Conversation before the light work

– when I started this, when I went to the counsellor, I wanted it all to vanish. If I’d had a switch and I could have flicked it and erased everything up here and in here I would have. But now

– It’s part of me. It’s a big part of me. I wouldn’t. If it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be who I am. It matters. It’s impacted on my relationships, on my life. I wouldn’t have bonded with certain people. I wouldn’t have had that break, the awkwardness – trying to explain. The tears. The. I wouldn’t have ended up where I did, met my wife. Taking it away, excising it, it would change me. And I might need changed. Hell, I know I need changed. But it made me. This. This thing shaped me. I can’t wipe it. I didn’t realise that at first. I thought this was about a fix, about a panacea. Not living with it any more, not putting it in the cupboard, pretending I can’t hear the noises. I thought that addressing this, confronting this. I thought it would be about deleting it. Like Total Recall. Finding some new memories, dropping them in. But I realised. I knew it didn’t work like that. But I realised that I didn’t want it to. That pretending it didn’t happen wouldn’t make me normal, wouldn’t make everything happy.

– My counsellor spoke about acceptance. But acceptance is wrong. The word’s wrong. Acceptance connotes assent, satisfaction. A degree of happiness. I don’t want to be happy about it. I don’t want to be happy that this happened. I don’t want to be satisfied with it. It was wrong. It shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t

– No-one should have to. No-one should ever

– I can’t accept it. I can’t.

– I told her the word was wrong. I preferred acknowledgement. Awareness. To acknowledge, to remain, to be, aware. That’s fine. I can live with that. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.

– There are other things too. The language. Victims. Trauma survivors. They’re not adequate. The connotations. They define you. You’re left in a permanent state, defined. The victim. Always the victim. It perpetuates it, your agency removed. You’re passive. It happened to you. It always happens to you. Always. But survivor. Survivor is wrong too. It defines you by what happened. That that is who you are. That your experience determines everything about you. You don’t want to be defined by that. That’s not who you are. You are more than that. You are much more. It’s an experience. Just an experience. We are experiencers. Neutral. No connotations. Not constantly harking back to something happening. You can’t avoid it. You can’t pretend nothing happened. But it’s not what tells the world who you are. And I know it overwhelms, that it, that it is why I’m here, why I was there. I know that these things matter. That it’s in my head. It’s there. Not all the time, never all the time – but it’s there. It sits there. And I couldn’t see before it. And sometimes what came after was obscured, hidden. It reached back, tore what was there before, clawed it, shredded it, until all that was there was. Just it. Sitting there. Squatting. Just there. Always there.

– I’ve not had flashbacks for a while, not had that violent transportation – the time travel – moving from here. The touch. The story. The sound. The smell. There was a time where I was jerked out of today – even for an instant. I would be aware of where I was quickly enough but I was transported. Ratatouille. I told you, I think. Like that scene in Ratatouille. Where the critic is served with the dish and as he tastes, as he smells, he’s instantly small again. The last time was a couple of weeks ago. It’s not to say there haven’t been intrusive thoughts, that it’s not been on my mind, that I’m not thinking about it. But the flashbacks have toned down. And as that’s happened it’s been accompanied with the memory dump, that thing between, during, sessions where thoughts emerge – people, places. When they come back to mind. As the distress in reliving lessens, as the flashbacks ease, it’s not obscuring as much. Some of the fractures are healing. Fragments are joining up.

– It’s slow. I wish it was quicker. I wish it was much quicker. I’d like to be back to whatever normal is going to be. But it’s moving. Things are moving. Forward. And then back. And to the left. But it’s moving. It’s change. Things are changing. Change is good.

 

 

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it

they laughed

you heard them laugh

you heard them laugh downstairs

and as you heard the laughter that night it was there

it was there in your room, large, dark

it forced its way in – snarling

you lay – quiet still scared

reaching back it uncurled its spindly large jointed fingers, clawing – frenetically clawing – ripping what was there, shredding what had been, taking what it could

you felt each scratch, the wounds rough edged, soon septic

it squatted, waited – and you could feel it waiting

you flinched as it lashed out occasionally, wrestled others for your heart, pulling you away from them

it never slept but watched – and you could feel it watching

you couldn’t see behind it, knew there were fragments there, sensed them, half remembered, were unable to bring them into focus

you caught glimpses of its shadow as you lived, as you loved

until it rose, limbs flailing, kicking, punching, screaming – breaking you

 

 

 

 

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“the barrister interrupted and queried why she was using the term “You” instead of “I”.”

The report of the conduct surrounding the trial of the rugby players is horrible in various ways.
Others will comment on other aspects but for me one line stood out.
“the barrister interrupted and queried why she was using the term “You” instead of “I”.”
In recent months I’ve spent a lot of time with counsellors, and therapists, and GPs.
I have spent a lot of time talking, revisiting events from long ago, traumatic events, that distressed me then, and distress me now.
Talking about traumatic events can be difficult.
Talking about traumatic events that affect you, where you are directly involved, moreso.
Meeting a stranger, albeit someone with whom – over the weeks – you hope to build up a rapport, and talking about things which are deeply personal is not easy.
Dealing with traumatic events from your past is not easy.
And in talking about it, or in dealing with it, people develop various protective mechanisms, ways to avoid confronting the things which most affect them, which most haunt them.
And one natural device is language.
I’ve done it a lot.
“you”
There is comfort in the second person. There is distance, but familiarity.
To describe what happened to “you” – directed to yourself – allows you to know what is going on in the head. But it acknowledges that time has passed. That you now are not the same as you then. And it can be a means of dissociating – to detach from the worst aspects of the traumatic events.
To treat the use of language, to treat the use of the second person, as some sort of game, as some admission that a victim is talking generically rather than about him or her self makes me queasy. People who have had experience of those who have suffered trauma realise this.
I believe her.

 

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Days of the hedgehog

Same day.

Same time.

Same place.

I sit.

She opens the file, asks about the week.

– The last session was upsetting. It’s hard to. You see things had been progressing. I’d felt things were progressing. I was going through the same event. Feeling it. And it was. It wasn’t as visceral. The heightened response, reactions, they’d toned down. It wasn’t the same. And anticipating it wasn’t as bad. And

– Your feedback was more detailed. But you were describing lower levels of distress.

