It was about 1am and I hadn’t been to bed yet. I was ‘a bottle of red on an empty stomach’ drunk and I was sitting on the floor at the foot of my small son’s bed watching him sleep. I sat very still and stared at his face, his innocence, his deep breathing, his softness. I sat and looked at him and I said goodbye. In my head I had planned it. How I would remove the poison from his life. The empty shell of his mother that was left after months of hell, months of pushing him away, months of feeling like I was drowning and unable to breathe. I looked at him and I told myself he would be better off with my family than with me, I wasn’t fit for purpose anymore. I couldn’t take care of him properly without resenting him, without feeling crippled with guilt. I would sit a little bit longer, say goodbye, walk away and his life would be better. My internal pain would stop, my guilt would stop. I just wanted it to stop. He would understand some day when he was older.…
You see a couple of months earlier I been awoken in the middle of the night and I had been presented with a choice; a choice that was to change my life forever. To protect my son and allow myself to be raped or to fight back and almost guarantee waking him up and him being hurt both physically and mentally. To let it happen and just pray it would be over quickly or to risk the innocence of my boy. In the few brief initial moments of struggle I had to make a choice, I decided to put myself in the firing line, protect my son and shut my eyes.
It wasn’t over with quickly.
When I was finally alone again, I stripped my bed sheets and painfully crept into my son’s room, wrapped him in his duvet and held him close on my bed while he slept. I awoke next to him after what must have been perhaps an hour or so and without any warning something in my brain had clicked. It was as though a whole section of my memory had been erased and I gone into complete emotional shut down. It was no longer me; my brain had made this decision on my behalf. Survival. I had to survive.
Over the next few weeks my body slowly stopped functioning properly. My neck seized up, I wasn’t sleeping, I was sleep walking, I was angry, snapping the head off everyone and I wasn’t eating. I was numb, cold, frightened and as unbelievable as it sounds I had no idea why. It was as though my brain and body had disconnected from the memory of the event and it had crawled under my skin and was slowly poisoning me. I was drinking heavily. Going out and getting off my head at any given opportunity and palming my son off on anyone who would look after him. I was trying to hold it together and didn’t understand why people were treating me differently. Was it just in my head? Why did people seem to be avoiding me? Why couldn’t I sleep on my left hand side for the excruciating pain in my neck? I didn't understand and I was in a very vulnerable position.
It took months for it to come out. It was exhausting and I was becoming more and more ill. The circumstances surrounding the day I finally broke my silence involve another person and out of respect I have decided to not talk about them here. It just doesn't feel right. What I will talk about is the physical and emotional effect it had on me. How finally lifting the lid on something that had been pushed so far down had actually made me physically ill.
Once I started talking it just kept on coming, it all fell out of my mouth like water. I was completely numb, I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t breathe...my heart felt as though it would explode out of my chest. It was a mixture of relief and disbelief. How could this be MY story to tell? How could I have let this happen? Why didn't I fight back? How had I managed to keep it all inside for so long? How could I have kept something like this from the people I loved? If only I had fought back.
I have one regret, and it is that I uttered the name of the man who had done it to the person I broke my silence to.
This was too much information. It was a huge mistake.
The rage and fury that followed was incredible. Someone, who could now be pictured in a mind’s eye, whose name tainted the air around me like the smell of old milk spilled weeks before. This man had done what he had and the anger towards the injustice of the situation was uncontrollable. He was going about his daily life, going to work, hanging out with his friends, posting on Facebook, living a 'normal' existence...and I was living in hell. The smell of revenge was thick in the air. What good would it do now? It would be my word against his. Nobody would believe me. People would judge me. I would be deemed an unfit mother, people would treat me differently. The ripple effect of pain on those I loved around me was too great to risk; I couldn’t stand the thought of people finding out who he was. In the end the only way I could stop this was to remove this as a factor when talking about it. I didn't want the added fear and responsibility of putting an innocent person in prison for seeking and exacting revenge on my account. It wasn’t their revenge to take. It was mine, but I couldn’t get past the anxiety, depression, fear and hopelessness of my situation.
The anger at the situation didn’t stop, it seeped into their pores and sat there in the pit of my confidants stomach and positioned itself behind their eyes. It never went away. It was there in everything they did. It ate them. It gnawed away until eventually there was nothing left of our friendship/relationship except repressed anger from them and fear from me. Eggshells everywhere I turned. I can't help wondering what might have happened if I had never spoken his name.
In brief, the next few months were some of the darkest and most difficult of my life. Now that it was out in the open my body started to react in an even more extreme way. I was having panic attacks, more severe nightmares and sometimes a feeling of dread would hit my stomach so hard and so quickly that I would throw up. I was in a heightened state of vigilance, expecting something bad to happen at any moment, I would visibly shake with fear. I remember on one particular occasion being in the supermarket and someone walked by me wearing the same aftershave that my attacker had. The next thing I remember clearly is crumpling to the floor in tears, shaking and lashing out when anyone tried to touch me. I don’t remember it happening really, it was as though I was watching myself. I remember feeling sick for a considerable amount of time afterwards.
