I saw a man being interviewed on TV yesterday morning, and what he said really struck a chord with me.
He was on The Wright Stuff
talking about having been sexually abused as a child, and said that he had thought at the time that it was just something that happened; something everyone goes through. It wasn’t until later that he looked back and realised he had been abused.
The man said he’d found it hard to get help because by the time he realised he’d been abused, it was well in the past and a lot of places only deal with situations where the police have been called. What resonated with me was when he said that he had realised it was abuse, and was in the process of re-framing everything that had happened.
Quite often when we are abused, we don’t realise it’s abuse.
We think it’s something we’ve brought upon ourselves.
It’s something everyone has to deal with.
Some people are just like that.
We’re just attracting that sort of thing.
We believe it’s our own fault.
When you realise, sometimes months or even years later, hang on… that wasn’t my fault… that was abuse… the effects can be awful. Suddenly, everything that happened during the time you were with that person takes on a new meaning. You don’t know what is real and what’s not.
You begin to slowly piece together parts of a puzzle you didn’t even realise was a puzzle before.
This is not a quick process; it can take months, even years. You can be fine for weeks and then suddenly remember this one time when the person said or did this… and it dawns on you what was actually going on. Memories can surface at the most inconvenient times: when someone you are talking to uses a certain turn of phrase; you end up visiting somewhere you had previously been with your abuser; you think you see someone who looks like them in the street. Often you can walk past the same place a hundred times, and on the hundred and first time, you’ll have this dawning realisation of something that happened there.
For both the person experiencing this, and those around them, this can be confusing and irritating. You find yourself thinking “oh good grief, this was ages ago; get over it!” Unfortunately though, the only way to get over it is to experience the feelings that come up, and to move on.
For those experiencing these unwanted memories and feelings, it can be just as traumatic as anything that happened at the time. I am now two years out of an abusive relationship, and I had an experience like this just the other day. The only advice I can offer is the same as I was given when I was experiencing a nervous breakdown
several years ago: be kind to yourself
. We all would like to think that once the abuse has ended, and you’re “over” it, that’s it. The truth is, it’s not. The truth is that it keeps coming back, to remind you it’s still there.
There are potential triggers everywhere; you can’t possibly avoid them, and avoiding them will actually do you no good in the long run. Avoiding everything that might cause you a problem means that you are living in fear, and your abuser still has control over you.
Certainly for me, I’ve found that although certain things remind me of events I’d rather forget, each time they do, the effect is less. The only thing to do is acknowledge it and move on. The only way out is through.
If you have been abused, and you are struggling to deal with it, here are some people who may be able to help:
Hidden Hurt – help with domestic abuse
This is Abuse – the government’s site has some useful resources
NSPCC – has a section for adults abused in childhood
If you are still in an abusive relationship, Leaving Abuse can help you.
If these do not appeal to you, please reach out to a friend or family member, or to your GP.