– Yes. And so last week was a shock. I’d thought it was getting better. I thought I was getting better. The vivid livid memories were toning down. There was more detail, more of a narrative. A move from fragments, from instants, from instamatic photos to a flickbook. And the detail was deadening things. But then during the session I.

– The touch, the response. I know it’s not my fault. I know. But.

– I feel responsible. And what does it mean? What does that response mean? What does it say about me? And I know, I know rationally this doesn’t make sense. That this is outside my control that blame lies elsewhere, that guilt lies elsewhere. But.

– And you feel responsible. That it’s you. It was your fault. That somehow you deserved it. That this reflects who you are. That because you’re. well, you deserved it.

– I felt it. And it was so upsetting. The gaps. Filling the gaps. I.

– I

– It’s been there this week. In my head. I had a bad flashback. First in weeks. I was on the sofa and. It was an accident probably. But it felt deliberate. A touch on my face like. Like. I had such a strong reaction. I was angry and upset. Transported. I got short tempered, anxious. Knots in my shoulders and neck. My breathing quicker. A tightness in my gut. I. I had to hide. To get out of the way.

– And so I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, all versions. Me then for it happening. Me now for the effect on me now. And for the impact over the years. It feels self-pitying, self indulgent. The sadness, the sorrow.

– But is it? Isn’t it okay to feel sad?

– I know it’s about guilt. About it happening. About letting it. About not dealing with it sooner. It’s guilt. I know this.

– Someone told me it was dwelling, that I was dwelling on it. That’s wrong. The word’s wrong. Dwelling implies there’s a revelling in it, a volition. But this is involuntary.

– It comes from the process. You are being exposed to it every week.

– Yes. I don’t want to think about it. Well, I come every week. I am trying to deal with this. There is volition to that extent. But it’s not that I’m revelling in this being in my head. That I’m seeing everything through. Well, not even everything. I watch television. I read books. I can think about other things but it’s there. It’s there a lot. I.

– You know the Berlin thing? The fox and the hedgehog?

– It’s like in normal life, when I’m normal. Normal. Not this new normal. Normally I’m a fox. Lots of things on the go. I’m interested in and working on lots of things. Juggling stuff. But now, for the past few months, since the breakdown. Well, before. Yes. Before. For ages I’ve been a hedgehog. This one thing – one big thing that is there. Perpetually there. And you can try to do other things and you can engage with other things but you keep coming back to it. The one thing that is there. Dominating how you think. Dominating how you feel. And however you avoid it, try to engage with other stuff, it looms. You can be reading about anything and it’s there – back in your head pushing other things out of the way. You can be watching something, listening, and it’s there.

– and you deserve this. This is who you are. This is what you are worth. You are nothing. I. I am nothing. I have no value. I deserve this. I.

– I am nothing.

– not even a hedgehog.

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Dream

EMDR has knock on effects. Sometimes there are intrusive memories during the week between sessions – things you covered in the session, things you did not.

This week there have been dreams.

I do not usually remember dreams. But as EMDR has progressed my sleep has been increasingly disturbed. I wake most nights. I wake at the same time most nights. It may be related to the trauma. It may not. This may become apparent with more sessions.

But this week there have been dreams. Vivid dreams. Unrelated to the memories in session. But leading me to wake, heart racing, breath shallow. And leaving me awake. Sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour, longer.

My therapist has asked me to note changes. I have noted the dreams.

 

Dream

 

There is a wooden box filled with blank tiles and a notebook. Each page of the notebook is written on, fragments. The writing is faded. I know this although I do not have them. I have left them in a library.

There is an alarm. It jars, but is silent. I feel it. I feel the bell.

I need back in.

I am held back. By something. No person though. No one. There is no one around me.

The alarm stops. I am allowed into the library. I cannot tell what is on the shelves. They are higher than me. I am running surrounded by books, looking for the box, looking for the notebook. They are not there.

They are not there.

I am anxious, hunt for them, pulling books from the shelves.

They are not there.

I am guided to a place to find them through an archway. It is light, bright, clinical. Hospital clean. I cannot tell where the light is coming from. As I walk through the arch the notepad remains out of reach. The tiles are spilled on the floor. I try to pick them up, drop them.

The lights stay on. My breathing shallows, speeds.

 

 

Awake.

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You know what? The hat really is a secondary issue

 

hat hat hat filtered hat hat altered hat tinted background hat hat hat filtered red hat fisherman’s hat red hat tit for tat hat hat red hat hat hat red red tint background filter hat hat red hat hat red red tint background filtered hat hat hat hat hat hat red tint hat hat hat red hat red hat hat hat filtered hat red altered tinted hat darkened hat hat filtered hat hat hat red hat hat hat fisherman’s hat darkened hat hat hat filter alter hat hat hat hat hat hat but it’s not about the hat hat red hat but seriously look at the hat in the original I mean hat hat hat hat original hat fisherman’s original dark hat darkened hat hat background Kremlin hat hat hat filtered Kremlin stooge you know what? hat hat really is a secondary hat hat hat issue hat hat hat hat red filter not about the hat hat hat titfer couldn’t care less about the hat but look at it I mean look the hat has been altered hat hat hat altered hat red background BBC propaganda hat hat thick stooges they think we’re too stupid to realise the hat doesn’t matter Porton Down hat hat sauce for the goose sauce for the propaganda hat state suppression hat hat filtered background hat hat red tint hat hat not about the filtered hat but real evidence hat condemn hats on all sides hat hat hat red hat filtered hat hat hat hat red hat filtered hat hat hat but that’s not the key point hat hat hat

 

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A sensory four dimensional jigsaw

another week

same day

same time

same room

same chair

we chat

– and how was this week?

same questions

same chair

same room

left hand behind my head, scratch my right ear, tell:

good days, bad days; restful nights, restless nights; walks, train trips

She stops me.

Change. Notes a change.

Analyse.

same chair

Rationalise.

same room

Look back at the week.

same questions

Discuss memories, insights from this week:

fragments – instants from last session – sounds – smells – sights – a full sensory four dimensional jigsaw puzzle – no memory dump, no oddities

She stops me.

Change. Notes a change.

Rationalise.

same room

Analyse.

same chair

– Are you ready?

