The Amazon

Having had the go ahead from the surgeon to undertake the trip to the Amazon, I now needed to plan it.

I decided to go with Randall Adventure Training for my trip to the the Amazon. They’re an American company and are globally recognised as being one of the best jungle survival training companies in the world.

I called my friend Guy, who I met on the Arctic survival course and asked if he fancied a trip to the Amazon, “Yes!” he replied, so we booked our places and went for it.

Here’s a link to their latest course:

2017 Jungle Course

Mike and Jeff who run the company are hugely experienced and have travelled and explored much of South America.

This really was a survival course, we took no food, no water, no spare clothes or shelter. We had a fantastic time; it was a real challenge and I couldn’t believe I was there! In the Amazon! Only 2 years ago I could hardly walk and now I was chopping my way through the jungle.

At the end of the 10 day course, I had literally hundreds of bites, in fact, the instructors had never seen anyone bitten so much and my back appeared in an American survival magazine! What fame! I put it down to having British blood, so much more appealing than American.

Making a jungle bed

There were many highlights, seeing and holding a boa and a sloth, building jungle beds, firelighting in the torrential rain, learning to use a machete, drinking from a water vine, seeing a myriad of insects, “simply” experiencing the jungle and while floating down the Amazon, on our personal homemade rafts, having fresh water dolphins come up and swim along side us.

But, what I truly learnt from this course, is to say “yes” to things that come your way, and…not to simply wait for those things to happen, but to make them happen! I could have put so many barriers and reasons for not going; my mental health, my abuse, my spinal injury, money, time away from work and family. I took a huge leap of faith and had a wonderful and life changing experience.

I am blessed with having a really supportive wife, family and colleagues, who rather than put obstacles in the way, encouraged me to go (but, maybe they really just needed a break from me! 🙂 ).

People ask me what is the thing I find most scary and frightening on expeditions; the answer is simple; the flying. I simply hate flying.

I am delighted that through my work, I have been able to go on to use these experiences and talk to community groups and schools and show that you do not need to be super human to undertake these types of challenges and hopefully inspire other people to follow their dreams.

 

 

 

Post Op Challenge? How about the Amazon Jungle?

The surgery on my back was more complex than first planned and the operation took over 8 hours.

It was a bit of a roller coaster for the next few days; pain control medication was chopped and changed and I was fitted for a corset which I wore daily for the next 3 months. The OT’s had me walking the day after the operation and going up and down stairs the day after.

The operation was a success. I needed to do daily exercises and keep to a sensible amount of exercise, but in less than 6 months I was virtually pain free and was sledging in the snow with my 2 boys.

There has been irreparable nerve damage; I have a degree of numbness in my left leg and occasional pain in my hip, but I cannot thank Mr Blackman enough for such a phenomenal success; it was far beyond what I could have ever imagined or hoped for.

It seems strange now, that just after having such a positive result with the operation that I went into a deep depression about what I had not achieved during my life. This lasted several months, but I was not going to let this new opportunity go; I needed to do something that I had always wanted to do and started thinking about all the places I wanted to visit or the things I wanted to achieve.

I was very aware that I needed to let my back heal properly and that the convalescent period was 2 years. On my last appointment with my surgeon, I asked him if he felt it was okay for me to go to the Amazon jungle to undertake a survival course.

“Yes”, was his answer.

(Sorry for the lateness in updating the blog, had an illness in the family).

“Did you know you’ve broken your back?”

Greenpath Ventures was doing tremendously well, referrals were coming in, we had built up a really good solid relationship with our funders, I remember one in particular, who said we were “inspirational and one of the best projects they had ever funded”. We had even found a permanent home for our bushcraft courses!

We had been so lucky to find Ivy Farm on Mersea Island, 50 beautiful acres at the mouth of the Colne Estuary and Ralph the owner couldn’t have been more supportive and encouraging. After a couple of months of seeing what we did he even decided to join us as a trustee!

