Sexual assault is not only a violation of the body, it is a violation of the mind. Sexual abuse is almost inevitably accompanied by emotional abuse.
Nobody can simply shrug off the trauma of sexual assault and abuse. Oh, we can hide it, and many do, for years. We can bury it, we can even try to deny that it ever happened, but as van der Kolk stated ‘The Body Keeps the Score’. One day it will catch up with us, affecting our health, mentally and possibly physically.
As I embarked upon the EMDR therapy again in August 2020, I was to discover just how powerfully our body reacts physically to previous trauma.
As a 16 year old, whilst going through all the turmoil of dad’s indiscretions, his constant endeavours to persuade me to accept his new ‘lady’, my mum’s suicide attempts and the sexual abuse I was enduring, I fell ill with Shingles. I was studying for crucial exams, I was totally stressed and I developed Shingles.
Shingles is a horrible condition cause by the same virus and Chicken Pox. It manifests itself in an extremely painful blistering rash. The virus travels along your nervous system to your skin, making it very sore to touch and also causing severe nerve striking pain. It is frequently caused by a weakened immune system and you are particularly susceptible to it, if you are under stress. The symptoms can last for weeks and the nerve pain continue for months after.
In August 2020, as I began to process the trauma suffered by my 16 year old self, my body re-triggered that past illness; I developed Shingles. As I battled with mental anguish and emotional trauma, my body physically recreated this painful illness of my teens. It seemed that my body truly had kept the score.
Like many people during the national lockdown, as a family, we began to binge watch various series on the television. One of these was ‘SAS Who Dares Wins’, the reality TV series featuring a number of ex Special Services soldiers. The challenge involved putting men and women through a two-week long gruelling training programme, pushing them to their limits, pushing them to breaking point. It wasn’t this fact that resonated with me, although I knew all too well about pushing myself to my limits, to breaking point; it was the stories behind the men and women who took part. So many of them had been through incredibly difficult times and had put themselves forward to test their resilience. Ant Middleton, the Chief Instructor, focussed the contestants energy on the tasks as he tried to help them believe that they could achieve the most difficult of challenges. I became fascinated by the idea he constantly put forward of employing positivity in negative situations and I began to read his books. I listened to one of them as I ran. I took note of what he was saying about turning a life around.
Watching the series, reading and listening to the books made me realise, that if I was to move on and come through this horrendous time, then I needed to develop ways to help myself as much as I could.
It was shortly after that my counsellor recommended the Bessel van der Kolk book and I began to read and learn more about PTSD and in that learning I began to realise how I could begin to help myself. I somehow had to turn all the negativity that had been in my life into positivity. I began by trying to write how it felt.
In a battle with the memories from the past, I am trying to turn negativity into positivity. It isn’t easy. It’s like standing on sand at the edge of the sea. The sand is firm until a wave hits and then it shifts under your feet and you are unstable again. It can cause you to lose your balance as the sand moves under your feet. This poem is written to try to express the shift and movement in that battle to turn negativity into positivity as I walk this difficult journey.
Sand beneath your feet,
Warm, soft, firm, secure
Until the next wave hits,
and then the grainy floor
shifts and moves
and staying upright proves
more difficult than it did before.
Now your footing isn’t so sure ~
struggling to maintain a stance
to stay upright, to maintain balance.
Once more, steady, feet take hold
Awaiting the wave, feeling bold.
Watching it grow, approaching the shore
You can do it, take this on, and more.
Again the sand begins to move
And standing solid begins to prove
More difficult, feet just won’t stay
As the shifting grains slip away.
Don’t give up now,
stand firm, stand proud,
Stumbling is fine, it is allowed.
Stumble, but from that slipping, learn
Each time the tide begins to turn
And the waves of negativity build
That positivity, is a state, self willed.