The sound of silence

“You’re giving him power by talking about it.”

In fairness to this person, this reaction is common. We often think that talking about awful things is going to make them worse, prolong misery, call darkness into a perfect sunny day.

Which, again, is common. Rape and sexual abuse are so out of the realm of any imaginable human experience that even hearing about them makes us uncomfortable. That’s why it’s easy to brush it aside. It’s all over now, move on, don’t talk about it. We call it dwelling, mulling and pity-seeking. It’s easier just to forget and keep going.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

For a long time, I took this advice on board. At first, I didn’t understand what had happened to me. I felt awful, but didn’t know why. However, I decided to push it all aside. That’s how easy it was, a decision. That’s all in the past! I don’t need to deal with any of that! Instead, I’m going to become successful.

And for a long time, I was. I excelled at my studies and career. I was praised and admired. I made it to honour rolls and won awards. The joy of praise and reaching goals kept fleeting further until I couldn’t feel anything at all. At any moment of stillness, the horror would come. However, I kept telling myself, if I just kept achieving things, one day, eventually, I’d be happy.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Throughout it all, the wordless horror was corroding me. I was running for my life from something within me, and you can only run for so long.

I’m circling downward at a growing speed. I live on coffee because I can’t stand the nightmares and the panic attacks. I fill days and nights with work because any moment of quiet has now become intolerable. I have been holding on to those disjointed memories for so long that their weight is crushing me. I can’t keep going like this. But the unknown is even more terrifying. If I was to bring them into existence by telling someone, what would happen then? At least the pain is something I knew. I can handle it.

Then on one evening on a quiet moment between finishing a task and starting a new one, from a prompt unknown, I write a word I have never associated with myself before.

I type into Google: “rape help Cumbria.”

I find a number to a service called Bridgeway. After many phone calls with a kind, patient volunteer I finally describe one memory that keeps forcing itself into my consciousness whether I’m asleep or awake.

And the catastrophe doesn’t come. The sky doesn’t fall.

Finally, I ask: “Was this…normal?”

I will always remember the endless gentle in her voice.

“No.”

That was the first step out of the abyss.

I was directed to a charity called the Birchall Trust, which offers free counselling to those affected by rape and sexual abuse in North Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Going to counselling is a funny thing. You set up an appointment to talk about something that you don’t want to talk about. But I had tried not talking, and nearly died. So, talking was the only option left. And without any exaggeration, it saved my life.

Words have power, that’s why they’re so terrifying.

Perpetrators know that power too. Why else would they say ‘don’t tell anyone’?

I’m not going to lie, talking will hurt. But it does get better. If I had to go back into the moment of asking for help, I would make the same choice a thousand times over.

Speaking about my memories to a trained professional allowed me to put them into a perspective, understand them for what they were.

I was raped, and it wasn’t my fault.

If you reading this right now are afraid that talking about something you have experienced is going to make things worse, please allow me to be the gentle voice in your ear now.

No.

Rape and sexual abuse are crimes that thrive on silence. The only way to fight back is to speak out.

This post was written in support of Birchall’s Big Give Christmas campaign, which runs from 30th of November to 7th of December. The campaign raises funds for their much-needed 1-1 and group counselling/therapy sessions to adults and children affected by sexual abuse, rape and sexualised violence. Every donation made during the campaign will be matched, so your donation of £5 gives the charity £10. If you would like to find out more, please visit the Big Give website.

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