Reunion

I met up with my former counsellor last week.

That is the factual outline of the events, but doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s difficult to explain the role of a counsellor to someone who’s never attended counselling, especially when the reason you’ve sought counselling is sexual abuse. But I’ll try.

I saw this person weekly for two years. Right before our first session, I had returned home after spending three months in hospital after a suicide attempt. I had lost everything: my job and health. At the beginning, counselling was the only reason I left the house that week.

I told her things I had never told anyone before, the most humiliating and disgusting things that have ever happened to me. What many don’t understand about sexual abuse that a lot of it is built on coercion and manipulation. I was convinced that what happened to me had been my fault. I was so humiliated that I had allowed something like this to happen to me. There must be something I could’ve done.

Through all these layers of manipulation, misconceptions and misplaced guilt, lies and gaslighting and self-loathing, slowly, gently, she began making her way into the abyss to me.

A memory. I need to stop in the middle of a sentence during a session because I physically can’t stop crying. I’ve cried before during sessions, but never like that. It’s howling of a wounded animal. I don’t know how long I cry but then I realise she has gotten up and is crouching next to my armchair.

The look in her eyes was the first piercing shot of light into the abyss.

Slowly, my visits to the outside world started to become more frequent. A year later, I got a part-time job. I reported my abuser to the police. My case never made it to court and the process broke my heart. I got a full-time job, writing again, which I thought would never happen again. From darkness into light.

This person was there through all of it. All my highs, all my lows. She celebrated with me. She sat in the dark with me. Her dedication to my recovery saved my life over and over again until I could carry myself.

We had to do our last session over the phone because of the pandemic. It did not fit to the journey we had taken together.

Then, a year later, we were given a chance to say goodbye face to face. Just the thought of it made me emotional.

How do you even begin to say thank you? It’s not enough.

When we get into a same room, I immediately start crying. It all just comes at once. I’ve been so desperate to tell her at times how I’ve been getting on. My life is unrecognisable from the time we started working together.

It’s such a unique relationship. I don’t know anything about her that I would know of someone who I’ve known for as long and still, she’s one of the most influential people in my life. I’ve been more vulnerable in front of her than any other human being.

I will never know her outside the world of that room but I love her.

A week before our meeting I had done a TV interview as part of the North West Sexual Violence Awareness Week to talk about the charity that organised my counselling, the Birchall Trust, how much they helped me. It was the most public platform I’ve ever been on, all my past awareness work has been in writing. My counsellor just happened to be watching the news when my interview was aired.

Her seeing it means more than anything. I will never care what anyone who saw that interview thinks about me, because she got to see it.

“What did you think when you saw it?” I ask her.

“’That’s my girl.’”

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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