When Abusers Die

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Trigger Warning: Details of incest, childhood and adult sexual abuse and physical violence.

I ran away from my violent, abusive family 28 years ago.  Last night I discovered that two of my worst abusers died – my mum and my eldest brother.  I awoke from a nightmare about one of them, and then I did a ill-advised thing: I looked up my old surname on the internet.  My old name was pretty unique, and I’d never met anyone with it unless we were related.  Looking up my old name is something I have only ever did when I was drunk or petrified, but I still wish I’d never done it.

I always thought I’d feel a sense of relief when one of my abusive family members died.  But I felt a howl of pain build up inside me instead. A few of my Alters went into a state of panic and dread. I started crying and couldn’t stop for hours.

My mum sexually abused me once.  I’m trying hard to not say, “just the once,” because one time is too many.  What she did far more was physical and emotional violence.  I still have terrible flashbacks to a beating she administered to me on Christmas Eve in the middle of Ridley Road Market, as all the other shoppers looked on.  She also set up weird ritual stuff that makes me want to vomit just thinking about it.  I grew up terrified of her, and that I’d become just like her.  Many people don’t want to acknowledge that a woman can sexually abuse someone. They don’t have a penis, right?  Women don’t need a penis when they have fingers, hairbrush handles or bottles.  The shame felt by survivors of abuse, where the perpetrator was a woman, is incredibly hurtful. We shouldn’t have to silence ourselves because so few will believe us.

Where my mum was pure rage, my eldest brother was totally charming.  He was the rebel of my old family – a soldier, a painter, an open drinker, and non-religious in a community where church was only thing you did on a Sunday.  He would give me booze and pills in secret.  He would talk to me like we were equals, instead of 15 years apart.  He also sexually abused me right up until I ran away.  

There’s a page in my zine about surviving abuse, where I write of a time I once woke up in a pool of my own blood.  That was his doing.  The thing that stayed with me the most though, was of how neatly he’d adjusted my nightie, folding it under my armpits in a concertina, so none of my blood got on it. I realise how my Alters and my own brain employed amnesia to protect my fifteen-year-old self from the worst of that incident, but I still feel so messed up about that.

For most Black people, family is the most important thing in the world.  For survivors who are Black, we face meagre support from medical and social services who don’t even think these things can happen to us.  We also face ostracism from other Black people who see us as ‘deficient’ for not having a family or at least a good relationship with them.  As survivors, we are often seen as broken and potential abusers instead of victims of terrible crimes that were done to us as children.

Support adult survivors of child abuse. Because right now it feels like nobody does. 

Trauma Anniversaries & Toxic Positivity

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A crochet cat vomiting a rainbow.

Trigger Warnings: Brief and non-detailed mentions of Child sexual abuse, Gaslighting, Trauma

Forced Positivity is how others pave my road to Hell.  “Good vibes only” can turn inwards so I downplay how rotten I feel to avoid being interrogated about why I don’t join in their fun. The stereotype of the fat and jolly person definitely feeds into this, as well as the Black and smiling woman/femme stereotype. As much as I share on Instagram & my blog, it is only the tip of the iceberg you can see.  Forced Positivity hurts me, and when I ask people to stop doing that, it ALWAYS goes badly, regardless of how polite I request. Not only do people not want to know about the effects of abuse that Survivors have to live with, but they happily guilt-trip and gaslight me when I speak up about their behaviour.

Trauma Anniversaries can be any day of the week, month or year. The abuse and violence I survived happened on most days, but the days that stick out the most are when others expected me to celebrate and pretend everything was just dandy.  It was 15 years ago when I stopped freaking out every single Sunday evening at 7:00pm. It’s a specific time when one of my sexually abusive sisters used to get me alone. I believe that it was the easiest date to deal with as a survivor, because nobody was forcing me to be happy on a Sunday. I haven’t been able to do the same with Christmas and my Birthday yet, and that is mostly because other people make such a flipping big deal out of those dates.

