Rachel, one of the facilitators, rang me out of the blue several months ago, inviting me to come along to the survivors meeting. Due to other commitments, I couldn’t go. I heard no more about the group, I thought about it often but didn’t know how to get in touch, as I didn’t know what the group was called.
I have just started proceedings against the person who abused me, and on Tuesday evening, when I got back from work, there was a letter from the court explaining what was happening. Suddenly it all seemed a bit real, I would have to see him in court, give evidence and tell the court what he did, it was all a bit frightening. I was sitting on the sofa reading the leaflets about video links or screens versus standing in front of my perpetrator. As I was reading, the phone rang – “sorry to ring so late, I am ringing from Surviving Together to invite you to a group meeting tomorrow.” The friendly voice said on the end of the phone. What perfect timing! I needed advice, and here was a group of people in a similar situation, who had been through what I had been through, I was so relieved, the timing was perfect. I would only have to wait less than 24 hours to talk to someone who understands.
I arrived late, as I had been with my therapist. There was not enough time from the previous night to think up an excuse why not to come, I just had to go. As soon as I went in, I was greeted by a group of relaxed women sitting about talking and eating chocolate, my sort of meeting! I was worried it may be very formal or full of weeping people, telling tales of abuse much worse than mine, and I would feel like a fraud. We have all been abused in different ways and all is just as valid as the next. None of us should have had to endure this but we had no control over it, no power to stop it. There were tears, but not all the time, they were expected, I will no doubt cry too, but it is an environment in which it is safe to do so. There was laughter too, jokes about how our alarms that went off to remind us to take various medications…
It was fantastic to be somewhere that everyone understood. The only person who I had to talk to before was my sister, though she blamed me for what happened to her – she thought he only did it to her, I thought he only did it to me – we had no idea about the other.
Now there were people in Norwich I could talk to, not sympathise, make “there there” comments, but those who could offer practical advice and understand.
We talked about self-image, punishing ones self, all the things I did and still do. I thought it was because I was unhinged, but was assured it probably related directly to the abuse, the wanting to ‘give’ all the time, and not look after yourself, putting others first. I thought it was only me, yet everyone in the group said they did the same things, now maybe I can work on it, because now I know where it comes from.
There was another new survivor there, so I was not the only new person. It was comforting to hear the others’ stories, horrid that they had to go through it. Sometimes it is easy to think you are the only one it has happened to; maybe you imagined it – false memory syndrome. It’s easy to persuade your self it is not real; that you have been “lying” or “making things up”, however this is something that is carried around all your life, a guilty secret no one can know about.
Surviving Together is a safe environment to let go, cry, shout, be yourself, and most importantly, to be believed.
Once a month doesn’t seem enough, it is a long time to wait till the next meeting. Surviving Together, though I have only been the once, is a fantastic group, positive encouraging, forward looking, a lifeline to understanding the horrors of childhood sexual abuse, and a totally safe confidential environment to make sense of what happened to each of us.