Restraint

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In the summer of 2001, I overdosed multiple times.  Some of these stories are described in other blog posts.  After the last of that series of suicide attempts, my psychiatrist put me on a Form (sectioned me, 72 hour hold).  He refused to release me from the hospital unless my parents came to collect me.   I remember my father driving down to pick me up.  I don’t really remember being released, but I ended up back home at my parents house, many hours away in another city.   The past few months felt like a bad dream.

I remember my parents had hidden all the pills in a bag in their bedroom closet.  I remember that there wasn’t a lot of trust, and for good reason.  I tried to relax, but the thoughts of self harm were propelling me forward.  I was caught in a vicious cycle, medication induced self destruction.  I would feel unsafe, hurt myself, go to the hospital seeking safety…then after a few days panic, feel trapped and beg to be released.  It went on over and over.  I always wanted to be where I wasn’t, I was chasing the feeling of safety, of quiet in my mind, of escape.

I remember walking up to the plaza by my parents house.  I bought an exacto knife at the dollar store and sneaked it into the house.  I was always buying, hiding, and throwing away tools during those years.  I often hide them in various places for safe keeping.  Intellectually I knew that having them in the house was the opposite of safe, but somehow their presence simultaneously calmed and panicked me.   It’s rare, even today that I don’t have something hidden.  Even though I don’t use the tools, I sometimes feel compelled to buy and keep them.   Sometimes I’ve called friends and asked them to help me throw them out.  I’ve handed them over to therapists and doctors.  I’ve hidden them and felt ashamed.  Even writing this brings up a feeling of shame inside me.  This is the power of addiction, the constant push and pull between the promise of safety and the threat of disaster and destruction.  Back then, I thought I was in control.  I thought the cutting kept me in control, but in reality the urges controlled me completely.

I had the knife at my parents house, I cut myself with it.  Deeply, but not deep enough to require medical attention.  I told my parents and asked them to take me to the hospital.  I told them I felt suicidal and I wanted help to control the urges.  I remember sitting in the ER waiting room, in a different city.

I don’t remember everything that happened.  I remember talking to a Dr, I was sitting on a stretcher, it wasn’t a special psychiatric emergency, just a regular bed.   The doctor agreed to admit me.  Then nurses came and gave me a gown, they took my clothes and items and put them into a white bag with a plastic drawstring labelled “patient belongings.”  This was different, the anxiety began, “why are they taking my things?”  Apparently this was the protocol at this hospital.

I was taken up to the 4th floor, to the Mental Health Unit.  It was a different layout and different style that the hospital I’d been in only a few days before.  It seemed larger and was laid out more like a large rectangle, rather than a long straight line.   I was shown to my room.   Outside the room was a cupboard and the nurse locked my things in there.   I was allowed to keep my teddy bear, but not my clothes.  In this hospital there were 2 beds to a room and each room had it’s own bathroom with a toilet and shower.

I stayed in the hospital for a few days.  It was the last week of June.  A few friends came to visit me.  I was given my clothes back and allowed to leave the hospital on passes.   During one of the passes I went to visit the psychologist who had treated me as a teenager.   To be honest the appointment was not helpful.  I don’t think she had a good understanding of me.  She didn’t understand why I was sick (because I’d been abused) and she didn’t understand why I was cutting myself and suicidal (because of the abuse and the medication cocktail).  I felt that she shamed me and threatened me to stop my acting out.  I don’t really remember exactly what was said.  I only remember feeling desperate when I left.  I think my parents dropped me back at the hospital.  I was in the lobby of the hospital, where there was a pharmacy and I considered buying a giant bottle of the medicine I had been told would kill me if I overdosed again.  I felt hopeless.

