11 years later and this is me …

I dont know how many of you have been to see ‘The Greatest Showman’?
I have, twice, and really must get hold of the DVD. Its my one of my favourites.
As I write this I am listening to the soundtrack.

The iconic song from the film by Keala Settle, and album has partly inspired this post which I almost just called ‘This is me’ which I have on repeat right now.

However with it being 11 years tomorrow (or today depending on when I hit publish) , the 20th August it felt apt to bring the two together.

‘I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are’

The lyrics to this song are so powerful and I relate to them massively.

My life changed forever on the 20th August, late afternoon, walking past a building site I had walked past SO many times before.
It took me on a journey I had no idea about. The journey of being a victim. A rape victim.
I had no idea what to do, how to be, how to move forwards.
I just put one step forwards at a time and some how managed it.

Looking back there are things I wish I had done differently.
I wish I had told people, my friends, especially those in London who had no idea and no idea why I suddenly moved after deciding to settle there.
I wish I had told my Mum instead of feeling this fierce sense of protection for her, and not wanting to expose her to my mess.
I wish I had found other ways to cope without drinking and self harming, and trying to die a few times.
I wish what had happened hadn’t happened.

But it did and at the time despite now wishing I had done things differently I have found peace with the fact that I did the very best I could at the time to survive.

I’ve learned that by doing just that, my very best over the years, I’ve changed.
I’ve changed from being a victim to being a survivor.

For years the darkness was present and often overwhelmed, as did the thoughts, the ones in my head that told me I needed to hide, to hide who I was and my feelings, because no one wanted to know or cared, or wanted me, this person in ‘broken┬áparts’.
I spent years being ashamed of both my physical and mental scars.

Yet, somehow deep in my soul was this ability to not be totally grounded down to dust.

‘But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious’

I was fragmented, lots and lots of different fragments (hence the name of the anonymous blog I wrote for many years which many many – more than I ever imagined people read) but I wasn’t dust, and I started to find my ‘place’.

A place to be, and belong, in life. Not as an anonymous person hiding behind my stories.

As me, Helen, the survivor.

As me, Helen.

I am bruised, for sure but I am also who I am meant to be.

I’ve learnt to laugh again, and love again, and find joy in life again.
I’ve learnt to let people in, to accept support, to accept I am who I am, and that is who I was and am meant to be, shaped by my experiences but not beholden to them.

This last year in particularly I have learned to embrace being a rape survivor as part of my story. It isn’t all of who I am, but it is a part of who I am and that cannot be changed.

Last year, at the 10 year mark I had decided to stop ‘marking’ the anniversaries as such, and as it has drawn nearer I’ve realised by doing that it feels like I am erasing that part of my story. Which I don’t want to do. The date is seared into my memory and I’m not going to just not talk about it because I want to ‘forget it’. That will never happen.
Having got this far, to this point, of acceptance, I am not now going to erase it.

So here I am, marking the 11 year mark, with writing something.
Tomorrow (or today depending when I publish) I shall spend the day cooking for a weekend away with friends, and a cuppa with a friend.
I shall have some time reflecting.

I shall also, in my head, and maybe verbally who knows, shout ‘screw you’ to my rapist, and his friend who was there.
Screw you because you didn’t beat me. And you have not silenced me.

Physcially maybe, and mentally for a bit sure, but overall?

No … so SCREW YOU.

‘I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me’.

Those of you follow me on Twitter and social media (although I’ve been pretty quiet blogging wise lately as I’ve dealt with the physical health issues I’ve got going on) will know I’m pretty passionate about talking about sexual violence and violence against women.

As part of that I sometimes share my story. I know some people think I’m mad … and some people wonder ‘Why’ I put myself out there in that way …

Well …

I do it because I am not afraid any more.
Im also not afraid (and never have been) of what people think of me.
I genuinely dont care. If people don’t want to read what I have to say, they don’t have to, (although I hope people do!)

People with voices and the ability to speak out need to be seen and heard.
It is 2018, and despite the successes (?) of online media campaigns such as ‘Me Too’ society still needs to see and hear survivors of sexual violence.

It is 2018 and stigma still exists.
Prosecutions and convictions are abysmally low and victims/survivors are failed every day across the country by local services and police.

So we have to, if we are able, speak out and challenge and bring about change.

I also do what I do so other people know they are not alone.
Being a victim of rape, or any sexual violence can leave you feeling incredibly alone and isolated and I spend a lot of time in contact with other survivors who find life hard, supporting them as a friend, and as someone who understands.

So I hope by beating the drum loudly if just one person knows they are not alone, and that someone out there cares, then it is worth it.

I’m thankful for the women who went ahead before me, beating ┬átheir drums, mentioning in particular the rather amazing Jill Saward who was a forefront campaigner on this stuff, and a close friend, who personally taught me so much. We miss you Jill.

So, here are , 2018 and its 11 years on for me …

I am happy (apart from when the health stuff gets bad)
I love life and living.
I’m loud, bubbly, outspoken, fiery at times, passionate about Jesus; and loving people,
I’m not where I ever thought I would be BUT I am where I am meant to be, and its a huge privilege to be able to use my experience to support others.

I am Helen, and 11 years later this is me.

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This Is Me – Keala Settle

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