You know, it’s funny, even writing the title conjured up a barrage of memories and faces of how many times I’ve been called this. And whilst I have no doubt a fraction of it will be an unconscious societal bias because I am female therefore I should “care”; for the most part I recognise this as people’s difficulty in understanding my trauma response.
Although there is trauma from birth let’s start with what I remember… from age six I am a parent. It’s my job to take care of my family, to keep my mum alive, because she is beaten, raped and drugged daily; she wanted to die every day so I had to love her enough. I’m in survival mode and I don’t matter, everyone else does. I have a wee brother whom I simultaneously love with everything I have and hate a little because the boy’s got it easier, or so I thought. By 7 there is another baby boy and he is poorly because they tried to abort him with a drug overdose. But he is home and here I am syringe feeding 5ml of milk for three hours. Three hours it lasted! He was so tiny. They are both more important than me, so my needs don’t matter. I’m not seen.
When we got the ‘Monday book’ before my dad, it was my job to go to the post office then walk into town and buy a week’s shopping. The money had to be spent or we would not eat. So it was survival. We made and sold drugs from age six, because who would stop children right? We looked innocent so we delivered. I wish I could say it helped us eat, but… there were drugs, guns and violence every day and it was our normal.
Laughing and joking at shooting people, because it wasn’t us this time! Being made to dance for entertainment as they shot at our feet because it was funny. Watching someone’s head being bashed in with a hammer in our living room and my thoughts were “the blood is a pretty colour on walls”; watching people being kneecapped and throats slit, watching someone being stabbed 17 times, there was so much blood. I don’t remember fear! I remember sharpening knives and it was dragged down my leg to check it was sharp; I can’t remember crying. I still carry that scar. I remember being pinned to the floor to “burn” chickenpox off my skin. I don’t remember the pain or the tears, I only see the scars. I am completely lost and switched off by this point that really any kind of violence including the two murdered bodies we found, I didn’t care.
Watching police turn our house over and over but never seeing us. I can remember the begging hope that they would save us and when it didn’t happen, that felt normal too. They searched us and took away what little we had instead. It felt like we deserved it. They were looking for drugs and guns! I remember knowing we were on our own. I went to school very little because our baby at home would be exactly the same as I left him when I left in the morning. Same nappy same bottle and he learned to be so quiet. So I hated leaving him but I loved the freedom and safety school gave me.
The sexual abuse starts, and I accept it’s supposed to happen – it’s better than being beaten and stabbed and shot, right? I mean, at least it feels good? It’s not pain! So I accept it. I switch off. I still carry the shame of this today, it’s in everything I do.
Then I told someone: police, social work and school. I’m being told there is too much red tape!
I’m being told “we know he did it but we can’t prove it because unfortunately “wee girls are made that way” as in, we are made for penetration so there is no evidence after the fact because I could be sexually active (at 11).
I’m being called a whore and receiving death threats so I’m shipped off to care. With a bodyguard at school. I have no break or lunch and I’m not safe to leave the grounds.
All the while I’m begging to go home… who will take care of my family. I’m not there, my mother blames me for breaking up the family and refuses to speak to me and I cant see my boys! I want to go home, I’ll even tell you I lied if it means I can save them.
My mum makes a promise to keep me safe… I knew it was a lie. But I was so desperate to have a purpose I was willing to go back to everything I endured previously. So I tighten my armour and I head home to the exact same situation. No one is saving you girl, no one.
My boys don’t look at me the same, they blame me for breaking up the family, I chose to leave them!
Mum told them it was me who wanted to go away from them.
I endure for a year and it’s all I can take; I try to fit back in and I endure the name-calling, I endure them telling me I am a liar and a whore and so much more. There is no feeling and so it doesn’t hurt. I am blamed for social work “blackmailing mum”, I am blamed for the boys getting into trouble at school. I am blamed for my mum wanting to die, It’s all my fault. Why did I come home to where I’m not wanted?
So at 15, I’m on the streets, it’s safer here anyway and God, is my armour tough. I don’t care what danger I’m in because I’ve been there so many times and survived so I’m fine; I can manage.
16 and homeless and so my life as an adult begins… well, I’ve been an adult my whole life. 18 and I have had enough: it’s a tiring life taking care of people who hate you, treat you like a slave and call you so many names. I even went to the extremes of feeding my abuser to keep the peace with my family!
Fast forward, a ten-year stint of homelessness, suicide attempts having 4 babies and trying desperately to run from my trauma in a continuous state of survival…
No matter how far I moved, how many times I started again… that trauma won’t leave… why can’t I drop this armour? Why is there still risk assessment with every home? Why am I carrying around so much shame at what I was willing to accept? Why can’t I sleep?
Why do I not belong or fit in? Why cant I trust people? Why am I alone? Why does no one care about me?
Well, f**k it: I’ll get my shit together for my kids. I’ll go to college and help people. I accidentally end up in uni and boy am I helping people. Drawn to MH and healing. I volunteer my ass off, trying to prove I am better, I’m better than what I came from and I am an individual from what I came from: I’m not part of that family system! I am good! I am qualified, I have value with these pieces of paper; look, I know what I am talking about! But I’m still detached and void of caring. I don’t mean to be, I have people around me.
Then wham, there is lockdown!! I am on my arse. I have people around me but not people I lean on for support. I am having childhood trauma resurface and shit I feel so alone. I am the person who helps others, I’m not supposed to fall apart. I reach out on social media and a stranger reaches back (I am my usual skeptic, feeling unworthy of this help, what will it cost me)! I accept the help reluctantly but I am still waiting on the other shoe dropping.
Society talks to you about self-care and self-compassion, My dissertation is even on self-compassion after trauma. They don’t tell you the ugly truth of what that means. Therapy during lockdown has me coming out of my frozen state of disassociation (that cold-hearted bitch). I swing from being murderously angry to crying all my unshed tears, back to the anger at exploitation, abuse, neglect and plain rejection from so many people, including services.
My benchmark of danger/crisis/risk is so skewed that I collect them till I have too many to bear, then I feel like I sound like a soap drama when it does spill out. I still struggle to stand up for myself as that core belief of having no value really is a stickler, but for all the pain I need to peel back and feel in order to heal, I can’t say I regret it. I notice small changes in how I respond to events, I notice that feeling (and I hate crying) is stitching tiny parts at a time and it’s a slow process but it’s filling a void that has been my companion my whole life.
I have danced with the devil so often that I don’t know who I am without that part of me… that void is my space for discovery,
I wonder who I shall be?
I know I’ll no longer be that cold-hearted bitch they tell me!