Nods.

swap chair

move chair

new chair

same chair

same room

same light bar

same buzzers

same chair

– Bring up the event.

same event

– What do you notice?

same question

same event

eyes narrowed, tell:  

sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – describe

She stops me.

– You seem a little later now.

Yes. Later. Moved from anticipation.

Change. Notes a change.

Sensing – hearing, smelling – describe

She stops me.

– It seems more vivid. Clearer.

Yes. Clearer. Fragments slotting together.

Change. Notes a change.

– What emotions do you feel?

Fear. Upset. Fear. Pain. Fear. Guilt. Fear. Shame. Fear. Anxiety. Fear.

describe

– And how distressing is this on a scale of one to ten?

tell

Change. Notes a change.

– And where do you feel this on your body?

Tension in my shoulders, and upper arms. I circle my neck left, pull my chin to my chest. Tension in my calves. Tension in my thighs. Mouth dry. Tension in my shoulders. I circle my neck right, pull my chin to my chest. Chest. Tightness in my chest. Knot in my gut.

describe

– Bring up the event.

I do. I am there. Reliving. Outside watching. I am there. I am here.

Lights start.

Buzzers start.

to right to left to right to left to right to left to right to left to

Buzzers stop.

Lights stop.

– What do you notice?

Sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – smelling – hearing – feeling. Then. Feeling. Now.

describe

– Notice that.

Lights start.

Buzzers start.

to right to left to right to left to right to left to right to left to

Buzzers stop.

Lights stop.

– What do you notice?

Sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – smelling – hearing – feeling. Then. Feeling. Now.

describe

– Notice that.

Lights start.

Buzzers start.

to right to left to right to left to right to left to right to left to

Buzzers stop.

Lights stop.

– What do you notice?

Sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – smelling – hearing – feeling. Then. Feeling. Now.

describe

– Notice that.

Lights.

Buzzers.

Start.

Stop.

Notice.

Describe.

Again.

Again.

Circles neck.

Pulls chin to chest.

Again.

Start.

Stop.

Again.

Tears.

Same event.

Same tears.

– We’ll stop there.

Breathing. Slow. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Again. Breathing. Same breathing. Grounding – feeling the chair – feeling the ground – feeling the room.

Same room.

Same chair.

– We’ll just round up.

Swap chair.

New chair.

Old chair.

Same chair.

– You’re doing well. There are changes in your feedback. It’s going well. It’s hard, but you’re doing well.

Fragments slotting together.

describe

Analyse.

Fragmented memories joining. A four dimensional jigsaw. The edges are done. A beginning. A muddle. An end. Fitting. It’s fitting.

There are questions.

– New insights bring questions. Some of them might clear up.

We chat.

We check diaries, make new appointments.

Same time.

Same day.

Another week.

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Schrodinger smiles

You are present. Wholly present. Here. You know that. Aware that only minutes ago you were conscious of sitting on the hard backed chair, your feet grounded, the draught at the window, the tripod supporting the light bar.

But you are absent now too. Wholly absent. Elsewhere.

And you don’t notice the lights.

You’ve talked about it with her. She’s explained that you need to be in both places at once. You need to connect with both. Then. You need to relive it. You need to be there. More than a slow motion replay – catching glimpses in your peripheral vision, suddenly noticing furniture, curtains; hearing the sounds outside, the whispers, the breathing; and the smells – the short sharp stench. It’s time travel. And you cannot alter it. Not one line. You know what will happen. You know how it ends. And that hits you now. Feeling. The catch in your throat. The tension in your body – shoulders, thighs, calves, gut. Breathing speeding. The tightness in your chest. The rhythms erratic. You feel.

You felt. You feel.

Then and now merge.

And when they do you don’t notice the lights.

Trapped in your head, knowing how it ends, you cry. For you now. For you then. And you can’t see the lights.

Or you try to escape. Closing your eyes against your past. Clenching them tight.

Or the memory. No, not memory, memory is wrong. It is time travel. But with no sound of thunder. You are reliving. Re-seeing. Re-feeling. Re-experiencing. You are experiencing. Sometimes the experience is foregrounded, so dominant, you don’t notice the lights.

You are there. You are. Then.

The pads continue to buzz in each hand though. Sometimes sensing their vibrations against your thighs as you grip tighter, nails in palms.

You are here. You are. Now.

Schrodinger smiles.

 

 

 

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The memory dump

It does not end when the lights stop. It does not end when the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling has calmed. It does not end when you open your eyes.

You’d been told, of course. Warned. But it is still unsettling when it happens. When in full widescreen glorious technicolor and surround sound that trailer (carefully selected by the projectionist as age appropriate for the intended audience) during the session becomes something more substantial.

A relived experience from the session can haunt you through the week. You are not aware of it all the time – but it is a glass prism in your consciousness refracting certain day to day actions. So you glimpse a memory from decades before the reflection on the freezer cabinet, recollect the tone of voice and what was said when the checkout assistant asks if you’ve a loyalty card. But there is more than simple momentary flashbacks. Some of it is sustained. That half remembered event becoming something more vivid. And as it does the weight increases on your chest and your shoulders tense and you are – physically, emotionally, mentally – simultaneously absent and present watching you watching you.

It’s unnerving.

And it’s unpredictable.

A day can pass with nothing.

The next can begin to relive the session, roll the film past the reel you saw while the lights flashed. Begin to explain.

But while the time before the lights nudges these memories from experiencing to experienced there is collateral damage, some related, much unrelated. Some makes no sense. Why remember the accountant with the curled fair hair sitting crying in the office where you had the summer job? Why is she there? Why remember the next door neighbour from four decades ago – brown haired, moustache, checked shirt?

Your therapist tells you that too long thinking about rationales is unproductive, anxiety inducing. You know this. You know that it is best not to scrabble around in the memory dump between sessions. What matters will be there next time, or the time after, or the time after that, when the lights start. It does not end.

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The third session

I move to the other chair in front of the tripod. After she adjust the tripod and switches on the light she hands me two pads. She sits to my left, file open, pen poised.

The two lights in the middle of the light bar on. I stare at them, eyes looking back.

– We’ll just check the pads.

As the lights move to the right the pad in my right hand vibrates. I clench the pads tighter. After the light passes the central point and moves left the pad in my left hand buzzes. My grip tightens.

