There Is No Therapeutic Value In Violence
[Content warning: child abuse, rape, detailed descriptions of police violence]
Continued from previous blog post.
When I escaped from being abused at 15, I found it hard to rewrite my understanding of the world, in particular the understanding that I was inherently bad and in need of constant punishment. I had decided as a very young child that the abuse was punishment from God for being bad, so when it stopped and nothing terrible happened to me, I was left questioning this belief. I lived for just over a year slowly building a new, safe reality, before I was once again violently raped. This time I did not know the person. He was a stranger at a party, but in my mind he took on the identity of all the men who had ever hurt me. They came together as one man. The Man; sent by God to punish me.
My world imploded. I hated myself... scratch that, hate is not strong enough... I was so filled with self-loathing I wanted to rip my own skin off, smash my bones, and grind the rest to dust. I was also angry. I had so much anger it felt like if I indulged it, I would set the world alight and we would all burn together for eternity. I didn’t know how to exist like other people. I swung between wanting to be in control, and feeling I needed to be controlled. I sought out situations which replicated the removal of control and then fought my hardest to escape them. I think in some ways I was trying to simultaneously prove that I was in control and could protect myself if bad things happened again, but also prove that despite being older and stronger than when I was a small child, I still couldn't protect myself, and as such, the abuse was not my fault. I also wanted to feel something. I would grasp an emotion, any emotion, and then push it right to its very edge, until it crashed in on me and I became numb. I was an absolute mess, and nobody noticed. A week after being raped, still wearing the same clothes, I was arrested for the first time. I ran, I fought, I resisted, I was overcome, and eventually, once in a cell, I slept for the first time in a week. I realised this was what I was looking for, this is what I needed, someone (like God) who had ultimate power and authority over me. A battlefield upon which I could play out my internal conflicts. A distraction so big it overcame the horror in my head. A means of self-punishment, which, despite seeming counterintuitive, would keep me safe.
And so that is what my life became; a pit of despair, punctuated by repeated arrests. I was living rough at this point, moving from squat to squat, tents, sofas, streets, eating from bins. I stopped laughing, I stopped singing, I stopped dancing. The world was always night, lit only by flickering lampposts and those blinding torches the police used when raiding our squats in the night. It seemed like nothing good could ever exist in this place. Apart from one kind doctor in A&E who I saw on a number of occasions after being beaten up, the only “services” I encountered were the police. I've worn more handcuffs than I've owned pairs of shoes. Shit, even after 10 years under mental health services, I’ve worn more handcuffs than I’ve had mental health appointments. Over a four-year period, I was arrested/detained between 150-200 times… desperately chasing something which didn’t exist: some kind of answer to materialise from within the violence.
I haven't been in that situation for 9 years, but I still have nightmares about the police. They are still the central theme in my hallucinations and delusions. I panic when I see security guards/train conductors/traffic wardens because they look like police. This week my mind has been completely filled with intrusive memories of the police, so I thought I would write some out to try and purge myself of them.
On one occasion the police tried to move me on from sleeping in an abandoned factory. I refused and was arrested for resisting arrest. They pulled my legs out from under me while attempting to drag me, and dropped me on my head, knocking me out. I ended up with a head injury and when I came round I was sick, and passed out again. The police thought I was drunk, so they didn't take me to hospital, but to the police station. They took me to this little room where about half a dozen male officers crowded in. I didn't speak the language that well then, so I didn't understand what they wanted. They mimed giving blow jobs, and my blood ran cold. I was in handcuffs but I braced myself to fight. An officer held up a tube and mimed giving a blow job again, and I realised it was a breathalyser. They laughed as I blew on it, moaning and making sex noises around me. They were really disappointed when it registered 0, and shoved me in a cell overnight.
I have been forcibly strip searched in corridors where people have walked in mid way; and on one occasion, in a men's bathroom, because the women's bathroom was on another floor. Officers would make jokes about me being ginger and say they would find out if I was a real ginger, by strip searching me. I always had fresh self-harm under my clothes, but they didn’t register it. The most I got was a look of disgust.
Sometimes when I was brought into the police station I was placed in a holding cell before being processed. Often there were a number of people in it. On one occasion I was alone, and a huge male officer came to get me from the cell. He looked at me with a stare that made me feel ill. I stood up on the bench and refused to go with him because I was scared. He walked up close, putting his face near mine, and calmly told me that unless I got down, he would fuck me.
