This is a sticky post for new visitors to my page, who are possibly survivors who’ve had no help at all and may be in a bad way, searching for help.
I am Eva Louise, a front line charity worker and survivor of 15 years’ abuse – I’m the person who might answer the helpline or ring you back when you contact a charity for the first time, and these are my pointers for survivors who are only just seeking help.
I believe that it IS possible to set the issue of child abuse to rest once and for all, but it takes time and work. It won’t just ‘go away’ because it is a big deal and a serious matter, but it CAN be made better.
What do I have to do?
- Talk about it – every time. When you get upset, when you are reminded, when it comes up, let it out. Either talk directly to someone (Samaritans, counsellor, trauma advice service) or write it down. If you needed to sick up bad food, you would allow yourself to do it – similarly, find a way to get bad feelings out. If you can remember the attack or the incidents, talk about them in detail and get it out into the light of day. It is OK to do this, it is a huge relief and crying / getting angry is natural and normal. Get into it – say how unfair it was, how wrong, how sad, how much it has cost you. Don’t keep it inside – express the loss and believe in it.
- Find comfort – when you have finished, wrap up somewhere and expect to be haggard and worn out. Be gentle, don’t expect too much, let the little things go. Think about what a good person you are, how you didn’t deserve it, how wrong has been done to you, not the other way round. You are the good guy in all of this, no matter what’s happened.
- Know that in the beginning there is a lot of this – it just comes up out of the blue, needs dealing with and then we feel terrible for a few days until it fades away again. But it always comes back. It comes back because one crying session isn’t enough to answer to the depth of the trauma. Never second guess it – just answer the knock at the door and let a bit more out. In this way, more will go away in time. If you don’t let it out, it will not go away and will just keep knocking. (I learnt this in residential work with survivors – they would come and knock at the office door all the time, come in for an hour of talking, and then not need us for a few weeks until the next time. After a year of living with us, they barely came at all – because the work of letting it out had been done.)
- When you are ready, start to look at the damage being abused caused in your life. Consider your losses in all areas – your self-image, your education, your relationships – and see what can be clawed back. Make plans and lists and start ticking them off.
- Widen your journey into personal specifics – what do you need to do that others don’t? I have one client who fights, one who is grossly dependent, one who is manipulative, one who has an eating disorder – become familiar with your specific needs and work out how to meet them. This brings progress. Many survivors feel that they don’t really get anywhere with feeling better and my answer is that they aren’t letting it out or working out goals to heal and progress.
This is it. Healing is very simple really, albeit very individual. Just let the hurt out and replace it with the truth, and then set about mending what is broken.
Key messages –
• If you’re struggling, it doesn’t have to be like that anymore, but you are going to be the one who changes it.
• The healing journey is surprisingly fun and rewarding; it’s not all doom and gloom. Wait till two years in and you’re doing all the amazing things you’ve always wanted to do and many of your old problems are far behind you.
• It really helps to talk – to let the stories come freely out of our mouths without having to dumb it down or hide it. This makes it go away.
• The most helpful things are to understand that we are never to blame, to learn how to handle bad feelings, to learn how to comfort ourselves and how to manage ourselves emotionally, and to then decide on a series of life goals.
• It is much easier to do these things when we are not exposed to ongoing abuse or denial of abuse from family members.
• Abuse can never be our fault. Many people deal with difficult behaviour and do not hit, shout at or call children names, and adults should never engage children in any sort of sexual acts whatsoever and any form of this is always the adults fault because children are not old enough to consent or to understand consent. No matter what, child abuse is never our fault.
• Abusers wanted to abuse us – they wanted to do what they did, they tried to keep it hidden and they get angry if we tell anyone. Most abusers will never admit that they have abused us, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do it.
• Often, abusers and wider family want us to remain part of the family, which places us at risk. Be careful when you see extended family who are not on your side and have an aftercare plan. (Yes that is a thing – what do you think it means? Hint: mostly about headspace and getting back to it after a rocking.)
• The fact that people don’t believe us doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We know it happened and there are millions of us out there in the same boat. It is better to stay away from people who don’t believe us so that we can heal without their denial sabotaging it for us. In early healing, I advise this; later you can listen to bullshit and smile wryly.
• We may not like the choices that we face, but a little work goes a long way and, if we change things, life will be better for us. The further I went in healing, the more I realised that I was the key. I can’t change others, only myself, and the more skills I learnt, the better I became at navigating life.
• Learn about child abuse, don’t just listen to people talk about it – get proper help and recognise yourself and your responses.
• For supporters – the best thing to do is listen to the survivor; don’t change the subject, don’t deny or minimise it. Offer comfort without trying to make it better by saying it wasn’t that bad.
If you came to this page looking for help, I hope you feel you’ve found it. I hope you shut this article down and open a Word document, and just start typing about why you are upset today. Follow this up with solid comfort, because if you are abused you deserve love and care.
If you would like to work my whole program, based on my own journey and the journeys I’ve been privileged to witness, here is the link to my self-help book.