– Same signal if you want to stop.

I raise my right hand.

– Now, we’ll begin with the same event. And we’ll begin at the place where it is worst. Tell me what you notice.

I.

I remember.

I tell her.

What was around.  Objects. Light. What I saw. I close my eyes as I talk. The image is more vivid than last week, later.

– And just notice that.

I do. I saw. I see.

– And what emotions do you feel?

I remember.

I tell her.

The anxiety. The distress. The fear. The

– And just notice them.

I do. I feel those emotions. I feel.

– And where do you feel this?

There is a tightness in my shoulders. At the back. In the front. I jerk my head to the left, push my head to my chest. I feel a tightness in my thighs, in my chest. My breathing shallows.

I

I tell her.

– Just notice that.

I do.

– And remember that.

She turns on the light bar.

The lights move

The pads vibrate

Right

I am there

Left

I see

Right

I feel

Left

I am there

Right

Images flash

Left

A cine film in my head

Right

There

Left

I am there

Right

My shoulders tighten

Left

The lights stop.

– Breathe in.

Inhale through the nose

– Breathe out.

Exhale through the mouth

– What do you notice?

I see something. Vivid. I tell her.

– Just notice that.

I do.

I do.

The lights start.

Right.

                There

Left

                I

Right

                I am

Left

                There

Right

                I am there

Left

                I feel

Right

                I

Left

                I

Right

                I am there

Left

The lights centre.

– Breathe in

Nose

– Breathe out

Mouth

– What do you notice?

I describe where I was, where I am.

– Just notice that.

The lights start.

Right

                There is a smell

Left

                A strong smell

Right

                I twitch.

Left

                My leg jerks

Right

                I

Left

                I am there.

Right

                I clench the pads harder

Left

                I feel my nails in my palm

Right

                I start to cry

Left

                My eyes narrow

Right

                The lights, the smell, the feel, the weight on my shoulders. I twitch. Slide

Left

                Down in the chair. The weight. I am

Right

                There

Left

                I am there.

Right

                I cry. My breathing shallows. My

Left

                Chest tight.

Right

                I close my eyes. I feel the pads

Left

                There. I am

Right

                The pads vibrate

Left

                Eyes forced open. The lights

Right

                Unfocused, jewels. Through the tears the lights are like jewels

Left

                I am

The lights centre

– Breathe in.

Nose

– Breathe out.

Mouth

– what do you notice?

The physical sensations. I tell her.

– Just notice that.

I do.

The lights, the vibrations, start

Cycle after cycle.

The lights, the vibrations, stop

I am aware of the room, sometimes.

I feel the chair beneath me, sometimes.

But as I watch the lights, feel the pads, I am transported.

I notice the physical, the pains in the shoulders, the thighs, the calves.

The lights, the vibrations, start.

The lights, the vibrations, stop.

I notice the surroundings,

the colours,

the objects,

the smell.

The lights, the vibrations, start.

The lights, the vibrations, stop.

I notice the upset.

Start.

Stop.

I notice the fear.

Start.

Stop.

I notice the anxiety.

Start.

I notice.

The lights centre.

I notice.

The lights stop.

She talks me through the relaxation.

As she did last week. As she did the week before.

Concentrating on breathing.

As I did last week.

Thinking of a comfortable place.

As I did last week.

Thinking of that environment.

As I did last week.

Thinking of reading.

As I did last week.

Concentrating on breathing.

– And feel your feet on the floor.

And I become aware of my shoes. My feet were on tiptoes. I lower my heel.

– And feel yourself on the chair.

I become aware of the support on my back.

– open your eyes.

I do. I hadn’t been aware that they were closed. I blink.

– And notice one or two things that are familiar in the room.

I see the desk. The door. I blink. I clasp my hands, place them between my thighs, bow my head.

We sit, quiet, for a few moments.

– Shall we?

We move back to the other desk.

– You did a lot of processing there.

– It’s hard.

She nods.

– Lots of eye movements.

I clutch my right wrist with my left hand.

– You’re very engaged. From a therapist’s point of view you are really engaged with this.

I nod.

– It’s hard though. It’s hard. It’s much more

She waits.

– physical. It’s much more physical than I. I’m there. It’s like, like a flashback, but not

I click my fingers.

– It’s prolonged. A flashback where you’re.

She makes a note.

– It’s hard,

I say.

– It’s hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today it begins

The light bar is on the floor when you enter the room. The length of a fluorescent office light it sits on a tripod. And although you both move to our usual place you remain aware of it.

Today it begins.

Last week she explained how it worked. Inside your brain something is stuck. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the experience the brain refused to process it. And it’s there. Stuck. And you cope. For years you cope. You have strategies, ways in which it does not dominate day to day life. Avoiding. Ways to push it out of the way. But the effort of doing that wears you down. Until

Until

The barriers were breached and the raw emotion, the distress, the fear, that raw emotion flowed, flooded. And it was there. It is there. Every day.

And to progress from functioning to living the brain needs to move this, to process the overwhelming visceral experience into memory – upsetting memory, but a memory you can reflect on rather than relive. And the light bar is intended to help nudge it along.

You talk. How has the week been? Any stresses, upsets? You talk, pause, stumble over words as you recall the conversation on new year’s morning where you were back in the kitchen, opened the curtains, saw the

– I was trying to avoid. You’d said to try to stay calm, relaxed, but

– This process only works with exposure. You might not have planned it, but you’re in the place. Ready.  And this exposure will help.

– Is there anything?

– It’s the anxiety of anticipation, not knowing what I’ll feel, what will happen.

– We don’t have to start today. Any questions, any worries, just ask and I’ll

– I want to. The longer I wait the worse I’ll feel. So I want, no, need to.

– Shall we begin?

You nod, change seat. The room lights are switched off, the window closed. The light bar is raised, and a buzzer placed in each hand. As the light moves left then right then left then right you feel it vibrate in each hand in turn.

She opens the file, checks the notes and takes out a pen.

She asks you to think about the incident, to focus on an image.

It is in your head.

Your breathing shallows.

It’s there.

Stuck.

In your head.

You feel a tightness in your shoulders, in your chest.

– What do you feel?

– Fear.