Somehow I managed to go back upstairs to the ward without incident.  I remember a few days later I wanted to leave, as was my usual pattern.  It was the weekend, I believe it was July 1 and I wanted to go home to see the fireworks.   I did as I would have in the other hospital, starting convincing them I was okay.  But somehow it backfired.  They didn’t believe me and they said I couldn’t leave until my doctor returned the next day.  I started panicking and becoming angry.   They told me they were holding me involuntarily because they thought I would just leave.  I was crying and banging my head.  I went into the washroom in my room, took off my earring and scratched my skin with the sharp end.  It wasn’t even enough to draw blood, just to cause pain and leave angry looking scratches on my body.   I remember being at the nursing station.  I was given a cup with liquid medication inside.  I was told it was Nozinan, a medication I’d used for panic before.  I drank it and soon after I realized something was wrong.  I became extremely drugged and when I asked the nurse had given me 5 times my usual dose.  They took away my clothing again and gave me a hospital gown.

Before I fell asleep or settled into my bed I realized what had happened.

I’d been chemically restrained.

They didn’t want to deal with my acting out and so they drugged me.

I felt betrayed, I felt scared.  I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone and I felt like my life was out of control.

The next day my doctor returned and agreed to release me.  The only useful part of that hospital admission was the doctor switched my medication to one that I still take today.  One of the few I’ve found over almost 20 years that actually makes me more, rather than less, sane.   For that I was thankful.

I soon went back to my home.  The cycle continued.  Looking back I realize an important lesson.  It’s not possible to keep someone else safe.  If someone is determined to harm themselves they will find a way.  Short of restraining someone and drugging them, it’s impossible.  The person has to want to help themselves, and they have to find both a purpose for living and a direction to move toward.  A goal, a passion, a reason to fight.  This is unique and can’t be forced or given to someone.  Believing in myself happened over time.  The psychiatric system is a crisis management system and nothing more.  The true help I’ve received over the years has come from other places entirely.

 

The moment you know…

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I think for every person who experiences ongoing abuse there is a moment:  a moment when the person knows it is over.  They know they are not willing to take even one more minute of lying, gaslighting, physical violence, sexual assault or devaluing of their humanity.  At that  moment the survivor becomes empowered and powerful.

Some survivors are forced to stay with their abuser after this point.  Do not equate what I’m describing as “just leave” or “why didn’t you just leave?”   Leaving is complicated.  There are lots of reasons why someone is not able to leave.  Never judge a survivor for how long it takes them to walk away from violence.  Everyone has access to different options at different points in their lives.  Even if they are still living in violence, do not judge, for at that time they need your support more than ever.

I’m not talking just about leaving.  I’m talking about the moment of realization “enough is enough!”  After that point the survivor begins to take her power back, even if it is just internally.  She realizes she is worth more than the abuse and that a good portion, if not everything, the abuser tells her is untrue and designed to control and confuse.

Everyone has a breaking point, and after that point they begin to grow stronger in the broken places.

I remember the moment I decided that I couldn’t stay married any longer.   I’d played around with the idea of leaving for about a year, seriously for about 13 months.  I tried to leave 6 months before, but was lured back with promises of him attending counseling.

The sexual assault followed a predictable pattern.  It always involved me saying no when I was awake, or saying nothing when I was awake.  Later in the marriage I wrote my “no” in letters, emails and discussed it verbally during the day.  I explicitly spelled out in numerous ways that I did not consent to sex or sexual touching when I was asleep.   During the majority of the marriage I took varying doses of psychiatric medications that made me tired, sleepy, drugged, slower to respond, and quicker to fall back asleep.  I would fall asleep and wake up 45-60 minutes later (at the time when the medication was at it’s peak strength) to him touching me sexually or initiating sex.  I won’t get into all the details here, but it was non-consenting by definition, since I was asleep and drugged.  He knew I would say no if he asked me when I was fully conscious, so he just waited until I was asleep and impaired.  The medication also can make it harder for me to form thoughts or speak clearly and quickly, it delays my reaction times, especially around speaking.

When I did wake up I sometimes said no again, I sometimes froze and he eventually stopped, sometimes I moved his hand away, sometimes silently went along with it, and rarely I said yes once I was awake.  Even when I said yes when I woke up, I still experienced it as assault, because my body was already reacting physiologically by the time I was conscious.  Then it sometimes felt easier to go along with it because it bought me more time before he would ask or take again.