I had a history of back trouble and noticed it was becoming increasingly difficult to walk any distance. Following the trip to the Arctic, I knew I was in serious trouble.

I was now always in pain and finding it more and more problematic to walk even short distances, just 30 meters would seem to take forever. Any bending was agony, I couldn’t carry or lift anything, I had pins and needles and constant sciatica down my left leg.

The first doctor dismissed it as a pulled muscle and examined the wrong side. I changed my doctor. There was a dramatic difference. My new GP, took me seriously and immediately started to investigate the cause of the pain.

I had X-rays, MRI scans (the first of which was lost), several lots of physio. The physio didn’t help so I was referred to the pain clinic. I was now given spinal injections, more physio, a T.E.N.s machine and my pain medication was increased; I was now on morphine patches, Subutex as well as codeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen and heat packs, all with no avail. I was totally exhausted from the medication and being in pain.

Finally, I was referred to a spinal surgeon, Mr Blackman at Colchester General Hospital.

“Did you know you’ve broken your back?”, my consultant asked and then continued. “You really have 2 options; stay on the medication to manage your pain, but which will have to increase in time or to have surgery to fuse your lower spine”.

“If I don’t have the surgery what will be the prognosis?”, I asked.

“To be honest, you’ll most probably end up in a wheelchair and be on pain medication for the rest of your life”.

That came as a thunderbolt, “Okay, if I have surgery, I expect that will be a fairly small operation and most likely be key hole won’t it?” I asked hopefully.

“No, it’s a major operation, we’ll open you right up. First we’ll go through  your stomach and pin your spine from the inside, then flip you over, open your back up and do the same again. You’ll also be given a bone graft. It will take about 5 hours and it will take about 2 years to recuperate fully.”

spinal-fusion
Spinal cage
Image result
Bit like mine, but I’ve got screws front and back.

“Right”, I squeaked in reply.

“I have to tell you about the possible side effects” the consultant continued, “although they are rare, they could include; death, incontinence, impotence, paraplegia, a permanent limp, drop foot and nerve damage”.

I didn’t really have a choice I thought, I could hardly walk now, running GV was becoming impossible. I decided to go for the surgery.

Greenpath Ventures; “Inspirational” and “Visionary”

The cost of mental health problems to the economy in England is estimated to be ÂŁ105 billion a year.

Centre for Mental Health (2011), The Economic and Social Costs of Mental Health Problems in 2009/10.

Greenpath Ventures

Greenpath Ventures (GV) works with many professionals and organisations, who simply “get it!”; being outside and involved with nature is good for both your mental and physical health. Here’s some further information to confirm it! MIND Ecotherapy.

However, it’s also very sad to say, the idea of offering people with mental health issues the opportunity to undertake bushcraft is not meet with enthusiasm on all sides! When we first started out and people asked what the individuals would be doing on our bushcraft days, and I explained; “firelighting, foraging, learning to use cutting tools, archery and maybe even shooting”, quite a few professionals were very skeptical and sometimes even hostile.

Here’s an example of some of the things that were said to me:

  • “The activities are too dangerous for them; you can’t let mental patients use knives and fire”
  • “They have a history of arson, so don’t show them how to start fires”
  • “We (as in the clinical staff) are responsible for them, they can’t come, they may have an accident”
  • “We (as in the clinical staff) have to look after them and ensure they are safe”
  • “They self harm, so shouldn’t be shown how to use knives or axes”
  • “They have mental health problems, what would happen if people heard they had been shooting airguns?”

Now, I do understand some of the concerns and the reasoning behind some of these statements; I tried to explain that everything we did was under supervision and that we carried out risk assessments for every session, but sadly in the minds of some professionals, clients with  mental health issues could not be trusted enough to attend our courses.

This smacks to me of sheer blatant discrimination against adults who actually have “mental capacity”!