– Guilt.

– Worthless

– Any other emotions?

You whisper, inaudible. Your eyes prickle. The heat of tears.

Her voice is quiet:

– can you formulate this as an “I am” statement?

You feel the tears.

– If you can.

– I am nothing.

– I deserve this.

– I am worthless.

You become aware of tears on your nose.

– And what do you want?

– I want

– I want to matter.

You are aware of her writing a note.

– I’m going to put on the lights. You follow them and concentrate on the image. Focus on that. And on the emotion. “I am worthless”. Focus on that.

And she switches on the lights.

And you watch them

Right

And left

And right

And left

And you feel the buzzer

Right

And left

And right

And left

And the light stops in the middle

– And what do you notice?

– My shoulders are tight.

– Take a moment to notice that.

And she switches on the lights

And you watch them

And you feel the buzzer

Right

And left

And right

And left

And right

And left

And you can barely see the light move right as you cry.

“I am worthless”

You have started.

This will take some time. 

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Hiatus

Over the past few weeks I have been touched by some very kind comments through this blog or through twitter regarding my recent posts, and so this is a placeholder to reassure my regular reader that my upcoming absence from blogging and tweeting is planned and intentional.

As I’m properly beginning treatment I am taking a break from writing on this blog and from my twitter account for a while to allow me to concentrate on recovery.

Normal(ish) service will resume in due course.

In the meantime in the sentiments of the twin beacons of modern life Jerry Springer and Derek Batey look after yourself and be nice to each other.

CppTsrkVIAEnKic

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The Appointment – III

– and with the anniversary soon do you do anything?

– No. I spoke to my mum about it the other day. There have been some documentaries repeated, but I. Well. There are times where it’s like a moth to the flame, you know? But just now, what with everything, I’m avoiding them. It’s a bit

– to cope. I meant to cope.

– not really. I’ve been avoiding it.

– Have you been doing anything else?

– A bit of writing. Here and there. It’s.

– I was going to say therapeutic, but it’s the wrong word. Cathartic. Sometimes. Just getting it down. Cathartic.

– And are you writing about what happened? Or later? Or something else, of course?

– It tends not to be about. It’s raw. I write about the telling, about remembering. But I use the second person. Often. It’s easier. Writing in the second person means you’re close enough to know what’s going on in the head, but you

– keep a distance?

– yes. You need to. It’s partly about remembering. What are you remembering? Are you remembering what happened? Remembering it? Or are you imposing now on then? Or imposing another then? Understand?

– Like the phone. When she phoned. When she told us about the plane. The phone. In my head, it’s an old phone. You know? The squat fat phone sitting there, with the curled cord to the hand piece. The? The receiver? Do you remember?

– Heavy.

– Yes, that big heavy phone. And that’s the one in my head. The one we had when I was small. That phone. The old one before we changed the number.

– In my head it’s that phone. But I can’t remember. If I was to go back, it might be the other one. But I don’t remember it.

– She phoned not long after 7. My mum got it. She laughed at first. My granny had asked about the bang, if we’d heard the bang.

– And did you?

– No. Later we learned a friend of my dad, he’d been out for a walk. Saw something. Heard something. He’d thought it was the nuclear power station. We lived near one, you see. And he panicked. But it was. Well, you know what it was.

– Anyway, my sister – well she was clumsy. When she visited my granny she’d break stuff. And so my mum asked what she’d broken now and my granny didn’t laugh. She told my mum there was a plane. It had crashed into the house a few doors along but they were okay. The phone was the only one working in the area. My grandfather had been a GPO engineer. He put the phone in. It was on a different bit of the line from the others. It kept working. Throughout the time. It kept working.

– We put the telly on. Channel 4. For the news. But there wasn’t anything. Nothing. Until later. And he said a plane had vanished. A jumbo jet. It had

– We’d not thought it was something that size. We’d imagined a small plane, a microlight, something like that, but a jumbo. That was. It would have taken a huge chunk of the town.

– We kept watching. Moving from channel to channel. And then there was a call for nurses, for doctors, any medical staff. My mum didn’t drive. She phoned a friend to see if she could get a lift. And they went up. They were stopped by the police and she explained why she was there and had a row with them that if they didn’t let her through she’d walk up – under the railway – and they let her in. Which is lucky. If she’d gone the other way there was a. A crater. An engine I think. She wouldn’t have

– And she

– We were still up when she got back. She’d not been needed. None of them were needed but she’d visited my sisters, my granny.

– Why?

– My grandfather had died that year. They were there to keep her company until my uncle stopped work. I should have

– I should have been there. I made an excuse. Revision. Prelims. I

– I should have been.

– When she got back she stank of smoke. Her clothes stank of smoke. They needed three or four washes to get it out. It was so strong.

– The smoke

– We couldn’t get up that next day. No one could. So two days later we went up. On the bus. It was odd. We couldn’t get in the normal way. We stopped. It was a bit of a walk. And there was press. Just intruding.

– We ignored them. But one

– My uncle. They asked my uncle, “Do you think it’s serious?” I mean. What were they? Serious. Did he think it was serious? A plane. A jumbo. Did he think it was?

– There was  a strong smell. Smoke. Fuel. It hung there. Lingered. You were aware of it.

– It’s still in my nose. Understand?

-[nods]

– We walked up to my granny’s. She stayed near the park. There were rows of houses. There was a row behind hers. A hill behind that. When we walked up you could see the.

– It’s the only time I’ve seen. When she died, years later, I’d had the call two, three times. And I went. And I saw her in hospital. But I wasn’t there when she died. Didn’t see her. But

– On the hill. Orange sheets. Bits. You could

– My granny’s house was at the park. Where we played. When we’d visit in the summer we’d play there. But it had row upon row of stuff. Bags. Clothes. Things. Just filling the park. It was so odd. And the smell. But her house had no broken windows. None. Not like the others.

– We went round the back. You always went round the back. That door stayed open. If you were visiting you didn’t go to the front door, but her kitchen that morning it was different. The curtains were shut. They were never shut. But, she’d pulled them to. They were closed. And her Christmas tree. She usually had it on a little sideboard thing in front of her window. It was there but the fairy wasn’t. It was usually there but it wasn’t.

