Monthly Archives: August 2014

My Story: Part 1 ***TRIGGER WARNING***

It’s hard to know where to start with this, there is so much that it overwhelms me & it will probably overwhelm you. But I’m not keeping this blog to tip toe round the truth. So I’ll just lay it out as simply as possible. Please note that this will contain graphic references to abuse & violence, so please do what you need to keep yourself safe. Before I start I also want to make it clear that I am unable to be certain as to exactly what age I was when certain things happened or to the chronology. This is perfectly in line with how our memories of childhood work & in particular with the way the brain processes traumatic memory.

I was physically, sexually & emotionally abused from the age of 3 (& neglected from being a baby) to the year 2006 when I was 26. My abusers were my step-mother, my step-brother & worst of all, my father. 

My mother died when I was 2 (that’s another blog post) & my step-mother initially came on the scene as the live-in nanny, as my father worked long hours away from home. She started abusing me right from the outset. I didn’t understand why she hated me so much, what I was doing wrong. She hit me & verbally abused me. She emotionally abused me, making me believe I was bad & it was all my fault, that I was somehow rotten to the core. Even at such a young age these beliefs penetrated to the heart of me & I have carried them into adulthood. She liked to use food as a form of abuse – I was quite a sickly child & I had difficulties with eating. She would make me sit at the table until I finished everything in front of me, but she would deliberately give me food I couldn’t tolerate. She would force-feed me until I was sick & then make me eat the vomit. She would force me to eat raw meat or dog food, or to eat out of a dog bowl on the floor.  I have ended up with a lifetime of problems with food, from EDNOS to bulimia to overeating. 

She was an extremely violent woman & she took advantage of any chance to punish me, no matter how absurd it was, such as saying that I had been looking at her “the wrong way” or that I had “talked back” to her – as if I would dare!  As I got older the level of violence increased. She would beat me with a leather belt, with a riding whip & even with a metal ruler used for DIY. I was covered in red wheals (luckily most have healed).  She would lock me in a dark closet for hours at a time as a punishment, knowing I was terrified of the dark. She would starve me for up to two days at a time.  One time when I was around 7 I was doing the dishes & she said I’d not cleaned one of the knives properly. She very calmly then tipped a kettle of boiling water over my hands as punishment. I know you might be wondering whether I went to a doctor or the hospital with injuries & the answer is no, never. She had been a highly trained nurse so was able to tend to any injuries herself, kind of ironic I know.  She had a particular love of grabbing me by my hair & pulling me down to the ground by it, then dragging me along or hitting my head off whatever was handy. She drowned me several times to the point of unconsciousness & brought me back; I am now *terrified* of having my head under water, even the shower can make me panicky.  She controlled everything to the extreme, right down to whether I could go to the toilet or not.  I had to ask for permission, which was often refused, If she caught me trying to sneak to the toilet she would beat me for it. If I was even 1 minute “late” home from school I would be punished. At her worst she tried to kill me on several occasions, strangling me until I lost consciousness & throwing me hard down the stairs (so I could die like me “filthy bitch of a mother”). 

The violence was one thing, but I think the emotional & mental abuse was actually worse. She constantly told me that I was nothing but a piece of shit, that I was worthless, that I was unlovable. She poured poison all over me with her hatred.  She called me spawn of the devil; it might sound ludicrous but if you tell that daily to a young child then they’ll believe it.  She would tell me that I had ruined her life, that she had sacrificed everything to come & look after me.  Nothing I did or said was acceptable so I constantly tried to second guess her, to predict what *might* please her, but it was impossible. I believed her that I was rotten to the core, that it was all my fault, that I was a bad child – the truth is you couldn’t meet a more obedient, well behaved child, considering that I was living in terror.  She was extremely manipulative, giving me presents only to take them off me when I was “bad”, being loving & kind only to change in the flash of an eye.   I learnt never to trust a good moment, to always expect the worst.   

She didn’t allow me any of the normalities of childhood.  I wasn’t allowed friends over or to go over to theirs (not that I had any friends). I wasn’t allowed to join any of the groups for kids – one time when she & my father were away on holiday, I was looked after by my great-aunt, who thoughtfully let me join the Brownies, obviously thinking this would help my total lack of confidence. As soon as they came back from holiday my step-mother took me out of the Brownies, saying I didn’t “deserve” to be in it. I was gutted.  I wasn’t even allowed to go to birthday parties or school events.  This in part led to me being severely bullied because I was so different to the other kids.  I think this gives you a snapshot of what she was like. 

From the very beginning of her living with us I was told to call her mum. In fact I didn’t know she wasn’t my real mum until I was about 8yrs old.  She went from being the live-in nanny to becoming my father’s lover almost right away. She knew she was onto a good thing, she was a struggling single mother & he was a wealthy, handsome, charming man that could provide for her & her children.  And in her he fulfilled his needs as well.  I had no importance in any of this.  But the point is that she was in a powerful position from the start.  My father knew from the outset how she treated me, but didn’t care (more on that later) & allowed her free reign to “discipline” me in whatever way she saw fit, after all she was my “mum”. 

