I went back and I have survived.

This is not the blog I just spent the last two hours writing. Because I just hit ‘delete’ on that one – it was way too long anyway.

Having been abused as a child by both my biological father and then by my brother whose only way to deal with his own issues was through violence I believed that this was what my life was for. But years after their abuse ended, I never imagined that life which was already very cracked and fragmented could be smashed even more. But it was and I was totally broken.

Tonight I am reflecting on the fact that tomorrow is the start of a new month. And that its been a month since the 1st of March – the day I went back to the place where life changed forever, 7 years ago on that half boarded up building site.

I’ve spent all evening writing. About my childhood, abuse, how I came to be living in London, my battles with depression, self harm, drinking, smoking and the battle with staying alive because I was so desperate to kill myself.

I’ve spent all evening writing about what I have lost and what I had taken from me. I’ve spent all evening writing about what happened that day in 2007 when I already thought life couldn’t get worse, it did.

But I’ve deleted all of that because actually I want this blog to be about the fact that I went back, stood in that place, in that dark and painful place, 7 years on and was able to claim my story. Claim it as Helen, not ‘fragmentz’ (who I used as a persona for years to write about the abuse, rape, self harm, depression etc).

And I was able to stand in that place and acknowledge that despite it all, I have survived. And I was able to, after spending an hour there with two amazing people who came with me, walk away. I was able to walk away. Knowing I have survived.

I went back to that place because I felt a deep sense of needing to confront the space that has filled my sleep with nightmares ever since, and that has been the reason for disturbing flashbacks and my inability to cope in the aftermath.

I went back to that place because I needed to be connected with the place I once lived, and the things I have spent 7 years grieving, because shortly after I packed my bags and left without properly saying goodbye.

I needed to be there, and this time CHOOSE to walk away. Because I had no choice then, but I do now. I did a month ago.

A month ago I chose to walk away acknowledging that I have survived.

And I was able to close the door on parts of my life I have been in mourning for. I had to be in that place to realise that what I was grieving no longer exists. The place I was in then, the person I was, the stuff I felt connected to is no longer the same. It has moved on.

And so I must too. And so I have started.

I have started the journey of moving forwards.

I have started the journey of starting to live again.

I have started the journey of learning to love, and be loved again.

I have started the painful journey of rebuilding some sort of sense of dignity again.

I have started the journey of forgiveness, healing, restoration and freedom. I have started the journey to being able to hold my head high, and look people in the eyes again.

I have started the journey of realising there is more to me than the abuse. That there is also more for me than that too.

 

And I have restarted my journey with God, and church which has been life changing as well.

Just a few days before, I wrote this – and I know and have to hold on to that in the midst of my shame, and life is still consumed by shame, an incredibly powerful thing, that God has called me, by name. My proper name. Helen. I’m living in hope for the first time in my life that God is bigger than that shame. And despite it all, I have survived.

 

In the midst of my shame,
You have called me by name,

Cutting through the black,
even though I had turned my back.
Breaking through the scars,
slowly unlocking the prison bars

In the midst of my shame,
You have called me by name,

Piercing through each tear,
slowly releasing each and every fear.
Unravelling every built up wall,
holding them carefully as they fall.

In the midst of my shame,
You have called me by name,

Speaking mercy, love and grace,
until I can lift my head to see your face.
Looking into those beautiful eyes,
I hear You say ‘its time for the ashes to rise’

In the midst of my shame
You have called me by name.

 

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#rapecultureiswhen you inadvertently contribute to it.

Ever read a tweet that makes you want to shout, scream, cry or punch something/someone quite hard because it has made you THAT angry? Yeah … me too.

But what do you do when that tweet is one you yourself have published?

All of the above, and then apologise. Which is what I did and am doing now.

On Wednesday I delved into reading the latest hashtag that was doing the rounds on my timeline – an incredibly powerful and painful one to read but incredibly important too. It was ‘#rapecultureiswhen’ … started by @ZerlinaMaxwell

I had seen it the day before, but struggling with some serious health issues, and having had a seriously bad day sickness wise I was not strong enough to read it then. But by Wednesday I was. And I did. And I wanted to contribute to it. To the hashtag.

As someone who has been raped. As someone who knows. As a women who lives within a society that enables a rape culture to exist. And as someone who tries to speak out against male violence against women and the myths and perceptions that exist regarding it.

