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.