All I did was walk into the kitchen and pick up a cloth. But the sudden waft of bleach flung me far, far back into some childhood memory. I switched to a traumatised part of myself. I had been ‘triggered’.
Courage. It’s the stuff of heroes, right? Frodo with the Ring in Mordor, William Wallace and the uprising, Henry V once more into the breach, ‘Sully Sullenberger’ parking his broken plane on the Hudson.
‘Courage’ isn’t necessarily a word we think is all that relevant to therapy, to recovering from trauma.
I was brimming. And I hated it. I hated being upset. The surge of emotion through my body. Being out of control. The pounding heart, the air being crushed out of my chest, the pain-stretchy zinginess in my arms and legs, and the scream … the lacerating, shrill shriek of a scream in my head.
Being traumatised is a tough gig. Maybe one of the hardest. It’s exhausting, it’s debilitating, it affects every area of your life and it can feel insurmountable.
So it’s difficult to think that recovery is possible, even a little bit of recovery. Maybe it feels impossible to think in terms of significant recovery. And harder still to think in grand, magnificent, skyscaper-type ways about recovery.
‘Unfortunately, you’ve undone all the good you’ve done today.’
She was deadly serious and I was utterly perplexed. What was she talking about? I had spent the day delivering my training day ‘Dealing with Distress: Working with Suicide and Self-Harm.’ A tough day, but a good day. A day of hope for how to help people who see no other way through their pain but by taking their own lives. A day of guts-and-bowels emotion.
I applied, with Emmott Snell’s assistance, for CICA. This is the compensation that the government pays out to victims of crime, administrated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
In the end I was unsuccessful, but the experience was full of learning that may be helpful to others, and so I share it here for that purpose.
‘I don’t feel real. All the time—literally all the time—I feel like I’m living life from behind a glass screen, or that I’m watching life as it’s happening on TV but it’s not real. I’m always ten yards removed from it. I don’t cry. I don’t feel things. I feel like I’m in a dream. I feel like I’m going mad. Even now, talking to you, I’m not sure if this is really happening or not or if I’m just imagining it. The GP says I’m just depressed, but I’m not.’
‘I’m not seeing a doctor!’ I insisted with a look on my face that was intended to end the debate once and for all. As far as I was concerned, it was simple: I wasn’t going to the hospital, walk-in centre or GP surgery, because I couldn’t go. I couldn’t cope with going. Such was my abject terror that, unless it was a matter of life or death, I avoided all things medical.
The problem? This was rapidly becoming a matter of life and death.
PODS ran a survey in 2016 in association with One in Four (www.oneinfour.org.uk) with the aim of assessing the degree to which counsellors and psychotherapists have received training to work with survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual exploitation (CSE). We also wanted to see the extent to which the topics of trauma, dissociation and shame were included in that training.
Ancedotally, many therapists had said to us that they had not received any significant training in CSA, CSE, trauma or dissociation during their initial training.
I had worked as a counsellor for about twelve years before I went on my first PODS training course on dissociation. I had so many lightbulb moments that day, it felt like my brain was burning.
The issue of boundaries had always been a non-issue for me: I saw my clients for 50 minutes; there was no contact between sessions (no need for contact between sessions, surely?); it was a purely professional relationship. No dramas, no big deal. And then I started work with my first really traumatised client, and everything was called into question
Many survivors get in touch with us simply because they need to talk to someone who understands what they’re going through, and to reassure them that they are not going ‘mad’.