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Month: March 2018

No Justice, No Winners!

I felt compelled to write about the Belfast rape case as I am still reeling from the impact of the outcome. I would imagine I’m not alone when I describe a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I think about it. With that said, I would have to admit that right from the beginning of the case when I began to read and hear on social media about the witness who entered the room on what she thought was a “threesome”, I foresaw the possibility of this outcome.

Positive Impact

I would absolutely like to begin by thanking that woman for her bravery and courage. The outcome of the case, although hugely disappointing (to put it mildly) is a landmark moment. This case will probably do far more good in the long run, not only for the girl herself, but for the worldwide movement for equality for women.  She will probably never know how many people support her, believe her, and have been moved to tears, and to action because of her.

While attending a talk in the Liquor Rooms, Wellington Quay, on ‘The Culture of Sexual Harassment’ last night (28th March) Simone George (Consultant Litigator) said that ‘if we had equality there would be no need for conversations around consent, because we would be dealing with equals.’ These bumps in the road are to insure we stay vigilant in our pursuit for gender equality. The truth of the matter is that every man woman and child is part of the problem.   We were born into it, we may not have created it, but we are responsible for changing it.

Who Holds the Power

The issue of inequality between the sexes, patriarchy and male supremacy all sustain the rape culture that cases like this bring into the light. These seemingly acceptable behaviours all stem from cultural norms that go back generations. These systems were designed by men for men, to ensure that men retained all of the power.

The culture we grew up with has been sustained by generations of men with power, dominating and controlling women’s lives from every conceivable angle. As a result, women of every race, creed and culture have internalised our oppression to the point of simply ‘putting up with it’.   Just as slavery once ended, this too must end.

Conditioning

I have to fight against my own conditioning of resenting and hating men for how they treat women.  It is no more their fault than it is mine.  I do not wish to condone the actions of a rapist or diminish rape and its impacts in any way. However, I think it’s is important to acknowledge that the rapist is just as conditioned to see women as ‘less than’ as women are to accept their behaviours.

We must all take a giant step back and recognise that there is a much bigger problem to deal with.  A complete shift in our thinking is required for change to occur.  We are up against a system, a patriarchy like our political, legal, health and education systems that are inept, outdated and not fit for purpose. Gender inequality is just another system put in place a long time ago.

Change is coming

The good news is that we are gaining small incremental changes. There does appear to be a worldwide awakening around these issues.  It is important to remember that and not get despondent when things go wrong, or we don’t get the outcomes we hope and work for.

All these systems must come down.  Piece by piece, bit by bit.  It will not be easy, and it will take time, but we mustn’t give up or take our eye off the ball and lose momentum.

We must start teaching our children in schools and at home in a more holistic way. We need to provide them the tools they need to navigate this world.  Placing mental health at the top of the agenda.  Children should be learning about their bodies as soon as they begin to walk. To quote Noeline Blackwell (CEO, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre) ‘our education systems should be minding our children’s mental, physical and emotional needs.’

We must teach both boys and girls as young as possible about their own bodies. They need to feel in control and have full autonomy when it comes to personal space and boundaries.

There are strong amazing women and men working tirelessly to attain some balance.  We must all do our bit, however small. We can create a better world where men and women are equal if we work together.

 

June- 29th March 2018

Child Abuse and Anxiety/Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks have been linked to childhood trauma, but it is by no means the only cause. Panic attacks can occur due to number of conditions including social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug use, depression, and a number of medical problems. They can either be triggered or occur unexpectedly. However, children that experience trauma are more likely to have increased anxiety and depressive behaviours which they can endure well into adulthood, making those adults less capable to cope with stress.

Myself and Joyce have both suffered from panic attacks, and although, for Joyce, they are a thing of the past, I unfortunately on occasion still struggle with them.  I hope this blog will help others who also suffer with these awful attacks to gain a deeper understanding of the fear that surrounds them. It is important that you know that you are not crazy, and you can manage them with awareness and support.

Joyce

I began to suffer from panic attacks and anxiety for months following the birth of my first child.  No matter how hard I tried I simply couldn’t shake it.  I tried to keep busy with the baby, but whenever I put him down for his nap I was afraid to even look in his direction. I was sure he was going to sit up and talk to me, even though he was only weeks old.  I believed I was going mad and because my thoughts were so crazy, I felt I couldn’t share them with anyone.

