The Joan of Arc in me…

img_3986-1As most of you already know or have worked out, I am writing my story of my life and my abandonment and abuse, as well as all the many things that I have learnt and am learning along the way. I see a brilliant doctor at the moment and she is the best Psychologist that I have ever had. We see her together sometimes too, and he sees someone else as well. It sounds complicated but it isn’t really, …. we each grew up in deeply confusing and abusive situations and as a consequence we came together in an extremely cliched way… drawn together in our pain and as bad for each other as it gets… the worst combination. But we didn’t know that, and our love for each other, our faith, a gazillion life altering mistakes and a hell of a lot of hard work means that we are at last now breaking the chains that have bound us all our lives …and we are winning. As individuals and as a couple.

I cannot explain to you how proud I am of each of us in completely different ways. In the next few months we are going to be delving into the hard stuff and I will be writing about much of it. It is painful and it is hard, and all the people who broke me were without fail the exact same people who were supposed to love me and protect me, not break me and abandon me and crush my heart soul and spirit…

So today DrA and I discussed the upcoming topics and she lovingly hit me with one of her doozies; one of those comments that for her are probably par for the course, but for me are life changing in ways that are hard to explain…

Today she told me that we need to be careful with me going ahead, that she is worried about me being hurt by the process, and that we need to keep on top of keeping me safe. She said that over the two years that I have been with her, (that’s nearly 100 sessions alone, wow!!!!) she has come to this conclusion. She told me this:

“Because of what happened to you as a child, because it was such an injustice, the little girl became a warrior. A warrior for righteousness and justice and principals.

….It was the only way that she could find a voice, it meant that she survived.

….She became a very effective warrior and she is very accurate. She speaks truth and she stands up for people and against wrong. She became Joan of Arc. A young woman with a passion and an empathy for the downtrodden. I can’t fault her, Joan was wonderful, an amazing warrior … and you Jenn, you are a great Joan.

….But the problem with warriors is that nobody can see the broken damaged person underneath, and worse than that, …warriors get killed !!!

….Do you want to fight for justice or to be seen and heard? You can’t have both at the same time… “

I am feeling so many mixed emotions. There is something hugely complimentary about being compared to someone like Joan of Arc. But more than that there is also something extremely validating about the things that she described in me… but I’m not quite sure that I’m super excited about being burnt at the stake!

FAQ: Chronic vs Acute Abuse

Today’s post is a biggy. Not that there is ever anything small about abuse of any kind, but another blogger asked me a question the other day about the word Chronic and what it is. This is SUCH an important question, and the answer even more so.

All around us these days we see stories of the most traumatic and unbelievable abuse, from fathers and strangers stealing and hiding young girls in their basements for years on end, to brutal attacks and rapes. Like it or not, because it is everywhere on the news, in movies, and on the small screen, we are becoming somewhat desensitised to them. We are still horrified and we are still shocked, but the line has become blurry between what is real and what isn’t, but worse than that, is that our measure of what we think abuse is, is so extreme that we miss a different more subtle kind of abuse that is often right under our noses.

Domestic Abuse is also very much in the spotlight right now (and rightly so) and on those screens we see women with black eyes and swollen lips, purple and blue bruises and frazzled hair. The look in their eyes often speak even more deeply of the tragedy and the violence, as well as the deep emotional pain that they are in. We are shocked and horrified and look around us but don’t see anyone in our neighbourhood looking like that and so we assume that we don’t know anyone who is, or ever has been abused.

Sexual abuse is another deeply traumatic and violent act that we see on the big screen. This one in theory we know happens all around us, but we don’t like to pry or ask. 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused in one way or another, and we assume that for all of them, they are people we don’t know, and that they were physically raped.

Abuse can be at the hands of loved ones or strangers and it can take many forms. Physical and sexual abuse are the obvious, but we do hear from time to time about emotional abuse. I don’t want to take anything from these deeply tragic and abusive physical situations, but my concern in this article is for both women and men and a different kind of abuse. One that goes “unnoticed” and “non validated” sometimes even by the victim. Emotional abuse is much harder to define and capture, and because it goes hand in hand with squashing the voice of the victim, it is very hard to see or even measure the impact. For these as well as those who are more “subtly” sexually abused, there are no dark basements, no physical bumps or bruises, but the damage can, and often is, just as bad.

