Sunshine and grief

Hello friends

Thank you for stopping by. This post is a real muddle and comes with a request.

Tell me: What do you do when sunshine and grief get all muddled up?

The paragraph below summarises my audio. I prefer the audio because I speak from the heart and without a script—but I guess you should be the judge of that!

Lately, I’ve been hanging on by an increasingly fragile thread of hope. It’s something about the way our bodies serve up nasty sensations and our minds wander into dangerous territory. All without our permission. I must know, surely, from experience, that this too will pass.

And all the while the sun shines outside my window, heralding Spring and fresh life.

So please tell me

How do you manage the sunshine and the grief?
Should we distract ourselves?
Should we block out the pain?
Or should we let the tears flow?

 

Are you a Survivor on Trial?

Hello friends

This post is inspired by “Al,” a 40-year-old Survivor in the United Kingdom, who is posting about the experience of going to Court. When I read his post, I realised that  I have put myself on trial for over 50 years. At times I’ve built a water-tight case for the Prosecution—and now it’s time that I strengthened the Case for the Defence!

If you have experienced Guilt about your abuse, if you have experienced Victim blaming, then do listen. You’re not alone!

The Case for the Prosecution
  1. Why did you involve the Police
  2. Why did you let it go on for so long
  3. Stop making a song and dance about your abuse
  4. Why talk about it now
  5. Shhhhh: don’t tell others
  6. What about the reputation of the family
The Case for the Defence

In spite of all of this, I am coming to believe that I have achieved remarkable things in my life. And that there is a core of me that is beyond the Abuse. This is the core that is enabling me to be creative, show empathy and warmth; to create relationships, build a home, a marriage and a successful business.

Do you still put yourself on trial?
What Case have you made for your Defence?
What successes have you achieved?

 

 

3 reasons why I let my blog beats me up

Hello friends

I’ve not been blogging for a while and this has been a source of great worry for me. In fact, the more I think about it the worse it gets. But why should that be the case? Is it about

  1. Guilt
  2. Fear of rejection
  3. Simply not being a starter-finisher?

Do have a listen and please share your thoughts: help me to discover why it is that it can be so hard to pick up blogging after an absence.

Why it is that it can be so hard to pick up blogging after an absence?

PS Thank you, Laura, for your concern!

 

PPS the picture is of my husband and woofer on the Viking Way, Lincolnshire, during Christmas 2016

Therapists must stop peddling “Recovery” as a Holy Grail

Dear Friends

Do you sometimes feel frustrated with your Therapist? I’m sorry to say that, in a selfish way, I hope you can relate to this little story.

I’m looking for a new therapist and I had an initial phone call with a woman who presented on the internet as experienced and wise. I explained that I was 57 and that my father began the sexual abuse when I was 6. I was inviting her to recognise that I had survived for over half a century. I explained that I had experienced numerous therapists; and that I had made progress with them in working through different aspects of my life.  I explained to this wise woman that I do best when I have a long-term relationship with a therapist with whom I can do pieces of work whenever the need arises. I explained that I generally do okay but at 57 have a good insight into what I need.

Truth be told I am quite proud of myself for coming this far and being able to work out for myself what I need and to be able to ask for it. But the wise woman’s response blew me away:

She invited me to consider that the issue I had with my abuse was one of attachment. And that if we could resolve that then I could heal or recover.

That lit the touch-paper for me. Don’t get me wrong: I know that I have issues with attachment, but that was not what I was asking to discuss. I was asking to be able to have sessions to manage aspects of my life that risked becoming unmanageable. And I doubt that each issue I present leads to attachment theory.

So, if there are any therapists reading this: please don’t assume that all Survivors (or victims) of childhood abuse will be healed or expect to be healed.

Therapists must not assume that

  • We are all after the holy grail of Recovery and Healing
  • Survivors and Victims are a homogeneous group
  • We want to be told how to think and feel

I don’t know about you but I spent a life-time (yes a lifetime) being told

  1. How to think
  2. What is best for me
  3. What to feel
  4. What not to feel

And now I’m learning to undo all of this and, at the ripe old age of 57, I’m learning to think for myself!

So, to return to the Holy Grail of Recovery. I have wounds that will not heal. (I do not have scars.) I have wounds that break open and ooze their poisonous filth unexpectedly. For sure, I am better than I was in my 20’s but I still suffer horribly. I still get flashbacks, weird out-of-body experiences, sudden inexplicable terrors, mysterious illnesses, fears, rages, moments of seemingly intolerable sadness. And yes, I do have a constant fear of abandonment. But much of the time the struggle is manageable IF I get support. That’s how I manage and that’s how I seek to be understood.

I am the expert in my own condition—indeed in my own human condition and my own brokenness. I am still angry that this wise woman somehow thought, after a few moments’ conversation, that she could put me together again where countless others have “failed”. Most of all I was angry that this therapist wanted me to fit into a box of Survival and Recovery that was her own construct. Not mine.