Whenever I tried to relax I felt a tingling feeling in my feet and within seconds it would travel throughout my body. It was such a frightening feeling that I often insisted on Mam calling an ambulance.  I was convinced I was dying and that everyone knew but they wouldn’t tell me. This anxiety lasted for months. I was terrified to leave the house for fear I would die alone.

I was consumed with fear and unable to sleep. Regardless of the assurance I got from the doctor, a specialist and a psychiatrist. I still believed I was dying. The anticipation of what could happen was enough to ensure that I remained on edge. Night after night I would sit downstairs with mam rocking myself back and forth to comfort myself.

One night when I was so exhausted I lay in bed and the tingling began, I was so tired I gave in, I looked up to heaven and said ‘f… it if I am going to die, do it now’ It worked, the tingling stopped, and I fell into a deep sleep. It was only when I surrendered to my fear that it stopped, and I never suffered from panic attacks again.

Paula

I have thought about writing a blog on this subject for some time now but, I hesitated for fear that simply writing about it, would bring on an attack.

I experienced my first anxiety attack when I broke my leg.   That forced confinement brought to the surface feelings of helplessness and dependency. However, I didn’t really understand what was happening and over time I became more and more anxious.  I believe it was this recurrence of anxiety that resulted in my first panic attack.

My panic attacks come out of the blue, my lips begin to feel strange and because I had bell’s palsy in the past, I am instantly afraid it’s happening again. This is followed by a tingling sensation running through body. My heart starts to thump, and I feel breathless, fear builds up rapidly and takes control of my thoughts. The feelings that I’m about to die or have a stroke feeds into the fear. My imagination runs wild and I can see myself ending up alone or locked in a madhouse. I am aware that this is crazy, but I feel powerless to stop it.

I consider myself a rational and logical person and I can tell the difference between imagination and reality quite easily. However, when I am in the middle of a panic attack nothing can tell me that what I am feeling is not real. I am absolutely convinced that at best, I am going to have a stroke, or more likely I am about to die.

What scares me most is the place I felt safest is no longer available to me. I am most comfortable in my head and it is also where I retreat to when I’m stressed or worried. My fear around having an attack can make it difficult to focus on my work and this causes more stress. It becomes a vicious circle.

It is the actual fear and anticipation of an attack that drives my anxiety.  I am sure that I have even brought on an attack by focusing on the fear. However, lately I have tried meditations and mental exercises to talk myself down and they are working for me while I work on uncovering the underlying cause of the attacks.

This may sound strange, but I am grateful for the panic attacks because they have forced me out of my head and into the moment. I have always found when I’m stressed or worried I get ill or have physical pain.  The panic attacks are just another way to look at what is going on in the background. I believe they will stop when I understand what they are trying to tell me.

Childhood Trauma

For those of us who have experienced trauma as children it is most likely that the triggers to panic attacks have their roots in the past. It is also likely that the fear is subconscious. Fear is only powerful when we do not know its origins, it loses its power if we understand where it comes from.  Exploring childhood trauma with a professional can uncover the root cause behind the fear that drives panic attacks.

In the meantime, if you understand what is happening inside your body when having an attack, it may help to stop it before it gets going. I read somewhere that it only takes three minutes for adrenaline to fill your body and cause a panic attack. That also means that you will have three minutes to stop the adrenaline before the attack takes hold. To stop an attack, you must interrupt the messages of fear going to your brain.

During my last attack, I tried the steps below and it did stop the attack before it got hold. It didn’t remove the fear but at least I wasn’t controlled by it.  I am aware that, it’s both the anticipation of the attack and the thoughts during the attack that do the most harm.

Following these steps was most helpful to me:

  1. Try to relax, I know how difficult this is, but it is the first step that will allow you to stop the messages going to the brain telling you that you are in danger and prevent the release of any more adrenaline.
  2. Focus on your breath, breathe in and out to a count of 7, then 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Make the breaths as deep as you can, this can be very difficult, but it really will help so persevere.
  3. Think of a place, person, or thing that you associate with being calm and relaxed.
  4. Scream in your head ‘I’m fine’ ‘I am ok’ ‘Nothing bad is going to happen’ the louder you can scream the better.
  5. Repeat your own positive messages to counter what you normally say during an attack. The point is to stop you repeating the negative fear filled messages that make the attack worse and last longer.
  6. When the attack has passed write a list of everything you fear in this moment, it is necessary to dissect these fears.  You may discover the similarities in your present and your past fears.  Understanding your fear removes its power.

