Anniversary in Lockdown

For 36 hours, I went into battle with a grown man. I was 15 years old. I attempted to outsmart him, trick him and survive him. I succeeded, because I’m still here. Through circumstances beyond my control, I met him when I was 14. Those months were marked off the calendar using my tears, blood and sweat…

The abuse had already begun, when this picture was taken at 14. Looking at the camera, I determined to say with my eyes “WTF has happened to my life!” This was long before WTF was even a thing. I remember exactly how I felt on this particular day.

It’s the anniversary of my abduction today. I recall the music that was played, the meal served (that I wasn’t allowed to eat). The orange glow of the radiator. The bars on the windows. The deadlock on the door… I had a finely-tuned penchant for dark humour. Once, I could manage to laugh, even as I watched my life be disassembled by adults, who should’ve been guiding, rather than destroying. My life force was strong and determined. I had done everything I could to stop this moment from happening. I was still doing everything I could to stop the ending being played out. I hadn’t given up. I would not give up. What was said to me and what I endured in that 36 hour period is unspeakable. Opportunities to escape were fleeting.

Tomorrow night, I shall remember that girl in the photo. I promised her, that if she survived, I would remember her suffering. I would hold her tight, keep her safe and rejoice in her survival. I was strangled to the point of unconsciousness. The agony of having someone stop your next breath; well, it stays with you. He thought he’d killed me and didn’t celebrate my resurrection. I was eventually found on the ground, within a pile of bark chips and dirt, blood sprayed over my face and head. He didn’t like it when I laughed toward the end and I couldn’t have cared less. No more pleading. He had no power over my mind, nor my spirit. He couldn’t capture nor contain me. I could control what I was thinking and feeling toward the end. He didn’t enter into it, at all.

Over fifty hours of surgery, years of hospitalisations, hundreds of physiotherapy sessions, scores of specialists, over $60,000 of medical bills, hundreds of scripts and an array of vibrant walking sticks later… I celebrate. The trauma never leaves. How can it, when you live with the scars and pain every day of your life? A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my social media, when I dropped my phone in fright. On a friend’s page, a man who looked identical to him and with the same last name, stared back at me. He had commented on something or other, on my friend’s page. It turned out, that this is a close relative of my monster. Same last name and same face. He could be a very nice man; who knows? It brought it all back. They don’t tell a survivor how they should process events such as this. Forgetting isn’t an option, but rejoicing is.

I am in Sydney and the Delta variant of Covid has seen us locked down, alongside other states of Australia. I am as anxious and scared as anyone. I don’t want to lose anyone I love; I want this to be over. We must stick together; love one another and check in with each other. It seems counter-intuitive to rejoice as another anniversary skulks up on me, particularly during lockdown. However, it is the only way forward, not only for me, but for us. We must feel it all; the fear, the anger, the anxiety and horror, alongside the hope. We mustn’t let go of hope. Remember, the comfort of hugging a friend; of meeting up for coffee. The splendour of seeing live theatre or a movie. Attending art galleries and celebrating a happy event with loved ones. I dreamed of such things, that night on that ledge. I dream of them still. I grew up. I got to have a child. I got to have a life beyond what that 15 year old could envisage. Celebrating survival within lockdown, I allow myself to imagine what comes next, long after we as a society are freed.

You survived that which was set to kill you. As you light your candles, wrapping yourself up in a patchwork quilt; reflecting and rejoicing, you will also pay tribute to those who didn’t survive similar. You will reaffirm that your life is lived in honour of them. Your life is balanced on the mighty shoulders of thousands of such angels. You will live in their name.

Julie

I shall never forget the day that I met you, five years ago. I had lunched with a friend, and then we’d travelled to her son’s primary school to pick up the boys on Sydney’s North Shore. I was homeschooling my daughter, and was unaccustomed to the chaos of school pickup. We walked into the schoolyard with a plethora of parents in business suits. My free-spirited daughter broke away, just as the school bell rang, and decided to climb a splendid gum tree in the school grounds. The next thing I knew, a woman was shrieking that my nine year old girl was stuck up a tree and was going to fall! A teacher ran over and told my girl to come down this instant! She said she would guide her down. My daughter had only climbed to the first branch, and said “okay,” and hopped down of her own accord, which was met with swooning. I was aghast, and whispered that it may be a good idea for her to sit quietly, whilst we waited for the boys, since tree climbing was not encouraged. Chatting to my friend, I looked around and saw a lady approaching. She had seen my daughter leap from the tree and smiled. Julie was in her thirties, and had what could only be termed a double aura. There seemed to be a circle of tragedy around her; grey and dense and full of scars and fear. There was also another ring, this being a chrysalis of hope and strength; cool and driven by a light from within her. Her hair resembled cedar shavings, tumbling to her shoulders and her hazel eyes, diluted from the pills she was obviously taking, were magnificent. We exchanged pleasantries and whilst my friend chatted to a teacher and greeted her boys, Julie sat next to me, and we talked on a much deeper level.