Let me go back a step and explain a very important concept, the difference between Chronic and Acute. We often hear these two words associated with medical things and the easiest way to explain it is to use a cough as an example. Someone with an acute cough would have a really really bad one. It may even be Pneumonia. It requires hospitalisation to treat the cough and maybe even save the patient’s life. We all get a huge fright especially the patient who is suffering tremendously.

A chronic cough on the other hand doesn’t look so bad, but it goes on and on and on. A normal cough virus (or bacteria) should last no longer than 10 days, and then if all goes well it goes away. But a cough that lingers for weeks or months or a cough that is not so bad and heals, but keeps coming back over and over again can be a sign of something  else far worse going on.

Take a different example. Say someone hit you over the head with a hammer. Hard enough to knock you out and leave you in hospital with a major head injury. That is called a brain trauma and it is a massive assault. It is called an acute trauma.

But what if someone only hit you with a rubber mallet? Not hard enough to knock you out or cause any “damage”, but they did it over and over and over again. What if every time you woke up someone hit you once on the head with this soft rubber mallet. Over time, it would still be a trauma, but a different kind of trauma, a chronic trauma. The mild bruising that occurred would never get the chance to heal, and the same spot would become tender and damaged in a different way. The bruising and healing would become stagnant and the body would not get a chance to take the damaged cells away. A blood clot could form and the person could eventually have a stoke and land up in hospital in just as bad shape as the person who was hit hard with a metal hammer that broke through their skull. This is called chronic trauma.

Much of this may seem obvious to a lot of people when looking at the outside world or the theory of abuse, but I have a huge heart for men and women who live in all kinds of chronic abuse. Bullying is a perfect example of constantly and consistently being emotionally (or even physically) hit over the head with a soft rubber mallet.

Physically it can mean a parent, sibling or school mate who constantly and regularly smacks you on the back of the head “in jest” each time you walk in the door. One whack can be funny, or simply “not nice”, but when you can’t ever get them to stop, it is abusive. More than that, it may look physical but it is actually emotional. For the bully it is a mild yet chronic way to remind someone who has the upper hand, over and over and over again. To constantly and consistently knock a person down a peg. It may not be about squashing them under foot, but it is a way of never allowing that person freedom to grow or branch out. It is about keeping that person trapped by fear and insecurity.

If someone who is hit over the head like that every single day complains, we tend as a society to measure that against the stories on the TV. We assure them that what they are suffering is nothing compared to “real” abuse and tell them that they should be thankful that it isn’t worse. We tend to judge their experience and diminish it, and we don’t help them to rise above it and to stand up to the “bully”. But no one likes to stand up to bullies right? …and anyway, these kinds of bullies are so subtle and because as they whack us they laugh and tell us that they love us, or scruff our hair …. No one else notices the victim’s hurt, and we all think that the bully is wonderful for saying that they love them. The victim then often feels bad, as though being hurt (emotionally or physically) is their own fault, and that they should the bully like everyone else does. And so way too often these kinds of experiences are never validated or recognised.

This chronic abuse can be emotional or it can be sexual as well. We constantly hear of rapes, multiple rapes, and the massive, life destroying impact on the victim by these massive, acute, sexual, emotional and physical traumas, and my heart absolutely breaks for the victims both at the time and forever onwards. But what if a young boy or girl was being chronically abused? What if a family member kept trying to look at and laugh at her budding breasts? What if she was mocked for not growing them fast enough or big enough for someone’s liking? What if a mother kept “accidentally” leaving the buttons of her shirt undone and wore no bra when her young son is the only one home and tries to get him to have an eye full, …then mocks him when he tries to look away? What if there is no sexual touch as such, but while watching TV many evenings a mother sits way too close to her hormonal teenage son, becomes sexually aroused and makes comments and gestures that leave him feeling ill and confused, or a father who does the same to a daughter and his breathing becomes heavy and hot on her neck? What if all these children have no words to explain their experiences and one to tell anyway? What if they are confused and degraded confused about what they are feeling anyway? What if when they try to verbalise it even to themselves they sound like they are making mountains out of molehills and so they silence themselves in fear of sounding stupid or being told that it is their fault?