Trauma Anniversaries and Forced Positivity become deadly partners when the trauma occurred on a day of celebration. For those like me who have zero contact with my family, it can still feel incredibly lonely despite of all the pain that day brings. I miss cooking Christmas dinner for others; the noise of my nephews and nieces, and the yearly chance to seeing my Uncle Les who was a good man. I miss the fantasy that I belonged somewhere; that I had a family who loved me. It is incredibly hard to let that fantasy go, and it’s even harder when most Black folk and People of Colour believe family is everything, despite how dangerous they are…

Listen to survivors when they tell you they don’t want to take part in any activity you happen to love. Don’t call us a Scrooge, Grinch or Killjoy. When I don’t want to celebrate, it will take away exactly ZERO percent of your fun. Don’t try to cheer me up, don’t brush it off or tell me I should be over it by now.  If you want to give me a gift, use the money and make a donation to a charity for Survivors of Abuse or to a refuge.  Just stop being a wanker and leave me alone when I ask you to.

Animals and Child Abuse Survivors. Trigger warning: abuse mentions.

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This shame is not mine to hold.

Some survivors of child sexual abuse are scared of animals. I don’t care how ‘friendly’ your pet is. The involvement of animals in sexual abuse of children is one of those things that is next-to-never spoken about. A few examples of this: Dogs can be used as a threat to a child – if they don’t go along with things, the abuser will say the dog will be released to attack the child. Animals can be used to take part in the acts of sexual abuse with the child, or used as a threat that this will happen. And family pets can be used as leverage – the abuser will say they’ll hurt their pet if they don’t cooperate.

Even within medical, judiciary and clinical settings, people don’t want to accept that these things happened to the person sitting in front of them when they were a child. Well it happened to me, and to other survivors of abuse too. So when I flinch when I see a dog, or don’t want to pet your cat, it’s easier for me to say I’m allergic to cats, or I was know someone who was bitten by a dog, than to tell you the truth. It’s desperately humiliating to share this post, but I need people to understand that Adult survivors can be affected by their experiences for decades after, and the shame we feel because of the reactions of non-survivors, only adds to it

Larry wrote the following piece. It’s the first time I remember splitting due to Dissociative Identity Disorder.

We were always the cats

The stairs were concrete.The walls were bare.  There was always the smell of alcohol in the air.  There were always men; always Black.  There were a few other children there.  We were always the cats.  There was a dog, sometimes two.  The scariest times were when one man would pretend to be one too.  There was little talking.  I can still hear all their breaths.  I gripped my father’s hand tight as a little girl in a simple dress.  They made me watch.  Watch dogs fight, attack each other, fangs bared.  Then the children would be next, and when it was my turn, they watched  me as I stood there scared.  We were always the cats in that sick game.  The men would take Polaroids, as I crouched with shame.  Positioned next to a dog, or the man who was one too, I had to make noises, had to prove.  That I was a cat and I was their pet.  And I had to stay still as I felt the dog’s breath.  But one night I realised I was watching myself.  From the outside instead of inside, my perspective altered and went.  A part of mind that couldn’t handle the pain, separated off and became a teenage boy without a name.  We had to meow, be good and come to the men when they called.  I stood as a boy in the middle of it all.  The breath of dogs against my legs; the fear they would bite me made me want to beg.  But begging is for humans and that wasn’t us.  We were just bodies violated in the dust, and though I could bear more than Lizzie could, I still hold the sounds, the gold teeth and the fear of blood.  The man who pretended that he was a beast would snarl and grab and show his teeth.  The dogs would surround us, just as the men did.  I had to be still while they licked all over my skin.  Time split off, just like I had done; all these moments merged into one.  It still plays out behind my eyes, and though I am older, Outside Jacq wants to hide.  For sometimes when Jacq is having sex with someone they trust, the old instincts come out as an animal does.  The shame they feel when they mutter a ‘meow’ confuses them, but they understand now.  The understanding doesn’t help their pain.  Outside Jacq just feels the shame.  We were always the cats.  We were victims without names.  Though time has moved on for them, I as Larry remain, the cause and the cure; the balm and the bane.

Church Dress

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TW: Bullying, Spiritual and Emotional Abuse, Misogyny

“Church dress,” isn’t an item of clothing, it’s a concept. It’s a phrase from childhood, although I still hear it a lot when I watch Fashion Haul vids. I was dragged up in Black-led Evangelical & Pentecostal churches; it’s where the majority of Black folks went on a Sunday, whether they were a believer or not. Church is where people went to find marriage partners, strike business deals, and reinforce the idolised1950’s West Indian way of life 20 odd years later. For many Black people, dressing up for church was far more important than the sermon being preached. And a big church hat was the most important thing of all.  