Whenever I was arrested without ID, I was usually placed in the detention centre in the next town over. Their cells had three solid walls, and one double layer perspex wall with perspex door, like a cage at a zoo. The doors were surrounded by metal which made a loud clang when shut. Even all these years later I get woken up by that noise in the night. The detention centre staff were the absolute worst and loved it if it turned out I had been arrested in the night. They would come on shift in the morning and parade to my cell and stand outside of it and laugh and bang on the perspex. Sometimes they would open the little food hatch by the floor and spray CS gas in, or close the blinds between the perspex layers and leave me in complete darkness.
On one occasion I was handcuffed on the ground and dragged and lifted up by the handcuffs, breaking my wrist. I was left in handcuffs all day, until my wrist was so swollen I thought I was going to pass out. The next day they allowed me to see a doctor. He looked at it and announced “it’s not broken”, before sending me back to my cell. It was days before I was released and able to get to A&E. I have permanent nerve damage from that injury.
My friends and I were arrested together once, but placed in separate vans. The two officers in mine had their batons out and as we drove to the police station, they banged the batons on the ground over and over. When we got there, I was pulled out of the van by my feet, and when I struggled, one officer pulled my hood over my head and tightened the strings, so I couldn't see. They carried me inside. I was in handcuffs and thrashing around because I was frightened and couldn't see. An angry officer grabbed me, shouted and pulled my hood off. I immediately spat at him, and he punched me full in the face. I spat at him again and honestly felt the tiniest glimmer of joy that it hit him in the face. He tightened his hand into a fist and sort of half punched, half slammed his fist down into my head. At that point his colleagues obviously felt it wasn't a good look for a massive male police officer to be repeatedly punching a teenage girl with her hands cuffed behind her back, so they took him off to another room to calm down.
One night the police turned up when my friends and I were out looking for something to eat. One of our group was undocumented and made a run for it. The police chased him into the park, in the darkness. We all followed and caught up with them and tried to stop them arresting him. They called on their radios for more police and we were very quickly overcome and beaten with those metal batons which flick out. We were all arrested. The police were so amped up, when we got to the police station they dragged our undocumented friend to the floor and started kicking him. A female police officer kicked him in the head and his blood sprayed all over me. I can still hear everybody screaming.
I was arrested twice on one day a few times. The most memorable time, I was arrested in the morning in a violent arrest, dragged from my group of friends and had my head stamped on repeatedly. My face was badly injured and I passed out. People around called for me to go to hospital and given the state I was in, the police eventually called an ambulance and I was taken to A&E. The staff were kind. They cut the zip tie handcuffs off me, cleaned my wounds and gave me a CT. I was battered and bruised and concussed but nothing too major, so I was discharged in the evening. I left and went to take the train when I was re-arrested by the police, who had clearly been waiting for me.
I could go on and on and on. I have endless stories like this. I find it hard to describe how and why I could ever think I need to be treated this way. It is just so familiar, it feels almost like a comfort. Even now, despite being so traumatised by what happened, sometimes I "miss" it. There's a part of me which is deeply connected to those years, and when that part is close by, I feel the pull to once again seek out violence. Several nights ago I almost left the house at 3am in search of someone to hurt me. Maybe this is what people feel like when they are addicted to something. It always feels like it will fix me, but to my great disappointment, years of these experiences didn't cure me of my trauma, rather, they just added to it. No matter how much I hope it, there is no therapeutic value in violence.
The problem with chasing something which doesn't exist, is that it is an eternal pursuit which can never be satisfied. I cannot undo the abuse I experienced. I cannot be unraped. I cannot relive a better childhood. I cannot rewrite my world into one in which I have not been betrayed and violated. The problem is, I don’t know how to exist in a world in which those things did happen. I have not yet found a way to live alongside what was done to me. I cannot make sense of it, nor can I overpower it or effectively avoid it. Mental health services have told me I just need to accept it and move on. But how can someone accept and leave behind something which is simultaneously totally senseless and fundamental to their existence? If I can’t understand what happened to me, I will never understand who I am, and I don’t think I can stop searching until I do.