***Please be aware that in this post there is some material, mainly regarding child sexual abuse, that could be triggering***
An unusual memory that I took with me from week 21 was that of the few minutes I spent waiting for Paul in the (hidden) waiting room at Nexus. There are consistently information leaflets, legal advice packs, material on helplines and related organisations, etc etc, but on this occasion there was something additional: a colouring-in book. Yes, one of those things that children recklessly aim crayons at, in what appear to be perpetually failed efforts to contain colours within lines. (You can see my general views on this subject here - as long as you can cope with a scathingly un-PC review of children’s artistic “skills”. Don’t blame me if you don’t like its content).
Of course, this colouring book wasn’t one that you might see as standard. It wasn’t filled with broom-brooms or woof-woofs or choo-choos or whatever other inane words are common in the parlance of Parentese. Instead, it involved actual children. Well, obviously not actual children – technology has as yet failed to reach a point where we can superimpose real people onto paper – but you know what I mean. And it had a little story board running along side.
The idea was that the children coloured this rubbish in, whilst (presumably) their parents (or whoever) read the accompanying narrative to them. It went something like this:
You may find that adults or other children may want to touch you. Usually this is all nice and fluffy, and you have no reason to kick them in the face for doing so. However, there are times when other people may want to touch you in a bbbbbaaaaaaaaaddddd way. Generally speaking, if someone touches you in a spot that your bathing suit or trunks would cover, this is Bad Shit Indeed. If you are being bathed by someone it is OK to be touched in these places when you are very young, but only if it’s enough to clean you [I'm making this sound more amateur than it was - there was more nuance to that particular sentence than my redacted shite suggests].
If you are being touched like this you should firmly say ‘no!’ or shout if you need to, then speak to an adult you trust, such as your Mum or Dad. If it is your Mum or Dad touching you like this, speak to a teacher or aunt or uncle that you like.
If someone shows you a part of their body that would normally be covered up by bathing suits/trunks, that is usually bbbbaaaddd too.
Blah blah blah, you get the idea.
Despite the dismissive tone of the foregoing, I actually thought this was
a piece of eminent world class literature (OK, I’ll stop being facetious now) a pretty smart resource (resource?! That sounds ridiculous. I can’t think of anything more appropriate, though). Trite though it may seem coming from my lips (fingertips), children learn through play, activity and the sort of interaction that this kind of thing would bring up. I remember writing in one of these session reviews several months ago that I was left in the position as a child of thinking that what was happening to me, unpleasant as it clearly was, was a fairly standard, everyday sort of practice. No one ever explained to me that it was wrong, I whinged. How do you explain, to a normal kid, that it is wrong?!
Well. Like this, perhaps.
Anyway, that was a long and rather inane introduction. Anybody with any sense would have made it a post in itself, but as well you must know, good readers, sense is not a commodity with which I am frequently blessed.
Apparently, the first thing I do (did) at the start of each therapy session is (was) “check my hands”. By that Paul meant that rather than speaking to him (beyond standard greetings), I look down and start fiddling with my fingers. What does he expect? Should I run in and scream, “Paul! I was thinking about this particular rape and I was like, sooooooo overcome with, like, emotion, and I was like, ‘wooooaaaahhhh there, that was like, sooooooo hardcore’?!”
No. Not exactly my modus operandi. I responded to his remark with a mere shrug.
“What would you like to talk about?” he pressed.
I can’t remember my exact words, but I said something along the lines of being at his organisation to discuss very specific reasons – but that the word ‘want’ would be something of a misnomer in this context (or whatever the equivalent of ‘misnomer’ is when you’re dealing with a verb). Before he could reply, though, I started babbling about my week. This was the Monday after I’d had the ECG.
“How is your heart, then?” he queried.
I metaphorically rolled my eyes. “Is that meant to be a double entendre?” I returned, knowingly.
And guess what? It was! He said, “that little girl [I really wish he'd stop using that terminology] had her heart broken.”
Unfortunately for Paul, he had inadvertently hit upon a pet hate of mine. Hearts are a vital organ that pump blood round the body. If my heart had been broken, then I would be seriously ill or dead. You don’t feel with your heart. You don’t love with your heart, despite the nauseating greetings card industry that would seek to convince one otherwise. You feel and you love with your mind (and, if you want to be even more technical about it, you therefore feel and love with your brain).
I complained that I associated the notions of “heartache”, “thinking with your heart” and the myriad other anatomically inaccurate permutations of the same with my whiny female relatives.