You see, despite only having met a few moments ago, she had recognised a kindred spirit; somebody who had been through a similar hell and lived to tell the tale. Subtly slurring, she got out what had been festering within. Born into privilege, her father was a high-powered figure in the legal profession interstate. He was also a rapist. There was nowhere for her to turn, and every time she told someone, she was shot down. How she survived her childhood, I do not know. She moved to Sydney, and married. He was another high-powered man, who ended up breaking her heart. She was left with nothing after their divorce, and had to rebuild from scratch. Due to her anxiety and depression, she was portrayed as a fragile little bird in court. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I grew to know her, I discovered she was rather, a falcon; flying high above the smaller birds. Others flew on her back, when they grew weary. Her mighty wings just kept on going, sustaining everyone in her sphere.

She would send me the most insightful and encouraging messages, and I looked forward to our meetings. It all abruptly ended, when she sustained a nervous breakdown. She felt she had no choice but to return interstate to live with her family once more. I received word the other day that she is gone from this world, this mighty falcon with curls the colour of cedar wood and sparkling hazel eyes. Some could only see the lady whose power had receded, but she was not a tragic figure. She fought and she told grownups and she held on. She birthed beautiful children and let herself trust a man enough to fall in love and marry. She retrained and did all she could to work and rebuild her life and soul, when it all went awry. She did all she could to smile and play and remain, despite regular nightmares, little sleep, and daily flashbacks.

When you meet a wounded soul, look beyond the timidity, the dazed eyes and the slurred speech. Look beyond the pain. These were borne of what was done to them and have nothing to do with who they actually are. Venturing into the world without family or support, all they have guiding them is a pocketful of stars, and a head filled with dreams. The miracle is, that they are willing to love at all. The miracle is, that they bestowed the love they hadn’t been given. When you think of a fragile bird, cast your mind to what they actually are. A mighty falcon, just like Julie.

I don’t know where you find your strength

I am amazed by your fortitude, my friend. I have seen what you endure. I have seen the medications lining the bench, the order forms for a litany of tests. I see the isolation; the sense that whilst we can walk alongside you, we can’t comprehend what it feels to be you, experiencing this. I know what you go through, and yet there is something I am at a loss to explain…

Where do you find your strength? I know it waxes and wanes, like the cycles of the moon. That is natural, when under extreme pressure. Diamonds are only created through pressure, and you, my darling, are certainly a diamond. Not a cubic zirconia; the real thing. Have you ever seen a black opal? The most expensive of opals, with the most intense colours. The ground cracks over time, allowing soluble silica to flow deep into the ground and this is where the black opal forms, aged with layers of sediment, a bit like life. Some people complain and whine about the most pedestrian of things. Not you; that was never you.

I see the joy your pets bring with their delightful antics. The humour found in shared ‘in-jokes’ with your kids. I see how you relish a hug, a gift, a friend. Certain music both enthrals and moves you to tears. I remember when Haighs chocolate opened a store in Sydney. You were as excited as a child, and caught me up in your enthusiasm. You have never complained, when I’ve taken you to avant grade festivals. Remember the New York taxi driver, who espoused his wisdom, after you slid into the back seat of the cab? Remember when the kids broke away from us as toddlers and we found them nearby on a film set, where they were being fed by the caterers, their plump little hands stuffed with food? I have photographic evidence of all our misadventures with our mates. Who can forget the time we graced Canberra with our presence?

I promise you, more fun is to be had. There will be more laughter. Always remember that you are both a black opal and diamond. Borne from pressure and cracking, exploding into an exquisite array of colours and facets. After further pondering, I know where you find your strength. It was always there, within you.

Realizations

Trigger Warning: A lovely friend with raven hair, beautiful children and an optimism that knows no bounds, left Sydney to live interstate some time ago. She had been almost killed by her beau, after she told him it was over, scared of his erratic, menacing behaviour. She moved after she had recovered, setting up a new life in unchartered waters. She had to return for the court case, and he was sentenced to minimal time. He once again started to seek her out on social media and via phone messages, in direct violation of his parole. He was once again incarcerated. Trouble is, both he and his lawyer were privy to her new contact details, emblazoned across documents. The police recently contacted her and advised that she move, quickly. It was almost 25 years after the same occurrence happened to me… My new home phone number had been given to him too, the result being that the vile abuse I was subjected to several times a day gave me a phobia of phones. I am still terrified of surprises, and unknown numbers.