The MCA says:

  • Everyone has the right to make his or her own decisions. Health and care professionals should always assume an individual has the capacity to make a decision themselves, unless it is proved otherwise through a capacity assessment.
  • Individuals must be given help to make a decision themselves. This might include, for example, providing the person with information in a format that is easier for them to understand. 
  •  Just because someone makes what those caring for them consider to be an “unwise” decision, they should not be treated as lacking the capacity to make that decision. Everyone has the right to make their own life choices, where they have the capacity to do so.

The clients wanted to come, we were having fantastic feedback and the outcomes were exactly what clinicians would want. People were saying they felt responsible and trusted, it was improving their confidence & self-esteem and their mental health was improving. Regularly, people were saying our courses should be offered by the NHS as they were helping so much. How awful, that regardless of all these positives, people were often being denied the opportunity to attend because of the preconceived ideas of some health care professionals. So much for all the hyperbole of “client led services”.

This also smacks, to me, of encouraging “learnt helplessness”; when clients were on our courses professionals would continue to treat them as incapable of looking after themselves, telling them to put their jackets on because it was raining. How was this approach helping people learn to become more responsible for themselves? People were often being treated as helpless and this is itself disempowering. Very simply; we treated people like adults and they responded as adults.

Nevertheless, GV was on a role! Including going into schools we were working with over 1,000 people per year, everything was going well. We had been members of ATTEND, from our very beginning and we were invited to be a showcase project at their AGM at Westminster Palace, London.

Funders and partners were describing our charity as “visionary” and “inspirational”.

Unfortunately, I was about to get some bad news which would dramatically affect GV.

Please take a look at our website and “like” us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/greenpathventures/

Moving On

In 2012/13 there were 23,663 recorded sexual offences against children across the whole of the UK.

In 2006, HEAL was awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service and several of us were invited to Buckingham Palace for tea with the Queen.

qavs_logo
Awarded to HEAL, 2006

Our service was saving the statutory services a fortune and the irony, that while the NHS, including Psychiatrists & Psychologists and Social Services were regularly making referrals to us, we were receiving no funding from them and were struggling financially. The cost of our entire service would be similar to the salary of one senior nurse.

The ever increasing demand and growing waiting list and being a parent was beginning to tell on my mental health.

Professionals often state that between 3-5 years is the maximum you should work solidly without a break in the survivor field. I had now been at HEAL for 9 years and my entire workload was abuse. I knew it was time to find something new, I was beginning to feel burnt out.

It was tremendously difficult to tell the members of my decision to leave. I gave plenty of notice and we worked on loss and abandonment a great deal.

I feel huge pride in the work the members, volunteers, trustees and myself did at HEAL. The courage shown by our members was awe inspiring and I felt highly privileged in working with those survivors and in the programme we developed together.

I was totally speechless and crumpled when it was announced that they had clubbed together to have a star named after me. I felt so humbled that these heroic people would think that much of me, to do something so special.

My Star, John Wills: Taurus 5h25m01s =24degrees57'36"
My Star, John Wills: Taurus 5h25m01s =24degrees57’36”

I had been thinking for some time what I could do if I was to move away from Survivor work. I had always loved nature and the outdoors. In my childhood and youth, I had used nature to escape from the abuse and regularly visited Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes. I would often see Kingfishers, Herons, Foxes and (the non-native and irresponsibly released) Red-eared Terrapins on my journeys.

I began to think, if I had used nature to help in my healing, then maybe others could also benefit. This was confirmed to me one day at a HEAL session. People were really low and we began to discuss things we had achieved or always wanted to do, many of the ideas revolved around experiencing nature and before long peoples moods changed dramatically. Just talking about nature was helping!

The idea for Greenpath Ventures began to develop.

I discussed the idea about starting a new charity offering bushcraft and other outdoor activities to adults with mental health issues with a few colleagues and friends, and to my utter disbelief, people thought it was a great idea!