“You hate being a woman,” he observed, somewhat to my surprise.
“On the contrary,” I challenged. “I like being one because I’m so different to the stereotypes.” (Seriously, how can someone who is so ideologically a feminist be such a misogynist in practical terms? I suck).
“What are the stereotypes?”
“Crying, cooing over babies, bitching about each other behind each others’ backs. That sort of thing. That’s a disgusting generalisation, I know, and I don’t believe most women are necessarily like that. Just…well, just that I’m more comfortable with men.”
“You’re describing everything that you’re not,” he said.
“So what? Are you suggesting that I somehow became this way, this divergent from perceived gender norms, because I was abused? Can’t it just be? Where does personality end and pathology and/or trauma begin?”
I thought that was quite a philosophical point that might be able to throw him for a minute or two. No more than that, because Paul is a highly intelligent and extremely well-read person – but I thought I had a bit to play with. Apparently not, though: it turned out that, by bizarre coincidence, he’d been reading about that very issue that morning. (Seriously. Who reads about psycho-philosophy first thing on a Monday morning?!)
“In a sense,” he began, “dissociation [or disassociation as he insisted upon pronouncing it] is chosen, where repression isn’t. Not consciously, perhaps, but it’s a split that occurs because the mind chooses it to separate into parts – one that experiences the trauma [the repressed part], one that avoids it [the dissociated one]. So here you have two parts of the ego. The dissociated one is ostensibly undamaged – and that’s where you consistently try to place yourself. The other part is screaming [the intensity of his tone was such that he almost spat the word], full of pain, agony. Your dissociated self may acknowledge that the repressed part exists, but it tries not to let it out. The former is strong. The latter, in some ways, is what you might term ‘girly’.”
I’m sitting here reading this weeks later, and I have certain views on that assertion. I’m trying to blot them out, however, because at the time I was overcome with this metaphorical sense of having been punched in the face. I had an intellectual interest in what he said, of course, but it felt as if there was more to it. I can barely type this, but I think my mind was asking if there was a grain of truth to what he said. Yeah, yeah, I actually wrote that. Point and laugh, everybody. Of course, I know that the vast majority of you won’t actually do so. But the very idea that I have some weepy, hurt, childish, girly piece of shit inside me somewhere is one of the greatest self-indictments I’ve yet beheld.
Of course, this tidal wave of pseudo-realisation rendered me dumb. Anyone who follows these accounts of my therapy sessions will know that that’s pretty much par for the fucking course each week, I suppose. So instead of talking about what he’d actually said, I managed to croak out something about my inability to speak being an entrenched feature of our work together.
“If the words get out, you might get hurt,” he posited, looking over his glasses at me intently.
I looked away with what I’m sure was some sort of disgruntled expression on my face.
“When all this started, those two parts were one and the same,” he went on, goading me (in the nicest possible way) into a reaction.
He got one. “If the strong part of me was part of me, then why the fuck didn’t I fight back?” I asked viciously, suddenly infuriated with myself.
He raised his eyebrow quizzically and stated that I hadn’t behaved thus because I “was a tiny child.”
“Yeah, but I could have kicked him in the bollocks or something.”
“Sorry, what age were you again? 31?”
Touché, Paul. Touché. I couldn’t help but let a wry grin escape onto my lips.
“As well as people molested as kids, I work with men and women who were raped or otherwise sexually abused as adults,” he continued. “Even in these cases, what is always so palpable when I see them is their helplessness at the time of the assaults. Regardless of whether you’re physically capable of fighting back, it’s not always easy – or even possible – to do so.”
“That’s different, Paul.”
“Well, I can understand that more. They’ve been caught in the headlights, haven’t they? If I were raped now, I could understand why I wouldn’t fight. I’m not a strong person, psychologically, despite what you may say about my dissociated self. I was a strong child, though. No nonsense. I didn’t generally take shit, so why did I take that shit?”
Then I went into the Yet-Again-Standard Self-Berating-for-Being-Irrational Mode.
“If it’s irrational, why say it?” Paul enquired.
“Because even though I’m not stupid and know it’s idiotic, it’s still what I think,” I replied.
“Why think it if it makes no sense?” he returned. “You always seem like such a rational person, yet you admit to believing wholly irrational things – as long as they’re about yourself. What is it that makes that possible?”