She abused me right up until I left “home” to go to University, & even after that she continued to emotionally abuse me until I finally got the strength to cut contact with her.  The hard truth is she was the only mother I had & I loved her, was bonded to her, in spite of everything. It broke my heart that she didn’t love me. I did everything I could think of to try & win her affections, but of course nothing worked. The rare times that she was loving I clung to like a drowning person to a life-raft.  I have struggled with feeling anger directed at myself instead of at her, where it belongs, but thankfully that has been changing.  There is so much more I could say about her, about things she did, but this post is quite long enough now!       

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Trouble Adjusting

I have just become a full-time (when I’m out) wheelchair user. This is something I have resisted for a long long time. Truthfully I should have been using it for probably the last 3 years, but instead I resisted it & either stayed in – which was most of the time – or forced myself to walk despite the massive level of pain that would cause, followed by being crippled, often for days. I resisted because I felt embarrassed about needing the wheelchair, I was in denial about how bad my mobility had become & I was just being sheer bloody-minded!  I kept telling myself that if I went out that it was better to force myself to walk than use the chair, that I was maintaining some level of mobility this way.  In fact I was just delaying the inevitable at considerable cost to myself.

Finally I realised that there was no avoiding it anymore. I actually wanted to get out. It’s the Edinburgh Festival & my OH & I try to see a fair few shows. We didn’t bother for years but last year I decided we should make an effort & we ended up seeing a lot of really great shows. The downside was that I was frequently crippled with pain from walking & struggling to manage more than a tiny shuffle of a walk a lot of the time, it was so bad. It definitely put a dampener on things.  So this year I very reluctantly decided to accept that I would have to use the wheelchair.  On a lot of levels this has been a godsend. I’ve been able to get out & have a social life almost like an able bodied person & my pain levels have been much much more manageable now I’m not forcing myself to walk.

But it’s also been very challenging.  I feel really quite distressed that I have now lost even more of my independence. I am extremely reliant on my OH in many ways & I feel bad about that. It’s hard trying to come to terms with the fact that my physical health has deteriorated year on year & that the wheelchair will probably become a permanent fixture in my life.  I can’t even self-propel much because my wrists & shoulders partially dislocate & cause a lot of pain.  I have to be pushed, so even less independence.  I’m 34 & it’s hard to be reliant on someone else.

I feel vulnerable & exposed in the wheelchair. People frequently stare, presumably wondering what’s wrong with me & I’ve seen people whispering to each other about me. I know I should just ignore it & not let it bother me, but I feel like I’m suddenly so different to the “norm”, that I’m a sideshow. I know it’s silly but it triggers my social phobia quite a lot & makes me feel anxious. Thankfully I feel reasonably safe because my OH is with me & he would protect me fiercely if necessary, but I definitely don’t feel comfortable. I’m hoping it gets easier in time. Feeling vulnerable is very triggering for me, reminding me of how I felt growing up.

It’s such bloody hard work too. For some reason people seem to find me invisible, trying to walk through me as if I were invisible – I’ve had a few folk nearly end up in my lap! Others cut in front forcing my OH to come to an abrupt stop & me to nearly fall out the chair (I should wear the belt!). Edinburgh has three times its usual population at the moment due to the Edinburgh Festival & the crowds are an absolute nightmare. It really is like the Zombie Apocalypse has hit Edinburgh, you can barely move for people. That’s stressful enough as an able bodied person but as a wheelchair user it’s extremely intimidating as well as physically very challenging to get through. And people always try & shove in front of us or won’t let us through. I try to be polite & pleasant to people but sometimes I get really annoyed at them.

The biggest difficulty I’m having being a new wheelchair user is my OH is totally stressed out by it & hates it with a vengeance. He gets anxious & angry about the crowds, about crossing roads where the crossing doesn’t give enough time, about potholes & broken paving slabs, about sloping pavements that cause me to nearly tip into the road or into a parked car. He is fiercely protective of me & worries constantly that someone or something is going to cause me to get hurt. He says he dreads it each day we go out. He finds it incredibly hard to cope with the way people can be so ignorant & this has lead to him shouting at a few people which isn’t so good. He has depression & anxiety & social phobia, so all of this is extraordinarily challenging for him. He admitted to me that he also finds it embarrassing; not me but the chair itself makes him feel self-conscious, which is something that distresses him a lot. I have to admit I got quite upset at this, asking him what the heck I’m meant to do, not go out? He assured me that he loves that I can get out with him, he just isn’t coping with the wheelchair itself. He said the other night that he was sick of it, that the wheelchair was “taking over”.

I don’t know what I can do to make things less stressful for him, short of becoming housebound again, which is not an option. I don’t want him to feel sick with dread, to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, to be so stressed out. I would do anything to change things, to be able to walk again, but things are what they are. I’ve told him that he has to find a way to stay calm, for his own sake (& for the sake of the general public’s shins & ankles!!) or he’ll make himself ill over it. His difficulties with it have triggered me a lot, causing me to feel like a burden, to feel extremely guilty for being so dependent on him & to feel unworthy of help. I know in my heart that he does not mean to hurt me, he has told me as much time & time again, but he’ll blurt out a negative comment about the chair & we’re back to square one. I am hoping that when the Festival ends at the end of the month, the city will go back to normal – in fact it’s usually pretty dead post Festival – & at that point we’ll both be able to adjust & move forward, literally & metaphorically.In the meantime I’ll do my best to get us both focusing on the positives of seeing shows, of being out together.