This week is sexual abuse and sexual violence awareness week. I felt it fitting to interview Janet, a survivor of sexual abuse from London to hear about her story and how she recovered from the trauma of abuse. Understandably she wanted to remain anonymous so her name and location has been changed to protect her identity.
LJ: Can you tell us what life was like for you growing up?
“Life was difficult growing up. From the outside we looked like the ‘perfect’ family. My parents had their own issues and I never felt loved by them. There was a male relative who took advantage of my vulnerability and showed me the love that I so desperately wanted. But this love quickly became abusive and resulted in me being sexually abused by him for 4 years. I never told anyone about it happening until I was an adult.
The abuse stopped just before I turned 12. My teenage years were incredibly unhappy. I was depressed and had started to self-harm, I believed I was dirty inside and cutting myself and bleeding gave me some relief as I believed I was letting some of the dirtiness out. I felt completely worthless. I found it difficult to trust anyone. I had very few friends because I was frightened they would see how disgusting I was. It was an extremely lonely and isolating time of my life. There were other occasions where I experienced sexual violence, I was so used to keeping secrets that these events were just other secrets that I added to my list. Keeping secrets had become second nature to me. I remember thinking that I could never tell anyone because how would people believe that all these things had happened to me. I believed that because they had there was something wrong with me. I felt worthless, and because I was worthless that’s why bad stuff kept happening to me. I now understand that my childhood experiences made me vulnerable to other forms of abuse.”
LJ: What strategies did you use to cope?
“In those difficult teenage years my main coping strategy was self-harm. I became very creative in ways to self-harm so not to draw attention to it. When I stopped self-harming the urge to do it didn’t go away but to help me cut less I would wear a hair band around my wrist and flick it when I wanted to hurt myself. Something else i learned to do was to draw a picture on my leg as an alternative to cutting it.
At the time I started to have some counselling the flashbacks and intrusive memories of things that had been done to me were overwhelming. My counsellor taught me various grounding techniques to use in order to help bring me back to the present. These proved to be invaluable.
The best coping strategy that I found was to talk, and to realise that there are people that can be trusted and that genuinely care.”
LJ: When and how did you finally get help?
“Getting help happened in stages for me. When I was 19 I started to take an overdose, but as I started to take the tablets I became frightened and I can’t explain what happened other than I realised that I didn’t want to die I just didn’t want to live like this anymore. From that day I never self-harmed again, it was difficult at first but I really got a sense that if I started again that would be it for me. When the urge came I found other things to distract me. I had started going to church when I started university and confided in someone I met there about some of my struggles, but I couldn’t bring myself to mention the abuse. Having someone to talk to and to go to when I was struggling really helped me.
I lived quite happily for quite a long time. I had locked things away deep inside me and had decided that I would never think about them again. This worked for me until the flashbacks started. I remember the first time it happened and it was so terrifying and confusing. I developed what I now know to be PTSD and I knew that I needed help. I found the courage to speak to a leader in my church about what had happened to me as a child, I was so scared that she wouldn’t believe me but she did. She met with me regularly which I found difficult as first as I was so used to not really trusting people. I also knew that I needed for specialised support so I contacted my local Rape Crisis centre. The support they gave me was incredible and I started to have counselling to work through all what had happened to me and the impact it had on my life. It was a difficult process looking at things that had been hidden for so long but looking back now I’m so glad that I persevered with it and saw the journey through.”
LJ: What three top tips would you give to anyone out there who is reading this and maybe going through a similar thing?
Find someone you trust and speak to them
Get support from a specialist service, such as Rape Crisis or NAPAC who have the expertise to give the correct support, or can signpost you in the right direction
No matter how damaged and ashamed you feel, with the right support healing is possible. Life can be good again.
For more information on sexual abuse and sexual awareness week visit: http://sexualabuseandsexualviolenceawarenessweek.org/
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