Turn Up The Volume On The Chaos
[Content Warning: Child abuse, rape, self-harm]
I decided recently to make a second category on my blog for more personal writing. I am very full of words and memories at the moment, and am struggling to make sense of it all - so I thought I would write it out of my head and into the world. This is my first "personal" blog post.
I am a victim of child sexual abuse. It’s hard to live with what happened to me, for so many reasons, but one of the hardest things to cope with, is what I did to myself to survive. As a society, we really don’t like talking about child abuse. We don’t want to acknowledge how common it is; we don’t want to think about it occurring close to us or touching our lives; we actively and desperately avoid its signs, and ignore and silence its victims. And so, it continues.
I have been silenced by others and by myself for many years. Even when talking about what happened to me, I have softened it. Rounded the edges. Removed the bits other people find the most difficult to hear. It hurts to do this. It hurts to pretend, to talk in euphemisms, to smile when I want to cry, to wipe out my experiences to save others their squirms. I am tired.
I started being sexually abused when I was 8 years old. It started slow. He saw that I was slightly different to the other children. Open but vulnerable. Sociable but lonely. Bad at reading people. Eager to talk about the things I loved with anyone who happened to be nearby. He just appeared in my life and became my friend. He wanted to know all about me, about my favourite books, my love of animals, what I wanted to be when I grew up. Unlike all other areas of my life, he made me feel special, noticed, important. I was plied with gifts, compliments, and privileges the other children didn’t get. Being in the church he was immediately and unquestionably trusted by my mum, and he took advantage of this. He began touching me in the presence of her. Hugs, arm round my shoulder, stroking my hair, hand on my back, holding my hand. I took my cues from those around me. It was normal and acceptable to me, because nobody around me reacted in a way which indicated it was not normal or acceptable. This was his way in. Before I even knew it, I was caught in his web. Long before it became sexual, it was already set up so that I could not escape, and once I he felt sure I was trapped, it changed.
The first time I was raped I was 9. Suddenly I was no longer special and good. The change was frightening. He stopped being my friend, and became The Man. He told me it was my fault, that I had caused him to do this to me. He told me that not only had I sinned by engaging in sexual behaviour, but I had also sinned by encouraging him to do it. I didn’t know how to process this, what to think, what to do. He was a man of God, I knew he would not lie, he must be telling the truth. After he hurt me, we would kneel and I would ask him, and God, for forgiveness for my sins. It makes me sick to think about that. I felt pure, unadulterated shame. Shame deep to my soul. I was a bad person. I was the worst person. The guilt at what I had done ate away at me. I was going to go to hell.
I think, underneath this, a part of me was on my side. A part of me knew this wasn't right, knew I wasn’t bad. A part of me was awash with anger. Anger at how I was being treated, anger at the pain I was enduring, anger at the people around me for allowing it to continue, anger at the world for not seeing me. I EXIST, a voice would scream inside me. SEE ME. I AM A PERSON. But I had no way of letting this out, because I did not know how to even begin to process it into words or actions. The anger just swam in me, and so I stuffed it deep down, hurting myself to bury it. To cope with such enormous and contradictory emotions, I had to cancel one out. I told myself I deserved the pain. I told myself that people were letting this continue because I didn't matter, because I had no worth. I told myself the world couldn't see me because I did not exist. I was nothing. These thoughts fed the self-loathing until I truly believed I was nothing. I did not deserve anything good or soft or kind. I was bad. I deserved to be punished like this. I needed to be punished like this. I ended up being sucked down a plughole of self-hatred and shame. I was the most worthless piece of crap that ever lived. I didn't even deserve to breathe.
So overwhelmed with shame and guilt and frightened that people would find out how bad I was, I didn't tell anyone about what was happening. Instead, I retreated into myself, and created a new world with a new narrative, one in which the abuse made sense. In this world, I was born bad. So very, very bad that I did not deserve kindness and softness, so bad that I needed to be punished, constantly. The abuse now took on a new meaning. In my new world, the abuse was my penance. A price I paid to enjoy good things. If I was being hurt, that meant I was allowed to have food, rest, and comfort, without feeling guilty or undeserving. If I was being hurt, I did not need to constantly apologise for my own existence. If I was being hurt, I could live like a normal person. And so this became my life. The Man became two men and then three. Sometimes it felt like everywhere I turned, there was a man waiting to hurt me. I decided that this proved my narrative to be true. I was bad in my soul, and no matter what I did, I would always need this punishment. The Man was sent by God to carry this out.
At 15 it suddenly and unexpectedly ended when my family moved to the other side of the country, and I had this tiny glimmer of hope. It was a difficult adjustment, but after a while, I started to think that maybe the punishment was not coming back. Maybe I didn't need to be punished. Maybe I wasn't bad. Maybe it was ok to eat when I was hungry and allow myself to have a blanket at night, so I wasn't cold. Maybe I could just…exist. I had just over a year of this life, and it was difficult, but fantastic. I was happy. But it ended in an instant one night, at a party. It was one of the first times I had been out and properly allowed myself to have fun… I danced, I drank, I laughed. I left my friends to find the loo, staggering about, hugging the walls, giggling to myself. The lightness and freedom I felt was cut through instantly by the knife I felt against my skin, and the horrible realisation that I had never really been free. I was raped. Again. The man was a stranger, but I knew that he was The Man. Back again. Back for me, because I was not being punished enough. I can't describe the devastation this caused me. I fell through the ground, deeper and deeper until I felt the fires of hell. I had spent a year attempting to rewrite my world view. Undoing years of abuse, years of self-loathing, years of feeling the need to be punished… and in just a few minutes, it was all for nothing. I was back to the start, but this time, I had confirmation that if I strayed, The Man would come back for me. This felt like the beginning of the end.
I immediately and without hesitation threw myself into a life of punishment. I did everything I possibly could to destroy myself. Keeping a perfect balance, enough pain that I would always be suffering, but not too much that I would actually die. I lived on this knife edge for years. I was still a child at this point, I left home and started sleeping rough. Streets, squats, tents, sofas, hostels. I made my bed on concrete ground, often shivering so hard I couldn’t sleep. My body ached from the cold. The winter months were the worst, wet feet, frozen hands, on some mornings I woke covered in snow. The world I lived in was frightening. The people around me, trapped in their own personal hellscapes, created a whirlwind of violence and fear. Every day there were fights, stabbings, serious injuries, sometimes deaths: murder, suicide, overdose, illness. People self-harmed, sometimes openly, while everyone looked on. The chaos inside me was too much to cope with, too big, too painful. I sought refuge in avoidance, dissociation, separation, and denial. I needed to make my outside world bigger and louder than the world inside me. It worked. Temporarily at least. The environment I immersed myself in met multiple needs. It was a distraction; kept me in the moment; didn’t let me ever stop or think or feel old feelings. It was punishment, which helped me feel safe from being found once again by The Man, and allowed me to breathe through the guilt and shame. It was a stage for my greatest performance, enabling me to repeatedly play out the memories of abuse through so many different mediums.
I was a human canvas for others to paint with their ideas. With their filth. With their shame. With their violence. A human canvas to display themselves, so that when they were done, and they stood over their finished work, they could truly see what they were. I felt like such a non-person, there was something vaguely satisfying about being looked at and not seen. At the same time, I loathed what I was, because I was what they had created. I wanted to be torn limb from limb. I wanted to be obliterated. I didn’t just want to be dead, I wanted to have never existed. The longer I lived in this world, the more trauma I experienced, and the more screams I needed to silence in my head. This meant I had to keep adding layer upon layer of chaos and danger into my life, turning up the volume, increasing the pain.