I have been quiet for a while. This is why.
This is a necessarily long post and I make no apologies for that. It also discusses suicide and self harm. I don’t apologise for that either. These are things that need to be said.
It was written contemporaneously, although I am not posting it quite so. When I started writing it was intended as a diary entry to myself only, but became something else, and I think it’s worth sharing – I can’t be the only one affected by experiences like these.
I hope you are able to listen.
Today is very nearly a year since I left/fled/escaped my abuser. I’m not where I hoped or imagined I’d be by now, and for that reason I feel a failure. In many ways I feel like I’m in a much worse place than a year ago. Objectively, although I am now safe for the first time, I have deteriorated significantly.
For this, I feel ashamed and like I’ve let people down. I hate myself for it.
I spent last night in the care of paramedics and A&E staff. I travelled home from the hospital this morning trying to process the blur of last night and the first weeks of 2017. Asking myself what I should have done differently over the last 12 months.
When 2016 drew to a close I had been discharged from mental health services, and had no support. I didn’t even have a GP I could count on. I had visited her before Christmas, distraught and struggling to speak, and she had promised to try and get support in place for me but then hadn’t even called me to follow up as she had assured me she would. She did nothing. And it didn’t surprise me anymore to be promised help and then be disregarded.
It was the final straw.
Before I left my abuser – when I was planning to leave, and the professionals involved in my care were encouraging me to make that leap – I was assured that as soon as I had left various support measures would be put in place and I would be able to start treatment for the PTSD I’d already been diagnosed with. I was told that whilst it would be inappropriate for any of those things to happen until after I left, they would all come together once I had.
I believed it. I made my leap of faith through the flames and landed on the other side, in this strange abuser-free world, expecting help to be ready and waiting. Instead I was greeted by a barren, deserted landscape as everyone hastily began to backtrack.
I was told I didn’t need any help now, as I was through the hardest part. I’d done the right thing, and now all I needed to do was call on my determination and I would be fine. It was just an adjustment period, I was told.
When I cried as I tried to tell people I didn’t understand how anything worked or what the rules were now – or how to live – I was told it was up to me to set my own rules.
I didn’t even understand what that meant. How could I set my own rules if I didn’t know what they were supposed to be or what was normal and acceptable behaviour; what was necessary behaviour and what was a distortion that had been forced on me? I was frightened of being located and I was just as frightened of getting myself in trouble by accidentally breaking rules I should still have been following. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
I still remember having to ask at the end of my first week how to write a shopping list. I was panicking and afraid I was going to somehow get myself in trouble for doing it wrong. The way I’d been used to didn’t make sense anymore, but I didn’t trust myself and I wasn’t sure if it was just because I was “crazy” that it seemed that way – or maybe just part of the awful rebellion I was going through by leaving, and really a sign I should go back and resume following the rules properly.
Then I made a decision I profoundly regret: I tried to report my abuse to the police. Not out of a desire for “revenge”, or even any expectation of “justice”, but because I was afraid of what would happen if he found me and I wanted the reassurance of knowing the police were at least aware of the full background should anything happen. I wanted to set the record straight. I had no greater expectation than that they would listen, hear me out and then record what I had told them.
It was a disaster. So much effort and care had gone into giving me trust and confidence in the police, and in the space of a few short weeks it had been well and truly obliterated.
I felt like all the people who’d promised they’d help me – all the organisations and institutions we live our lives expecting to help us when we need them – had betrayed and abandoned me.
My fledgling belief that the abuse was not my fault was replaced with a conviction that it was entirely my fault and exactly what I deserved. And that I should be deeply ashamed of the life I had lived up until that point.
I watched in the news at reports of other people coming forward about abuse and being believed. Being treated with fairness and respect. I tried to understand what it was about me – what I had done wrong – that meant I had received such a different response. I felt the pain of not being believed over and over again with each report I saw.
Of course the police treated me the way they did, I concluded – I had brought it all on myself and it was what I deserved for taking up their time. Of course health and support services turned their backs on me – I wasn’t worth helping and it was my fault for being weak.
I have no faith or trust in any of our institutions anymore. And that makes the world a very unpleasant place to be. I can escape my abuser, but I can never escape that. I feel even more powerless than I did when I was being abused.
But I kept going. I kept trying to find a way forward, to find a way to carry the new traumas along with the old, to find a way to reach towards all the hopes and dreams I’d had for my future when I originally left.
Despite what you may think of me from the things I write about, and how open I can be about how it feels to be suicidal, none of this has been about me “giving up”: it has been an expression of extreme pain in the face of extreme events. It is simply honesty.
I kept fighting, whatever you may think. I pushed and pushed and made a formal complaint and was eventually accepted onto a domestic violence trauma programme for 12 weeks. Where I was repeatedly told I would need long term support to recover, but that none was available. It would be down to me to do alone over the next 3-5 years.
A task that seemed utterly impossible and unattainable: I had already run out of strength. The prospect of spending years struggling on alone, and in this same level of pain and confusion, began to overwhelm me.