I embarked on Bushcraft Insturctor Training at Plumpton College in East Sussex, passed the course and we formed Greenpath Ventures. I also wanted to further my experience of the outdoors and undertook Arctic Survival training in Sweden.

Me in the Arctic
Me in the Arctic

We formally launched Greenpath Ventures as a registered charity at Essex County Hall in May 2008.

gvlogo

Parenting as a Survivor; Sadness and Loss

This is the hardest and saddest post I’ve ever written.

baby_boy_crawling

I was so happy finding out I was to be a dad; completely over the moon; something I had always thought I wouldn’t do. As any parent to be, I had nerves and anxiety, but my past abuse didn’t matter when Yvonne was carrying our child.

For many of the survivors I have worked with, being a parent is full of ambivalence and fear. Some battle with the need to protect their own children, while not wanting to upset them in the slightest. Some survivors find it difficult to relate to the role of parenting; after all what blueprint do they have to work from? If you’re a parent, where did you learn your parenting from? If the guidance you have been given is fundamentally flawed through abuse, what do you use? Many survivors have huge confusion over the necessary and appropriate boundaries to give a child.

The reality is a large number of survivors I have been involved with, take the decision not to have children at all; they either feel they can’t be good enough parents or don’t want to bring another child into the world to suffer. Please re-read that sentence and pause for a moment; just how sad is that? Through being a victim of a crime in childhood, they do not feel good enough to be a parent or view the world as so bad, they don’t want to bring another human being into it.

I had had years of support and counselling and was running workshops on Recovery, I thought I had looked at everything and was done with my own work. Out of the blue my world was rocked, I discovered my own recovery was not complete; the hardest and saddest part was still to come. Being a parent meant I was responsible for these 2 vulnerable children, I felt inadequate, could I look after them, keep them safe, when I hadn’t even manged to do it for myself?

Once again, my abuser was able to reach out and hurt me and influence my life. Being a parent had made me vulnerable and, as with my father, it was through a relationship with someone else, that he managed to get through.

Bubbles, Fun and Laughter?
Bubbles, Fun and Laughter?

A parents involvement with their child at bath time should be bubbles, fun and laughter. For me it was fear, anxiety and horror. It meant flashbacks of the abuse and what he did to me in the bath and the photos he took. I tried, but I never managed to bath my own children, it was too painful.

I can’t describe how sad this makes me feel, I actually have tears writing this; he actually affected my relationship with my children; that is something I cannot forgive him for. I was still paying the price for being a victim of abuse.

Looking at my own children enjoying their childhood and innocence and then going to work and hearing stories of people abusing children the same age as my own, began to take it’s toll. As my children grew up and became closer to the age I was when the abuse started, I started realising just how little and innocent I was when the abuse took place.

I then had to face yet another loss; the loss of enjoyment in watching and experiencing my children grow up without the ever invasive shadow of my own abuse impacting on the experience.

It was at this time, I knew I needed to break from survivor work for a while.

New Start?

Sexual abuse statistics vary between countries and reports, but are consistently alarming: Research indicates that up to 36% of girls and 29% of boys have suffered child sexual abuse; up to 46% girls and 20% boys have experienced sexual coercion.

(The 57th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights)

We left London with a huge sense of relief, moving away would give us the chance to start again without many of the old ghosts.

I secured a role working for the NHS in administration and also became a volunteer on a crisis helpline.

I remember being interviewed for the telephone role and I was asked if I had any personal history of mental health. I began explaining what had happened, “I don’t understand why any child would keep abuse a secret”, was my interviewers response. “Wow!” Not a great start I thought. Thankfully, this person was the exception and my colleagues on the helpline were a tremendous group of people.

Shortly after this I saw an article in the local paper regarding a community group looking for volunteers to help with a support group for adult survivors.