I thought for a second; as is typical, a string of academic explanations came to mind, but as I said to him, I didn’t think that’s what he wanted to hear. Instead I shrugged and oh-so-profoundly stated that it ‘just felt right’.
“I need to imagine what it was like in order to empathise with my younger self,” I began. “The problem is I have no conception of what it must have been like to be a child. I don’t really have much linear recollection of my childhood. I remember some specifics, I know some other things took place, and I remember things that I was taught – but I have no clear recollection of what it was like simply to be at that kind of age. Thus, I have no way of seeing my childhood other than through the glasses I wear today. Until recently, I thought that no one had any consistent recollection of their childhood, but I am reliably informed now that that is not the case. Is that not the case?”
“For most – ie. for non-traumatised people – it is not the case,” Paul told me. “But in people who have traumatic histories, it’s pretty normal. Children psychologically process events in different ways from adults. When shattered by trauma, or a lack of containment of trauma, they lose the sense of safety that most non-traumatised people take for granted. It prevents cognitive processing within a linear framework.” He paused for a second, sighed, then continued by saying that just as I had had no safety as a kid, neither did I truly feel that I had safety now.
To my own surprise, I randomly blurted out, “I’m scared of children, Paul. Is that odd?”
I have been scared of children for about as long as I can remember. They stare at you, and they always win the inevitable stare-outs that ensue. Every time I see one, even if it’s Marcus or Sean, I have at least passing fear pulsating through me, not to mention images of Damien from The Omen flashing in front of my eyes.
“I think that makes perfect sense, actually,” Paul was saying. He went on to explain that he thinks I’m scared of Aurora / my younger self / that childish part that resides in the darkest recesses of my traitorous brain because she / I / it might make me experience the pain she / I / it did.
I rolled my eyes sulkily. “She should have dissociated properly so I don’t have to put up with her crap,” I complained drolly.
Paul laughed. “If only it worked like that,” he said. “The quirky thing about this situation is that she survived all this [God, I hate the term 'survivor' in this context - what was I meant to do? Just...die?], but you find it so hard to face it. Neither of you are weak, but your perception that she is is inaccurate, when you put it in context.”
A valid point which I validated with a weary nod.
He went on: “the most damaging part of this trauma for you was the lack of containment [I've grown to dislike this term too]. The trauma is undoubtedly bad enough on its own, but if it had been contained, if you had been made safe, that would have made things so much easier for you throughout your life. You didn’t have that containment and that safety then, but that’s exactly what I can give you now – you can face it all in here, with me, and be protected. But that’s a terrifying thing for me to ask of you.”
I considered previous occasions in therapy, both with Paul and with C, where I’d experienced the most horrible flashbacks. For some reason that led me to remember the incident in my bathroom where I went through a particularly vicious flashback of forced oral sex whilst brushing my teeth, prompting me to ask Paul if I’d ever told him about that.
I hadn’t, so he asked me to tell him how it had felt. I described the panic that was initially borne out of it, and how that had ultimately given way to shame.
“The overriding thing about all of this,” I said, “is just that – shame. Shame and degradation and defilement.”
“New words,” Paul claimed. “You’ve not often used those in here before.”
“I suppose I didn’t know the proper terms when I was being abused, so I’m retrospectively applying them. All I would have known at the time was that I felt ‘bad’.” I felt a pang of disgust at what I felt was the inadequacy of my childhood vocabulary and, by extension, intellect – but I elected to keep that thought private.
“In an oral rape, you’re literally forced to swallow something that becomes part of you.”
I shuddered, disgusted. “Yes. I never thought about it like that.”
“You mentioned being able to feel those kinds of tastes in your mouth again. You also said that as a child you just felt ‘bad’. I think you also had a sense that you were bad. ‘Good’ five year olds don’t know those tastes.”
In a sudden explosion of angry passion, I exclaimed that “the whole thing [was] just disgusting!”
He nodded. “It is, but not in the way I suspect you mean.” (ie. that I am disgusting, rather than what was done to me. His suspicion was mainly accurate, but it’s pretty disgusting in general).
This session was way back before we even booked our holiday. I mention this because ScumFan, Paedo’s grandson, had his 21st birthday party whilst we were away; however, at this session I didn’t know we’d be out of the country, and so I mentioned to Paul that I really didn’t feel that I could get out of the not-so-happy reunion.
“I’m not especially worried about seeing Paedo myself,” I explained, “but I am slightly concerned about how A will react. I mean, he’s not going to punch his face in or something, but he hates Paedo. I don’t want it to fuck with his head.”