– Out the back was bad. There was a tree near the bottom of her garden. A body in it. The British press didn’t publish the pictures but the Americans did. It was in Time magazine. My granny’s house. The body. I used to get it for school, stopped. It was

– And the hill at the back. Sheets. Lots of sheets.

– I realised why she’d drawn the curtains. The tree. The

– In the houses at the back there was a chair, an airline seat. It was in the window.

– I could see the left arm, lolling, the head. Like this

– The only time I’ve seen death and it was

– And in the house along the road, the one that had gone there were soldiers, not much older than me, bringing things out. Over and over again. To vans, I think, pulling up outside. I can’t even remember if it was ambulances. But they’d bring them out. Van after van.

– I should have been there on the night.

– Did you have revision?

– Yes, but I exaggerated. I. I didn’t want the hassle. I was sixteen. I was. I should have been.

– Sorry.

– Are you okay?

– Observing you, your voice was calm, kept a clear tone, unflustered But look where you are. When you came in you were upright in that chair, open, not like that. And your hands seemed agitated.

– Are you okay? Do you want to take a minute?

– It’s not your fault that it happened. You didn’t ask for it to happen. You didn’t want it to happen. You couldn’t stop it happening.

– But I should have been there.

 

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Trigger

It can be innocuous. A tone of voice. A word. A touch. A smell. It can be more overt. Descriptions. News stories. But the effect of both can be the same. That in one instant you are moved, transported, experiencing two events at once. It’s that aspect people find tricky when you try to explain. The notion that you are experiencing it.

You can be anywhere, wholly aware of what is going on. On a train: conscious of the announcements, the discomfort of the seats, the reflections in the window, the presence of your fellow passengers, the passing countryside. In an office: aware of the draught from the window, the cursor flashing on the monitor, the murmurs of phonecalls by those in neighbouring offices.

In telling friends that you are transported they seem awkward, not comprehending. One perceived that you left, that your mind had gone. That you were not there. But that’s not the case. You still sense your surroundings. But you are simultaneously somewhere else, somewhere long gone but present still – experiencing that. And when you are experiencing the other place you smell, you hear, you touch, you see. You feel. Oh, how you feel. The raw, visceral emotions burn through your body, through your head. And your body reacts. It is present, aware of now, but feeling then, feeling that overwhelming, that body and mind encompassing distress that you feel in your heart and in your lungs and in your gut.

But how do you get there?

The unexpected smell of fumes from a car exhaust, a glimpse of certain Christmas decorations, the untrailed news report, each can transport you back to the town, to the park full of bags, to the house, kerosene and smoke heavy in the air, as you peer through the window. Feeling the touch of someone against you can move you years. An unexpected hand on the shoulder, a leg against yours while on the train, certain words, a voice, or a report recounting events. Each can punch you. Bend you double. Head here, and elsewhere. Looking in the mirror. Frozen.

And the incomprehension, the fear, is there again. And again. And again. Stuck in your head, relived, time after time after time. Stuck. In your head. And you can’t breathe. And you can’t think. And you can’t move.

Triggers they call them. Triggers. Events, sensory experiences, that transport you. That leave you debilitated, reliving, re-experiencing.

But there are ways sometimes to manage them. Instances where you expect something, and can be ready, can know that you will cope. Now this does not cover every scenario. The hands on your shoulders, the fumes, the throwaway reference in a news report, may arise without your expecting it, may prompt – however momentarily – the shift in perception, that moment where you are Schrodinger’s person. But sometimes a simple act indicating there are issues that will be addressed within a news bulletin (“coming up next”) or a table of contents in a book or, when a student, a wording in a handout or in a lecture that next time a certain topic will be dealt with can allow you mentally to prepare.

But if you were a student some years ago such civility allowing you to prepare might not have existed. Handouts were distributed on the day of a lecture. A much-loved lecturer would giggle his way through extreme tales of distress, egged on by those in the back row.

But such civility is common now. Handouts are distributed in advance, students are aware that certain topics are covered. Sometimes this basic decency gets a label: The trigger warning.

But the moment you use the expression you provoke certain zealots.

It’s the sneer that gets you. You know the thing. You’ve read it. The references to “snowflakes” or the “snowflake generation” where a man (bar a Hopkins or a Hartley Brewer it’s nearly always a man) writes disparagingly about the youths who can’t cope with modern life, who need “trigger warnings” (they italicise or use inverted commas for added snark). The contempt, the bile, they feel for those who have suffered trauma is uncomfortable.

It is bullying.

It is an attack.

Why are they so concerned by an institution or a lecturer acknowledging that where a student may face a visceral reaction that leads him or her to relive a trauma in a way that may render them unable to handle material and to miss an essential class or feel generally that a course or a programme is not for them? Why are they so offended by this? Why insult those whose lives are made a little easier by these warnings? Why do the journalists feel that those who have experienced trauma, who live with the events every day of their lives, are more worthy of contempt than others? Why do they hold those who have survived traumas, who have survived some of the worst experiences you can imagine, in such contempt? Column filed, coins for sneers banked, do they sleep easy? 

 

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I don’t have the word

Three, four months ago you sit in your office, a book open on the desk, next to it a set of photocopies and print outs ready to be scrawled on. You are meant to be preparing for tomorrow. A few moments ago you left the room. A radio story took you years before. You switched off, flinching. But it was too late. You were there, and here. And you are struggling to read. Words have shadows behind them. Often this is a sign of an imminent migraine, but there is no pain behind the eyes. No flashes. No spirals. But you can feel your need to hide. The letters jumble. The shapes becoming unrecognisable. You close the blinds. If someone passes and asks you can say it’s the late summer sunlight, maybe a glare.

And as you tense, on the pages where sentences can be made out their context vanishes. Words sit on the page with an odd look. Letters reaching up. Letters reaching down. Shapes do not relate to meaning. It is obscured.

And you fidget. You scramble through the papers, the book. They are the same, all of them the same. Black lines and curves on the page. An unreadable incomprehensible mishmash.

They’ve  gone. The words have gone.

You go to your door, lock it, and edge to the corner of the room where your coat hangs.

You crouch there, the coat over you.

Your breathing is erratic, your ears pulsing.

You close your eyes.

Try to concentrate on the rhythm of the breathing.

On the rhythm.

