything happened in silence, broken only by the whimpering, crying, sobbing little girl who didn't have the vocabulary to tell.

A violent boyfriend/partner/husband/wife can use the same tactics. It doesn't all happen at once, but is a build-up of gradual measures aimed at entrapment, and usually has its roots in the past.

I became a battered wife because I believed he would change when we were married, brought up on 'happy-ever-afters'. After all, doesn't every frog turn into a Prince! Plus, the fact that, by my wedding day, it was all I felt I was worth. I had low self-esteem from the outset. No confidence at all. I didn't speak in school, especially as I graduated from infants to juniors to seniors, where a music teacher took over from where the specialist broke off ... using exactly the same techniques in his home and at school. Again, I wonder today, how many hundreds of hopeful musicians he treated in the same way ... with the same devastating outcome!

More and more headlines leave us appalled at the extent of historical sexual abuse in schools, children's homes, churches, etc by people hiding behind a veneer of respectability. Meanwhile, people of all ages remain deeply traumatised and affected, bound to their Controller by secrets not yet told. That's how strong the Mindset of Control can be! Stories we hear on the News and in the media can only ever be the tip of a very large iceberg while there remain so many many more voices who haven't yet found the courage to come forward to share their abuse ... perhaps they never will.

Control starts by targeting and grooming the right person. Someone who isn't going to answer back, who will conform. 'A Good Girl!' It is exactly the way a paedophile works. Then it's about training, making subtle changes to her/his life ... gradually cutting off outside influences, ensuring she knows her place, accepting him as head of the household, enforcing archaic rules through a punishment and reward system. Care and control. It's a fine line. As with the Specialist, most of the time you're not even aware that the box you're living in is gradually growing smaller, the rules tighter, until the point where it affects every aspect of your life.

Understanding comes through looking at abuse using an ABC format:

A - Anticedants
B - Behaviour
C - Consequences

It is imperative we look at what was going on before our relationship, the kind of people we used to be during happy times in our life ... our aspirations, our hopes, our dreams. Did we give them up, throw them all away, because they didn't match the one we are with today? Did we slowly adopt his way of doing things, even if only to keep the peace? Perhaps we were already a victim in the making? I mean no disrespect. I'm the first to put up my hand! Once in a controlling relationship, you start adopting a Mindset. It's a Mindset which keeps you focused, keeps you on track, makes you follow the rules until you're doing so unconsciously, locking away in a little box in your mind the way you would want to do things, your hopes and dreams, and pushing his to the forefront of the way you live your life. The consequences are that your life can continue interminably in this fashion. Or perhaps he moves on to someone new with a fresh perspective, but still someone who is a victim, leaving you perhaps more helpless than you were in the beginning because you can't easily unlearn the conditioning he has imposed which is now a way of life. Seeking outside help, going to the police to report his actions, usually isn't an option, even when bones are broken and the threat of physical pain a reality. To do so would mean fighting against layers of conditioned responses. Easier to believe somehow it's your fault, somehow you are to blame, if only you could get it right then life would be different and happy and you wouldn't get hurt. Again, conditioning. Making you live his way. Often, when ... or if ... you do break away, the consequences can be that you remain in fear. Sometimes it's easier to know where the blows are going to come from, and when, rather than waiting for him to find you. And why should you have to leave your home and everything you know, anyway?

Those fortunate enough to find the courage to address all the various issues Control brings, are the ones for whom Theresa May's new law might bring the freedom each and every victim of domestic violence deserves ... freedom to live your own life, with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your true self, happy with the way you are.


DATING ON THE INTERNET
Amanda Platell wrote scathingly in The Daily Mail last Saturday about women who use the internet for dating. Yet meeting people of the opposite sex in the 'old fashioned way' as she puts it, isn't always possible for so many reasons.

I've been two years on my own, and I understand what it means to stare down into the abyss of despair, while it stares back at me ... waking with panic attacks so great that getting out of bed can be likened to trying to step onto a moving carousel. Loneliness means feeling empty and in despair. Without someone special sharing your life, what's the point of cooking a meal, going on holiday, treating yourself to a day out. Unless you live alone, you cannot understand these feelings, much less judge what we do with them, how we cope with the aloneness that sucks us in. When you've been betrayed, that betrayal destroys trust. It damages and re-defines you as a person. It is a life-changing experience. Yet, you've no option but to put one step in front of the other, and get through another day.