This takes time and practice, but I found it helped me.  Once you can deal with the symptom’s you will be free to begin to focus on the underlying cause.  You need to know that a panic attack will not kill you. Use them to understand yourself and you will come out the other end stronger.

Paula – 28th March 2018

Decision to Prosecute: What I wish I knew back then.

We have been asked on many occasions what advice we would give to anyone thinking about bringing charges against their abuser. The decision to prosecute or not is a very complex and personal choice. It certainly was not a decision we took lightly, and I was not aware at the time of just how difficult the legal process would be.

I now understand that the legal process is harder than it needs to be, but I hope that by sharing my experience, and in hindsight what I would do differently today, might be of some help to other survivors who are undertaking this life changing course.

The Decision

For me it began with the decision to report my father to the police. This was done with a collective agreement amongst all the family. It was not taken out of bravery but more because we felt there was no other choice. I am grateful that I was spared the experience of being isolated and alone going through this process, as I am aware that it is not the case for many victims.

Speaking Out

Making a statement to the police was terrifying to put it mildly.  I was driven by the need to ensure my father did not return to the house. I was enraged that it appeared that he was still in a position of power and I believed that it was only a matter of time before he came home and continued living as if nothing had happened.

If like me, you had never spoken about your abuse then ideally the first time you are ready to talk should not be making a statement. I would recommend that you call one of the support agencies and get support before making a statement.  If I could do it again I would have someone with me while giving the statement, a counsellor if possible. Make no mistake it will still be an awful experience, telling a complete stranger your story will never be easy, but the reward is that you finally tell your truth and begin taking your life back.

Following the making of my statement, the lack of information and complete exclusion from the process was both frustrating and hurtful. We didn’t realise when making our statements that the decision to prosecute meant we handed it over to the state and we were no longer needed. The decision as to whether or not the case made it to court would be made by the DPP and we had no say in the outcome of that decision.

Surplus to Requirements

Discovering we were now considered surplus to requirements, devastated all of us.  We were hurt and frustrated at the lack of involvement. Waiting for a decision from the DPP seemed to take forever. This left a lot of time to question if the decision was the right one.

I convinced myself that the case would not go ahead because not only did the abuse take place so long before we made statements, but my father’s age might also be a consideration. I believed he would return and everything would be worse than before because he now knew that he was untouchable.  I found it difficult to relax or sleep during this time. I felt constantly on edge.

When the DPP finally made the decision to proceed and prosecute my father we remained excluded. My father eventually pled guilty, so we were not even required as witnesses. It was very difficult to accept that our lives would be discussed in a room of strangers and we were not part of that process. I deeply resented that others had the power to make decisions about my life and once again I was powerless.

Time to Prepare

Looking back now, I really appreciate how long it took for the case to come to court. I needed time to attend counselling and build up my strength to be able to face him in court. One of the biggest obstacles I had to face at the time was my absolute fear of him and my inability to stand up for myself in his presence. I felt so ashamed for what happened to me and believed I was responsible for it. I felt that everyone would be disgusted with me. I really struggled to see the help that was on offer.

I still feel it is sad that I felt like this. If it was any other crime I don’t believe I would have taken responsibility.  For example, If I was physically attacked or robbed I wouldn’t think twice about telling everyone what happened to me.

My advice to anyone undertaking this journey is to get professional help and take all the support available to you whether it be from your friends, partner, family and/or professionals.   I knew even back then just how fortunate we were that as a family we all stood together. I cannot imagine just how traumatic this process is to go through alone.

Counselling will support you through the process and your growing awareness about how your abuse impacted your life can only add strength to your resolve as you navigate through the legal system.