It’s so important, isn’t it, to recognise that we Survivors or Victims are not all conforming to some well-researched model of Recovery. Yes, we have similar symptoms or clusters of symptoms and behaviours that by degrees help us to cope with life, as we know it. Yes, we all make progress and then fall back. And then there are those to whom I also pay tribute: the Victims I know who took their own lives and have never had a shot at making progress that felt meaningful or significant.

To Therapists I say this: we are not a homogeneous group. And to you my friends I would add that, it’s the similarities that we share, together with the differences, shades and nuances that we feel safe to disclose, that make blogging like this so validating and so valuable.

Thank you, my friends: because I can be sure that you “Get it.”

PS Tell me: are you seeking Recovery?

PPS: The photograph was taken on holiday in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

An abuse of Power?

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, demonstrated her experience, diplomacy and poise during yesterday’s press conference with the US President. She even out-manoeuvred the US President on NATO.

But Donald Trump is a seasoned publicist. He knew he could redress the balance immediately. When he took the Prime Minister’s hand in line of sight of the World’s Press, he symbolically dis-empowered the British Prime Minister. She became a woman in need of his reassurance and protection.

And of course the woman cannot protest. The President’s gesture was, after all, a genuine gesture of kindness and friendship.

Did you see this photo? What did you think?

 

Heads I win, tails you lose…

Inspired by political events here in the United Kingdom, in Europe and of course in United States, I’m fascinated by appeal of the Zero Sum Game.

“The world’s a mess and I will fix it. That means I win and the bad guys lose. Period.”

This black and white thinking is troublesome, yet it seems to be appealing to all of us to some degree. Have a listen and tell me how the Zero Sum Game plays out in your life.

Last October I wrote about how to Ditch Black and White thinking—and the benefits of learning to think in the Grey Zones. Yet, as I listen to politicians here and in Europe I recognise that I too play out my own Zero Sum Game. I have to ask myself if as human beings we’re hardwired for ever to replicate the logic of the school playground?

The mantra of my Zero Sum Game goes something like this:

If my father or mother did bad things to me. Then

I deserved it so I must be bad. They dealt out the punishment for my badness so they must be good.

This thinking is about self preservation. I know that sounds perverse but this is a logical way for a small child to make sense of the world.

Good people do bad stuff to bad people. In other words you get what you deserve.

But bad behaviour isn’t a ball to pass from one person to another. Bad behaviour (even behaviour that is shocking and unspeakable) doesn’t mean that the perpetrator is incapable of remorse. It doesn’t mean that they are devoid of positive characteristics either. Like the so called “Illegals” in the US: if lists of their crimes are published on a weekly basis does that mean that these individuals must be portrayed as uni-dimensional?An illegal. A criminal. Certainly not a human being. Here in the UK some politicians and newspapers have a tendency towards this type of portrayal too.

Compassion is the enemy of the Zero Sum Game

I would like to suggest that Compassion is the enemy of the zero sum game. Personally this needs to starts with self-compassion. I have an ability to offer others endless Compassion, yet I can’t offer it to myself. Compassion is too much like the ball that I pass around. If I give it to you, I can’t have it for myself.

It’s time I held the ball for myself a while. There’s no need to flip a coin or to keep score. We will all be winners in my version of the game.

How does the Zero sum Game play out in your life?
What tips can you share to overcome this form of thinking?
Do you think we’re hard-wired to want to win all the time?

(PS The photo is of the Lincolnshire Wolds during Winter in the United Kingdom.)

 

The trouble with Abuse …What does the Public really hear?

Once again, the public has heard about Childhood Sexual Abuse—this time in Northern Ireland in facilities run by the state, local authorities, the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the children’s charity Barnardo’s. More disclosures, more justifiable anger, regrets, unreserved apologies and frustration—and I have no doubt that these responses are sincere. There was a similar response to revelations from Footballers about Clubs in England. On 16th November 2016 Andy Woodward, a former Crewe, Bury and Sheffield United bravely told the Guardian he was sexually abused as a youth player. Since that date, we know that at least 98 clubs have been impacted, 21 Police Forces are involved in investigation. And sadly, hundreds of adults have come forward to speak up about their suffering. Like the recent Northern Ireland Enquiry, we have all heard all of this. But in truth, what are we really hearing?

Whatever we have heard about these and other scandals has been filtered through the lens of our own experience, prejudices, motivations, as well as the trends in culture and today’s attitudes. This can be confusing for those of us who are Survivors of childhood sexual abuse: I’m sure I’m not alone in my experience of confusing personal reactions to the Football Club revelations. This thought has lead me to take a closer look at my own response, in the hope that I could shed some light onto the messages that the Public may be hearing.

