Friday, 17 May 2013

A Rant About "Progress"

This one might surprise a few people. Because I'm not usually the type to swear a lot. I'm also not the type to share this amount of information (edit: Looking back at this line is quite funny, given what I'm currently sharing with you!). But I'm angry. I'm FURIOUS and I think it's high time someone actually said something.

It's interesting for me to be writing this one, especially when I made such a big deal in my last post about not wanting to be defined by my past. I never wanted this to be a topical blog, just a little storage box for those various rants and thoughts.

But this...

As I have posted before, it was my Unit Leader at Guides who pushed me to seek counselling. I have a lot of time for my various guiding sisters (and brothers - men can be members too!) and I am (generally) grateful for everything Z has done for me. But there's a large part of me that knows she is as destructive as she is helpful.

She sent me to Nottingham Rape Crisis centre in the firm belief that counselling should only take a few weeks. Six to twelve weeks tops. When my counsellor went on maternity leave six months later and we decided to take a break and resume in September, Z was confused and worried, but she said it was okay for me to miss Guides (the new appointment time clashed with our meeting), because it wouldn't be for long.

Well, it's now May and my counsellor and I have an end date (yay!). This will be end of August / beginning of September. I was talking to Z about this and she was horrified.

This is where it gets... Interesting.

First of all, she told me that I've been in counselling far too long, that I'm obviously "pissing about" and wasting everyone's time. I'm useless and pathetic and need to get a grip. She's never heard of anyone taking so long and it's "ridiculous".

I tried to explain that it's more complicated than that, that there's not only the normal relationship to build, but you have to learn to access your memories and emotions without them overwhelming you and constantly giving you flashbacks and panic attacks.

Why the hell am I having panic attacks, was her reaction. This was eight years ago and I need to grow up. It's no wonder I'm having problems when I have zero maturity. She's fed up of constantly having to look over her shoulder to see if I'm okay and was horrified at Guides on Tuesday when I was "on another planet" whilst in the kitchen washing up (and nowhere near the girls).

I shrugged and told her that there were a few reasons I attended Guides after counselling. There's a sense of normalcy, the fact that the girls at least know I'm there (even if I'm out the way and not interacting) and, most importantly, I'm not going to let HIM stop me doing the things I love.

I hope you're all sitting down for this one...

What gives me the right to say things like that? That's my whole, entire problem in a nutshell, according to Z. I refuse to take responsibility for anything. Firstly, it was my fault that this all happened. It was avoidable and I must have done something to encourage him. It's my fault that I miscarried, given that I was drinking heavily and not really eating and self-harming, and even if it wasn't my fault medically, I should be grateful that I didn't have to cope with it. And, as for letting him stop me doing the things I love, well that's ridiculous and the only person stopping me is me and always has been. If I don't learn these things, I will never get on in life, I have no chance and she can't believe that I've not had this drilled in yet.

I also, apparently, need to stop ANY and ALL work I'm doing on stopping violence, delivering trainings or other forms of advocacy. Why? Because I'm sending out the wrong message. I'm not telling women to "protect themselves", I'm teaching them that it's NOT their fault and that is the wrong message to send. I'm taking on too much and compounding my own problems of disillusion and creating new ones to boot.

I listened to all this and couldn't say anything. My tongue wouldn't work, I just couldn't get the words out. The thing is, this is the internal battle that I face every day of my life. Thankfully, the voice that airs these opinions is a lot smaller than it was. Once, it was the dominant personality, now it's just a niggling doubt. But hearing someone else vocalise all this and actually meaning it is infuriating. Because it feeds that self-doubt inside me. Maybe it is my fault and maybe she's got a point. But it also fuels the fight, because NO-ONE has the right to comment on my experience that.

I'm not working through this as quickly as some people do, I know that. But I'm not some people, I'm me. Everyone reacts differently, everyone needs different support and there's no such thing as normal. And the sooner people stop trying to compare me to their expectations of "recovery", the sooner I can focus on the reality of my journey.

Edit: Looking back on this post, I used unnecessary bad language. I could have removed the entire post, but feel that the attitude of others towards recovery, as well as my own strong (and changed) reaction to this, needs to be shared. As a result, I have compromised and removed some of the more offensive language.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Neither Victim Nor Survivor

One of the hardest things when I go to my sessions each week is the language used to describe me. I wrote at length about this in March, in a post titled "The Pen Is Mightier..." and how the wrong words can destroy us. I wrote about terms like "courageous", "brave" and "feminist" and how uncomfortable and loaded they seem to be, and how they chip away my self-worth rather than building it.

But this post - which I have been sitting on a little bit - is more specific and deals with two bits of language in particular, both of which feel unrelatable and wrong. These words are "victim" and "survivor".

I don't think I have to argue the case against "victim", a word that has long been avoided and replaced by different groups working with those who have experienced sexual assault and other gender-based violence. Because these groups and the counselling process are supposed to facilitate a journey of empowerment, giving control back when it has been ripped away. "Victim" is loaded with connotations of being passive, helpless, unable to change one's own situation.

But my reasons for hating the word go further. Because those people who think of me as a "victim" are the ones who look at me with pity, with sympathy, with horror and disgust. You can read it all in their faces. When I arrive at the women's centre on a Tuesday night and I have to tell someone that I'm "going upstairs", I see it every time. I never say that I'm going to the Rape Crisis Centre. I don't need to. Everyone knows what "upstairs" means. It's horrific to see my own pain reflected back at me like that, and frustrating when they start molly-coddling because of something I had no chance to control.

And that's the other reason I hate the word "victim". Because as easy as it is to say that I had no chance to control it, there's still a level of self-blame that makes the idea of being helpless unfathomable. How can you be a "victim" if you still believe it's your own fault somewhere inside?

But "survivor", despite what people think, is just as bad. Because surviving is powerful. Surviving takes strength, courage and determination, all ideals which seem so alien. And surviving isn't me. And despite all the positive connotations of "survivor", it still has that eternal implication of sorrow and trauma, even if it has been or is being overcome. 

I don't want to be a survivor, I want to be me.

This, really, is the heart of the problem. Because whether you label someone a "victim" or a "survivor", you are reducing them to that single event and defining them by it. You are defining me by it. 

I already feel defined enough by what happened, trapped by it and the most ridiculous parts of my life forever shaped and tainted by the experience. I don't need your reminder too. There's no point pretending that rape hasn't changed my life in many ways, but my ability to move on from it is going to be limited the longer that others define me by it, whether in the context of "victim" or "survivor".

I dislike writing in the first person like this, but people need to stop thinking that blanket definitions work. They really don't. And it would be hypocritical and wrong of me to generalise about how other people feel about "victim" and "survivor". One of the things about this experience is that we all react differently, according to our own personal experiences, histories and personalities. Just as there is no right or wrong way to respond to violence, there's no right or wrong in the way we respond to the language.

So the natural conclusion would be to find an alternative word to use, something that works contextually without the connotations of "victim" or "survivor", but all I can offer is the phrase that my counsellor and I seem to have settled on; "someone who has experienced....". It is not loaded, there are no suppositions about my ability to cope, but then it involves facing the exact and painful words each and every time. 

Maybe what they say is true. There are no correct labels, only people.