Support

If family members do not support you coming forward to deal with your abuse, it may be helpful to know that each member of the family can experience abuse differently. Although other members of your family may also be victims of the same abuser, they may not be ready to face it.  Some may have no memory of the abuse at all.  In certain cases, victims block the memories in-order to survive and the memories can lay dormant for years until a crisis such a death or birth triggers it to emerge.  You will have no control over how others behave so it is important that you put all your energy into building yourself up to be able to cope with the challenge ahead.

Becoming Informed

When you finally hear about your court date I would strongly recommend that you insist on a meeting with your Barrister. You need him/her to provide you with the details of what you can expect on the day, how the hearing will run, in what order and who will speak. Ask if not offered, to read all the statements made including your abusers statement as this will help you prepare for what will be read out in court. Listen carefully to what the Barrister says about the possible outcome of the case. Your Barrister might indicate that your abuser may receive a small sentence, walk free, or get a suspended sentence but either way it is all down to the judge on the day.  Best thing is to prepare yourself and remember the outcome is not the most important thing here. You having the opportunity to tell your story and shed the blame will happen regardless of the outcome.

For us, we only met very briefly with our Barrister on the day of the hearing. His obvious discomfort when talking to us and his avoidance of any eye contact made the meeting both difficult and upsetting for everyone. When he offered us the opportunity to read our fathers statements I was horrified not only by its contents but that we only get to see it five minutes before the case whereas he saw ours immediately. The language my father used indicated that he knew us and our personalities which proved he studied how to manage us for so long.  I honestly wouldn’t have given him credit for that.  I guess up to that point I believed that his abuse was not so premeditated, and he didn’t have any awareness of who I was. Unfortunately, none of us had any time to process this information as five minutes later we asked to wait in the lobby until our case was called.

Final Preparation

You can get strength on the day by having someone to support you, if not your family, friends, or partner use a professional. I would strongly recommend you take advantage of the professional agencies court accompaniment services. (The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 1800 77 8888) or (One in Four 01 662 4070). These services will help you to be aware of the practicalities on the day i.e. the layout of the court room, the location of both Barristers, where your abuser and you may be seated on the day of the hearing.

This might seem of little importance on such a traumatic day but for us having never been inside a court room and only going on what we seen on TV programmes, to find on the day of the hearing that our father was sitting on a bench not four feet from us was so distressing words cannot express how it felt.

To make things even worse when the Barristers spoke they used a lot of legal jargon that I hadn’t got a hope of understanding. If I was to go through this again I would definitely have someone with me that could explain what was happening.

I believe that if you make the decision to go down this road, no matter what the outcome, you will not regret it. While the whole process is difficult it is worth it. Remember it is never wrong to speak up and tell the truth and take back your power.  You’re a survivor not a victim and placing the blame for what was done to you where it belongs is an act of kindness and compassion to yourself.

 

Paula – 22nd March 2018

 

New Revolutionary Treatment for Childhood Trauma

I just watched a ‘CBS News- 60 Minutes’ (March 11th 2018) programme in which Oprah Winfrey reported on how trauma plays a role in childhood development.

Within the report Oprah spoke to Tim Grove a clinical director at ‘SaintA’ (an organisation located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin who finds shelter for some 2,000 abandoned, neglected and abused children, most of whom have suffered childhood trauma.) Tim spoke about how SaintA are helping the children with a revolutionary approach to treating children who have suffered trauma called ‘Trauma Informed Care’.

Why is this New?

To say I was floored by the report would be putting it mildly. I couldn’t believe that this new revolutionary treatment is ‘New’ and not standard practice across all child treatment programmes.

Tim spoke about how they are treating children who present with difficult behaviours, juvenile delinquency, poor performance in school or out of control anger by first focusing on the person’s experiences before trying to correct their behaviours.

Again, I still can’t get my head around what was the normal way of treating a child with these difficulties before now. Surely it makes sense to look into the why? of a child’s problem before you look into the what? of a child’s problem.

Highlighting Trauma

In our book Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’, we talk about the importance of fully understanding just how your abuse (trauma) affects every aspect of your life. We are constantly talking about how if you are to overcome abuse, you first need to understand its origins and impacts.

I applaud Oprah for bringing this to the attention of the masses, for it is a step in the right direction. We could all benefit from a greater understanding of just how trauma affects how individuals behave and express their hurt.

Impacts of Trauma

According to Dr. Bruce Perry who also took part in the programme “If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you’re going to be at risk of almost any kind of physical, mental and social health problem that you can think of.”