The other day I went for a walk, and came across an alley. It reminded me of a place and time in Auburn, when I had a knife to my heart. I was fourteen years of age, and my back had not yet been broken. I had stood up to a vile creature, who had recently been bailed after bashing an elderly lady. For over twenty years, I had held onto the pain felt after a security guard had come upon us. Rather than help, he ran. Hey, I was scared too! Did he even care? This guard, in his fifties, ran to save himself, leaving me there. For some unknown and mysterious reason, the realization hit me that this guy had most likely saved my life. He was a witness, and bad people don’t like there to be witnesses. Whilst bloodied and broken, I survived, and I survived what was to come next. This new understanding helped to heal a broken shard of my soul. I had been focusing on this security guard’s cowardice, and hadn’t given any thought to him being a witness. This is the stuff that happens to survivors, whenever they hear a certain piece of music or they are simply walking along the street.

I had a brilliant therapist from fifteen to eighteen years of age. She was acknowledged for her work with abused kids. However, when I turned eighteen, I was on my own. The local community centre organized a few sessions with a generic counsellor and other centres tried to locate a trauma specialist to aid my healing, with no luck. Dymphna House was closed after their funding was pulled and other centres were stretched to breaking point. For the past twenty five years, I have tried to muddle through, mostly on my own. Stuff keeps coming up, aided by a body riddled with battle scars and psychic wounds. I am starting sessions with a trauma counsellor soon. It has only taken twenty years to source the help I have needed as an adult. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being inside a house of mirrors or walking a labyrinth, trying to find my way out. Healing and moving through life has proved enough of a maze, filled with dead-ends and false exits.

My friend is again packing up her life, and twenty five years after the fact, I had a realization regarding my day of terror. They tried to take our world’s away, and yet we stand.  I have no compulsion to take my daughter to see my home town, for it was filled with events of the bad kind. Some people’s home town’s offer pleasing memories, or so I’m told… I will instead take her to my sanctuaries; places where I laughed and dreamed. I shall take her to the places which kept me alive; the cinemas and theatres, parks and beaches. We shall see them all, and I will reiterate that at all these stops, I had dreamed of one day having a daughter. I had dreamed of having her, and I had dreamed of support being readily available for anybody that needed it, and for the broken system to change. The first of my dreams has come true, and she stands beside me. May the other parts come into being now, not tomorrow. Now.

Triggers and PTSD

We have to share with each other; it’s an absolute necessity. I have seen people retreat, building a fort around their minds and hearts. I can tell you from experience, it is the absolute worst thing that you can do. I have seen brilliant people rescind mid-way through stellar careers and lives,  eaten alive by depression and the aftermath of  trauma. I am often too busy to deal with my memories and triggers at the time they come up. I admit it’s a state I am not only grateful for, but prefer. I then wonder why I burst into tears in the shower, crawl into bed, unable to converse at the end of the day, or am irritable and bereft. I sat down and wrote some of my triggers, and then sardonically laughed, incredulous that I ever questioned why I am exhausted and crave space at the day’s end.

Here are some of the places, aromas, music, etc, that bring forth strong memories and emotions:

Suburbs: Concord, Bondi, Auburn, Greenwich, Lane Cove, Katoomba, Westmead, Parramatta, Revesby, St Leonards, Manly, Ryde, Lidcombe and Kogarah.

Scents: Anais Anais, Tabu, sandalwood, Aramis, cigarette smoke.

Songs: Run for your Life, Sorrow, Hard Woman, Dear Prudence, Stairway to Heaven, Belladonna, Oh Father, Stray Cat Blues, Ruby Tuesday, Comfortably Numb and so many more.

Conversations about crimes and offenders, falling, abductions, crimes against children, abuse. Seeing famous people and institutions fall one-by-one, some of whom I once looked up to.

Hearing people scream or argue loudly, having to climb stairwells or go over bridges; anything to do with heights, and being unable to avoid such. Hearing trains in the background or the wail of sirens, winter and feeling cold, certain herb teas that I used to drink as a teen, seeing strangers that remind me of past villains, sharp knives (I don’t own any, nor do I have a knife block), two-minute noodles, toffee, apple pies, carrot cake,

Too many movies to mention.

In any given day, I have to deal with at least one trigger that provokes unpleasant memories and emotions. I am often in a situation where I simply can’t avoid said trigger and have to somehow plough through. It is at home when the mask can fall and you can let it all out. How do you explain to someone the cologne they have spritzed has brought up unpleasant memories, particularly if you only met the person five minutes ago? What do you do when you are in a restaurant and a song comes on that hooks you straight into the past?  It is a minefield and I step on them all the time. A portion of my brain explodes, as does my heart. I pick myself up, and stagger home.

Once inside my sanctuary, a few things happen. I turn on gentle ambient music, light candles and drop some lavender oil into my diffuser. I play with my birds, and prepare a healthy dinner. I then soak in a bath filled with salts and essential oils, slip into pajamas and dim the lights in my room. Breathing deeply, I try to sort through what has transpired throughout the day, and what has come up for me. I let it be, assuring myself that it is of little surprise that I felt adrift, and that it is completely normal. I try to sleep, aware that I may have nightmares, if the triggers were strong enough. Waking, I will have a herb tea and hot shower, and start the day, hoping that the triggers go easy on me. This is PTSD, and trying to navigate through it.

When I was a teen, I met many returned military personnel and emergency responders, damaged by what they had seen. I met scores of people who had been in notorious orphanages. I met people who had encountered unimaginable horror as young people. Back then, knowledge of PTSD was in its infancy. These folks were thought to have ‘shell-shock’ or a nervous disorder. I regret not having my PTSD acknowledged for many years, as it is crucial to seek treatment early. When I open the paper and see an institution or individual I had encountered finally being brought to justice, a part of me rises, and yet another part of me falls. Why did it take so long, and why did so many have to suffer? Why weren’t we heard way back then? I take comfort that the world my daughter is growing up in is slowly but surely changing. The treatment we were told to accept would be deemed outrageous now. At last, at last.

I live with chronic pain and will require more surgery. I haven’t been able to run, rollerskate nor do many other things with my daughter, and need to be supine more than other mums. My daughter has borne witness to tears brought on by my constant pain, and seen my whole demeanour change when faced with a trigger. It is a wicked burden for both her and I to carry. It shouldn’t have happened. The times are changing, and it brings me such comfort. As I endure my nightmares and flashbacks I am at least assured that the days of being silenced are coming to an end. I feel like a bird with a broken wing, trying to heal and trying to fly. I am slowly getting there. The public outing of personalities whom had hurt and damaged many people has helped. No more dark spaces in which to hide. Suddenly, there is light.

Stained Glass Wolves

 

Stained Glass Wolves
Stained Glass Wolves

In my travels, I met an extraordinary young lady called Celia. She started Stained Glass Wolves on Facebook. It is for ‘victims and survivors of abuse, homelessness, domestic violence and the people who support them.’ There are two projects on the hop at the moment, Basic Love Packs and Knitting to Spread the Love and Warmth. The mascot is  The Mistress of Awesomeness and she certainly is! Apart from everything else she does, she is also a singer-songwriter.

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Celia is 28, and lives in Sydney. She is currently an AIN, working in a nursing home, and is also studying nursing at university. She believes in true equality, love, loyalty, compassion,truth, genuineness, dignity and justice. She has three specific missions in life:
1. To run her charity, Stained Glass Wolves, and reach out to the broken.
2. To sing and write.
3. To be a qualified nurse educator specialising in brain trauma and also making specific care plans for individuals; working with families, carer’s and the client to make a manageable plan to give that person the best quality of life.

Celia has qualifications in mechanics, and in the hospitality industry. There is nothing she can’t do, teaching herself to knit via YouTube. As a child, she was abused in every way a young girl can be, and was told that she was worthless. She refused to believe it. How she healed, and what she has done, are truly inspirational.  She has suffered depression, nightmares and flashbacks, but miraculously survived. The heart seared with great suffering often becomes the heart with the greatest capacity for love and compassion. Nobody came and rescued her from the thatch of thorns where she lay. She retrieved herself.

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She found her calling in nursing after encountering a 104 year old lady in a nursing home who inspired her. She applied to study, and a letter arrived from the ACU. She reluctantly opened it, thinking it was a rejection letter. They instead wanted to know why she hadn’t accepted her placement. She checked her spam, and there was an acceptance email! Check your spam, people! At university, she noticed there was a scheme, offering placement overseas to the student with the highest mark. She applied and was accepted! She went to Cambodia, volunteering in health camps, and also travelled to Georgia College in Atlanta. Like I said, inspiring. She is the rainbow after  the darkness dissipates. A survivor in every sense. If you would like to learn more, visit Stained Glass Wolves.

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