Paul told me that A was welcome to come to Nexus himself; apparently they offer services for families and partners of those who have been sexually abused.
“Obviously it wouldn’t be with me,” he said, “but he’d be more than welcome to come and talk to someone.”
I thanked him for the information, and said I would pass it on to A, which I did. He didn’t avail of it in the end, but I thought the fact that it exists at all further demonstrates that Nexus is a very worthwhile organisation.
Anyhow, for the sake of context I tried to explain the family dynamics to Paul. He would have understood a recital of Beowulf in Old English more easily than he understood the convoluted family tree that I tried to outline to him, but that was part of the point: the family is such a nepotistic sprawl of insular shite that if you’re confused by its intricacies, then you’re certifiably normal.
The result of this was that I began to tell him of how StudentMcF, ScumFan’s slightly-older cousin, had uploaded lots of pictures to that accursed rubbish that is Facebook, including some of Paedo.
“I haven’t seen him in ages,” I said, “but seeing his face disgusted me.”
“He disgusted you?” Paul checked.
“No. Just seeing his face.”
“Did you feel this disgust for anyone in particular?”
“You’re trying to work out if I was repulsed by him or me, aren’t you? Well, the answer is neither. It was non-specific.”
I sighed and looked out the window. “Facebook has a lot to answer for,” I said to the pane of glass shimmering in front of me.
“So I’m quickly learning from all of my clients,” he responded disapprovingly.
He proceeded to observe me quietly for a minute or two, then commented that I seemed to be “feeling vulnerable”. I sheepishly admitted that I supposed I was.
“This is a dreadful thing to say,” I moaned, “but I wish he’d hurry up and just die. Not because I hate him, just because it would be more convenient for me.”
“That wouldn’t make things go away,” Paul opined.
“No,” I admitted. “And anyway, if he snuffed it then I suppose he’d be subject to John Lennon-Kurt Cobain Syndrome [my diagnosis for people who are 'merely' liked when alive but then reverently worshipped after their reasonably unexpected demise from this plane. I should ask the DSM-V research groups if they'd like to include it in their forthcoming manual, but then I don't suppose that tome applies particularly if you're dead.]. So maybe he shouldn’t die.”
“And what would the little girl [fuck fuck fuck] want?”
“Not to see him. On that point, she and I can agree.”
Paul screwed up his face in apparent perplexity. “What is it that makes you feel compelled to go to this thing? People have advised you against seeing [Paedo]. You clearly don’t want to go, and neither does A. You can’t stand half of the attendees. Why do you feel that you have no choice in this?”
I tried to defend myself on the grounds that they’re not all bad (which is true) and that I didn’t want to offend ScumFan, who’s one of the nice ones despite his poor choice of footballing allegiance, because he’s very fond of me and always looks forward to seeing me. When an opportunity for him to meet me comes up (within the very specific confines that his mother and grandparents allow – for example, God forbid he might drive to our house and see me there), apparently he becomes very excited – and if I then don’t show, whatever legitimate reasons I may have, the poor boy is left deflated and disappointed. (Incidentally, I have no idea why he looks up to me in this fashion. Both he and StudentMcF have done this throughout their lives, sometimes to the point of imitation – thus, unfairly but unsurprisingly, leading to my being irritated by their behaviour. Maybe it’s because I was what one might call ‘badass’ when we were all younger, and they found me entertaining. I don’t know).
“About a year ago, NewVCB specifically prohibited me from seeing Paedo,” I confessed. “I went anyway.”
“Why?” he pressed, exasperated. “So you like the young fella. Fine. Send him a card. Why do you have to go?!”
“Sooner or later I’ll run out of excuses to avoid these things. I’m already low on them. The fuckers will start asking questions. So either they’ll assume I’m just a piece of shit, or I’ll explode in desperation and just come out with it all – and I do not want to do that. So, in short – a large part of my obligation to go to this thing is to avoid arousing suspicion.”
“‘Nobody must know’,” he imitated. “‘I must not arouse suspicion’. You do indeed sound just like an abused child. You’re worried they’ll find out that you’re ‘bad’.”
This postulation irritated me, but I let him continue for a few minutes as he talked about me becoming the “container” for “everything bad” within the family. “If they find out, it’s you that made them feel bad, it’s you that made them face it, if you had just shut up, all would be well. And then – again – the child doesn’t get heard, even by yourself.”