 

When I first heard Andy Woodward speak out I had an extraordinary reaction. Jealousy. Jealous that he was being heard, jealous that he could speak. Jealous that he had an audience to hear; and jealous that audience appeared outraged. But I found this emotion unsettling, so I paused to think about what I might really be feeling— “jealousy” didn’t feel right at all. I rummaged around in the experience of my abused self and discovered that the actual emotion was Envy. And furthermore, I wasn’t envious of Andy Woodward—how could I be envious of a fellow Survivor’s plight? No: I was envious, quite simply, of being heard.

When Andy spoke out, I wonder if the significance of his bravery and breaking the Silence was recognised by the Public. I wonder if those who have not experienced childhood sexual abuse are aware of the enormity of lugging around this filthy burden of a secret down the decades throughout adult life. I ask myself too if the public understands the relief of being heard, finally. Being heard is in stark contrast to the Silence Andy will have endured over the years. Will the Public understand that abuse happens in Silence. Abusers groom their victims then threaten them if they break the Silence. And my personal experience was that my mother, the first person to whom I revealed the childhood sexual abuse greeted me with Silence.

And now the Silence is shattered. Or is it? does the Public still collude to maintain Silence? Have people made appropriate noises of indignation and shuffled off to get on with their lives? Do people feel they’ve done their bit?

I do hope that Andy and the other men who have come forward have adequate support, care and attention. I do hope this is also the case for Survivors from those institutions in Northern Ireland.  I wonder if Andy’s personal message is still heard above our sound and fury about Authorities? For me, my revelation became a drama played out between the authority figures of my parents—my father protesting his innocence while dramatically flinging his clothes downstairs and into the car. My Mother clinging to the bonnet begging him to stay. Me? I just had a bit part in the drama—the real distress and dramatic intrigue belonged to the “Authorities”.  I sincerely hope that Andy, and others who have Survived these very public revelations,  is not experiencing a similar feeling.

Without doubt, when Andy spoke out, the spotlight moved swiftly to other dramatis personae. In this case, The FA, the Paedophiles, the Schools, the Police. The media is now telling us that we should be outraged because the Authorities ignored the warning signs. It is quite right to call Authorities to task and to ask questions about who knew what, and when. But we must remember that we are hearing about behaviour that took place in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This is “historic” abuse and we’re assessing the roles of the people who should have protected young people within a framework of 21st Century knowledge and culture. This is quite confusing for Survivors (even the necessity for the term “historic abuse” is questionable. Although we need to protect the reputation of organisations whose culture has changed, the term can mess with our minds and it plays neatly into our tendency to minimize our experience.)

My personal tendency to minimize the childhood sexual abuse began with the Silence of family members and minimization was aided and abetted by attitudes in the 1980s. Remember Cleveland? Even the Department of Health requested that all the files of the 121 children removed from their homes in 1987 be destroyed—it was such a scandal that no one in authority wanted to get near to the truth. Collectively we were unable to allow this inconvenient truth, the enormity of the scandal, so they blamed the Doctors and returned all the children to their homes. Then there was the Group called PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange). It was a group of men who openly campaigned for adults to have sex with young children. The Group wanted the age of consent to be axed—they claimed that children had a right to sexuality; and they were invited to speak at University Campuses throughout the UK under the banner of Young Liberals. They even expressed dismay when they could not garner support from the Guardian newspaper, which was a Liberal newspaper. So, is there any wonder that the Public puts Childhood sexual abuse on the “all too difficult pile” if a Survivor like myself finds it hard to find a social context for the crime?

That was Then. However, we really have moved forwards—though much remains to be done. I’m sure that a group like PIE could not survive so openly as it did 40 years ago. The national response to Jimmy Savile and to the current revelations in professional and amateur football are testament to this. So, I do hope that Andy feels he’s not been forgotten while the spotlight sweeps over the other actors in this national drama. Yes of course there will always be those who, like my mother, would say “Why now? Why bring it up now,” which is a subtle method of Victim Blaming and perpetuating the Silence. But despite this, I hope that Andy continues to draw upon his undoubted courage to continue his work to help other Survivors and to seek justice. I have no idea what form this justice might take but I do admire his quest.

To return to my original question—what has the Public heard? I cannot be certain. But when I listened to Andy Woodward I heard a brave voice; and I saw a beacon for everyone who wants to help Survivors. I wish him every success. Like Andy I am drawn to help people to reach their full potential. Much of my day involves helping people to return to work or find work; and whenever I work with Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse I feel humbled and greatly privileged to bear witness to their stories and to walk alongside them, if only for a little way.  My challenge is to continue that work, without becoming jaded or cynical. My challenge is to help one person at a time and to ensure that the needs of Survivors are not lost in the rumpus over failings on the part of institutions.

Serena Bradshaw

Serena is a Consultant Tutor at Goddards, an employability specialist and National Speaker. She also happens to be a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse. www.goddardconsultants.com. serenabradshaw@goddardconsultants.com