So here’s the thing. Once something is over, like, say, the years during which my Dad sexually abused me and my mum let him, it’s not really over. The nightmares, the fear, the rock-bottom self-esteem, the self-harming urges. The obsessive-compulsive door-locking. These stay. Until you can’t live around them any more.
At least, that’s how it went for me. I grew into a very angry teenager, and then a more-or-less functional adult. I went to University and got a business degree. I travelled. I got a job. You know, grown-up, functional kind of stuff. I even got married! Clearly, I was doing just fine. Wasn’t I?
Well, no. I was often almost late for work because I had been compulsively locking and re-locking my front door. Did I check 21 times? If I hadn’t, it couldn’t be locked. Best I go back and check again. Lock-unlock. Lock-unlock. Must do it 21 times. Must do that ritual three times.
Can’t send a text message unless the number of letters in it are a multiple of 3. You have NO idea how time consuming that one was! The counting. The constant counting. It makes me anxious just to remember it. And no, I still don’t know what it was with the multiples of three.
When the counting/locking/repeating didn’t help, I went to sleep. I even found a job where I could work flexi-time, because I couldn’t be awake for more than six hours before the world overwhelmed me. It would get too loud, too bright, too much. That was just my normal. I had no idea there was another way to be: I had never been any other way.
And I could sort of live with it. Until my marriage broke down, and with it, the last of my defenses, the last of my desire to keep carrying my anxiety, my fear, my pain and shame around with me.
It was like I finally acknowledged that there was a big ole elephant in the room, and he kept leaving piles of steaming dung on my carpet. Elephant-sized piles.
The months after I left my husband were terrifying: I walked out of my marriage with a few thousand dollars in my bank account, a couch and table I had been moving from home to home since I was 22, and seven boxes. Not much to show for a lifetime.
I had been in Melbourne just over a year: I had some friends, new friends. No family. No old friends. No real support system or safety net. No money. I have never been so scared in all my life, not even when I was a child. And I started to unravel: the shame came out, wanting to be looked at (dating really activated that for me). The fear, it never went away. The anxiety.
Several times, once especially, after a man had been careless with me, I thought I wouldn’t be able to find the strength to carry on. Thank God for my yoga mat, because that was invariably where I ended up. Sometimes, I didn’t actually DO any yoga, I just crouched on that sticky, scuffed, safety blanket and sobbed.
I was deep, deep in the darkness of my own psyche. In a darkness I had been avoiding all my life. In those days, in that darkness, I finally realised that I had a choice. Live, become a survivor, or stay a victim and eventually, perhaps, not live anymore.
I wanted to live: I wanted to become a survivor. A survivor is hardy, resourceful, sovereign. A survivor can navigate in the darkness, and find a way into the light.
I wanted to stop feeling like I had no control over my world, over what people did to me (a logical conclusion when you have been victimised, just not a useful one). I wanted to claim my power.