One option of meeting someone as a woman living alone is to 'surf the internet looking for love'. Internet romances develop more quickly than meeting in person. With emails bouncing back and forth at all times of the day and night, it's possible to learn everything there is to know about someone before even meeting them. It cuts the work of finding a new relationship in half. And then, meeting that person in a public place for a coffee, or if things go well, for a walk and dinner, knowing that person inside out makes it easier to progress with time.

But then again, yes, you can be duped BIG TIME!! And sometimes it takes a while, even years, to realise that fact. As I know to my cost.

Those who have been victims in the past are particularly at risk. They're looking for love. But then again, what is love? Everyone wants something or someone different. For some, it's looks that matter most. Others know it's what's on the inside that counts. Male or female, we can only keep up appearances for so long before they begin to slip, and we show our true selves. If we've nothing to hide, then we can be open and true. Nothing wrong in that. However, those for whom loneliness has become a way of life, or made past mistakes and not dealt with them enough to understand why; are particularly vulnerable and open to abuse, betrayal and control.

It's easy, as Amanda Platell points out, to create a false profile online - make it tempting, forge a fake relationship, use words people want to hear. But then, how can we know the real person? What chance do we have of getting to the truth? How long can someone keep up the pretense and hold to the myth they have invented in order to trap someone in their web of lies? How can we really know if they are married or not? Are they after an affair, or truly committed to forging a forever relationship based on love which can survive the passage of time ... allowing us the freedom to blossom and grow, like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis where we've remained for so long?

MEMOIRS OF A MURDER VICTIM
The chilling true story of Helen Bailey, murdered for her money by her fiance Ian Stewart, was featured in The Daily Mail. It introduces through her own words, a lonely author looking for a forever relationship. A widow, she was a lovely warm vibrant lady, with a gift as a wordsmith. 

I identify with her in more ways than I would want to.

Last year, I met a widower. He lost his wife five years previously. We walked and talked. He lived local to me, but then, I was careful. Determined not to become a victim, yet haunted by shadows of aloneness which, like a cancer, felt as if it was slowly eating me up inside; this was me reaching out for friendship. Just friendship. Okay, if things went well, then I might have considered taking it further. But for now, just a friend would be good, someone to share a Sunday dinner out somewhere, to start at the point at which we were now rather than digging deeper into the past. I trod careful. I didn't want evenings in, just us two together, where anything might happen. I didn't want to give out the wrong signals, although a night snuggled on the sofa watching a film was tempting. He seemed nice enough. I saw his house. He didn't look as if he had moved on that much in the five years he'd lived alone, but then, things could change. Maybe he hadn't had the opportunity. Besides, grief is unlimited. There can be no time limit ... no matter if it's a bereavement or a divorce.

For a few weeks, we went out to dinner at a Carvery, identifying places we liked and would return to. We spoke on the phone. Otherwise, we each had our own space. Neither one of us was about to move in with the other. It felt like a good arrangement.

However, something wasn't right.

I couldn't put my finger on it, but my instinct had never let me down. It was the only thing I trusted. And I realised every time we met he'd reach out to draw me in for a hug. Each time we parted, it was the same. Now I'm a very tactile person. Everyone who knows me knows that. But I didn't like it. Not with him. Why? Why was this different? Why couldn't I give the same back, the way I could with others, even a stranger in trouble in the street needing help or support? It didn't make sense.

He started asking about holidays. Mmmm ... I hadn't had one in so long. I'd never go on one alone. What would be the point? It sounded good. But was it too soon? Just the two of us? I wasn't sure. And still, even as time went on, this itch I couldn't scratch told me there was something I hadn't yet discovered. The conversation moved on to a holiday abroad. No! Absolutely not!! No escape, for one thing. Plus I didn't have the confidence to fly ... at least, not with him. I'd said I might consider somewhere in this country ... for a few days, just to see how things go. But not now. In time. I just wanted to keep things the way they were. To build on what friendship we had, conscious all the time of the niggle at the back of my mind.

One evening, the doorbell rang. Unusual to have any visitors! Immediately, I was cautious. It was dark outside. I worried that it was him, wanting more, pushing the boundaries, arriving unannounced. I peeked out a side window to see a smallish lady standing on the step. Okay ... I opened the door. She flashed a badge at me, asking if she could come inside, assuring me she'd parked around the corner to avoid the attention of neighbours. What?

We sat together in the front room. She spoke my name, confirming she had the right person. Then asked if I knew a Mr ... I didn't recognise the surname. Then she spoke his first name ... and I knew it was him. Okay ... so this was his wife? He wasn't a widow after all? But I'd seen his house. No woman lived there. Too much clutter and dust, boxes everywhere as if he was waiting to move. Separated then? That didn't seem to fit either. The lady was asking questions, about my life, the way I lived, the relationship I shared with this man. No, I informed her. No relationship. He was a friend. That was all.

