Yesterday I mentioned that after I left home and left the abuse I was receiving there at the age of 20, I avoided having any further contact with the ‘stepmonster.’
That’s almost true.
There was a time when at the age of 26, only six years after I had stopped being sexually and mentally abused, that I decided that perhaps I should take the advice that all those helpful people out there were forever giving me and ‘forgive.’ I should let it go. I should move on. I should try to be happy.
Clearly, that’s all ridiculous and harmful advice, especially when you are suffering from what will eventually be diagnosed as PTSD (which is in effect actual brain damage), but when you have been brought up in the way that I have, doing what you are told is what you do. I already felt immensely guilty and that all the suffering I had gone through and was continuing to go through was my fault, so not doing anything that was within MY power to fix meant that I thought that I deserved everything I was getting.
It seems that in this world of new age sound bites and crazy advice, the only advice that would have been remotely sound would have been to feel justified in my fear, anger, disappointment and so on and that trying would be the last thing I ought to attempt. I needed and still need treatment not ridiculous advice from people who have no idea what you are going through.
Having never had a mother all to myself, it seemed like a possible resolution when my Mother invited me to go to Greece with her for three weeks. I was nervous and worried about the amount of time we would spend together, for the first time ever, as we had a habit of rubbing each other up the wrong way, to put it mildly. Easy to do when you feel that your Mother is the cause of your distress but this time, I was going to forgive and forget. I was going to let all the years of abuse go and be an adult. Shame I hadn’t set out the ground rules with my Mother first.
The day finally arrived and I headed over to Mum’s with my luggage. My relationship with my partner was on rocky ground and so I think we both felt that a few weeks apart would do us good but most importantly, this time spent alone with my Mother would make everything better. It would be my time, our time of healing and it had been a long time coming.
I got to the house and she opened the door. There was luggage everywhere and instantly, as time stood completely still, it dawned on me that although my Mother had invited me to go on holiday with her, what she had omitted to mention at any point in the previous weeks was that it was actually a holiday with them. Yes, that’s right, the ‘stepmonster’ would be coming too.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I couldn’t breath and my entire body went to jelly. In a split second I tried to work out how to react, over-riding my instinctive feeling of, “Oh f*ck, this cannot be happening! Get me the hell out of here!”
Instead, I smiled and thought to myself, just do exactly what everyone has been telling you to do. Forgive. Forget. Let it go. Try.
We all bundled into the cab and for those of you who know me, you would know that I was instantly completely claustrophobic and nauseous. I carry three pairs of acupressure bracelets on a good day. Back then I hadn’t ever heard of them and it wasn’t in any way close to being a good day.
By the time we got to the airport I was green and hyperventilating; partially from the journey but mostly from the trapped feeling that was squeezing at my gullet. I tried to be a good girl. I tried to pretend everything was okay. I tried to forgive, forget and let it go.
Surely, now that I was 26, a fully grown adult, I could deal with this?
The journey took forever. It felt like we had been travelling for hours.
The thing with PTSD is that traumas seem to happen in slow motion and once they have happened are stuck in your brain as if they are continuously happening in the here and now. A flight that only took four and a half hours from London to Athens had lasted me a lifetime.
It was only lunchtime or mid-afternoon when we finally arrived at Mum’s apartment.
The details are a little sketchy as my memory since having treatment for PTSD (EMDR) has set some of the memories free but what I do remember clearly is that from the moment we arrived my Mother left me alone with ‘him’ all the time. There was no bed in my room. Perhaps there was a camp bed but there wasn’t a proper bed and so she sent me off into the city with ‘him’ to buy a bed. Seriously?
I can do this I kept saying to myself.
He pretended that everything was normal. Heck! I was pretending it was normal. On the outside. On the inside, my phobias were all screeching at a pitch that only bats can hear and I could barely breathe or function.
We spent the next day planning our actual holiday to the island of Spetses. We would take a ferry from Piraeus for the three hour journey and then recreate the holidays we had endured when I was a child. Could. Not. Wait.
Again, a totally nauseous crossing that left me feeling like I wanted to die. It would not be the only time during that week that I wanted to die, I can assure you.
As in the past, we stepped (or hobbled) off the boat and haggled with the locals for an affordable place to stay. As in the past, they chose an unsuitable property where we would all be in far too close proximity with each other. This time, however, I bagged the bedroom, whilst they slept on the bed in the living area, between me and the necessities.
Now the holiday could really begin.
We changed into our swimming gear (or they did) and we headed down to a stony beach. I sat there still feeling sick, anxious and wondering what on earth I was doing there. This was so not a good idea and I was only only going to feel worse, that much was clear.
It didn’t take very long. Perhaps a few seconds.
I was just sitting there thinking and trying hard to hold on to my sanity and not be engulfed by the immense feelings of total panic that were swamping me, when I saw a beautiful little girl playing at the water’s edge. She reminded me of me at that age. No older than three, if that. She was plump and happy. She was innocent and trusting and having great fun splashing around.
I immediately looked around to see where ‘he’ was and noticed that ‘he’ was watching her.
I just couldn’t do it anymore. I knew that there was no way I could forgive, forget or let it go even though I had tried. Clearly, I had failed.
I sat on the uncomfortable stones with the heaviest feeling of dread in my soul and knew that I would have to really be the grown up I was trying to be and get myself out of this situation.
We got back to the apartment and my Mother already knew something was up. I could tell this by the way she was being rude and aggressive to me, even though I had done nothing.
