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LIVING IN FEAR! NOW DO YOU SEE ME?

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We have spent years trying to help people understand the fear experienced by children who suffer child abuse or childhood trauma and how that fear impacts their lives. We do this not just to provide a deeper understanding of the crime itself, but also to help those in a position of power comprehend that fighting for lifelong supports to be put in place for victims, is warranted. At present no government in any country has stood up to the task but we will not give up until that position changes.

It occurred to me while recording our latest podcast that the Corona pandemic may provide us the perfect opportunity to succeed in this endeavour as we now have a real life experience of intense fear that everyone alive can relate to, which could improve the likelihood and willingness of people in positions of power to finally understand why it can take a lifetime to recover from being sexually abused.

To fully utilise the experience of fear gripping the world today to for the greater good and help us fuel the desired outcome I would like to demonstrate a small comparison between the fear experienced by children who are sexually abused and where we find ourselves today.

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN 2020

I woke to the sound of my alarm and as I reached to grab my phone, for a split second I forgot what was happening in the world and thought about the job I once looked so forward to going to.

When reality kicked in, I felt a heaviness in my chest from a mixture of anxiety and fear. I gave out to myself yet again for not deleting my alarm as it is now three weeks since I left my home and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.

I delay getting up and turn on my tv to block out the silence only to be hit with another news bulletin about how many deaths worldwide has occurred overnight. Fresh warnings about staying indoors run across the bottom of the screen and the warning that the police were mounting roadblocks to stop you if you break the curfew.

I feel a tightness in the pit of my stomach that is now a constant, along with the unwelcome sound of my heart pounding.  I feel the familiar sensations of tingling rushing through my body and I sit on the side of the bed screaming in my head, in an attempt to stop the inevitable panic that is coming.

The voice on the tv keeps repeating ‘stay at home’ like it’s a new mantra. Don’t listen to any news source but us as there is a lot of fake news out there and it will only get you distressed. Trust no one, not even your grandchildren, as they may be infected, we are the only ones that you should go to for the truth, We have your best interest at heart, We are here doing our best to protect you and will always put your health first.

Social media bombards you with repeating the death toll and how easy it is to be infected by standing too close to someone, or touching your face or an item that comes through the post because the virus can be still alive for a long time after an infected person touches it.

I am terrified all the time, I don’t know who to listen to and the voice in my head won’t stop as it tells me I could get sick and die all alone surrounded by people in hazmat suits. So, I stay isolated and alone every day. I am too afraid to go outside and yet I feel just as afraid indoors. I feel so trapped and alone. Who can I speak to, no one will understand, and they won’t believe just how bad it is? I am not sure I could explain this feeling. I am afraid of everyone and everything.

When I do speak to other members of my family on the phone, they all seem to be coping just fine, so I am not going to tell them how bad I am. They seem to be handling this situation so much better than me so it must be me. I must be mad or weak or stupid. I don’t think they really care about me.  I would feel ashamed and embarrassed telling them I’m terrified. They have their own lives to live. I am all alone in this, I’ll have to find a way to cope.

I try but struggle to change my focus, my legs won’t work, I have no one to call they are at least an hour’s drive from me, so they won’t be able to arrive on time to save me. The tears start to stream down my cheeks, and I can’t breathe what will I do? I think about dying alone in a makeshift hospital surrounded by people in hazmat suits. God what a way to go.

I reach into my dresser to grab more painkillers. These pills the doctor prescribed to lessen my panic leave me feeling exhausted and not wanting to do anything, so I climb back into bed and pull the covers up over my head.

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY CHILDHOOD

I woke abruptly to the covers being pulled off me and I scramble to pull my nightdress down to cover myself. “get the fuck up now” he said  

I immediately feel the heaviness in my chest of anxiety and fear. My movements are laboured, and my heart is heavy because I dread facing another day of hell.

I get dressed and head downstairs only to hear him shouting at everyone “get the fuck out to work ‘Now’ and I won’t tell you again

I slowly walk out to work in the factory (it’s a large extension attached to our home) and hear him, in response to a question telling one of my brothers that he shouldn’t listen to the news reports its all fucking lies anyway and if he wants to know anything just ask him.

My father is a bully who rules the house with lies, intimidation and fear. He has control over where and when I go anywhere, what I do with my time, who I see and what I watch on tv and what I listen to on the radio.

He is constantly telling us that no one can be trusted and that family stick together and that he is the only one who can protect us.

He is always clicking his fingers shouting out orders to everyone.  I am cleaning up when I feel him behind me, I know what he wants, the hairs on my neck stand up and my heart is thumping, the blood is rushing to my head.  There is no escape, no one coming to save me, I escape in the only way I know, by going inside my head to a dark space until its over.

WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

Because of this pandemic I may no longer need expressions like, imagine if this was you, only to see people struggle to either bring an image or an emotion to the surface. Although I believe childhood fear during abuse is worse than the fear we are all being exposed during this pandemic, I still feel, when I explain the fear and anxiety I grew up with, everyone now has some sense of what childhood fear can feel like not only for me but for those like me.

Today the source of that fear comes in messages we receive daily such as, the fear of what could happen if we don’t stay at home and stay away from others. We are asked not to buy into conspiracy theories or streams of information coming from social media stating that we should only trust reliable sources, we don’t ask who these reliable sources are but instead we accept they are, as we are told in the media. We are assured that our government have our best interest at heart and that they are here to protect and guide us.

The people holding all the control can go unchallenged because we all want to believe that no one would willingly hurt us. The same applies to children being abused, quite often by someone they know and trust. As children they are hurt and confused as they too don’t want to believe someone would willingly hurt them.  

The feelings of self-hatred and blame destroy any chance of the child breaking free from their situation and just like all of us today they adapt to their environment and do all they can to bury the fear and anxiety. Sadly these feelings become a way of life and although they are often unconscious, they can lead to an inability to ask for help.

HOPES FOR A BETTER FUTURE

My hope is that you can see through this small example how todays pandemic could be triggering for survivors of childhood abuse and the similarities in the control and power imbalance.

It is my wish that victims have compassion for themselves and an admiration for the strength and courage they possess to survive childhood sexual abuse or trauma.

This pandemic could have some very positive outcomes if we only try to see that we are all impacted when even one of us is suffering. It is my belief that only when we come together can we make the lasting changes that benefit everyone.

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