When you open your eyes a few minutes later you can make out titles on the spines of volumes on the shelves.

You unlock the door.

– I’m fine,

whispered to no one in particular, reassuring no one in particular.

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Some personal posts

This post just gathers together links to some personal posts. It will be updated over time.

 

 

 

Mental health

Memories remembered

Train trip

Silence

Before talking 

I don’t have the word

Beginning

The questionnaire

Thought for the day

Talking

Talking again

The Spielvogel moment

Writing

The appointment – I

The Appointment – II

be kind to yourself  

The Appointment – III 

Today it begins 

The third session 

The memory dump 

Schrodinger smiles

A sensory four dimensional jigsaw 

Dream

Days of the hedgehog

it

Conversation before the light work

 

Of friendship

on being anti-social

Circles

Afterwards 

 

Other stuff

Trigger

 

desert island discs

Desert Island Discs – I

Desert Island Discs – II

Desert Island Discs – III

Desert Island Discs – IV

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be kind to yourself

– So this week?

– I was at the GP again. And at hospital. I’m off, still off.  Another month. Too long. It’s bothering me. There are people having to step in and cover stuff and they’re stretched already and I’ve made things worse. It’s a bad time for them, just now. I should

– But you’re ill.

– It’s not your fault.

– I should.

– Be kind to yourself.

– It’s hard. You know? It’s

– The hospital?

– The hospital appointment was helpful. She explained the physiology. How it worked. Why I’m stuck. That something is so overwhelming that your brain can’t handle it. That it can’t process it, leaves it raw, a giant knot of emotion and it’s stuck and can’t move through to the next part, and you can’t process. And you deal with it in various ways. You ignore it. You cope by ignoring it. By developing things to avoid it. And so this. This.

– She said that it happened. The. Well. It was because my reserves had been worn down, that the body and the brain could not keep up the effort to keep it out. And so I. Normal coping strategies would break down. And when, you know, when you’re faced with it it overwhelms you because it’s the raw stuff that hits you, the unprocessed mishmash, with everything that went with it. Everything. The feelings. The hurt. The. Distress. Understand? That distress. That overwhelming feeling that meant you couldn’t cope in the first place. The unprocessed raw emotional punch. And it hits your head and hits your gut and

– It’s not there in my head all the time. It’s not.

– But it must be. Because things that years ago wouldn’t have mattered matter.

– It’s the transporting. The sense that you are fully here and fully somewhere else. And when I’ve tried to explain to people they look at me as if I’m. Well, you know. They do. It’s like.

– Do you know The Prisoner? The TV series?

– [shakes head]

– He was a spy, and he resigned and is kidnapped and wakes up in a place where his identity’s been wiped. The identity of everyone has been wiped. They’re numbers. Just numbers. And if they try to escape there are guards, giant guards like. You know those big balls that people can use on water – you go inside them and.  The guards are like those big balls. And it’s like having one of those in your head. Semi-opaque. You can see through sometimes in some lights, you can see round it, but there are times where you are very conscious it’s there. Hyper-conscious. And at those times you view everything through that. It distorts your view. Everything is seen through it, but you’re still aware where you are, and you feel everything that’s there. If you were cut or pricked you’d feel that sharp pain. But you’re somewhere else too. Feeling that. Aware of that.

– And it can be a smell. Or reading about something, where you can feel what happened because it.

– You feel it. Triggers, they call it. And it’s not a great word, but it takes you. That instant you are there, and not there. Schrodinger’s person. You feel it. You feel

– I feel.

– Or it can be a touch or a smell or a voice or a tone. Sitting there and hearing someone, or a particular way of speaking, and I’m off. I’m there but not there. I keep hearing what is around me, but I see the. And it’s so vivid. So visceral. You are there, seeing the room, and everything. And feeling the

– And it is overwhelming. Because that raw emotion of being there, of it happening, engulfs you, takes over you, and you are caught. You are stuck.

– And it’s there. In vision. In your head.

– All the time.

– In your head.

– And you can’t

– You can’t

– Breathe in now. Breathe in.

– Out.

– And again.

– It’s not your fault. It wasn’t your fault. And again. Think about how you’d be with someone else. What you’d do. What you’d think.

– And again.

– Be kind to yourself.

– Be kind

  

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The Appointment – II

– It started last year. I was on a train. The GP described it as a

– well, it seemed too dramatic. I thought it was too dramatic, too strong. But as it’s gone on, I think he was maybe right. Maybe it was. But the word suggested something explosive, a bang. And it wasn’t like that at the time, but during the year the effect has been

– He said it was. Anyway, maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s right.

– I was on a train. Delayed, the last one cancelled. November night. Moved from platform to platform. It was packed, two trains worth of people. I’d got on, sat next to window and then it got busier. And the person next to me got closer. Just in my space. Getting closer, nudged over. And there was no need for it. The train was busy but they didn’t need to touch me. They didn’t need to. And I flinched. Tensed. And I was

– There’s someone at my work. He has depression too. We’d been for a chat, had lunch. And he told me how it oppressed him, how he felt swamped by the darkness, how he’d feel overwhelmed. And I explained that I’d be moved, transported’s the best word. Transported. In two places at once. Sometimes three. When I told him he moved away, looked at me as if I was mad.

– And I was in the train, and the person next to me came into my space. They didn’t need to be there. They didn’t need to. They weren’t being pushed from the aisle. They just moved close. They touched me. I felt them touch me. And I was in the train, and I was there. I was there. In the train. I was there. I could feel them next to me. I could hear them. But I closed my eyes. And it was dark, you know? It was November. I could see reflections in the window from inside the train. And it was dark and I leaned my head against the window and I was in the bus. And I was there too. I was there. And I started to cry. I cried. Nose running Juliet Stevenson crying. And the train was so busy that nobody moved. And I closed my eyes and I could feel them staring. And I. I was stuck. I wanted out. I couldn’t get out. And I was crying and I was stuck there, next to the window. And I leaned my head against it and felt the vibrations through my body like on the bus when we used to go to my granny’s. And I was there. And in the train. You understand? Transported.