When I attended church I would always see the kids from school who bullied me incessantly; the choir teenagers who made my life a misery; the senior church officers who were bloody hypocrites. Church dress was a way for attendees to indulge in fashion at a time when images of stylish Black people in the UK was in very short supply. Black women were supposed to be eye candy but modest at the same time.  A dress or skirt that went below the knees; no trousers or trainers, no make up or jewellery allowed (one church banned wedding rings and lip gloss).

I think back to how I used to live & I grow angry at the excuses, erasure & threats used to control church goers. I avoided church & stopped calling myself a Christian for years after I ran away.  I’m still on the lookout for a church that is accepting but…  Black-led churches are mostly homophobic, Queer-led churches (like MCC) are hugely biphobic. White-led churches like Church of England are generally clueless about what minorities experience. And a special mention has to go the Quakers, who are all of the above, and incredibly classist too!

God doesn’t care what you wear to church. If you wanna dress up, great! If you wanna dress casually, go for it!  All this policing is on us. We can stop doing that shit right now.

Two articles about church clothes https://tinyurl.com/y4xz3xtq & https://tinyurl.com/yygfm3cb

Black and…

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I was recently interviewed for a project that amplifies the voices and experiences of Black People and People of Colour who live with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The interview is up on YouTube, and will also appear on Spotify too.

It was a real pleasure to talk openly about my frustrations and difficulties, as well as the positives that come from living with DID. I also speak about fatphobia, racism, ableism, and how all of these impact one another. I ultimately see it as a positive piece, as Black people in the UK are rarely heard when it comes to physical and mental health, even though we are disproportionately affected by it.

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Trauma and Time Travel

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Trigger Warnings: Ableism.  Non-detailed brief mentions of childhood abuse and incest.

a felled tree in Muir Woods, San Francisco, showing (mostly) Settler conqueror moments throughout its 1,000 year history.

Trauma and Time Travel

I used to be obsessed with time travel stories in science fiction and fantasy.  From H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, to multiple episodes of TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate SG1, time travel and time manipulation was something that beguiled me. I kept my thoughts to myself, but I knew I would do anything to make it into a reality; to go back and change the past so I was never abused.

When I was diagnosed as having Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I realised that flashbacks were a form of time travel, and a very effective one at that.  There was no Steampunk inspired device, no futuristic faster than light machines, and no way for me to control when my mind would yank me back into the traumatic past.  Flashbacks were not only sights, but tastes, temperatures, and a myriad of senses that moved past the five I only thought existed.  My flashbacks were in high fidelity.  In one moment I would reach for a door handle, and the next I would find myself stepping into the back seat of an Austin Cambridge, travelling down the North Circular road.  My journeys to the past were not flashes of memories, but slow exposures that retained absolutely everything that happened at that time. Events repeated itself over and again.  I was forced to experience my fears, yet feel unable to change even a fraction of it.  I was never prepared for when flashbacks would occur, and this was especially the case when it came to flashback-nightmares, when I would time travel whilst asleep.

Where C-PTSD dragged the adult me into the past without notice, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) transported a fragment of me forward in time from the past to the present day.  This fragment had never aged as I grew up. My fragments were stuck in 1972, 1984 or a nebulous slice of time, depending on which Alternate Personality came to the fore, with a different name, a different gender, and a lack of understanding that the host body is alive in the twenty-first century.  This isn’t time manipulation, but a very real type of time travel that is cruel because i have little choice but to embody that part of myself as a child, with a child’s voice, vocabulary and mannerisms.  My youngest Alter, Lizzie may look nothing like me, yet she is part of me, separate and often confused as to why her family are not around and so much has changed many decades later.  

Dissociative identity disorder and the presence of Alters is something shown in science fiction, horror and fantasy, but which is almost always seen as a negative.  The Stargate SG1 episode, Life Boat, is one of the only positive examples of a character with this condition.  But a single episode can do little to counteract blockbuster films like Psycho or Split, which has caused even more stigma.

What happens when part of me refuses to grow up?  How do I manage to exist when an Alter will not move forward in time for long periods, and then pop up thinking they are still in the same era they were created?  Since I was diagnosed with DID, that my Alters each hold a section of my trauma that I as the host body could never manage unaided.  One of the major causes of DID is long-term repeated trauma starting at a very young age.  My brain was still developing when the abuse started, and it was unable to grow in a typical way.  Parts of me split off and became independent, defusing bombs in my mind that had a high chance of killing me outright.  With such dangerous work done by young parts of my personalities, it is no wonder they were never able to grow up with me as time passed.  Instead they settled in their own pockets of time until I as the host learned to speak about the past – not only of the abuse, but of the way I knew skills I had never learned, displayed traits that made no sense to me, and how my voice would change many times over the course of a single conversation.