Throughout our childhoods and as a direct result of the daily trauma we each suffered, we found everything difficult, relationships, social interactions, attending school, even carrying out the simplest of tasks that appeared to be effortless to our peers, took real concentration and effort for us to complete. We constantly felt lost and confused and were shrouded in self-hatred. All the time blaming ourselves on what had happened to us.

It was only as adults after spending years trying to put the pieces of our lives in some kind of order and through a lot of research, we found all the answers were out there we just needed to know the questions. We could have saved years of pain and suffering if those professionals that we did come into contact with used this form of treatment.

The Why? not the What?

This way of looking at a condition, behaviour or problem is to me the most practical and caring way to treat a person. It simply makes no sense to spend thousands on rehabilitation programmes if you do not first ask the question WHY?

Children of all ages regardless of their circumstances act out of what they feel even if they are totally unaware of those feelings at the time. Asking them Why? instead of What? just makes sense. I am astonished if it is the case that the first place explored by any professional is not ‘what is the driving force behind the child’s behaviour’.

All of our professional bodies that treat, manage, inform or teach children should see this form of treatment as the way to provide a space for children and adults to feel safe and heard. This is something that should not be new but common practice. If we are ever to make positive changes within our communities, we must first provide appropriate supports for those that need them.

If those within the professional bodies are not using this approach i.e. Trauma Informed Care or at the very least not asking why? before what? then we are in trouble. Providing a child with a safe place to go and allowing them to feel heard and seen is the very least that we can do.

Making a Difference

It only takes one person to make a difference in a child’s life. Just one person who cares for a child and gives them attention or a safe place to go. It is not difficult to change the direction of a child’s life. It is the small things that change how we feel about ourselves.

Unfortunately, it is for this very reason that predators are way ahead of the professionals. They understand just how and when to provide the child with attention and use it as part of their grooming of a child. Trauma-based care can prevent children being further victimised by those who exploit and harm them. It can give children the voice building strong resilient survivors and heal wounds.

In my opinion many of our social ills come down to the unmet needs of victims and the unwillingness of those who could make a difference through funding or appropriate legislation caring enough to actually do something. We under-fund those organisations that have any hope to helping people and we fail to educate those that get to pass judgments leaving them without the necessary understanding of the true cost of the impacts of abuse on our society.

 

Paula – 12th March 2018

Mother

I usually don’t feel anything
even though Its Mother’s Day
my childhood really messed me up
so it’s always been this way

I used to wish you showed me love
I wanted nothing more
I used to long for tenderness
from the woman I adored

It’s a lack in my life that will always remain
I’ve accepted that’s just how it is
I never got to feel your love
so I had to settle for his

Never to know if I was loved
by the woman I called my mother
hurt more than abuse at the hands of the man
who damaged me like no other

With no words from you for most of my life
I drew my own conclusions
no understanding of what I did wrong
left me feeling so much confusion

I’ve grown up now and healed some wounds
with children of my own
if I knew then what I know now
I wouldn’t have felt so alone

It took a long time but I’m different now
I’ve even changed my views
as things became clearer I soon realised
that you were a victim too

 Your life was loveless and empty
you did the best you could
I’m proud of how you managed
you did better that I would

I hope I make you proud mam
your life was not in vain
you raised amazing children
who rose above the pain

You showed me what true love is
I didn’t know it then
you tried to protect us
time and time again

You had to close your heart
you couldn’t take any more
but gave your life in service
to the family that you bore

You gave and gave persistently
I just couldn’t see
you had to die before my eyes
before it dawned on me

The truth is mam, my hope for you
is peace and love and laughter
I really hope your happy now
from your loving daughter.

June

Mother’s Day- A Survivors Guide

As Mother’s Day approaches there is no doubt we are all being bombarded by the media with strong messages of what we should be feeling and doing for our mothers. For some this is a happy occasion and one where the opportunity to demonstrate how much our mothers mean to us is clearly celebrated through the giving of sentimental cards, gifts or outings for lunch or dinner.

For others this can be a very emotional and difficult time. This time of the year can serve as a reminder of a mother that has passed away. You could choose to use this as an opportunity to celebrate and focus on how your mother lived her life, share happy memories and remember just why you loved her so much.