In a completely different way, what of the child who is constantly mocked by her parents for the colour of her hair or the freckles on her face? What if she is mocked and blamed for being a girl instead of a boy? What if the focus was too much on the negative and not enough on the positive and that she was never equipped for the world out there? What if she is never taught skills to use her voice, to stand up for herself, to ask healthy questions, or to find her own skills and passions, … what if she doesn’t know how to healthily say no? What if her parents kept her isolated from family and friends so that there were no other influences on her life to fill in the gaps that she so desperately needed? What if she was never cared for medically and always told that she was making it up, …so no one even looked to see what was going on under the surface?

Silence and secrets, unspoken pain and confusion, youth and innocence … all these things conspire against anyone who grows up in or lives with chronic abuse; the constant hits on the head by a rubber mallet, which dull our senses and keep us in fear. For every battered face there are a dozen battered hearts and broken souls. For every rape there is a handful of sexually broken men and women who don’t understand what is going on other than that somehow it hurts like hell.

Much of that emotional abuse is mild, but psychologically a good chunk of it is actually not as subtle as it appears. But even if it is all mild, the constant whacking over the head with the emotional hammer, all through a child’s growing years, does not equip him or her for adult life. It sets paths for their future which were no where near to the God-given potential that they was born with. Patterns were set for choosing partners, building relationships, and the bruised and battered effects of abuse continue into adult life….

Unless … what if they are brave enough, and strong enough and manage to break free… to start on a decades long lonely, exhausting journey to achieve what is supposed to be the impossible, …and what if they are prepared to lose everything to get there?

Is the Choice REALLY mine???

warning: major rant!

Sometimes things in life tick me off. I’m pretty sure that I am not the only person who gets ticked off in life; not much in life is easy or fair, and not that much goes our own way… but that is the reality that we live in, and there is so much beauty in diversity and difference and if we stop and complain about everything that rubs up against us in ways that we don’t like, then we can make ourselves pretty miserable. So I try to not let things get to me, especially in an era where we can skim our social media so easily and filter out anything that we don’t like…

But now and then something comes along and I am a bit like a dog with a bone over, and as I was nodding off to sleep I came across this picture (minus everything in red which I added to it afterwards!! … am I allowed to do that? does that infringe copyright laws?) … and I knew that I would spend the next hour or so stewing over it … so I thought rather get this off my chest instead!

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REALLY????? Is the choice REALLY mine to make? It is bad enough that the world media uses sex to sell everything from women’s things to cars, machinery to sport, and everything else in between (it’s late, I couldn’t come up with better examples sorry!), but if ain’t bad enough that we are told what we have to look like when we are young, now women are being told what they need to look like when they are old?!?!?!?!

Even worse are the photos where they say “What’s your excuse?” (as if I have no excuse!!!)

Let’s call the lady on the left Lefticia, and the lady on the right Rightlyn, just to make it easy, ….and let me make a few things abundantly clear before I go any further: Lefticia is clearly beautiful, hard working, and committed, as well as healthy, is probably pretty determined, and has a whole lot of very admirable work ethics, and other wonderful attributes. Also there is NOTHING wrong with being inspired by women who are able to do all kinds of great things … inspire away … just don’t use it as a guilt trip to others!!!!

Rightlyn on the other hand certainly also looks physically unfit… but that is where it ends for me. The photo on the right comes from only one of two sources: It is either staged (and therefore she could well be older than 74, the lighting used accentuate her wrinkles … blah blah blah…. ) or it is a genuine photo pf someone at 74, who really is like that … and then I have a MASSIVE problem with them using this picture as a comparison: At a very basic level, they are showing Lefticia at her very best, and Rightlyn at her very worst! … I think you get the picture and I don’t want this rant to be about how I struggle with the photo ethically…

The point that I want to make here is more about the WORDING!!!! Let me try and make this somewhat brief:

1: I know 74 year olds who work as hard as Lefticia and are as fit and healthy as her, but at 74 their bodies have suffered the ravages of disease (cancer, polio, etc), serious wounds (including burns, surgery, cuts, accidents etc), had their skin stretched and damaged due to carrying many or few, large or small babies but their skin or abdominal muscles became and remained stretched, scarred, broken …. These ravages and scars tell a thousand tales of misery, torture, triumph, failure, loss, agony, heartache, joy … and no matter what they do, these women DO NOT have a choice, and they will NEVER EVER EVER have a body like this!!!!