I had my wish it seemed; time travel and time manipulation were real, and I was part of it. I was my own mechanism for this transport. But having C-PTSD and DID are more than ways to trace the road back to the past. They are both ways to cope with trauma, and a way to cope with the threat of trauma happening again.

On occasion, I feel adrift in time and space.  My host personality once surfaced when I was on a train travelling to where I used to live thirty years ago.  I had no memory of how I had come to be there, but I as the host knew I had to get off the train and make my way back to my present home.  Sometimes I feel as if I have lived several lifetimes, when in fact part of me was stuck in the 1970’s for over forty years. The BBC series Life on Mars comes to mind when I feel like that.

Trauma at a young age can often affect how a child’s brain develops. One of the brain’s functions is to process the passing of time.  This process got rather messed up for me.  As an adult I realise that my desire to change the past – to stop my parents from ever meeting, is a sad fiction.  I would need to be born in order to create a way to go into the past.  Plus my obsession with time travel made it so I could sidestep facing painful truths and realities that I as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse have to live with every day and with every tick of the clock hands.

Some of my favourite science fiction episodes that involve time travel and time manipulation:

Stargate SG1:  Window of Opportunity 

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars

Triggering words as a Survivor of Abuse

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a hand holding a small amount of loose yarn in a multitude of colours.

Trigger Warning: non-detailed mentions of the affects of surviving ritual and/or spiritual abuse

Note 1: I see the word Ritual used a lot in Black & POC community healing.  There are people including survivors of abuse, who use this word as a way to celebrate and empower themselves and others.  THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THEM IN ANY WAY.

Note 2: Ritual Abuse is not only Satanic Ritual Abuse, despite what we read in the media.  There is a good webpage that explores the different kinds, and the help that is available for survivors.  https://information.pods-online.org.uk/demystifying-ritual-abuse/. PODS – Positive Outcomes for Dissociation is a site that also provides resources for people with Dissociative Identity Disorder and OSDD 

Words and their meanings change over time – that’s a feature and not a bug.  Reclaimed words however can still wound me if I have spent most of my life hearing them in certain contexts.

As a survivor of abuse, the R-word is incredibly triggering to me, even in safer spaces.  For example: I joined a healing group meeting on Zoom a few weeks ago, and had to leave about five minutes in, as the facilitator kept using the R-word to describe what we would do.  I could have spoken up, but to do so would make me feel even more vulnerable than I already was. In addition, I am often unable to communicate normally when I’ve been triggered.  I have too many memories of abusive people using the R-word to mask their physical, sexual and spiritual violence to vulnerable adults and children in my past, for it to be a neutral term to me now.  Other words like Spells and Magic, don’t bother me as much, but Witchcraft does.  I know other survivors may have different connotations to these words.  I am writing from my own lived experience.  

In decolonised healing practices, R-word and W-word are reclaimed from a time where indigenous spirituality was outlawed or at the least mocked and disparaged.  The whyte Halloween/Hollywood version of W-word that many see as a bit of harmless fun in the media, isn’t what I personally feel when I hear them.  I see sinister ways to control people in a non-consensual manner.  I see practices that are distorted from their original intent, often mixed with Christianity (or other dominant religion) to make a truly toxic mix.  

Words can carry a lot of weight to people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and other types of trauma-related mental health issues. There may not be another word but those above that encapsulates a process involved in healing in a non-western way, but checking that others are okay with these words, is a way to be more inclusive. Speaking for myself, I’ve already been cut out of most healing practices because of my size, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.  And I’d like a chance to feel better too, without being triggered by the things supposed to help me

Reduce, Reuse, Re-animate!

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Why upcycle clothes?

  • Less clothes heading for the landfill is a good thing.
  • Buying less clothes means saving money
  • Upcycling can bring new life into old items of clothing.
  • Upcycling is great when the fashion industry doesn’t cater to your body shape/gender/disability
  • You can create unique items that reflect your style

BUT…

Most of the upcycling tutorials and vids I’ve seen seem to run along these lines:

“Buy an ugly oversized garment, and then cut a pretty dress out of it!”