The group was called, HEAL (Helping Everyone Abused Live) and was kindly given the use of a room by the local MIND. At that time it may have been the first and only group in the UK to work with men and women together, regardless of the the type of abuse suffered. I called, an interview was arranged and I was taken on.

 heal
 HEAL, Helping Everyone Abuse Live

The first meeting was very memorable, I was the only man in the room with about 5 women and was viewed with a huge amount of suspicion and even a little hostility. “Why do you want to volunteer?”; I was challenged immediately, when I said that  I had been abused myself, the atmosphere changed completely. “It must have been worse for you, being a man” was the response. “Not worse, but maybe different”, I responded.

HEAL offered a weekly support group where people came and shared what was happening with them and how they felt. For a number of reasons, the Co-ordinator left and we held a crisis meeting. It was put to me; “Unless you can take it on, the group will have to fold”. I had never trained in group work or led many sessions, but couldn’t see these survivors left with no support, so I took on the role.

The first thing I did was to ask the members what they wanted and needed.They felt the weekly support group was not working and that they wanted to have some direction and focus to the sessions. Jointly, we set up a monthly schedule, with different activities such as discussion groups on topics decided on by the members. Over time this gradually developed into more and more structured workshops and the open support group was actually dropped by the members themselves.

We struggled with low numbers for sometime, then suddenly, numbers began to increase and at times we would not have enough chairs, with people needing to sit on tables. Now men came as well and we were working at maximum capacity.

We needed to make the decision to expand. We became a registered charity, secured more funding and opened our own premises.

tudor_house

Tudor House, the home of HEAL

Momentum continued to gather; we were now also actively involved in training staff from other agencies in working with survivors.We went from one group a week to four, which included a drop in, a Carers/Supporters Group and a Creative group, which culminated in having our own exhibition.

We now had a 2 year waiting list to join our groups, with nearly 120 people on it at anyone time.

HEAL Creative Exhibition, Colchester 2006

HEAL Creative Exhibition, Colchester 2006

…and paraphrasing, the immortal words of Ernie Wise, here’s a poem “what I wrote” for the exhibition:

didtheangles

Personally, my life was also about to change, as I discovered I was going to be a father!

Knawing Self-Doubt

Worldwide, approximately 40 million children below the age of 15 are subjected to child abuse each year.

(World Health Organization (WHO) 2001)

I started training to become a therapist, but felt a fraud. Could someone as damaged as I had been really become a counsellor or psychotherapist? The old feelings of not being good enough started to creep back in and undermine me.

Despite all the positive feedback I had from the tutors I had nagging doubts which I took to my counsellor. He said he saw the qualities I needed in me and that even if I couldn’t trust myself, maybe, I could trust the trust others had in me. So I borrowed that for a while and continued.

I felt I needed to talk to one of my tutors openly about my reservations and doubts about myself. I disclosed my abuse and ongoing battle with the depression and OCD. The tutor said these issues should not prevent me becoming a therapist and that he had had the same history and conditions. For a while a huge weight was taken off my shoulders, I could do this I started to say to myself. I completed my 2 year Psychotherapy Certificate with a merit. 

The doubts remained; I felt I needed more training and continued adding one more course after another. Always dismissing the last one I had obtained, “If I had managed to get it, then it couldn’t be that good or useful” I kept telling myself. The ruminations of self-doubt and lack of self-belief continued to haunt me. I had proven time and time again that I was capable of passing academic and vocational training, why then did this self-doubt persist? 

I feel this is one of the more insidious aspects of abuse, the ongoing lack of innate core self-belief & self-value and not placing any value in what you achieve. Always striving for something external to provide that recognition or affirmation that you are achieving or are “good enough”. 

I sincerely hope the above does not simply sound like me whining away; the reality for many survivors is that these negative core beliefs continue to operate long after the abuse has finished. They have become part of our identity. We have held onto them for years and they were instrumental in our development into adulthood.