So, I contributed. I tweeted. And then as soon as I had hit publish I realised. Realised that the very tweet I had sent out, wanting to highlight and speak out about what rape culture is was actually participating in it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 19.55.06

I tweeted just two of the many ill informed things that I’ve had said to me over the years, since I’ve started talking much more openly about my experience. But then I felt I needed to add something to the end of it. I felt the need to add on ‘I had on jeans and a hoody’.

Why did I feel it necessary? I guess I wanted to try and speak out against the perception that it is women in short skirts or scantily clad clothing that are raped. That it is not only women in high heels, or revealing clothing. That I was raped and I was wearing jeans and a hoody.

But, as soon as I tweeted it I regretted it. Because why am I even discussing what I was wearing? Why was I ‘trying’ to speak out against perceptions of different types of dress making a difference to whether women are raped or not. Why was I making it about clothing? When it quite simply is not?

LETS BE CLEAR HERE – RAPE IS NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU WERE WEARING.

So immediately after the first tweet, I sent this …

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 19.55.22

#RAPECULTUREISWHEN – in trying to speak out against it, you inadvertently find yourself speaking INTO it because the views and thoughts that allow it to continue are so ingrained in our culture and society that its hard not to be affected, sometime, somehow, someway.

If you don’t know what rape culture is, I have demonstrated it perfectly for you. And it is worth checking out the ‘rapecultureiswhen’ hashtag.

I am horrified, gutted, angry and sad with myself for actually contributing to that culture in my effort to speak out against it.

And I am deeply sorry.

 

 

Staying alive, and being glad to be alive – some thoughts from the last 24 hours.

Yesterday I had an appointment at a big hospital 2 hours away that I’ve been having treatment under for both the Asthma and several different auto immune issues my body is having.

It didn’t go as well as I wanted to. And now I’m facing the next 4/6 weeks possibly longer of side effects to new medications, which have all been changed. The last time this happened, just a few months ago, I was pretty sick, my hair started to fall out and generally it was grim.

So, that was yesterday morning, and I was pretty hacked off. Having had an asthma attack last week anyway, and the appt for the immune stuff not going brill, as I sat on the train on the way home, I tried to refocus my mind which was pretty heavy and sad. And focus on positive stuff.

So I started to write. A blog titled staying alive. And the fact that in a few weeks time, on the 11 of April it will be 6 years since I took an overdose that should have ended me. But it didn’t, miraculously.

6 years ago, I was battling to stay alive, but for very different reasons. I was not physically sick, but my mental health was very poorly. The traumatic events that occurred that led me to have a total breakdown before I’d even hit the age of 25 totally overwhelmed me. And I felt that there was only one option. The only, the best, the most appealing one was to be dead.

Anyway, that was the blog I was writing on the train yesterday.

And then someone sprayed an aerosol in my carriage. That had non-asthmatics coughing. And within minutes had me being unable to breathe. Thankfully the train conductor was top notch and an ambulance was waiting for me at the next station.

I then proceeded to be hospitalised, yet again.

Because that is what my life has become right now. Another battle, to stay alive, but this time because I am so physically unwell with several different, complex and severe things going on.

As I sat in the resuss room last night, with IV’s going through through my body and masks and wires surrounding me, they took my blood gas. If you’ve ever had your blood gas taken, you’ll know it’s pretty damn painful. And sometimes it’s more painful than others. Last night it bought tears to my eyes. Partly because it fricking hurt, and partly because I’d had enough. Over the last two years I’ve been in hospital more times than I care to remember. Had more drugs than I’ve ever had in my life. More needles in to my arms, and more bruises than I’d like.

While they were doing the BG my mum, well, my darling Mum held my hand and told me to ‘keep going – because you’re a strong fighter’. That made me cry even more.

I didn’t feel strong last night and I have not felt particularly strong today.

Tonight, thankfully at home, I laid in the bath, listening to some worship music and I reflected on the last 6 years, since that overdose. Since the day when I was so desperate to die, I remembered all the things that have been overcome. All the battles fought.  And the fact that even though, right now, yet again I feel I’m going through the mill and I have no strength left, I have a God who does. And that all of the things have been before and I have started to move on from could never have been started/done without Him.

And I am deeply thankful for that. And I am glad to be alive.

I’m glad to be alive. I AM glad to be alive.

Its not a overly enthused, lets smile and laugh all the time glad, just a deep gladness that’s hard to put into words.

