Copyright: Janine Harrington
A small pebble is thrown into a still small pool. Ripples emanate from where the pebble entered, before it falls to the bottom and is lost to sight. For a while, the waters carry that sense of disturbance, remaining restless, uneasy, slow to return to the tranquil scene of which it was once a part. Finally, a seeming peace returns. The picture of light playing among the shadows makes it surreal as sunlight touches the waters making it glint and sparkle and shine. While the pebble lies on the bottom creating uneven ground, a lasting reminder of a disturbance in an otherwise unblemished, tranquil scene.
It can be like that in Life.
Every action has a consequence.
Something happens, and like the stone, it can lie heavy on our soul.
I was sexually abused as a young child. I know I survived because my body protected itself, withdrawing, pulling the event in deep ... hiding it so deep not even I could find it, or was even aware it was there. Like the stone, it sat on the seabed of my soul, weighing heavier through the years as abuse continued on. I was four years old when it began. A small disabled child. An innocent. Naive and vulnerable, I trusted the specialist I needed to see three times a week at hospital. He was the first man to betray my trust. Aged fourteen years old, I went on strike, vowing never to return to the hospital after five unsuccessful operations which I believed were punishment for trying to make my secret known. All I could say aged six was: 'The doctor hurts me ...' As a child, I didn't have the words to describe what was happening to me, especially the devious way it was done. All I carried were the feelings of which I could make no sense at all. Yet my fingers had to be prised from the dark green railings outside by orderlies instructed to bring me in. I was obviously afraid, haunted by nightmares which made me scream at night.
The ripple effect!
However, despite putting a stop to the specialist, the abuse continued through my teens courtesy of a music teacher both at home and at school. In much the same way as the specialist, he never spoke of his crime. I was left only with implied threats, and the belief that I was somehow bad, that this was happening to me because there was something about me which was different, distasteful, pliable, and despite all attempts to be a good girl, brought up in a quiet tranquil suburb of society with loving parents; there was nevertheless something very wrong with me.
I was a good girl. Yet I must be bad otherwise why did bad things happen to me?
I couldn't work it out. It was the riddle that haunted my life.
Again, my body kicked in, protecting me from the effects of pedophile action. I had a twenty-year amnesic block. I couldn't remember childhood. Everyone told me I'd had a happy childhood. I believed them. Why would I suspect anything was wrong? Except that deep within me, I felt the weight of something which caused me to be physically sick at the colour of darkest green, panic attacks, bulimia, phobias. I had nightmares as well as daymares, seeing shadows, faceless people who came out of thin air, transposing themselves onto others. I self-harmed. I wanted to end my life. But why? I had no memory then of anything being wrong, or of what had happened to me.
I became a battered wife. By then, it was all I was worth. I believed I needed to be punished, I deserved to be punished for the feelings I carried with me. A second marriage failed ... yet, in the very act of giving birth to my miracle child, the child I was told I could never have ... came distorted pieces of a puzzle I couldn't put together or make sense of. I was having flashbacks. In years that followed, like a rabbit caught in the glare of a car's headlamps, I would suddenly be brought up short, stopped in my tracks by pictures entering my mind. They were triggered by everyday events, leaving me ill, deeply depressed, with feelings of dread, as if I had to do something I didn't want to do but must, something very confusing and bad, and which left me absolutely frazzled. Slowly, through the years, with the help of a clinical psychologist and years of therapy, I took back the life that was lost, tracking back through time, using a time-line to dredge the bed of memories, reclaiming what was mine, restoring sanity and reason, bringing balance back into my world. The gift of love ultimately came, I believed, in my marriage to Tony on 20 September 2013. I thought he accepted me just as I am. No more secrets. No more pretending or barriers or demons I had yet to face. I could talk and share about anything, and for the first time in my life I felt free of the past ... of pain. It therefore came as a greater shock when, in July last year, he sent me an email to say he was never coming home. He had been leading a double life, had a home in London with someone else. The years peeled back, like layers of sticking plasters coming away from a still raw open wound, and again I felt ... bad. My trust betrayed. I collapsed and had a breakdown. I couldn't look back because every memory I had of our time together was tainted with deceit and lies. I had no future because I dare not dream. I lived a moment-to-moment existence.