My counselling had come to an end and had helped me enormously, but now I needed more than ever to take what I had learnt from that process, live it, believe it and continue to claw back everything that had been taken away from me.

I had believed that completing the counselling would have meant completely recovering from abuse and that I would have no issues left. What I hadn’t appreciated was that I would need to continue with the battles for many more years. There was more work to do and it seemed that many of the issues would only be dealt with through time and perseverance.   

I also came to the conclusion that recovery doesn’t flow in the one positive direction; you bounce back and forward, from victim to survivor to thriver to victim. 

This is true for everyone, regardless of being abused or not; everyone has victim days;

“Why did I chose this shopping aisle?…. The other ones are always faster” 
“Why is it always the motorway lane that I’m in that gets congested?”
“This always happens to me!”.

I often use the following diagram to see what voice is talking in my head.

vst

It was during this period that it became clearer to me and my girlfriend that we were not happy at all living in London, I was still bumping into old friends (and their habits), it was the right time for us to move away and rebuild our lives.

From Victim to Survivor

Survivor as Abuser Myth
“The victim to victimizer theory of sexual abuse receives repeated attention in the professional and popular literature.
It appears that in the mind of the public and unfortunately in the minds of some professionals, all offenders are victims and being a victim is a direct cause of sexual abuse.”Murphy and Smith, 1996
Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators who report being sexually abused as children typically range from 20-30%.(Hanson & Slater, 1988; Freund, Watson & Dickey, 1990; Murphy & Smith, 1996)  
Contrary to popular belief the majority of CSA Perpetrators have not been sexually abused.
 
“Childhood Sexual Abuse” An Evidence Based Perspective 
(Fergusson & Mullen, Sage 1999)

The counselling looked at every aspect of my life and it became clearer and clearer to me that my identity and the way I lived my life was as a victim. I was still living with the fear of being abused and in fear of my abuser.

I came to realise that the abuse had fundamentally distorted my development as a person; I had grown up as someone who needed to protect themselves from, rather than enjoy, the world. The abuse meant I saw people and situations firstly as potential threats, I had grown up being always hyper-vigilant and constantly on the defensive. Living this way was exhausting.

The longer the counselling went on the angrier I became, the sense of injustice and wrong that was done to me finally surfaced.

The next stage was, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the process.

I had given back the responsibility of the abuse and no longer felt shame or guilt over what had been done to me, I had accepted and now knew that what he did was abuse and was wrong, I even had the embers of self-worth. What came next was to look at loss and to grieve for what I had lost and for what might have been.

It took some time for me to gather the courage to even begin to think about what the abuse had cost me. Below are just some of the issues I needed to acknowledge and grieve over:

  • Loss of childhood
  • Loss of innocence
  • Loss of naivety
  • Loss of opportunities for happy memories
  • Loss of some memory
  • Loss of opportunity to develop a natural curiosity about the world
  • Loss of opportunity to enjoy the world, rather than fear it
  • Loss of healthy social interaction without suspicion and fear
  • Loss of nurturing relationship with self
  • Loss of innate Self-trust
  • Loss of innate Self-belief
  • Loss of innate Self-worth 
  • Loss of opportunity to develop my sexuality naturally
  • Loss of relationships, including that of my father
  • Loss of time and energy spent on the abuse, rather than on positive things 
  • Loss of education and improved work prospects
  • Loss of opportunities 

This was a period of huge sadness. I cried a great deal. I grieved.

How could I get all these losses back? The simple answer; I couldn’t; I had to let them go.

I also came to the conclusion that my recovery could not be based on regaining the specifics of what I had lost, but to reclaim the essence of them.

I could and would build my self-worth, self-trust, self-belief
I could and would build better and healthier relationships for myself
I could and would go back to college and educate myself
I could and would make new opportunities for myself
I could and would learn to enjoy the world and be less fearful.

I was moving on from being a victim of abuse to a survivor.