The last time we had sex was the end of our marriage.  Yes, ironically I can say that the sex was so awful I left him because of it.

I’d already been thinking about leaving, many times when he assaulted me I lay there thinking “This will be the last time”  or “I could just get up and walk out”  but I stayed because I had kids and I was afraid.

The last time was in early July, around July 7.  It was one of the times where he started touching me while I was asleep and when I woke up I decided to say yes.   We had sex.  I felt awful.  I knew it was over.  I realized that if I felt violated even when I said  yes, then there was no hope.  And I still felt upset that he couldn’t understand that if the sex started while I was asleep I didn’t have the chance to consent.

The next few days I spoke to my counselor at the abused women’s centre.  I spoke to one of my best friends, who had consistently been giving me the advice to tell my parents, get help, consider leaving.  Everything just clicked and a few days later I told him it was over.

From then on I never really looked back.  It took me 7 weeks to move out into a place of my own.  Those weeks were a living hell.  But I was never confused again.  I never wondered if I was doing the right thing or not.   I felt empowered to take some action to reclaim my life.

Sadly, in my story moving did not completely stop the abuse, and this week almost 3 years later, I watched someone else hit that breaking point.  Someone very close to me.  My own child.  I’m not sure whether or not to be absolutely devastated at what she’s been going through, or glowing with pride and inspiration at how empowered and strong she is.  At such a young age she is more self assured, confident and has better self esteem that I do as an adult.  She’s learned things as a child that I was taught in therapy as an adult.

At the same time I feel like the world’s worst and best parent.  I feel like the worst parent because I feel responsible for what they’ve gone through, and I feel like the best parent because I have, on my own, created empathetic, strong, caring and brave children who care about social justice and equality.  Sometimes I feel we are good people in spite of, despite and almost to spite him.  Being a kind person is one thing he can never take away and that empower us.

I’m not sure whether I’m triggered or inspired.  It’s been an emotional, upside down week.  I feel like I’ve been fighting to justify my entire existence for 3 years, probably longer.  I’m tired.  I’m so tired.  I sometimes feel I don’t have the strength to carry on, but I also don’t have the option to stop.  It’s a marathon.  Sometimes the decision to leave can happen in a split second, but the leaving can take a life time.

Robbery and Sexual Assault

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If someone robs your house and steals everything you own, you feel unsafe, violated and on high alert for future thefts.

If someone breaks into your house everyday and steals just one CD, you feel unsafe, violated and on high alert for future thefts.

In either case, someone is inside your house without your consent and taking something belonging to you without asking.

Sexual violence is like having your house broken into.

When I was raped, I felt unsafe, violated and on high alert for future violence.

When I was touched sexually without my consent I felt unsafe, violated and on high alert for future violence.

When I was looked at sexually without my consent I felt unsafe, violated and on high alert for future violence.

Whether the perpetrator was forcing sex without my consent or just touching me when I was asleep, the impact was the same.  Something was being taken from me without my consent.  I wasn’t freely participating so it was assault, not sex.

Sexual violence impacts survivors, it doesn’t have to be rape to impact you.

I want to break down the myth that certain types of sexual violence are “more serious” than others.  All sexual violence is happening without consent, and when something happens to your body without consent it can have a major impact.

I’ve experienced the spectrum of violence, from voyeurism, to touching without consent, to forced intercourse.  It’s just not true that the rape was always the worst.  What was the worst was not knowing if my house was going to be broken into that night or not.  Not how much was stolen during the break in.

During my marriage the sexual assault took place when I was drugged and asleep.  There was no ability to provide consent.  In fact, I often said no while I was awake.  Sometimes I said no again when I woke up, sometimes I didn’t.

If you don’t say no, it does not mean you consented.  There are many reasons why someone might not say no.  They might be drugged or intoxicated, they might be too afraid, they might disassociate or freeze as a response to the trauma or they might have learned through repeated experience that saying no is not effective, or provokes further violence.