2: I know 74 year olds who work as hard as Lefticia and are as fit and healthy as her, but because their genes mean that they are stunted and short, or have tiny rib cages or wide strong ones, they have ligaments and muscles that don’t work properly and are not strong enough to carry their own meal to the table much less enough weights to produce those muscles, who work at physio waaaay more hours than Lefticia has put in to a life time, just so they can FUNCTION, let alone be toned or strong, … and so the list of genetic limitations are endless, that mean that no matter what they do, they DO NOT have a choice, and they will NEVER EVER EVER have a body like this!!!!

3: I know plenty of women half this age who’s bodies have been struck by diseases and illnesses, which mean that they may well look whole, but due to paralysis, EDS, MS, and an almost endless list of other life altering conditions and complications, mean that they will never walk again, or run again, or swim again, or carry their children or grandchildren again, that mean that no matter what they do, they DO NOT have a choice, and they will NEVER EVER EVER have a body like Lefticia’s!!!!

4: I know 72 year olds who worked as hard as Lefticia and are as fit and healthy as her, and even looked somewhat like this (I don’t know many, I have to say, but I do have a couple of family members who have worked VERY hard for this), but they pushed themselves too far, and beyond their limits because of this kind of pressure, that at 72 one snapped an Achilles tendon, could not walk for 6 months, and when they were strong enough their shoulder went and as they recovered from shoulder surgery their knee went and they are now waiting for their first knee replacement and they are not yet 74… they were on track to be Leftictia at 74, but at 73, they are permanently pretty immobile, they DO NOT have a choice, and they will NEVER EVER EVER have a body like this again!!!!

5: On the other hand, I also know plenty of 74 years olds who look a lot like Rightlyn. But those wrinkles have been hard earned! They have never been lazy a day in their lives! Slaving over hot stoves and factory jobs to support children with no help from a husband, putting children through school and sleeping four or five hours a night for over half a century! They started hard work at 17 and at 74 this is what is left!! Through absolutely no fault of their own, they DO NOT have a choice, and they will NEVER EVER EVER have a body like Lefticia!!!! They would not even know where to start, and nor do they want to, they are in dire need of REST REST REST … and for many of them, they might LOOK like that, but they have a right to carry such a burden and look back on a life that almost barely had a chance at anything else, and you want to rub Lefticia in their faces and say why do you not choose this?

6: I also know plenty of 74 years olds who look a lot like Rightlyn…. and they have beautiful smiles when they turn around and look at me, and they are rich beyond belief in all the things that ACTUALLY count! They are loved by many, they are wise, they are strong as an ox !!… Who cares what their hair style, clothes choice or skin looks like? To their friends, and loved ones, even their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren if they have any, they smell and feel and simply “are” everything that is safe, secure, constant, loyal, sweet, tasty, …. and above all everything that is right about the world! … they have CHOSEN to invest their precious time and energy into the things of the world that make the most difference, they CHOOSE not to be Lefticia and for them and all who are loved by them, it is the best choice!

7: This is an obvious one … who does Mother Theresa look more like? Lefticia or Rightlyn?

Come on world … inspire by all means, but stop giving false hope, false guilt, rubbing loss in people’s faces, forcing some values way above others, … do we REALLY need this?????

 

Book Review: Alexandra Fuller

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.05 PMI have just finished reading a bunch of books by the same author, (Alexandra Fuller), and I couldn’t put them down! There is no Trilogy or “order” to her books, which aren’t exactly in sequence, but I found it easier to read them in the order in which they were written. I first found “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness”, and after reading just a few pages, I quickly realised that in the book she was referring a lot to things from her first book; “Don’t Let’s go to the Dog’s Tonight”. But I loved her writing style and knew that I was going to enjoy these, so decided that it was worth taking the risk and buying her first book as well (investing in two books that I had not yet read, by an author unknown to me felt a little risky!). But I promptly put the book down and bought the first one on Kindle to read straight away … I had already settled in to read for the night and so I didn’t want to wait!