I began to think about life after the counselling and what I could do. Throughout my life people had seemed to trust me and I was a regular confidante for family and friends. My abuser had given the reason for abusing me as being too nice and too caring. Perhaps, I thought, I could also reclaim these qualities and use them in a positive way to help others overcome the issues they faced, I talked this through with my counsellor, who agreed.

I took the decision to start training as a therapist.

The Counselling

“Research continues to indicate a concerning number of children and youth, between 60–80%, withhold disclosure until adulthood suggesting that many children endure prolonged victimization or never receive necessary intervention.”  Ramona Alaggia, 2010.

My plan of 6 weeks of counselling, fell apart very quickly.

It was only when someone had been willing to listen to me that I realised just how much I needed to talk. The first 6 weeks flashed by and we had the review; both my counsellor and myself agreed to continue for as long as I required.

I cannot stress enough just how important it was to my recovery to be in control of how long I needed. So often now counselling is time limited, often JUST 6 weeks. This approach is so dis-empowering, immediately the survivor has the control taken from them and they are once again faced with little or no choice and control.

I know resources are limited, but to ask victims of abuse to open up and reach some level of resolution with such limited interaction is almost always asking too much. I also know that many services are unable to offer longer due to rationing, but there must be a better way. I am also often puzzled why people come up with arbitrary number of weeks, why 6, 10 or 12 weeks? Recovery for survivors MUST be led by them,recovery is about EMPOWERMENT and that means giving the victim CHOICE, CONTROL and POWER over their own future.

I was warned by my counsellor that things often get worse before they get better during the process and he was right. Revisiting the abuse opened me up more than I could have ever imagined.

Flashbacks increased. For those of you who are unaware, flashbacks are not just recalling memories, it’s much more like reliving them, you are not in the present, but back in the actual abuse. I also recovered more memories of being violated and that indecent photos had been taken of me. How had these been used? Who had seen them? Where were they shown? Just how much more there was to come I just did not know or if I could cope.

The old defence mechanisms started to kick in; minimizing the abuse and it’s effects. I tried to rationalise the past; “I had deserved what had happened”, but my counsellor would not relent; he threw challenge after challenge at me. “What would I say to another victim who had said the same thing?”…”Why then am I saying something different to myself?”.

What became clear was that my abuse and therefore my abuser was still in control of my life and that I was still living in fear and as a victim.

I can recall very easily a piece of homework I was given:

“I want you to do something nice for yourself”, the Counsellor said.
“Okay, I can do that”, my reply.
“…now the tricky part..”, my Counsellor continued”…not because I’ve asked you, but just because you’re worth it and for no other reason.”

I went back the following week having  been unable to do it. I didn’t deserve anything, simply for the reason I felt worthless and was full of self loathing; I even despised the child I had been and thought of him as pathetic and weak.

I desperately needed to give back the responsibility and the blame to the abuser. The guilt I had carried for the abuse was not mine, it was his. The shame I had been carrying for all these years, was not mine it was his .

As this process went on, the anger at being burdened with these issues and the injustice grew, I struggled with these feelings, they seemed overwhelming. In the past I had released or suppressed them with drinking/drugs or self-harming, but I was no longer willing to use these strategies and I wanted and needed to face these demons.

I didn’t realise it, but thanks to the the counselling, I was beginning to gain self-worth for the first time. I hadn’t deserved the abuse; what was done to me, was wrong.

My counsellor helped me understand that the “little me”, the abused child, had done the very best he could at the time, with what he had and that rather than hate him, he needed my love and understanding. “What would you say to him now, if you had him standing in front of you?”, my Counsellor asked. I collapsed into tears of sadness and pride at the courage that little boy had shown; protecting his own Mother, Father and family from the truth and in carrying the burden of the abuse all on his own, for so long.

This was a time of great confusion, all the old messages and lies I had been living with no longer rang true. What was I left with? It challenged my actual identity; if I was no longer going to be a victim of abuse, who was I?