I was impacted by all the violence I experienced.   And the impact built and multiplied together.  It wasn’t any one incident that caused me to have PTSD, or made me feel unsafe, it was a collection of experiences that took place over a number of years.   Except for in one case, I knew all the perpetrators.   Except for one of those, I had contact with all of them after the abuse.  They were friends, dates, boyfriends and my husband.  The fact that I had contact with them does not mean I consented.  In some cases it takes time to end a relationship with an abuser.  There can be further risks for women in the period when they are leaving, the violence can escalate and the abuser can become more unpredictable.  The abuser senses they are losing control and they tighten and increase their efforts to control the survivor.

I was abused multiple times and I never screamed.  I never really physically fought back except in one instance.   This does not mean I consented.  There were reasons why I didn’t fight back.  I was ashamed, I was scared, I froze…my kids were in the room next door, I was afraid of further violence.

All the assaults that happened to me except one, happened in places I knew, my home, their home, school etc.   If you go with someone to a location it does not mean you are consenting to sex.  Most violence happens in places and with people known to the survivor, it is a  myth that the most dangerous place is walking down a dark street at night.

No matter how your house was broken into and what was stolen, even if nothing was stolen, your experience is valid.  No matter where on the spectrum your assault falls, your experience is valid.  Your coping reactions and what you did to survive are all valid too.

I believe you.  I hope you believe yourself.   I hope that the thefts stop or have stopped.  You deserve to be safe.  Without consent, it is assault.

 

Hold On, Hold Onto Yourself, for this is going to hurt like hell

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Summer of 1996.  The Woods.

Picture taken 20 years later.  Spring 2016.

This is one of the places X sexually abused me.  It’s one of the first places I remember actively disassociating.

I remember floating, slightly outside my body while he kissed and bit my neck, breasts and stomach.  Hard enough and long enough to leave marks.  I felt like he was marking his territory and his territory was all across my 15 year old body.  I remember feeling ashamed of those kiss marks, trying to hide them from my friends and parents.  I remember making a lame excuse when my parents noticed a red bruise-like mark on my neck one day that summer.

While he lifted up my shirt and I lay on my back on the large stone, his weight on top of me making it difficult for me to move; I floated.  I floated and I observed the trees around me.  I remember noticing a circle of trees with straight trunks around me and the rock.  I felt like it was a clearing, almost a circular chapel with the rock as an alter in the centre.  The trees around me comforted me, but I remember feeling disgusted and wishing that the kisses would stop.

I remember the feeling of the hard rock below me.  The rock was cool compared to X. I always associate X with the colour red, like fire burning away the blue ice I associated with the numbness of disassociation.

At the time I would never have considered the abuse by X as sexual assault, or even abuse.  But looking back I know I often said no, I set boundaries, I asked him not to ever do certain things and he ignored me.  Eventually I tired of saying no and I began to submit quietly, not really resisting, just trying to get it over with and minimize the impact on me.  It was during this time that I learned to please X as quickly as possible so that he would not spend much time touching my body.  I  learned that a way of exerting some small amount of control over the situation was to try to speed up the process and distract X.  When he was touching me I often just froze.  I didn’t move, I didn’t fight, I didn’t scream and I didn’t resist.  This still impacts my healthy sexuality now, 20 years later.

Fight. Flight. Freeze. Fawn

Disassociating is a normal coping reaction to experiencing violence.  Freezing.

Trying to please the abuser in order to minimize risk to self is a normal reaction.  Fawning.

Doing the best you could to survive is the best you could have done.

It’s easy to look back harshly on our young selves and say “You should have run, you should have left him, you should have told someone, you should have screaming…should…should…should”

But I believe if you could have done better, you would have done better.

If I could have done better I would have done better.  My younger self had reasons for not running, not leaving, not telling and not screaming.  I didn’t run because I disassociated. I didn’t leave because I was worried he would commit suicide.  I didn’t tell because I thought I would be in trouble and I thought people would think I was a slut for being sexual.  I didn’t scream because I was raised not to make a fuss, to be kind to others and because I believed I would be judged.

I’m sure you have valid reasons too and if you are reading this (and I’m still writing it!) you have survived which means your best was enough.  You are enough.