This year has taught me a lot. It has taught me to talk….. openly, honestly, deeply. This has been one of the biggest learning periods in my adult life. We all know how to talk. Small talk, chatter etc but what about when you need to talk about bigger, deeper issues? What if what you have to say is hard for the listener to hear? What if you have to talk about abuse that’s equally embarrassing and horrifying for both the teller and the listener? What if it’s stuff that you haven’t ever spoken about and don’t know where to start?
I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard. It’s meant breaking habits that have been formed over a lifetime. One of the forms of emotional abuse that went on when I was married was that my (ex)husband did not leave the house for weeks at a time and would sit in the room upstairs listening to all my conversations, commenting on them, criticising and challenging me on what I’d said, after the guest had left. He didn’t want anyone to know anything about our lives and in doing so, it meant that I could never talk about myself or any issues I had, with my closest friends.
A challenge since his leaving is his continuing the abuse via our children and trying to control what I post online etc….When our marriage ended I spoke to him about all the abuse, how it had made me feel, where we went on to from here etc. He admitted to everything, apologised for it and in some cases, was quite rational. It was a relief to be able to talk to him about it from a place of strength. Knowing that I was never going to let him touch me again was enormously empowering and completely changed the dynamic between us.
I chose to speak publicly about the different forms of abuse. I never mentioned my husband by name (we don’t share a surname) and I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult. But not as difficult as staying silent was.
What was difficult was 1 – dredging all the details up again, having already lived it and I had started to take steps away from it but being on my own, not having to face that treatment every day. 2 – being judged, not for what had happened but for speaking about it. I chose to speak about it because I know that had I read more information online about what was happening to me, I would have recognised it for the abuse that it was. I would have left sooner. Perhaps I wouldn’t suffer PTSD now if I hadn’t been subjected to over 7 years of this treatment. ‘Friends’ said to me that they appreciated that it had happened to me and didn’t contest it, they just didn’t think that I should speak about it and therefore couldn’t be in my life, supporting this.
Not everyone felt like this. It was just a handful of people but it was a horrible, horrible experience. It shook my confidence in speaking at all. However, I felt like even though it was a difficult subject to talk about, if I can talk about it, it’s my responsibility to do so. Part of it is self-healing but a large part of it is to break the silence and the stigma on sexual abuse.
There have been challenging times dealing with this subject matter. A few months ago I started a new relationship and because there is this information about me online, one of the first things I had to tell him was what happened (I didn’t go into details) and that there’s a lot of information about me that’s easy to find online. I was so nervous and kept telling myself that if he walked away then obviously he wasn’t the person I was meant to be with. As it goes, he was amazing about it all and now, a few months on, we’re dealing with the challenge of it together.
Another very empowering experience was talking to an old friend about it. I say an old friend because we’ve known each other for nearly 20 years but we’re not close friends. He was over for dinner last week and we were talking about it and I said about how it’s hard to talk about and his reply was: ‘but it’s not hard to hear, you’re my friend and I would rather know what’s happened to you than have you carry this alone’. It was amazing to feel so supported. It also made me realise that one day I may stop talking about this, hopefully it will just become a (horrible) part of my distant past. Until that day happens, I’m going to keep talking. I’m not going to be silenced and I’m going to try and help as many others as I can along the way.