The following are brief stories from some of our survivors about how they were affected, what help if any they have tried in the past and finally what brought them to Surviving Together and how it has helped them.
My name is Rachel and I am 38yrs old and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
I came to Surviving Together in February 2007 after a victim support worker suggested I give it try to get some extra support.
In November 2006 I finally reported my abuse to the police, I did not plan it and I do not know why I suddenly done it, I never thought I would have the guts to do it but I did. As you can imagine it was hard, I suffered several severe panic attacks and other times I felt numb, one time I was so overwhelmed with pain I cut my harm with a knife in a bizarre way hoping to release the pain and anguish. A lady from the child protection unit was assigned to me and she gradually overtime took my statement and all the necessary procedures followed.
All different aspects of my life have been affected over the years, I still have unresolved issues and tension with family members and even with myself but over the last year I have gradually started to understand myself and started to slowly stop blaming myself for everything.
My abuse case never made it to court although the police said they believed me there was just not enough evidence, my first reaction was anger, I felt humiliated and stupid but I was not going to let it dominate my life I had to try and find a way to live with it, I felt I needed to try and find a positive out of everything if not the abuser wins.
My partner is very supportive and loving and he supported me through everything, whatever I decided he backed me up, my children and him were what gave me the strength to move forward with life. Surviving Together were there for me when the police decision was made, other group members gave me support and it was good to discuss my feelings and issues with other survivors as they can empathise and understand how you maybe feeling. I never thought I would or could go to a group meeting the thought of baring all to a bunch of strangers just did not appeal to me, I thought it would be all doom and gloom but its not after the first initial meeting I found a unique bond with the other women, we are all there for the same reason and we can empathise and really relate to each others experiences. The staff and volunteers are lovely, they try to help as much as they can and if they cannot help they will someone find who can and point you in the right direction.
My confidence has grown and I am starting to actually believe I am worth something and that I do deserve a nice life. I love helping other survivors move on with their lives its great to make them smile and start enjoying life, as for my past well that’s where I am trying hard to keep it and thanks to Surviving Together and my family I am starting to appreciate life.
Although I’m usually regarded as very capable, I had carried this “secret” for many years .With everyday life, work, etc, I have always been able to cope, however in a social situation making the effort to go out was difficult and I would much rather stay at home.
I had tried to address the abuse firstly many years ago by asking my doctor about counselling but was told there was nothing available on the NHS. A lot of time passed then I noticed in the doctors surgery information about someone who did counselling privately so I made an appointment to see him.
I did go to a couple of sessions but I found it hard and I felt uncomfortable with the counseller, he reminded me of my abuser so I discontinued going.
In 2007 I saw a piece in the evening news about “SURVIVING TOGETHER” so I rang up, and have been attending monthly meetings for quite sometime. In one way or another, within the group we have all been through similar experiences of abuse, within the group we are able,(if we so wish) to express how we have been affected, without fear of a negative reaction, and with a genuine empathy with the hope of in time moving forward with life. Attending the meetings has been very positive for me and I’m sure the group will go on to help many other woman with similar issues.
My name is Paula, I am a 36 year old support worker and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse - it feels a bit like AA saying that but there it is, that is what I am, it doesn't define me but it is a fact.
In 2006 I found out that the perpetrator of my abuse was foster caring. I didn't feel I could just leave it any more so I contacted Social Services and my story begins.........
I was volunteering for victim support at the time and at one of our monthly meetings two lovely ladies, Hazel and Liz, came to tell us about an idea that they had. They wanted to start a self help group and had come to ask if anyone wanted to help. I waited until the end of their talk and disclosed my status. They were very discreet and contacted me later and I attended their day group as a survivor.
At this time my case went to court, it lasted about a week and was very traumatic for me and my family. I didn't expect the upheaval that happened and needed a lot of support.
The day group helped me by being a place I could talk about it safely and without judgement, they believed me without question, listened when I wanted to talk and were nice to me when I was too upset.
Very soon after that I felt I could help the organisers by facilitating an evening group with the help of Rachel, another survivor from the day group, since then I have had some other bad stuff happen so I have taken a back seat. I have not been made to feel guilty about taking a step down; they are there for me and only want what is best for me. It feels almost like the parent I never had.
The perpetrator of my abuse is now in prison but that isn't the end, contrary to popular misconception. I still have to heal, I have had a bad year with one thing and another but the future looks bright and with the group I look forward with gusto.
Through the group I have found the courage to go for therapy and we have had many discussions as to what experiences people have had with therapy. We have even had some therapists come to the group to explain what they do and how it helps. This has been invaluable as it would have cost a fortune trying all the various therapies out and you want to narrow the field before you jump in and spend money. We talk about all sorts of things, from what medication we are taking to how we are feeling and all those little things we all do to cope. Sharing other people's ideas helps because you don't feel so alone or different when you hear what others have to say. You can also pick up a few hints and tricks to get yourself out of bad behaviour.
Before Surviving Together I never looked forward - now I look forward to lots of things:
If this is healing why didn't I do this before & why haven't you started?
Rachel., one of the facilitators, rang me out of the blue several months ago, inviting me to come along to the survivors meeting. Due to other commitments, I couldn’t go. I heard no more about the group, I thought about it often but didn’t know how to get in touch, as I didn’t know what the group was called.
I have just started proceedings against the person who abused me, and on Tuesday evening, when I got back from work, there was a letter from the court explaining what was happening. Suddenly it all seemed a bit real, I would have to see him in court, give evidence and tell the court what he did…It was all a bit frightening, I was sitting on the sofa reading the leaflets about video links or screens versus standing in front of my perpetrator. As I was reading, the phone rang – “sorry to ring so late, I am ringing from Surviving Together to invite you to a group meeting tomorrow.” The friendly voice said on the end of the phone. What perfect timing! I needed advice, and here was a group of people in a similar situation, who had been through what I had been through, I was so relieved, the timing was perfect. I would only have to wait less than 24 hours to talk to someone who understands.