I had to tell my parents, which was actually a massive relief but just knowing that other people knew added to the stress and the power it had held over me. The more people who were being hurt by it, the more I would shrink. I went to the doctors to ask for help and he gave me various tablets to deal with the extreme muscular pain in my neck and to help me control my lack of sleep and anxiety. I didn’t tell him what was causing me to feel this way, I couldn’t. The waiting list for counselling was 6 to 8 weeks, it was too long.
I was practically ignoring my son, doing the basics, I was feeding him, reading him a bedtime story but I could hardly cuddle him. I would take him to the park and just sit there while he ran around; I wouldn't even really speak to him. I couldn't. And when I did I would tell him off for the smallest things. Little things that shouldn’t have mattered were now the end of the world. I have never really said this to anyone but I felt hatred towards him for the decision I had been forced to make. That is without a doubt the most painful sentence I have ever written down…..admitting that in a public space isn't easy. I truly felt that he would be better off without me as I could barely look at him without remembering.
I have recently had to describe how it felt and the best way I could explain it was this. It was as though I had been physically pushed into an oversized cheap black bin bag and the yellow strings had been tied above my head. I could just see through the cheap plastic out into a dark and grey world, my air supply was limited and I couldn’t quite stretch my body out. Permanent panic, constant shortness of breath, a tightness in my muscles and feeling both invisible and yet somehow like everyone was staring at me wherever I went. I literally hated myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror. My body didn’t feel like mine anymore. I was dirty. My hands felt disconnected whenever I would brush them against my skin. I couldn’t live like this any longer.
I wanted to die.
So, there I was, sitting at the foot of my son's bed with tears falling down my face. I leaned over and kissed the cheek of my child, his beautiful soft cheek. I was saying goodbye. I was done. I couldn’t live with the anger, the fear, the anxiety, my guilt, the constant walking on eggshells...and then in that moment, that tiny moment, he stirred and wrapped his warm arm around my neck, completely unconsciously and without the agenda of an adult. Without the knowing or ‘understanding sympathy' of a family member...He still wanted me around, he still wanted to cuddle his Mummy, after all I had put him through. After every resentful thought that had passed through my head, after every night I had drunk myself to sleep knowing he was in the house…after all of that, he still wanted his Mummy to cuddle him. He needed me. It was like being kicked by a boot in the guts. I was about to walk away and never come back and without knowing it, in that tiny moment, he had saved my life. I crawled in beside his warm pyjama covered body, under his Spiderman duvet and sobbed until I fell asleep. I knew I had to get help as fast as I could.
Fast forward to a number of years later and I now live with what has been diagnosed as PTSD. Hardly anyone knows about it. A small handful of family members and close friends who I felt I could trust with the information; and what I mean by that is that I knew they wouldn’t treat me any differently, they would be real with me and that they would be discreet.
I ended up asking my parents for financial help in paying for private counselling; I simply couldn’t wait for 2 months. They instantly obliged…I am one of the lucky ones that has parents who believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. I booked myself in and met my counsellor *Julie a couple of days later and there began nearly 11 months of weekly sessions.
So here I sit. Years later, and only just feeling able to put my experiences into words. I am skimming through events, moments and memories and giving you this information. Why? Why now? Why after all this time, all the different forms of therapy, talking, self analysis, forgiveness, understanding and at some points, literally fighting for my life. Why would I choose to talk about this in this way?
I’ll tell you why. Because it’s time to say it. It is time to break my silence. Time to give a little voice to those who have gone through similar experiences, and lived to talk about it.
I am not a victim. I will never be a victim. I am a person who had the ultimate betrayal of trust forced upon them but I will not let it define me.
Because I am living, breathing proof that no matter how tight the strings on your black bin bag are tied, no matter how lost you may feel, how grey the world outside looks, how tight your body feels, how close you come to giving up...and believe me I came very close, that even when you can barely open your eyes and see the world around you, there is always hope. Always.
The first step is to break your silence.
By putting this out there for all to read I hope that it encourages someone to find a way to communicate their story.
Ultimately the only person that you hurt with your silence is yourself. If I have learned anything from this experience it is this; it is never too late to face your demons and by facing them, talking about them, telling someone you dilute the stigma. It genuinely removes the power that it holds over you. It may not feel like it at the time, it may make things worse before they get better but if the only thing you have to risk is another person’s ‘uncomfortable reaction’ then that is on them. Not you.
If I can do it then so can you.
Take the step. Take it.
One day I might tell this story again and it not be anonymous...but that’s a step for a different part of my journey...
I have never spoken about this publically, I hardly ever speak about this privately and this is the first time I have ever written this down.