The last 6 months since I recommitted my life back to God have been immense, in some pretty dark and painful ways, but also in some pretty beautiful life moving ways too. I’ve found a church, and a God that is changing my life. A place to be where I’m starting to feel safe and a God that I’m learning to trust in more and more. Healing is happening, chains are painfully being broken, I’ve been and am being unravelled so freedom can break through. And for the first time in my life, I’m living with a deep small hope that that can and will happen.

So, things are still tough, really really tough, but I’m glad to be alive.

Last year, on the 5th anniversary of the overdose it was a real privilege to have many friends/fellow tweeters join me with tweets using the hashtag #gladtobealive  – I’m hoping we are able to do that nearer the time again.

In the mean time, I’m trying to stay focussed. I’m trying to stay positive.

I’m trying to keep my eyes on God. Which is hard too.

I’m hoping trying is enough.

Lets talk about rape (again) and being one of ‘only 9%’.

Last year when I blogged/wrote as ‘fragmentz’ I wrote several blogs titled ‘lets talk about rape …’ – not something I planned on writing much about again really, but here I am and I am able to talk more openly offline and more confident to write online as me, Helen.

7 years ago my life which I was already battling changed for the worse. It was a sunny day, where one moment made time freeze. One afternoon on the corner of a street where a building site was boarded up (with broken down boards). One second I was walking down a street I’d walked down many times and a few minutes later I ran into the high street, collapsing while some passers by called the emergency services. You always think – well I did – that you know what you would do in that situation. But I didn’t do what I thought I would. And that was it, in those brief moments life changed. Forever. Never ever to be the same again. How can it be?

And I became a statistic. I was already a statistic having been abused as a child/teenager. But I became another statistic, a different one this time. One of the 9% of people raped by strangers. As opposed to someone I knew/a partner/husband.

A few months ago a charity which I love dearly/respect and support tweeted a tweet which made my blood run cold. It was this –

‘Only 9% of rapes in the UK are committed by ‘strangers’ #fact

I responded to them with a tweet, asking them to reconsider their use of the word ‘only’. I explained how it made me, one of  9 % of people who have been raped by a stranger even more isolated that we already are – because we are a minority. They said they would be more careful in future in how they phrased things. Because if I was feeling that way, about that word and the phrasing then I could imagine other people would be too.

This afternoon I had a quick flick read down their timeline as I often do and was really really dismayed to discovered that last week they tweeted exactly the same thing.

‘Only 9% of rapes in the UK are committed by ‘strangers’ #fact

I totally understand that it was/is not their intention to offend/upset/isolate anyone as a few people suggested to me in reply to my frustrated tweets at them asking why they have used the word ONLY yet again. Why the need for the ‘only’?

I accept that 91% of women raped are raped by people they know/partners/husbands. And that society needs educating that it isn’t always people you you don’t know in dark alleyways (or in my case building sites in broad daylight).

BUT please please please do not diminish the experience of a group of people, who as a minority already feel fairly isolated. Being a survivor of rape full stop is isolating. Despite 1 in 4 women being victims it isn’t as widely talked about offline as it appears to be online. I love the fact that social media is seeing a rise in people speaking out and educating and raising awareness – and the rise of people talking about violence against women and wanting to see the much needed end to it. Thats all great. But offline my experience so far has been its not so easily talked about/discussed. And we need to work on that.

I wrote for years as ‘fragz’ but over the last 12 months have merged that identity and ‘Helen’ together and am more confident and able to speak face to face with people about my experiences. Online and offline. I’ve found a way to be ‘me’ and be outspoken on the issues that affect me, and be strong is using that voice – which I hope to build on (and importantly I’ve found a place to be ‘me’ on the bad days. A community of people that are helping and have helped me grow faith wise, but have also let me be ‘me’ in my weak moments. In the tears, tantrums and shouty times).

Its important that what we do online we do offline too. In talking about issues that make people feel uncomfortable. Or squirm in their seats. Or blush. Or just want to offer ‘there there’ responses to. Its important we educate. As I get stronger in myself, the more passionate and the more I seek and desire and want to be part of that process somehow. Not entirely sure how yet. But I’m working on it. Which is why I respect this charity a lot for what they do.

But we need to be mindful of how we do it, and the language we use, and what it means and says to people.

Being a statistic is tough, full stop, and for me, being reduced to an ‘only’ is painful. Isolating. More than ever.