I arrived late, as I had been with my therapist. There was not enough time from the previous night to think up an excuse why not to come, I just had to go. As soon as I went in, I was greeted by a group of relaxed women sitting about talking and eating chocolate, my sort of meeting! I was worried it may be very formal or full of weeping people, telling tales of abuse much worse than mine, and I would feel like a fraud. We have all been abused in different ways and all is just as valid as the next. None of us should have had to endure this but we had no control over it, no power to stop it. There were tears, but not all the time, they were expected, I will no doubt cry too, but it is an environment in which it is safe to do so. There was laughter too, jokes about our alarms that went off to remind us to take various medications…
It was fantastic to be somewhere that everyone understood. The only person who I had to talk to before was my sister, though she blamed me for what happened to her- she thought he only did it to her, I thought he only did it to me – we had no idea about the other.
Now there were people in Norwich I could talk to, not sympathise, make “there there” comments, but those who could offer practical advice and understand.
We talked about self-image, punishing ones self, all the things I did and still do. I thought it was because I was unhinged, but was assured it probably related directly to the abuse, the wanting to ‘give’ all the time, and not look after yourself, putting others first. I thought it was only me, yet everyone in the group said they did the same things, now maybe I can work on it, because now I know where it comes from.
There was another new survivor there, so I was not the only new person. It was comforting to hear the others’ stories, horrid that they had to go through it. Sometimes it is easy to think you are the only one it has happened to; maybe you imagined it – false memory syndrome. It’s easy to persuade your self it is not real; that you have been “lying” or “making things up” however this is something that is carried around all your life, a guilty secret no one can know about.
Surviving Together is a safe environment to let go, cry, shout, be yourself, and most importantly, to be believed.
Once a month doesn’t seem enough, it is a long time to wait till the next meeting. Surviving Together, though I have only been the once, is a fantastic group, positive encouraging, forward looking, a lifeline to understanding the horrors of childhood sexual abuse, and a totally safe confidential environment to make sense of what happened to each of us.
What happened to me as a child, has been with me throughout all my life. The problem for me is I am never without the burden of it.
Since being able to share it with other sufferers, and being supported by my Clinical Psychologist, I am now able to control the effects it has had on me over the years.
It is still a great burden, but one that I hope to manage. I shall always be grateful, being able to share with this group. I realise that it would help me if I were able to dispose of this burden, but I still find this difficult to do, but I am sure that one day it will come.
In 2009 it was suggested that we make a collection of our members' poetry, writing and pictures and exhibit them. To date the exhibition has been displayed in The Forum, County Hall, at a Violence Against Women Conference at John Innes Centre, The Quaker Meeting House and St. Thomas Church all in Norwich and at The James Paget Hospital, which means it has been seen by several hundred people.
The first panel of the display stand has information about us and records events; the second and third are for the voices of members..
The exhibition, 'Voices', is seen as an ongoing expression of the feelings of women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, enabling them to speak out in public and be heard.
When you are sad and lonely
And don’t know what to do,
It takes all your courage
To help you see it through
Treat yourself to flowers
Or write a heartfelt poem,
Try paddling in the sea
Just to keep on going.
Try thinking of good things
And plan to lift the gloom,
For what really matters
Is peace within, and soon.
It helps to know your fight
Is not just all in vain,
Trust, believe in yourself
With friends to ease such pain.
Can help to soothe your sorrow
And prove beyond all doubt
There is a better tomorrow.
Quiet little thing with the haunted face
eyes glassed over and a mind that raced
nowhere to run nowhere to hide
no-one to listen no-one to provide
much needed comfort safety from fears
needs were ignored for so many years
protection required didn’t come our way
is it our fault that we didn’t say?
Who are there when the plug gets pulled?
Who takes the pain, the shame, the fear
The relentless hours in their hands
Their perverted needs know no bounds
The lights go out and I return
Hours have passed I then learn
The torture is over until the next time
The people make sure the next day is mine
Why do I have these things in my head?
When I should be asleep in bed
I do so wish I could scream
Go away people, I don’t want to hear
Leave me alone, I have my own fear
I want to be I, I don’t want to be we
No sharing my time, I want it for me
I want to be normal, and do normal things
Not to be strange, alone and weird
Odd looks from others I can do without
I don’t want to jump around, swear and shout
Or have nasty thoughts impressed to me
I hope you really now do see?
Mummy we don’t want your touch we want you to care
Mummy we don’t want your touch don’t make us lie there
Mummy we don’t want your touch why does it fill you with glee
Mummy we don’t want your touch stay away from we
Hey, look, that’s me
A sparkling shimmering flower
Beautiful and delicate
A pretty purple flower Floating
Floating in the iridescent blue sea of life
Turbulence stopped, Tranquillity stilly.
See the special silver circle
Charged with the energy of love.
Love for me, from others, from me.
Belief in me, being me.
Being the best that I can be.
Its specialness protects me from
The harm trying to penetrate
Just as you penetrated a very special me
Shedding your sceptic seeds,
While I was still growing, still just a bud, growing.
A spikey red line that’s you
Not striking poppy red
Not sleek sports car red
But discoloured blood red
Clotted on the scabs of my scars.
Now I have bloomed
I bleed no more.
Free from the dog weed that you are.
You cannot slice me with a line of symmetry
But I am perfect
Perfect because I’m me.