If you are lucky enough to be a mother yourself that is a very good reason to celebrate this day.  Remind yourself that against all odds you have become a good mother.  You can acknowledge just how much you willingly sacrifice for your children, the love you feel for them and the joy and happiness they bring to your life.

Lack of Nurturing

The media will never acknowledge that this day can be fraught with pain and trauma for many women.  For those of us whose childhood were filled with abuse, this time of the year can bring up the hurt and pain for a mother’s love you never got to experience.  The day can act as a painful reminder of living without nurturing and support.

If you are a mother that for any number of reasons is no longer living with your children and won’t get to spend this day with them Mother’s Day can be lonely and filled with regret and sadness. If you are a woman who has chosen to not have children, you may feel a failure as society tells women that being a mother is what all women should want.

A mother of a child who has experienced abuse may feel undeserving of their love and find any show of affection or gratitude from them, as painful reminders of what they may see as their failings. Most mothers are victims themselves and we firmly believe that in the majority of cases when there is an abuser in the home there is only one parent and one in control and that is the abuser themselves.

Mothers of an abusers are likely to find this time extremely difficult as they struggle to see what they could have done differently, how could they have stopped the abuse, helped their child. All the while feeling shame and hurt for the child that was abused. The confusion and pain will make this time of the year impossible to ignore.

If your mother was the one who abused you then this will be a particularly difficult time. Because the world sends clear messages that mothers are not capable of hurting their own children, speaking your truth becomes all the more difficult.

Changing this day into something to celebrate will help you with your healing. Gaining a full understanding of abuse and its impacts will help you navigate the emotional turmoil that all mothers feel when abuse enters their lives.

*If you would like more information in our book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we explore the role of mothers in much more detail.

Finding the Positive

Pain can be overwhelming but may be disguised under the umbrella of anger.  Each time you remember something your mother did or didn’t do can bring your hurt to the surface. In the sharing of these stories we can become locked into the pain of the past and end up giving our power away to the past.

Try use this time to focus on what is working in your life. It is an opportunity to find a more positive meaning to this day.  As this is the year of the woman make the day about you and recognise those women that inspire you to do and be a better version of yourself.

It requires time and effort on your part, but it is worth reclaiming your life and saying no to allowing the past to control your present day. Like Christmas this too is only one day, and it too will pass quickly.

Tips for Minding Yourself

If thinking about Mother’s Day triggers bad memories do something positive with them.  Do not allow the negative feelings to ruin your day.

  • Writing can help you gain access to your pain and help you to move past the anger it may raise.  So, take some time to yourself and write how you are feeling about motherhood and its role in your life.
  • Make a list of all what you feel a mother should be and see how realistic it really is. Is it possible for anyone to be the mother you described?
  • Be prepared to explore your own experience of motherhood. The deeper an understanding you gain, the more compassion you will have for yourself and others in your life.
  • Try celebrating those mothers that you respect and admire. We all know someone that we feel is doing a good job for that is usually how we measure our own abilities.
  • If you are a mother yourself celebrate that.
  • Try sitting with your children and sharing stories about how they were as children. We are all curious about our childhood and how others seen us, so this will be a great way to spend time together.
  • Remember children want to know about you and see you as more than just a mother. Explore your life with them and how it was before you became their mother.
  • If you are brave enough ask they also share things they would like to change about you or things they struggle with. Your relationship can only become more enriched through this experience.
  • Finally, it is important to acknowledge that against all odds you have turned into a great mother, doing the best you can with what you know at any given time.

 Pamper Yourself

  • Allow your children to spoil you.
  • Have a family meal cooked by your children.
  • If you need a break, then go out with friends and have a child free day.
  • Learn how to have fun, as we often forget as adults how to relax.
  • Play a game you remember from your childhood, it may rehash more positive feelings.

Moving On

I do not wish to minimise anyone’s pain on this day I am simply letting you know that you have always got a choice. You can turn what may have been a negative day into a celebration. The choice is yours

Although it is great to be able to share, rehashing negative feelings and sharing bad memories will only ensure this day will always be a painful one for you. It might be time to use your energy to reclaim it for yourself.

