When I first noticed the poster displayed on the Women's Therapy Centre Notice Board looking for survivors of sexual abuse to receive free flower remedy treatment as part of a study I hesitated before taking down the details. Not because of the treatment itself - I had wanted to try natural remedies for some time but as a student had been held back by my lack of finances. I hesitated because I didn't believe that the term sexual abuse really applied to me. Nearly four years of therapy and I still blamed myself for what had happened. Still viewed myself as not deserving of help. Of course this is not an uncommon feeling among survivors of sexual abuse/assault/rape or what ever you want to call it. Not that the term is unimportant - in fact it is the immense importance of it that caused me to hesitate that day. Rape is dark ally ways, strangers in balaclavas, guns, knifes, - not your fault. It's not a best friend, in a house where you are both staying with no weapon other than calculated surprise. Even the first counsellor I saw wrote down that I just couldn't take responsibility for having sex. Except I had had sex since that time of my life that I can't forget - lots of it actually - it was a stage I went through. A stage of coping I guess, though not a good one. Perhaps I didn't see the point of saying no to people anymore. It didn't help me and it didn't make me feel good about myself but it didn't give me nightmares either. But he did. Terrible nightmares - nightmares about what happened, nightmares about being raped and even worse were the nightmares where he was just there, present, the continual invasion of space. Still if you are having nightmares at least you are asleep. Lying awake night after night was not a better option - then all I had were the thoughts about what happened - about what he did, about what I did and even worse about what I didn't do. Nights were not my friend. As for days, days were endless. Days meant having to deal with people, days meant flashbacks, and body memories, panic attacks and my attempts to cope which were never good. I had something in me - something too dark to talk about but too immense to ignore. So I tried to extract it in many different ways. I relied on food and glass. Food was an old trick- my mother was anorexic and her habits were embedded in me from an early age resulting in six years of bulimia. But I had recovered from that - until now. Now, more than ever I wanted to disappear. Now I felt a new sensitivity to what I put in my mouth. Sometimes even cleaning my teeth caused problems - flashbacks. Thinking about food also meant I could avoid thinking about the rapes - yes more than one - I was that stupid. Glass was a new acquaintance. It didn't start with that - it started with an appalling, overwhelming sense of shame that is too destructive to describe. It started with the seeds of self-hatred that embedded with in me that night in Edinburgh. It started with scratches that I deserved. The first was an impulse, the second curiosity and then finally they were deliberate and bloody. Until that didn't satisfy and I moved on to broken glass. Most people use razors but I was bizarrely concerned about the dangers of using metal on my skin. Glass seemed cleaner and more than anything else I wanted to be clean. Also there was an added bonus of being able to break whatever I was going to use. Break something like I had been broken.
I eventually saw a Doctor. My flat mate took me. I never slept, I cried all the time, I couldn't handle crowds - I couldn't cope with the super market and she didn't know what to do with me anymore. I was lucky - my Dr. was understanding. I was drugged up. It wasn't a permanent solution but I don't regret taking them. They gave me side effects but I felt some of the crippling depression I had been feeling lift. It lifted enough that I was able to see a therapist. The first year of therapy I said nothing. I couldn't speak. The doubt again. Was it my fault? If I spoke about what happened what would be the response? I had spoken before - to him, to others. Words are powerful, words live with me: 'Why do I feel like I raped you?' 'Why didn't you go to the police?' 'Are you saying he raped you?' 'Rape is a strong word to use.' 'I could have been charged with date rape hundreds of times if I hadn't got them all to sleep with me again.' 'Rape is a difficult word - he pressurised you into sex.' 'You knew exactly what you were getting into.' I just don't understand why you didn't you do something.' 'That's a lie.' 'I asked you if it was what you wanted and you said yes. Well you said nothing and that is just as bad.' 'I would have liked to have seen a bit more struggle.' 'Either he raped you or he didn't.' 'You're making that up to make yourself feel better.' Better? Feel better? So I didn't talk. Therapy was not my key. It from instead from a source of incredible, immense, unconditional support. It came from the Internet. The Internet saved me. I ventured there to look for information and found a vast community of people like me. Survivors of rape, assault and sexual abuse of many different kinds. I found people who understood what had happened to me, who knew what I was feeling, who did the same shameful things to cope, who couldn't have sex. People who hated themselves, who blamed themselves, people who wanted to die. Then people who wanted to live, who were learning to place the blame where it belonged, learning to look after themselves. Bit by bit I moved from the first group to the second. Learning to take one day at a time, learning to express anger in a positive way. I started to volunteer for an anti rape group, bit by bit I began to talk in therapy, I started university - deciding to finish the studying I had been forced to leave to escape the sexual violence. I got married - learned to be touched without fear, learned to be loved. The rapes and the sexual abuse didn't disappear - I still get nightmares, flashbacks, periods of depression and sleeplessness but I am learning to take one day at a time. And I still see a therapist at the Women's Therapy Centre where I first saw the poster advertising flower remedy treatment for survivors of sexual abuse, hesitated and then picked up my pen to write down the details.