Only then did she tell me my name had come up on the police computer. A person of interest? Why? It transpired he had booked a holiday for the both of us abroad. I still didn't understand. Why was that was of interest to the police? But then I froze. Her words felt as if they were sinking in s.l.o.w.l.y. I couldn't make sense of them. I felt stuck, treading through treacle, trying to extricate myself, but unable to break free. I couldn't move. Couldn't speak. Couldn't think ... 

He was on the Sex Offenders Register, and would be for some considerable years to come!

The reason? He was responsible for at least two serious sexual assaults in broad daylight on two separate women ... women my age who had been out in the sunshine, happily enjoying shopping trips on different occasions in town. They had been traumatised by what he had done to them. He had been drinking since early morning. His defence was that he was still mourning the death of his beloved wife. He had left the pub after several pints, launched himself at these ladies, and even as people were passing, carried out sexual assaults. He had been prosecuted for each of the attacks, and spent time in jail.

My name had come up alongside his on the computer because he had named me (although he'd got my name wrong!) when purchasing two travel tickets to a well known holiday resort abroad. The police lady sitting in my front room was there to warn me of what this man was capable of, and more, he had to see her weekly and explain what he was doing. He said he no longer drank alcohol. He hadn't mentioned me to her, but kept me under the Radar. And it was the holiday he was planning which gave out my name ... hence her visit.

On the one hand, I was in shock. How had I missed that? How had I fallen for someone like that? Well, okay, I'd not fallen for him at all, in actual fact. He was but a friend, someone to share a Sunday dinner and an occasion walkaround. Nothing more. Never once had I intimated that I was happy with a two-week holiday with him abroad. On the other hand, I felt relieved my instinct had warned me something was amiss. The policewoman actually said I was very lucky my name had been flagged on their computer, and she'd had the chance to talk to me and warn me ... otherwise, anything might have happened. Reading the story in The Daily Mail about the murder of Helen Bailey by her fiance explains what a lucky escape I'd actually had!! I could well have suffered the same fate ... and the policewoman agreed.

The outcome was that I asked the policewoman if she would visit the man at his home. I wanted her to see the way he was living, and to catch him unexpectedly, to let him know we'd spoken. I also wanted her to give him a message from me. On no account did I want further involvement with him. I would never have gone abroad on holiday together. What gave him the right to go ahead and book our passage? That was Control ... putting me in a position that was a done deal, and which I'd find it hard to say no to! I wanted no further contact with him.

In fact, he believed I was 'The One'. He had decided. And I feel now that he is manipulative, calculating, devious, capable of creating a very controlling relationship. I also think he has serious issues, and can be dangerous, especially after drinking. Did he decide I was 'The One' because he felt I was pliable, vulnerable, fragile even, given I was lonely? Whatever. Having read the fate of Helen Bailey, a widow at 51, still leaves a chill down my spine at what might have happened to me had I accepted the invitation to go abroad. I may never have returned ... not because I wouldn't, but rather because I couldn't. 

I'm surely worth more than that!

Is a victim born or made?

It's a question on which I once based a series of courses, examining different life stories of people, which attracted to the College where I taught, all kinds of people in the caring professions ... all of whom had been in controlling relationships in one form or another. In truth, they were looking for answers for themselves. But then, isn't that the best way to learn ... and to earn a PhD in Life! They were each compassionate, warm, vibrant people, and I believe good at caring for the people they worked with. Out of suffering and survival had come such positive qualities as the ability to listen with their heart, being open with their clients in sharing their own experiences and pooling resources, working together for the common good.

The Course opened up many searching questions, and we shared lively discussions. In turn, it brought another pertinent question: is feeling controlled the same as actually being controlled? In other words, what if one party in a relationship feels controlled, but the other believes he/she is acting in a loving, supportive manner?

I still believe there is a fine line between Care and Control. Taken to the enth degree, I think it's possible to feel stifled if someone else is making all the decisions, even though they might believe it's for the common good.

A trip back into the past can be a cathartic experience. Perhaps the most important question to be asking, as long as you can be honest about the answer; is: 'How did your upbringing inform the person you are today?'  However your childhood worked, did it have a negative or a positive impact? Are you the person you would wish to be today? It isn't a blame game. It's about understanding your roots and where you came from to better understand who you are. It is empowering. It helps you realise how far you've come, your potential, and how far you still need to go to achieve your own personal dreams and goals.

Whoever and however you are ... be safe.

Be true to yourself!

'Beyond', copyright: Janine Harrington





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