This kind of thing counts on the upcycler  being thin, having access to sewing tools, and money to buy a garment in the first place.  

Making new clothes from old & worn out clothes you already own is a better way to do things in my opinion.

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I made this dress out of 3 t-shirts.

You can use alternative fabric you may already have at home like:

Net curtains make a cheap source of lace or mesh

Fabric from broken umbrellas to make waterproof items

Tea towels, tablecloths.

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I did sew this piece of cloth on a sweatshirt, but fabric glue would work just as well.

I can’t or am unable to sew!

There are plenty of no-sew resources and tips to use. Fabric glue can withstand a washing machine, and hemming tape can work wonders on altered garments.

Anarchy in the UK!

Go for a late 70’s punk look and slap safety pins on everything you wear! And if your Priest/Rabbi/Imam gives you an odd look, don’t worry. I’ve got pics of them in a mosh-pit at a Poly Styrene concert back in 1979 before they found their calling! Blackmail is the accessory of the season!

Iron-on patches are your friend.  And if you don’t own an iron, I’ve seen a YouTuber put her hair-straightener to good use. It was an ingenious way to get into awkward spaces on clothes.

Adding studs to clothes are another great no-sew way to revamp items. As a teenager, I would pin cheap costume jewellery earrings over my old jacket.

Are you a Hippie at heart?

A bleach solution is a cheap way to decorate clothes. If you carefully pour the bleach into an old squeeze bottle, you can be more accurate in your designs.  A less hazardous way to upcycle your clothes with colour, is to use natural dyes. Beetroot will stain every light-coloured garment with ease.  Wild flowers and acorns are just some things to try.  And if you have money to spare, you can buy fabric pens, paints and dyes online or in most general and fabric shops.

Are you a poor fashionista?

Distressing denim and other cotton-based garments means your creations can look like designer pieces that cost a bucket load of money.  I’ve seen Upcyclers use graters, scissors and knives to distress denim.

For a truly versatile garment, there are a zillion ways to use a scarf as an outfit.

Link to scarf video https://youtu.be/682n6XGAEHg

Make the leap into Upcycling!

T-shirts are a good way to begin, as they’re generally cheap, and the fabric doesn’t fray when cut.

Make a crop top from a regular t-shirt by simply cutting the garment in a straight line through both layers.  Start at where your navel begins.  If you want it shorter, cut another inch/2.5cm off.  You can always remove more until you reach your desired length, but it’s a lot harder to add more fabric on if you chop off too much.

Once you feel more confident, try something else, from halter tops to waistcoats, all no-sew

A good example is below:

13 ways to upcycle a t-shirt: https://tinyurl.com/yama6448

T-shirts can also be made into no-sew cloth bags.

This link has a tutorial, as well as 38 other ideas!

https://www.personalcreations.com/blog/upcycle-your-t-shirts

 

Fat-Positive upcycling

Buying plus-size clothing in the UK is expensive, and the choice in the high street is limited at best.  There are more online options every day, but you can’t try these on to see if they suit, unless you want to pay return fees if you don’t like it.  Charity/thrift/second-hand shops are rarely our friends either.  I’m a size UK24/US20/EUR52.  In over thirty years of going to these shops, I’ve only found five items that fit me.  But when you shop with the mindset of upcycling, charity shops suddenly look a whole lot more interesting.

Gender is a construct, and that goes double for upcycling. Go to the Women’s section and take flowy skirts and dresses that are too small, and cut them into manageable lengths of fabric to use in an upcycling project. Go to the Men’s section for smart outerwear, t-shirts and jumpers.  Ties can be used for your own genderqueer looks.

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I cut the circle from a t-shirt with a big stain on it. I then attached it to the back of a waistcoat.

Online articles for Fat thrifting and upcycling

https://tinyurl.com/yaxajpwx (in English & French)

https://tinyurl.com/yb2457nc

https://tinyurl.com/ycgtekgl 

 

Youtubers

DIY STYLE ON A DIME

Jessica Kelly

 

Instagrammers Who have great upcycling posts

@emlhayden

@wobsisobi 

@blueprintdiy

@genderswap_

@why_b_

@imdrewscott

 

Websites

Pinterest is good for ideas, but is very skewed toward fashion for young, thin white women.