– The following weeks were difficult. I stayed in. I worked at home. I couldn’t go out. I got phone numbers. Had them on sheets of paper. Searched for help. Visited sites. But I didn’t phone. Didn’t email. And then I got a message thanking me for help. I’d put someone in touch with a counsellor, with some support, after a bereavement, and she sent me an email thanking me and it was so touching. I knew. I knew that if I was someone I knew I’d tell them to contact. So, I phoned a counselling service at work, got an appointment. A cancellation. I don’t know if I’d have gone if there’d not been a cancellation. I was rushed into it. And I went. And

– I told her. About the plane, about the bodies. About

– Too complicated. She said it was too complicated. They only had six sessions. She said I’d need more. A lot more. She gave me numbers – charities mainly – said I had to see the doctor. I didn’t make an appointment right away. The doctor said I’d had a breakdown, had depression. That’s when he’d contacted you.

– and you turned down medication?

– at that point, yes. I worried. Dependence. The impact on creativity, on finding those connections – those joins. The leaps. The inspiration. You understand?

– [nods]

– But I am now. A few weeks. After I’d started the counselling. I was struggling.

– And the counselling has been for?

– Nearly four months. It’s been hard. It’s with

– [She notes the name, nods] and?

– It took a while to talk. Weeks. It was in the sixth week. Seventh maybe? I realised I was distracting, avoiding. Talking about talking.

– And I’m stuck. It’s in my head. Opening this up. It’s in my head. And there are reminders, flash points. Triggers. Yes, triggers. Things that send you there. And you’re transported. Again. And again. And you’re there. You’re

– The second person. I slip. I discussed that in counselling. It’s a defence. A distancing. You know? I do it a lot. In talking. In writing. You understand?

– I don’t want you to think I’m like that all of the time. But it became a distraction. My work. I couldn’t. I felt overwhelmed. It was in my head. What happened. It was there. It was

– In my head.

– Things I’d been doing on automatic pilot, the routine, the easy stuff. I stopped. It was in my head. And I couldn’t even

– And the GP signed me off. I’m off. Processing. Trying to process. Trying to cope. And it’s not there all the time. I have good days. Good periods. It’s not there all the time. It’s not.

– It’s not.

– And what do you want?

– Before I started, before the counselling, if you’d given me a magic wand, if you could just take that and. You know Total Recall? The story? I just wanted it wiped. If I could get it wiped I thought everything would be better. I’d be better. I’d be. Well. I’d be well. But not now. I want to ac. I don’t want to accept. Acceptance is the wrong word. It’s too positive. Too satisfied. You’re happy with it. And I’m not. I can’t accept it. Why should I accept it? But it’s who I am. It’s why I am. It’s part of. I want to. I want to park it. To acknowledge. To cope. To not have it in the front of my head. I don’t want that there, but it’s part of me. So through this I want to acknowledge it, and not to function. I’ve spent decades functioning. Avoiding. But I don’t want that. I can’t go back.

– I can’t.

– I can’t.

 

 

 

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The appointment – I

I arrive early at the hospital unit, half an hour early. I’d taken the train, walked to the offices, worrying I’d be late. The building was nondescript, a bungalow amidst other bungalows. There’s a security intercom. I buzz, give my name, and the door clicks open.

There is no one about when I get inside. Three empty plastic chairs, the sort of chairs you get in secondary school classrooms, are in the hall. I sit nearest the door, take out a book, wait to be seen, conscious of the clock on the wall opposite. I hear every movement of the second hand.

After a few minutes people walk past, carrying bags or files. There are nods, murmurs. I read the same sentence three times. Awkward. Not going in. Names merging one into another. I turn back to the start of the chapter.

And I hear every movement of the second hand.

Someone else comes in, a woman, younger than me, brown haired. She smiles. I mouth a hello. She is seen within minutes, leaves about ten minutes later.

I sit.

Every movement of the second hand.

Then my name.

– Hi, would you like to come through now?

Her office is large, computer on her desk, next to the keyboard an A4 notepad, narrow feint. Her chair is set at a height that looks uncomfortable. She perches. Fidgets in between writing notes.

I sit in a chair with is back to the window. I cross my legs, tuck my foot behind my calf, and fold arms.

– Sorry.

She looks. Makes a note

– I have the referral from your GP here. It was

She looks at the letter clipped in the file.

– ah. Ten months. Oh. I’m sorry there’s been such a delay. We’ve had, mmm, staffing issues. Some retirements. Lack of legacy planning. You know?

I nod. I know. It’s familiar. Such things happen across offices, across sectors.

– Are you off at the moment?

I nod.

– Three weeks past. I’d kept going and kept going but I was struggling. Things that had been fine became difficult.

She makes a note.

– Overwhelming.

She looks at me. I glance to the door, edge down in the chair, arms folded tighter.

– We can go through the things your doctor, Doctor

She looks at the letter clipped in the file, reads the name aloud.

– We can go through the things he identified. Of course with the time some things might have. Anyway, I can ask you questions or you can talk, tell me in your own words how things are, how you got to here. We’ll cover everything either way, so it’s for you really. Which do you?

Which do I?

– I’ve been in counselling for around twelve sessions. Could I?

She writes a note, gestures.

– It started last year. I was on a train. The GP described it. Well, it seemed too dramatic. I thought it was too dramatic. Too strong. But as it’s gone on, I think he was maybe right. Maybe it was. But the word suggested something explosive, a bang.

 

 

 

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Weinstein

It is about power.

It is about asserting that power and making the person the power is asserted against feel weak, whether that weakness is physical or emotional.

And the attacker, the (let’s call him what he is) abuser, he (and it’s almost always a he) knows that the person abused may not, often will not, tell because they are ashamed, or guilty that they didn’t, couldn’t, stop it – no matter how old they are – or fear that they may not be believed, or fear that by talking they may damage their career, that possible futures,  may vanish, or fear that awareness of the abuse will hurt those close to them, or fear that by telling they will relive the ordeal, that by telling there are some who will take the opportunity to define them by what happened.

And if the person abused does not speak is it their fault? Are they responsible for everything after? Those who are quick to blame the person abused for their understandable silence appear oblivious to the existing guilt, the trauma, the way they live with the incident for months, for years afterwards.

And those moments of asserting power, those moments of violation, of violence are gone quickly. Does the abuser lie awake at night remembering? Does he lie awake revisiting the moment?

 

 

 

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