I cannot relate to someone who has been raped by someone they know. I can’t imagine it. But I expect it has its own set of issues as does being raped by strangers.

For years the faces of these two people I had never seen in my life haunt me. I don’t know their names. Or where they lived, or their lives. Do they have a wife, a girlfriend, children? Do they work? Do they have a faith? What do they do now, do they remember me, do they think of that day, do they even care?

Do they have an illness I need to be worried about?

Do they regret what they did, or laugh about it with each other?

Do they think they they escaped justice because they were never caught, because, I, in the moment could not get myself together enough to describe them to the police. Or because I was too traumatised refused to allow any DNA to be taken.

Are they still alive? Would they have killed me if I had fought them, or would I have gotten away and not had everything I had left taken from me if I had tried?

Why didn’t I just cross the road that day? Or why didn’t I walk down a different street.

How do I forgive people I don’t know. How do I move on?

The list of questions and thoughts I have had about these two men are endless. And maybe some of them are the same questions and things people who know their perpetrators ask. I don’t know. As I said, I can’t relate to that experience.

All I can relate to is that MY perpetrators were strangers to me. And that I am part of that small minority of people who make up the 9%.

But calling us ‘only’ diminishes our experiences. Lessens it.

So, I urge you, any of you who write about this topic, this issue, whether its about the 91% who know their perps or the 9% who don’t, please don’t use ‘only’. For any of us.

My name is Helen and I am not an ‘only’.

here is love, for He has heard my cry.

Tonight I’ve been listening online to someone who spoke in the church I go to a few years ago. I’ve listened to this particular talk several times in the last few days. I’m planning on blogging properly on it in the next week or two.

It was very powerful, raw, and real. Which is what I have discovered this church I’m going to to be. Its become a place for me where I have stopped, deflated completely and come to the total end of myself, and yet it seems to be the place that is also painfully and slowly letting me be me, the real me and loving me to start the process of re piecing the fragmented person I was/am  together again.

Anyway – this guy was talking about it being ok to cry. And it being ok to cry out to God. And that God is there. He hears our cries and in an instant is with us. Right beside us. He mentioned 2 Samuel 22. Where David CRIED out to God.

And I’m reminded of this poem that I wrote during a few days away at a christian retreat place at the end of November. Just the month previous I had been so critically ill I almost died, and along side that having made a recommitment to God again found myself living throughout the most horrific nightmares and flashbacks I could ever have imagined. And every time I tried to pray/read the bible/worship/focus on God in any way I was just overwhelmed by darkness and images of events that have scarred my mind for too long.

It was all I could do to hold on. And I cried out to God. Cried and cried and cried out to God. In fact its all I have done over the last 6 months, in terms of physical tears. And then over the last few years just shouting through the pain and torment. But I’m slowly realising that its ok. IT IS OK. It is ok to cry. To CRY OUT to God. To call on Him. In our pain.

So as I read 2 Samuel 22 tonight – I was reminded of this poem I wrote. And I wrote the first part first. At the beginning of the few days away I had at this place, I was an absolutely exhausted wreck. I was off sick from work, I was feeling quite ill still, my head was spinning from all that was going on, and I wrote what I longed for. What i longed to be there. Love, hope, peace, grace and forgiveness. And I cried. By the end of that few days away I realised, those things had come. Have come. I just have to accept them.

And learn to accept that it is OK to cry out to God. And that He does hear me.

Here is love, for He has heard my cry

Here is love
For He has heard my cry, night after night,
Here is hope
For He has heard my cry, day after day.
Here is peace,
For He has heard my cry, week after week.
Here is grace,
For He has heard my cry, month after month.
Here is forgiveness,
For He has heard my cry, year after year.

Here is love,
For He has heard my cry, and He has come.

abused and bruised,
a life time of being used,
beaten and broken,
pain left unspoken.
 
 
no one to come and protect,
just treated as an object.
this thing, being led to slaughter,
not a sister, or a daughter.
 
 
her heart turning to stone,
realising she is totally alone.
learning how to survive,
wondering how she stayed alive.
 
 
a small whisper starts to surround,
even on the blackest of ground,
an outstretched hand, a piece of rope,
to cling on to, and a rose of hope.
 
 
years of no tears, they start to fall,
seeping through every single wall,
starting to unlock the prison bar,
painfully soaking into every scar.
 
 
unravelled from behind the disguise
she looks up, into their eyes,
and sees mercy, love and grace,
and collapses into His embrace.