Well it was a risk that paid off well and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure that it is a book for everyone, but she is both bold and outspoken and says things as they are (in fact more so, she doesn’t just call a spade a spade, she calls it a “bloody shovel” (swear words and all!), and at the same time she leaves a lot to the imagination. If you are looking for detailed descriptions of gory nitty gritty then you won’t find them here, …yet her descriptions of her surroundings, her feelings, her experiences, through the eyes of a child, make you feel like you are there, and the details that she doesn’t give, are almost better off not said because you can easily fill them in much better for yourself.

She has an English and Scottish heritage (both by her lineage and her own birth), but she is also the second generation to be born in the UK yet be brought up in southern Africa. Her early life is a rich and yet heart breaking tale of one lived at the very raw edge of life, both for herself, her siblings, her parents, and all the people around her.

I don’t like knowing the plot of a book before I read it, so my reviews are much the same, but suffice to say that the first book is definitely the place to start if you have any interest in her stories which can best be described as memoirs. Because she wrote “Don’t Let’s go the the Dog’s Tonight” first, everything in it is fresh and new and it helps to know nothing (or very little) beforehand. The rest of her books however often refer to that first book, but other than that are self contained and can be read in any order. She pretty much refers to much of her life in all of them and my only criticism if I have to have one, is that the same stories can sometimes be repeated in more than one book, without any new insight, understanding or new detail or information.

The first book gives her story from a child’s perspective completely, and I found it easy to separate how she experiences life then, with what she now adds to each part of her story from an adult perspective. “Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness” tells the same story from her mother’s viewpoint and beautifully adds background, an adult perspective, and an understanding of how it was for her and why things happened that were otherwise confusing for Alexandra as a child. “Scribbling the Cat technically tells someone else’s story, but it is very much part of her own story as she goes back and explores what it would have been like for an adult to have lived and fought through the war in what was then Rhodesia, through her childhood. It gives a different perspective yet again, to what was going on even further afield of her life, but around her and affecting her childhood deeply.

I love history, but not so much in the numbers and dates, but rather in a sense of people and places and the rawness of human beings. I don’t much enjoy autobiographies or memories as such either, because sadly, not everyone who lives a fascinating or eventful life, or has an amazing story to tell, can tell it well! But this really struck a chord for me as her story is beautifully written, is made up of very raw, real, human beings, and it tells the history of the places she lived, in a way that was not too many lists or boring details, but a recounting of human cost and sacrifice.

The fact that she lived in countries that I have never been to but in many ways were very similar to my own, held huge interest for me, particularly as she was born less than two years after me, and so we share an era as well as a corner of the globe. I enjoyed learning more about the world around me, in one sense on my own door step yet just that little bit further away than the edge of my own country..

But I think that the biggest thing for me, was that without actually ever saying so, she tackles and exposes what it is like to live through long term trauma.

In the last decade the world has been opened up to the reality of incredible abuse stories. Time and time again they pop up, and on levels that many of us cannot begin to comprehend. How can this be possible? How can these things happen without anyone seeing or hearing or knowing something? These stories need to be told, and the world needs to know what is happening under their noses. But just because not all trauma is as bad as those massive horrendous human tragedies, that we must lose sight of the every day people who are also suffering. This book is not one of those massive stories, rather it is one of consistent trauma, and is a huge reminder how it is so easy to miss, growing up with everyone simply doing the best they can or know how, coping with life and tragedy and hard work, that little people get lost and broken and fall through the cracks.

In Gregory Jantz book “Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse“, he says:

 

“Emotional [trauma] is harder to spot and easier to deny. But just as physical and sexual abuse have signposts to mark their presence, emotional abuse too, …. has common traits…”. “Damage can be done in a one time traumatic event… or be a consistent low level pattern over a period of time” … and that “repetition obscures the severity”.

These books of Alexandra Fullers are very much a watershed. An unpacking of what has been unresolved and an airing the family dirty washing “as is”, without making excuses, justifying or protecting anyone or anything, or laying blame either. Alexandra does an amazing job of saying it simply how she experienced it, and does not come across as bitter or angry.

And to me anyway, these books are a huge reminder that not all abuse, neglect, or trauma, is dramatic, unspeakable, Gob-smackingly terrifying, purposeful or deliberate. That it is way too often simply an outcome, a fallout, a set of terrible circumstances, or a lack of awareness, help or understanding … but that the impact is just as severe!