“Look,” I said firmly, trying to make it clear to Paul that this just was the way it was, and that nothing would change my mind on the matter. “There are two people directly involved in this: me and Paedo. There are something like 22 other members of the family, and a lot more if you move out of the specific dynasty that Paedo heads. Thus, it’s a utilitarian thing. I don’t remain silent to protect myself, or even him: I remain silent to protect the majority.”
This seemed to anger Paul – I mean, I don’t think he was annoyed with me, but with them, which hardly seemed fair. He prattled on for a good while about how their reactions to finding out Paedo’s dark secret would be “their shit to deal with” and that it was him (Paedo) that would destroy the family if it came out, not me. All true, I suppose, but also all academic. If I have anything to do with it, they will not be finding out.
After a while he calmed down a bit and we had a more general conversation about Paedo. He talked (again) about the dichotomy between my rational position that I was an innocent kid versus my more strongly held view that I was a whore.
This reminded me of an incident. An incident for which I, not Paedo, was responsible. Even thinking about this makes me squirm, but through gritted teeth I managed to admit it to Paul, so I will admit it here too.
Maisie, Paedo and fuck knows how many of the others were at my mother’s house one day when I was about nine or so. Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was, for reasons that completely elude me, playing in the living room where, for reasons that also complete elude me, I was rolling around on the floor. Paedo was sitting beside my mother when the chorus came on; I looked at him enigmatically and sang along…replacing the word ‘fun’ with ‘sex’.
This nauseates me and makes me feel utterly filthy, and I cannot believe I have just admitted it on a public forum, even if it is one that is largely anonymous.
Paul accepted that the incident was probably not in keeping with the general behaviour of a nine year old – at least, not one around adults. But he continued with what you might expect – that even if my vile behaviour was felt to be through choice, in reality it wasn’t. It was a result of Paedo’s manipulation of me, of his abuse of me, and of the normalisation of all of that.
“You didn’t like any of it, did you?” he continued. “Remember, you felt like you were being stabbed. You started out not even knowing you had an orifice there – but quickly had to become intimately familiar with genital anatomy.”
This remark reminded me of the aforementioned colouring-in book in the waiting room. “I wish such a thing had been around in the mid-’80s,” I told him, alluding to it. “I had a vague knowledge of sex, certainly, but at five I didn’t understand the specific mechanics at all. I knew that it hurt and that it was horrifying psychologically, but I didn’t know it was specifically wrong. Something like that little book might have helped me.”
After another desultory conversation about the alleged stabbing/self-harm correlation, I suddenly said to him, “why do people fuck kids?” (Which, on reflection, seems like something of a stylisitic homage to the excellent blog Reasons You Shouldn’t Fuck Kids).
“I don’t understand it. It’s a stupid thing to do,” I added, perhaps rather naively.
Paul considered my question in chin-stroking silence for a few minutes. When he finally replied, he said, “I don’t think there can be any understanding. From an intellectual point of view, I can see how paedophiles find ways of allowing themselves to do it – they make you into a whore in their minds, for example, even though that’s obviously bollocks rationally. As for where the urge comes from, though…I really, truly do not know and cannot understand.”
“I know that any rape, whether of an adult or of a child, is essentially about power,” I mused. “But even so…what can possibly be sexually attractive about a child?! Was it something about me?” I paused. “Or was it even just me to whom it happened?!”
“It’s a scary question to contemplate,” he sympathised.
“Yes,” I replied wistfully. “It’s troubled me all along.”
“We have to finish,” he announced shortly after. “But would you agree that we’ve touched on some pretty deep stuff here?”
“I think you’re developing a touch more empathy for your child self. Why do people fuck kids? - I think that’s a very significant question. It rightfully puts the blame onto the abusers, rather than onto the child.”
I nodded again. “Yes,” I agreed. “I’m still plagued with self-doubt a lot, obviously, but I have more periods where my general position is ‘no, Pan, it wasn’t your fault. That’s significantly better than, say, a year ago where my setting was a blanket ‘you’re to blame, you’re to blame!’ one. I’ve not got rid of that entirely, but I have progressed from it.”
As we got up and he showed me to the door, Paul delivered that week’s parting gambit: “the line between the adult you and the child you is, little by little, becoming increasingly more blurred. We’re getting somewhere.”
It is a petrifying place to be, feeling what Aurora did (and does). But all in all, I think he’s right. Getting to that point is A Good Thing.