11th March 2018 – Joyce

Dear 16-year-old me

Dear Joyce, this may seem strange, but this letter is from the future you.  As hard as that is to believe it is true.  I know you are going through a rough time now, and my wish is that this information may help you.

Advice

Firstly, stop all the worrying and self-hatred. I know it has become your norm but make a new habit and realise just how perfect you are. Start eating healthy and when Rose offers you a cigarette say no. You know you don’t like them, and they will not make you any more part of the group than you are right now. No more fasting or starving yourself, you are punishing the wrong person.

Dad

You need to understand that dad is not the big brave man you see him as. He is in fact, small, fat and always worried that you will find the strength to say NO or tell on him.  I also know you believe you have no control. I would love to tell you that you can say no, but I also know you have no way of connecting with your inner strength at this moment, that too will come believe me.  In time you will get control and the abuse is coming to an end for you.  Next year you will get your periods and Dad will stop abusing you.

Dad is wrong to do what he is doing to you and your sisters.  It is his shame to carry so leave that with him and focus on your innocence with pride.

Self-abuse

After the abuse stops you must be more careful than ever because when he stops with the sexual abuse, you will start to punish yourself and go over all the ‘what if’s’ and ‘why’s’ of your past.  It is essential that you use this space to become more mindful and know that you are completely innocent.  You had nothing to do with the abuse, you held no power and had no choice but to do as you were told. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth you need to hold onto to get through the next few years.

I am so sorry this happened to you, but you need to know you are 100% innocent this is all down to him.  He is sick and needs help but that is not your problem. Don’t be ashamed or afraid that people may find out.  He will suffer a lot more than you and the story will come out eventually.

Boys

Boys are no more special than girls. Treat them all with respect and demand respect back.  Boys won’t love you if you let them touch you and sex is not love.

Please believe me when I say none of it matters.  Stress, self-hatred, homework, how stupid you feel, boys and sex.  I am not saying don’t try everything, after all that is where all your learning comes from. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Know you have done the best with the cards you have been dealt, so be proud.

Love yourself

Be proud of yourself as you have been through a lot more than any 16-year-old should ever have to go through. This alone is an indication of your strength.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel that yet, it will come to you.

Spend time building yourself up and get a job outside the home. Be a good friend and don’t be afraid to be honest.  Dad is right about one thing, family is very important and believe it or not your sisters will be your best friends when you are a little older.

Mam

Help mum by doing little things that will make her life easier. Have her tea ready when she comes in from work. Tidy up the house so she can sit and relax at the end of the day. Tell her you love her. She is going through a rough time right now.

Mam learned a long time ago that closeness to her children only gives dad a weapon to further control her. She doesn’t know how to reverse that decision. Have real conversations with her and get to know as much as you can about her.  There will come a time when you would give anything to be able to speak with her for although she lives well into her eighties, you will lose her long before then as she develops Alzheimer’s.

What others think

Don’t be overly concerned about what others think of you.  Your gifts are unique to you and you will help a lot of people by being steadfast and honest.  It’s up to you what way you go and remember there is no right or wrong way.  You will have some uncomfortable moments in your life but none of them will kill you and all of them leave good learning for you to build up your strength. Just know you’ll come through it all. All hurt is temporary and is always followed by healing so enjoy the process and don’t get hung up on the outcome.

Spirituality

Stay spiritually connected as angels are always at hand. Speak to them as you would to your friends, cause they are friends and will get you through some dark moments. Worry less, love lots, and don’t be afraid to get hurt or be left alone. Hurt is temporary and being alone is cool. Don’t be concerned it’s not going to happen.

Your future

What if I told you, you made it, and all you wanted you got.

By the age of 21 you will meet your husband and he will give you the family you want.  This relationship won’t last but you get beautiful children from it and your husband will remain a good friend for life.  Like mam you don’t know when or how to stop as you will have six children, two boys and four girls. All of them will know they are loved by you and they will love you in return.

You will have many ups and downs but believe me when I tell you it will all work out and you will be fine.  Please hold onto the knowledge that you are a very special person and no matter what happened to you it will not take away from that.

Trust me when I say that you will not only survive this process but will excel from the lessons in this experience. Keep up the writing as you are good at it and will go on to have two books published later in life. You will go on to help millions of people who have had the same experience.

Joyce

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