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Interview with a survivor about the ongoing trauma of abuse

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Please note that the below blog comes with a trigger warning - please only click through if you feel ready to read. (Trigger Warning, Rape and Sexual Violence)

Q1. Do you feel like the organisations and services you have engaged with throughout your recovery have been trauma informed? This is a big question I suppose and an answer that will change for every organisation or service I have worked with. I have engaged with many places and spaces in trying to access healing and some form of recovery. I have worked with private therapists, some who have most definitely embodied trauma informed practice and others who have not. I have been to week long healing retreats and been re-traumatised by the practice of the coaches, leaders and assistants involved who were caught up in a toxic mess of their own unexplored trauma. I have worked with organisations who, for sure have learned a lot about trauma informed practice and may well have done some really comprehensive training on the subject. I have experienced the difference between people trying to cognitively learn about trauma and then in reality, not being able to live that fully. Being trauma informed is a commitment to fully embodying this as a way of living, not just a Friday afternoon CPD session and promoting that you are trauma informed. If the ecology of the organisation is not actively reflecting on their own way of being in the world, learning, evolving, growing, becoming more compassionate, then how they deliver services will reflect this. Q2. Do you have any fears of attending the dentist as a result of your experience? I have deep fears of going to the dentist, perhaps as a result of my experiences, although I probably wouldn't have connected the dots until the most recent years of my own healing and personal understanding of my journey. I was seriously traumatised by a dental procedure about 9 years ago now and I returned to have dentist work, only 2 years ago when I had been suffering with jaw pain for a while. Ask many a trauma survivor, our ability to withstand pain is incredible. This also has its consequences though and many of us will live with pain until it crosses a threshold where things have gotten a little bit too far down the line. I have experienced that 'joke' many a time from professionals who laugh and perhaps passive aggressively comment about my lack of care towards myself, that I am not a child anymore and should be coming regularly to the dentist, 'that wasn't so bad', what have I been doing all this time.....only to then sit in the dentist chair further cloaked in shame and worrying that I have now done unrecoverable damage to myself because I wasn't responsible enough to come sooner. The fear is REAL. Even as a write this, I feel a flashback and panic coming on (note to self, breathe, feel your feet on the ground, you are safe!). That procedure happened after one of my back teeth crumbled, yes, one of those really big ones. I lived with it for quite a while because I was worried that I would get a row if I went to the dentist. I eventually went and of course, there was no other option but extraction. I understood this part. What I had no idea would happen was that after a few jags in the mouth (already terrifying and painful), I was told to relax and the dentist (a woman, thank goodness for that) proceeded to climb on top of me and attempt to yank this tooth out. I was not talked through this process (I am not too sure the dentist even thought this through) and after 30 minutes of dissociating, crying and being held down, my tooth eventually gave way and came out. Shortly after, I was sent walking out the surgery with a bundle of tissue in my mouth and told to rest. I staggered home, dizzy and in a state of unreality. What had just happened. I bled profusely for the full day after this, the wound would not heal.....sounds like trauma huh?! The space where my tooth had been was a wide, gaping hole of a wound and I had been left to deal with this by myself. Q3. Can you tell us the impact of reporting to the police? (Trigger Warning, Rape and Sexual Violence) Honestly, this question is tough. There were multiple things happening in my life at the time the rape happened. It was my friend who encouraged me to go to the police the day after the violence, I may not have gone if left to my own devices. In fact, I am almost certain I wouldn't have gone. Reporting it was awful, because firstly, I was not convinced at all that it had even happened to me. That wonderful protective mechanism had kicked in and I was not connected to what happened the night before. I felt like I was turning up to talk about something that had happened to someone else. A voice in my head told me I was lying and if I was lying, why would they take this seriously? It was a male on duty at the police station in Portobello. What happened after that is still a blur. What I know for certain is that I gave a statement once at the police station, then I was told to go home and wait for the police to come around. I waited hours before they came and gave another comprehensive statement. I was then told to go to Amethyst for a medical exam, so my friend drove me to this place. I was taken into a room and had to give ANOTHER step by step account of what happened, this seemed to take forever. I remember at some point being in a medical place, face down (the same position as the rape happened) getting swabbed and photographed. I don't remember when I left that building, my friend dropped me off at my mums with a book in hand, which talked about what to do after rape/sexual assault. I was told the next day that no substances had been found in my blood, so this left me with more self blame and