Still I kept pushing forward, kept working, kept trying, kept striving, kept struggling – but I could feel my hope dying, day by day by day. Fluttering away from me and out of my reach like leaves caught in the wind; all I could do was watch as it was swept away.
In October I learned that the police had made no records whatsoever of any of the things I had tried to report to them. The only records about me related to my mental health, and the welfare checks that were carried out after I was left distressed and suicidal by the way I had been treated and the experience of being told everything that happened to me was “nothing”.
All that I’d been put through trying to report, and there was no trace of any of it. Just a mental health label, sitting there ensuring I would never be believed by anyone.
I felt myself break.
I stopped writing.
I stopped talking.
I stopped hoping.
I stopped caring.
I felt the shame and self-loathing swallowing me.
2017 arrived and I kept going through the motions. Kept making plans for the future, bought my first IKEA furniture, kept going horse riding each week, kept trying to shape a life for myself. All the while contemplating my own death and wanting nothing more than to bring an end to it all.
I started making plans to die even as I was carrying out plans to live.
The pain continued to build.
I quietly left my house in the middle of the night and started walking. Hoping and assuming that the apparent invisibility that had kept help away from me for all those years when I so desperately needed it would now keep anyone from interfering with me.
I stood at 2am, alone on a bridge, wanting to disappear from the world. Asking myself what I needed to do to be able to keep living, what I could do that night to make tomorrow feel bearable – and unable to come up with any answers at all.
Then the police arrived. And an ambulance.
Four people sat on that bridge with me and told me they were concerned about me and that it mattered to them what happened to me. That they didn’t want to see me come to harm.
I listened to them, shocked at how genuine they seemed, feeling guilty I was wasting their time and concern, and feeling sad that it was already too late.
They followed through though, and in the days afterwards services suddenly seemed to mobilise for me. With an act that I fully expected and intended to go unnoticed, I had unwittingly set off a series of very loud alarm bells and been redesignated as “high risk”. I was on the radar.
The difficulty for me has been that I no longer trust them or believe anything any of them are telling me, and being put through another round of repeated assessments by a new succession of strangers – some of whom understand trauma and abuse and some of whom absolutely do not – has taken me back 10/11 months to what happened last year.
I felt like I was never going to be able to escape any of it. That the nightmare was starting all over again. I wasn’t going to be listened to or helped, I was just going to be judged and blamed while I provided responses for professionals to complete the boxes on their forms before they again told me it was all on me to fix – alone. I would be made to relive it all for them and then be told it was my fault and be abandoned again once the blame-shifting paperwork was complete.
Last night I harmed myself.
I needed it all to stop.
I needed to punish myself for all the bad things I had brought on myself and been unable to handle.
I didn’t want to have to keep explaining to people that it had been abuse, not just an unhappy relationship.
I didn’t want to be alive anymore.
I watched as blood started running out of me much faster than I’d expected and I began to cry in shock that this was what my life had come to.
Then I thought about the things that were said on the bridge that night. Their sense of urgency. The looks on their faces as they said goodbye to me. And I called an ambulance. Something I have never done before and would not have dared to do had it not been for those conversations. Whether they realised it or not – and I know I hadn’t – they left me with a lifeline that night.
Paramedic Paul called me back to assess me and promptly told me off for crying more than speaking and declared “if you won’t talk to me, I can’t help you” (a refrain no doubt often heard directed at those with physical health conditions who are unable to speak).
I sat on my kitchen floor, crying, bleeding, wanting to die, believing I was alone, that nobody was coming, and hating myself for having been so selfish as to have called 999 – and therefore having suggested I might have been worth help, when clearly there was nothing wrong with me beyond being weak and pathetic.
I began to try and work out how to finish what I’d started. It was over.
Then some people dressed in green arrived. And instead of telling me off and telling me there was nothing wrong with me, immediately reacted to my injuries and distress.
On my kitchen floor, crying and frightened, looking at the green-clad pair of knees appearing on the floor beside me, listening in shock to what sounded like genuine kindness in the voice that was telling me I didn’t need to keep apologising… and finally understanding that I wasn’t overreacting, because I really wasn’t okay. But that here were people who cared and wanted to help me.
I may write about last night more specifically at a later point. I’m still overwhelmed by the level of care shown towards me by everyone I met. They were amazing.
For now, I just want to say thank you.
Thank you to all the helpers out there doing their best in difficult circumstances. It does make a difference.
Thank you to everybody who has reached out a hand to me, even if I haven’t known how to reach back or felt that I deserved to do so.
Thank you to all the people shining lights in my direction. I know you’re there even if it still hurts too much for me to look your way.
As was said to me last night (in an analogy I shall no doubt butcher slightly): I’ve fallen down. Pretty damn hard. Now it’s about helping me get back up, on my feet, and onto the first rung of the ladder so I can start climbing my way out of this black hole. I don’t know if I can, I don’t yet feel strong enough to contemplate anything other than the idea of a ladder and people who want to help me climb it, and I don’t want to make false promises or give false hope that I will manage it, but I’m grateful for all the people who genuinely do care and are trying to help me. It’s brought me comfort in moments when I didn’t think there was any left to be had – and that’s enough for me right now.
Here’s to Year 2.