Now Tony is getting married again. He has moved on. My past year has been a nightmare, but never mind the consequences of his actions, or the trauma of what he left behind. He is not the man I thought I knew. I was merely a pawn in someone else's game of Life.
The effect of a childhood trauma never goes away. It remains a lifetime sentence. Yes, we can learn strategies to manage our lives. We can put on different faces, make it seem as if we are fitting in with everyone else, adapting to the world around us as they would have us be. But like a pebble entering a pool, the effects can be more far reaching than we can ever know. While on the surface it appears the waters are once more clear and clean, refreshed, tranquil, sublime, beneath them lurks a deep dark secret which, as more and more pebbles enter the pool, they form a small mountain on the ground below, more weighty, more liable to cause problems for the future.
I shared with my parents my past childhood abuse when I was forty years old. My mother did everything she could to understand, to know, to realise what it meant in terms of living everyday life. We became soulmates, and she went on to become a Counsellor working alongside me, taking calls from pedophiles after we discovered that, once they share their secret addiction, they can no longer carry it through. Their fantasy is spoiled in the act of that sharing, and through sharing, they can for the long term seek the help they need before another child is hurt. Prevention is the key on both sides of the coin ... protecting by listening to abusers, protecting by teaching our children that saying 'No' is okay when we're asked to do something which makes us uncomfortable or we believe is wrong. Fathers however, can find it difficult to accept their child's abuse experience when they feel safe enough to share. In discovering they did not protect their daughter, they can become angry ... more than anything at themselves, but then even at their child for somehow 'allowing it to happen', lacking knowledge and understanding ... rather than with the abuser.
In adulthood, mindful of the ripple effect, I felt I had dealt with past experiences to the best of my ability. I know my triggers. I understand my pain and what was done to me. There are no more secrets hidden from me. I can manage them ... or so I thought. But then, suddenly something happened unexpectedly, completely dragging away the careful wrapping I have put in place. No time to put barriers in place to preventing myself sliding back into the still disquieted waters of the deep. Without warning, I am back in that point of childhood when my life turned upside down, and abuse and pain entered my innocent world. The ripple effect kicked in BIG TIME! I slid back into the womb on automatic reflex, the only place left of safety in a once more fragile world.
I don't know how else to describe what happened to me recently.
It has meant reminding myself that I am A1 normal for my experience ... but still I feel judged!!
There are thousands upon thousands of child sexual abuse survivors who will identify with these words, and understand exactly what I am saying. It doesn't need words. You are already right there with me on my journey. But then there are others who can never understand, and yet at the same time, I believed would be right there for me in my moments of pain ... reaching out ... hugging, holding, loving me, letting me know that I am safe and they are there for me no matter what, and more than anything else, that they accept me JUST THE WAY I AM.
I have sat with teenagers in places of their choosing, where they felt safe to disclose what happened to them, there for them as they reached out to be enfolded in a hug. I have held adults affected by the searing pain of past abuse still scarring their souls. I have held the hands of and listened to an aging great grandmother in her late eighties as she shared for the first time what was done to her as a child. The greatest gift of all is to love and to be loved whoever and however we are. So why is that so hard? How can someone simply turn their back and walk away, shutting the door behind them, unable or unwilling to deal with the pain of another, judging their behaviour over which they have no control? Why leave someone hurting when all they need is a hug, comfort, compassion? It doesn't matter that you don't understand or know the experience. All that really matters is comforting them through the experience, just being there, listening, learning from them ... beside them as a friend.
It is the language of love.
When we've had a bad experience in life, it is the response we fear from other people, especially those we love, those within our family. It is the reason children don't tell. What will happen? What will people think of us? What words can we use for the tsunami of emotion we feel inside? How can they ever understand what it feels like to be us? Questions keep coming, while we hold the dreadful, awful burning secret inside us, frantically putting up barriers so that no-one will know, fencing it in, somehow believing people will see the 'bad' that we feel must be leaking from us, making us feel ashamed, guilty, confused, upset, disillusioned, disgraced ... even though we are the victims of what someone else did to us.
If only the language of love was universal, one which everyone could use and understand from the inside out.
It isn't hard. The language of love, more than anything else, isn't about words. It uses body language ... a smile, a helping hand, a hug, being held and comforted, being listened to and simply allowing us to share knowing that compassion is right there between us.
I remain grateful to all those people who accept me today just the way I am.
I value both your friendship and your love.
Copyright: Janine Harrington