shame. If I hadn't been drugged, then I must have been an active participant in what happened. This was to be the final conclusion for me after the 1.5 year investigation by the PF, who later in the case, invited me to Livingston (I think) to read one what the defendants had written. They had explicitly said that I was 'up for it' and had no idea I was so drunk at the time. My case never went to court as there was not enough evidence to convict. I received a letter to tell me this (the letter began with saying that I must be disappointed ~ disappointed comes nowhere close to how I felt, still feel. The most dismissive and minimising word) and an offer for a discussion if I wanted to follow the letter up with a phone call. I am still trying to come to terms with what happened and of course, what didn't happen through the justice system. Would I report it again, I simply can't answer life has continued on a certain trajectory and I do not know how it would have been if I hadn't reported to the police. I can certainly say that the process of reporting and what's happens immediately after, HAS to change and I hope it has in the 8 years since this happened to me. Q4. Do you have any comments about accessing or speaking with a GP I have much to say about this, but perhaps I will give the most recent experience as case in point. About 2 years ago I had been driving back from a visit to Perth. It is unusual for me to go and spend time in this city, my CSA happened here and it holds many difficult memories. I thought I would be OK and met my mum for some shopping. At the time, I was still quite unsure as to what was happening within my body, disconnected, dissociated, not in my body. As I was driving back, I started to feel dizzy, now I realise that this was a flashback. I was due to see the doctor the next day to talk about a CICA application and a possible diagnosis for cptsd. I had never met this doctor before in my life and I had 10 minutes with her. I tried to explain what had happened and she stopped me abruptly. She claimed that 'I must have known that telling her this would require her two make a call to the DVLA and have me suspended from driving'. I had no idea that this would be a consequence of this discussion and I broke down, begging her not to do this, that I knew what was happening and that I was a conscientious driver. Eventually she listened and said that this time, my disclosure would go no further, but I had to take more care. A few months later, as my CICA application progressed, I became recipient of my full medical notes. It would take me more than the scope of this writing to explain what a painful and grief filled read these would be. To see my journey through the NHS medical system, to see what was missed, to see what the doctors had discussed and to see what the doctor in the passage above had written after that 10 minute appointment with me. She had indicated that I should be given a diagnosis of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), that this was her recommendation. NOTHING about the trauma that I had explained to her that I had experienced, it was all about me having extreme emotions that I couldn't regulate. I felt deflated. It took a few days though of coming back into my truth and making a decision to take back my power. One of the scariest phone calls I ever made was to the doctors surgery to ask for a conversation with the practice manager. I stood up for myself and told them that I had seen my medical notes (this is not a usual occurrence btw, so quite possibly came as a shock to them) and was unhappy with this entry into my notes and wanted it retracted or removed. That it was not an accurate reflection of what was going on for me and it felt stigmatising. (I appreciate other people may have a BPD diagnosis and feel OK with this. I was not.) A few days later, I got a call saying that the doctor I had seen had made an apology and this had been updated in my medical notes. They sent me a copy. This is a snapshot of something that happened to me on my journey with a specific doctor, my medical notes contain many more snapshots and indeed chapters of my life that perhaps if they had been dealt with differently, I might be having a different conversation now. At the moment I feel safe enough with the doctor I have and she is aware of my personal history. I am, at the moment, working up the courage to call the doctor again to try and explain about the chronic pelvic pain I am still experiencing. What do I say, how do I put it into words? How many times do I have to try and explain what I am feeling in my body, which may or may not be a direct result of the trauma I have faced.....where do I go from here? HMMMM. Q5. Do you have any comments on the attendance of a smear test? My only comments about this are that I never had a 'problem' with accessing smear tests. This might seem strange as a sexual trauma survivor. I went for every smear test and COMPLIANTLY did what I was told. This is the part to take notice of. The only indication to me that this process bothered me at all, was that it was painful. I said nothing, ever. No doctor or even nurse had ever asked me if I had experienced anything that might make this challenging, painful, scary or even just offered me a compassionate conversation before to look after myself after it had been done. That perhaps in the hours afterwards I might feel a bit funny, or dizzy or feel something.....after all, us woman are asked to open up our bodies like objects quite often and then brushed off as it being 'nothing to worry about'. It is and has been ALWAYS the responsibility of the survivor to be courageous, make themselves feel vulnerable, risk shame, risk minimisation by voicing that they may have an 'issue' with something. This is another thing that has to change.

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