Without sharing graphic or gory details, I experienced SV as part of my childhood. That's all I'm going to say about that time. I don’t believe in sharing graphic details of SV unless it’s safe and suitable to do so.
Like the majority of women, I normalised what happened. As a child and teenager, I thought that it was normal, and as I grew, I blamed myself, “I must have deserved it”. As I grew into my 20s, I untangled myself from the perpetrators (it’s funny how they like to try and stay attached to you) and the physical acts of sexual violence stopped. Slowly but surely, the world started opening up to me, and I tried harder than special forces operatives to improve my life.
I finished college, went to Uni, and wanted to be an excellent example to my babies. I wanted to show them there is more to life than cleaning and being scared. I wanted to inspire them and for them to be I to be proud of me. I wanted to fall in love with someone who would look after me. I wanted to be proud of myself. So I tried being like everyone else. I told myself that I was going to be the exception. I wasn’t going to be one of those women that talked about how she experienced sexual violence; I wasn’t one of those women that needed to talk about it or felt cross or angry; it wasn’t going to change my life. I was going to be better. And this worked for a time. In my eyes, it wasn’t even a conscious decision or something I had to ‘try’ to do. I just got on with it. I did uni, I did the jobs, I got the promotions, and I competed with the best of the ‘ordinary’ ones. The thing is, I was always very different to the ‘ordinary’ people. I didn’t seem to have the stamina or stability my peers had. While they could consistently progress in their personal and professional lives, I was constantly tripping and falling. Unlike the big boys and the shit-together girls, I was always the one crying at work. I was the one who needed more time off; I was the one who made silly mistakes that turned into something bigger and nastier than I saw coming. I was the one who always cried when I had to talk to a manager. I was the one who couldn’t connect to people socially because I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was the one who was slower than everyone else because I was so scared of getting things wrong. I was the one who couldn’t concentrate and forgot things because my self-loathing was so consuming my head was too full for anything else. I was the one who had planned my escape strategy if a baddie struck. I ignored the images of what I had been subjected to when they flashed information of eyes in technicolour ( I didn’t know about flashbacks or PTSD). I ignored my flesh-melting temper and labelled it “just who I am”. I told myself that thinking about hurting men was normal. I told myself that being able to weaponise anything and everything was a skill I was proud of and that having to keep busy all the time was because ‘I had a lot of nervous energy.
And I tried, really fucking hard, all the time. The thing is, it didn’t matter how hard I tried. I was always falling short.
And then, one day, many years later, I slowed down enough to wonder why the people around me weren’t struggling like I was. Why wasn't I like these people who were more resilient, balanced, consistent, braver, fearless, happier, wealthier and more stable than me? And that’s when a little voice that I was used to ignoring gently whispered, “because they didn’t experience a childhood like you”, and everything unravelled.
Within 5 months, my life turned upside down and inside out. It was like a flood or damn failing. Everything I had been holding back for years took over, and everything I knew or thought I knew changed.
It’s now three years after the flood, and I’ve learnt something I wished I’d known from the beginning. Something that people who weren’t subjected to sexual violence don’t struggle with like we do. All those negative beliefs about myself weren’t true. I’m not worthless; I’m not useless. I’m not cursed or meant to have a hard life. I’m not pathetic; I’m not stupid. I’m not a slut, or shit at sex (it’s funny how we and society can label as both even when they are in contradiction of one another. I’m not a prude; I’m not too emotional, too angry, or weird. There’s not something fundamentally wrong with me, either.
What I am is worthy.
I am good enough.
What happened wasn’t my fault, and how I felt and thought about myself wasn’t because something was wrong with me.
Because this is the thing, all those beliefs I had about myself were a result of sexual violence. And that's what people don’t tell you when sexual violence has been part of your past negative beliefs about yourself is as probable as catching covid during the pandemic. Imagine if they had taught you in school that if you are subjected to sexual violence, you will probably end up hating yourself. It would have changed things right. Because instead of thinking there was something wrong with you, you would understand why you felt this way. Like adding 1+1 and getting 2, instead of adding 1+1 and getting broken, fcuked up and mental.
Understanding that those negative beliefs about myself weren’t because of something fundamentally wrong with me but because of sexual violence trauma has given me more perspective than I ever thought possible. I feel like I know what it’s like to go into space and look back at Earth without ever leaving the UK.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs states that to reach one's full potential (self-actualisation), we must first meet basic and psychological needs. Understanding where these negative beliefs about myself came from means that I can finally comprehend that I CAN reach my full potential. Which is freeing and awe-inspiring. It means that my place in the world has changed. The people in the past that I tried competing with and those who I thought were better than I was not. Self-awareness has taught me that I have just as much ability as them, and now I have the self-belief to believe that. What I thought I needed and wanted, to be the best at everything and to compete with everyone to get there, has changed into what I REALLY need and want kindness, loyalty, playfulness, learning, my mental health, good vibes, respectful communication and the environment.
I’ve discovered the love of the people who matter the most - love for myself and my babies. I’m finally on the path of the woman I thought I should be (the version of me who wasn’t subjected to sexual violence).
I faced the sexual violence I was subjected to. I unpicked its tendrils from my mind and learnt how its toxicity poisons us. It cost me my job, people that I looked up to, time and what I thought of as ‘normal’, but it helped me see the truth. Women's negative beliefs about themselves after sexual violence aren’t who they really are. They are part of the emotional abuse forced on us with sexual violence and part of the systems and people that benefit from institutional rape culture and, ultimately, our unhappiness.
I’m still allowing myself room to grow, but I am more assured, respectful, understanding and kind to the one person who will always matter to me the most in my life - myself.