Walking my talk – you don’t need to know what to say

The Warm Waters of Healing

The rape and murder of Sarah Everard this year rocked Britain, leading to an outcry over women’s safety on the streets. The shock that it was a former Metropolitan police officer reverberating throughout society. Earlier this year, Andrew Wheeler, a paramedic, was jailed for 21 years for raping and sexually assaulting several of his patients. Although more and more individuals in a position of trust are being prosecuted for sexual offences, the statistics show that the stigma of sexual assault means that most people do not report crimes and that those who are brave enough to face the system rarely get to see their perpetrator(s) in court.

In March this year, I was involved in a serious accident whilst on my bike – the ingrained memory of that moment is seeing a car driving straight towards me whilst I cycled for my life to get out of his way. I felt whispers of terror as I lay under a stationery car and powerless as others decided the course of action needed to get me to the hospital. It was then, in my most vulnerable of moments, on the way to the hospital, that I was sexually assaulted by one of the paramedics who abused the privilege and credibility that wearing his uniform naturally bought him. 

This pivotal moment changed my opinion about the meaning of safety and challenged me not to disappear into a chasm of shame and rage. Instead, I am battling daily with the concept that I will heal by keeping my heart open and speaking my truth no matter how uncomfortable that might be.

I recently read a piece written by Kate Griffiths speaking about her abusive former husband and how she felt that if she hadn’t gone public with her experience, she would have been failing every victim of abuse who had put their faith in her. Although our stories are different, I feel the same way, so I am moving through the fear of what others will think, especially as I am a therapist, to write this piece.

I believe that by remaining silent, I not only betray myself, but I collude with systems that repeatedly fail to protect and support those whose lives are shattered by perpetrators. In addition, I hope that by speaking out, I indirectly speak to others who are struggling with similar  experiences and gently remind them that they are not alone.

It has been months now of working to recover physically. As my body has started to heal I have turned my attention to the psychological trauma of both the accident and the assault. I have had to love myself with extra tenderness and care as I have recognised the pull to sink to the bottom of a dark pit and am grateful for the threads of strength that have held me together and given voice to my silent cries and wish to be heard.

It requires monumental courage to emerge from the shadows of assault and confront the perpetrator. Walking in integrity, I have been willing to go the distance and face the police and the ambulance service. My experience of trying to get justice has been one of the most intense trials of my life. It has been soul-destroying and disheartening. I have had to reach deep into the bowels of my being and walked the fine line between hope and despair as I faced legal procedures and institutional processes.

Reading responses from the ambulance service filled with lies and half-truths has left my soul gasping for air and me never feeling lonelier. DARVO is the gaslighting response so often used by perpetrators of sexual crimes. It is an abbreviation for deny, attack and reverse the roles of victim and offender. This has been my experience when confronting the ambulance service and reading the perpetrators responses when challenged about his actions.

We only need to look at the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein to see how DARVO plays out. It is far easier to play ignorant, or the victim than to face the appropriate scrutiny and consequences of actions. So often, this manipulative strategy disarms the accuser, and as a result, they back away blamed and not believed. Through the experience of trying to get justice for myself and protect future victims from a similar experience, I have been left feeling unheard and mistrusted with nowhere to go. Failed by a system that by using delaying tactics and DARVO have no doubt hoped all along that I would eventually give up and fade away.

The feeling of injustice is deeply distressing as I have been left feeling insignificant – in a bubble of isolation. I feel that my own experience has been gaslighted, and a part of me is left wondering if I have not done myself more harm by speaking out than I would have if I had quietly retreated, saying nothing. There are days when I can find myself walking through a hall of darkness fearing that there will be no shard of light found to guide me out. I do not want to be forever marked by this event.

What I know to be true is that there is no healing when suffering in silence. Talking about our problems and our emotional pain has been a source of relief for centuries. I have been grateful for the tender hearts of those who have lit the path towards my healing. They have encouraged me  to speak about what happened and checked in on me. I appreciate deeply their ability to look beyond the image that appears as if my life has returned to normal, as they know that this ordeal cannot but have seeped into my daily existence. I feel blessed and yet know that for many, this is not their experience. 

Clients talk about how reactions from their loved ones can inadvertently continue the process of shame and isolation. So often, based on not being sure what to do or say, deeper harm is caused by blaming, minimising, ignoring or not acknowledging what has happened. If I could say one thing that could have potentially changed my darkest moments, we need to break down the barriers and offer our presence to those who have suffered from sexual trauma. There is no need to know what to say, but there is a need to have people willing to sit with us at whatever stage of our recovery journey we are. By putting our discomfort and feelings of inadequacy to one side, we offer a lifeline to those feeling isolated and disconnected from the world they had once known. From that place of connection, we can offer them a way back into the sunlight of their lives from where they can see that they are still loved and loveable, swimming in the warm waters of healing.

In the meantime my healing continues.

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