I quietly said to her that I realised that I had made a mistake and that I would make my way home. She was entitled to have a fun holiday and I didn’t want to spoil it for her.
Obviously, that didn’t work. The pressure between us all had been building like a pressure cooker about to explode and even though I was trying to make it work, nothing had changed. There’s a great quote that I obviously can’t remember when I need to, written by an Amish priest. It goes something along these lines: forgiveness is not forgiveness unless you mean it. Unless the person you are forgiving is also sorry for their part in the situation…and you know as well as I do, there wasn’t going to be any sorry going on here apart from me.
I quickly gathered my bag and my passport. I had almost no cash but I did have a credit card and my return ferry ticket.
As I stepped out of the bedroom, the ‘stepmonster’ who had been listening to everything stepped towards me with his fist raised and absolute fury written all over his face. He shouted at me that I was ruining their holiday and was about to hit me.
Without missing a beat, I said very calmly, “If you touch me, I will kill you. Ruin your holiday? You have ruined my life and when I get back home I am going to tell the police about everything you have done to me. I want you to know some of the fear I have lived with all of my life.”
I walked with my head held high down to the ferry port and managed to get a seat on the fast one back to Athens. From there, I made my way to the airport and tried to get booked onto a flight back home. Nothing doing.
I tried to explain to the staff that it was an emergency and interestingly, the man behind the counter in his broken English said, “Does your Mother’s husband like you more than he likes her?” I was shocked. I am still shocked now as I type this. What kind of question was that? I said yes.
I spent two days in that airport waiting for a flight. I tried to find places to sleep but there was nowhere that was either comfortable or safe. Eventually the insightful man behind the desk said that I could use the staff room to sleep. It wasn’t any more comfortable than anywhere else but it had a door and for a few hours I was left alone to rest.
I called my boyfriend numerous times, in that panicked way, that only someone stranded in an airport for two days in a strange country after having confronted their abuser would but he didn’t ever answer. I explained why I was calling and said when I would call back but no. Nothing.
Eventually a seat became available and I flew home. I went straight to my flat, dropped my bags, called my friend and was invited over to hers.
It felt wonderful to be so far away from all of that horror and somewhere inside I felt proud that I had removed myself from all of it and was safely back at home.
Other friends soon arrived and it felt like a party. We ate, laughed and I did well playing Yahtzee. Beginner’s luck, clearly…or perhaps I was on a roll?
Suddenly it was 1.30 in the morning and it was time to go home. I jumped in the car and drove quickly back to Bayswater hoping to find a parking spot near my flat. I was exhausted but triumphant.
There weren’t any spaces near my flat. There were three quarter length spaces or large gaps between cars where people had parked selfishly but not a space big enough for me to park my car. That’s okay I thought, I will just drive around until someone leaves.
No one left.
I drove around the same three streets close to my flat until after 3.30am. There was one parking space but it was on the other side of the main Bayswater road. Not far but I didn’t feel comfortable about parking there. I drove around in circles for another fifteen minutes and by now I was not only exhausted but losing faith that a space was ever going to become available.
After much consideration, I decided that I would park in the only space I could find and stomp back to the flat. As I drove to the space, I passed a young guy on a bicycle. He looked me straight in the eye and I felt a shiver of fear.
Should I park or not?
I decided that after having driven around for two solid hours I should just park and get home.
I did stomp down the middle of the wide roads. I had my keys spread out like Freddy Kreuger blades in one fist and a Suzy Lamplugh rape alarm in the other. I was wearing leggings, with a massive shapeless shirt over a black ‘body’ and trainers. My rucksack was over my shoulder and I meant business. Do NOT f*ck with me.
Ah! Finally, my front door was only about 30 feet away when I heard the bicycle wheels.
The guy cycled close to me and I instinctively knew he was about to reach out. I thought he was reaching out to grab my bag so was ready to push him away but he wasn’t reaching for my bag. He was reaching for me.
In one fluid movement he was off his bike and on my back. He had his hands around me and was trying to pull my clothes off. Thank God for M&S bodys: the press studs held fast.
Being used to attack didn’t make this any easier but it did stop me from freezing. I shouted out ‘Help!” repeatedly at the top of my voice. I pressed the button on the rape alarm and set it off in his ear: for future reference, it didn’t make the blindest bit of difference to him.
I made myself as small as possible and dragged him still on my back into the middle of the road, so that we were in full view of anyone interested in responding to the commotion. Fortunately a car came down the road and we were fully lit up by the headlights. He scarpered just as a police car pulled up.
They told me to jump in and we immediately drove around the neighbourhood looking for him. No sign.
After a short while they dropped me home and asked if there was anyone they could call. I said no.
Who would they call? Who would care at 4.30am? The boyfriend who hadn’t cared enough to be available to take my call during day time hours? No mother or father.
The police left and said that they would arrange for someone to come and take a statement the following day.
At 11am I realised that I had been standing at my window all night long looking out into the neighbourhood. I was in shock. I had survived practically intact but what was frightening me were the questions: what would I have done if he had had a knife, or if that car hadn’t turned up? Was I always going to be attacked?
I was ‘awoken’ from my shock by the ‘phone ringing. It was a lady detective wanting to come over to take my statement. As she was ending the call, she asked if anything like this had ever happened before.
I took a deep breath and said yes. It felt like the Universe had created a situation where I was forced into finally speaking up.
*For all the posts in this series, please click here: