Tag Archives: csa

People like me at 12-step groups

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People like me aren’t supposed to ask for help when we have problems.  Black people are supposed to be resilient and strong.  According to the Bisexuality Report (Open University, 2012) Bisexual people are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than straight, gay and lesbian people.  Biphobia and racism inside and outside of LGBT+ communities can also lead to worse mental health outcomes than others in the groups above (Bi’s of Colour report 2015).  

When I’m told by well meaning people to “Pray on it,” or “Get support from the family and church,” this advice is not so useful for me.  I’m an ex-runaway who fled their family of origin almost 30 years ago.  Most churches in the U.K are not welcoming towards LGBT+ people, and if by chance they are one of the few queer led congregations, they definitely are aimed at lesbians and gays only.  Detox and Mental health services in the NHS have little experience or willingness to learn about the intersections of ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion: one size fits all is what I’ve been offered in the past, but their little boxes of recovery can’t hold all that I am.  So I looked to group support in 12-step groups.

I’ve attended three 12-step groups in my life: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA), and Overeaters Anonymous (OA).

Alcoholics Anonymous is an organisation I had heard about in media growing up, but I had never heard of the other two groups until I was floundering around in libraries for information, long before the internet really existed.  The AA groups I attended were always overwhelmingly straight, white and male.  S.I.A and OA were very much straight, white and female.  I was usually the only black person in the room, and I was often made to feel unwelcome, but I persisted with each group, sometimes over the course of years, until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I exist at the intersection of many marginalised identities.  People who are in the cultural majority often find it difficult to understand why this affects everything I do, including how I heal and work through issues.  In most 12-step groups, differences are ignored in the most part, and the baseline is simply a “desire to heal”.  But I can’t heal if white straight people talk over me, ignore my hand when it’s raised in meetings, or laugh when I share about how oppression affects me.  

In the last AA meeting I attended, I shared about racism I’d faced in previous meetings I’d attended in various locations in London.  As I left the building, a white man approached me and said, “Maybe we should all wear boot polish next week, then we’ll be the same.”  He walked away quickly after my retort of, “I can’t believe you just said that!”  

At many OA meetings, people had the tendency to hug each other before leaving.  As a survivor of sexual violence, it has taken me decades to be comfortable with hugging people I don’t know well, unless they ask if it’s okay to do that first.  At the end of my last OA meeting, a man launched himself at me with arms wide and a big grin on his face.  I stepped back and said, “No thanks.” 

The man looked at me with eyes wide in shock and said in a very angry tone, “I wanna hug you.  I’m not gonna hurt you!”

At a different OA meeting, someone brought their dog, and left the animal free to wander around the small room.  When I asked them to keep their dog away from me, as I’m scared of most animals, I was met with an aggressive white woman spitting words at me, and stating I was at a ‘dog-friendly’ meeting, and I should ‘get used to it or just go’.

These outbursts left me scared and upset.  We all have different ways we interact with the world, but because of how I look and am perceived, it’s assumed I can handle everything thrown at me without a word of complaint; the ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope is alive and well it appears.  I’m rarely seen as a human with feelings, but just a jumble of stereotypes.  Also, I’m nonbinary.

Disbelief, silence, a lack of respect toward boundaries, sexism, biphobia and general racism before, during and after meetings, were an everyday occurrence in the groups I attended.  London is a multicultural city, but when I went to meetings, I may have well been in the most isolated rural settlement.  There was nobody to speak to about my problems I encountered in meetings, as 12-step groups don’t operate with a system of leadership or even culpability.  I simply found myself alone and unwanted everywhere I went.  I no longer attend any group and it saddens me, because I can see how much they have helped white people; I can see the potential that could exist for me too, if I wasn’t the person I am. But I know I should never feel forced to change or ignore who I am, in order to get the help I desperately need.

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TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of Sexual Assault and Abuse.  Transphobia, Victim blaming.

These are all my own experiences as a Survivor of physical & sexual abuse.

Holidays are rarely good for me.  Where other folk spend time with their families, I am left with solely bad memories of the people I grew up with.  Long before the rise of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, there has been a strong belief that women cannot be sexually abusive to others.  Women are seen as carers, nurturers, Victims, not perpetrators – if they are “bad” then it’s only ever as emotionally or financially abusive, never physically or sexually abusive.  People who readily believe me when I speak of the men in my old family, and how they hurt me, rarely believe me when I say similar things about my sister and her female friend or my mum.  Once I ran away from my old family, I’ve been pretty open about my experiences, but this refusal to even acknowledge women can be abusive, is incredibly painful and stops me sometimes from seeking help or sharing my experiences.  Acknowledging women can be sexually abusive isn’t a way to put women down or pass the blame: it’s a way of  believing survivors and what they say when they talk about painful things.

Something I read on Twitter recently made me despair: “Women can’t rape, because women don’t have dicks!”***  And other tweets along the lines of trans women are really men, hell bent on sexually abusing women and girls.  The fact that these kind of statements often come from other women, is the icing on the cake of wretchedness.

1: Men don’t have to pretend to be anything or anyone else in order to sexually abuse others; they will just do it if they want to.

2: Perpetrators of sexual abuse don’t need to have a dick, when they have fingers, bottles, handles of hairbrushes or anything else insertable.

3: Trans women are women. Some are abusive, and some are not, just like any type of human.

Transphobia only adds to the silencing and dismissal of survivors of sexual abuse, but this problem was there long before the addition of trans folk to the argument.  I’ve been called a liar for saying anyone in my family could be abusive, because “That doesn’t happen to black kids**”.  There is such a desperate push to mantain the narrative of abusers solely being men, that it railroads over the experiences that take such bravery to talk about in the first place.  I wish my mum and my sisters had not sexually assaulted*** me, but they did.  i wish I wasn’t forced to run away from my old family and everyone I knew, but I did.  and 26 years later, I wish I didn’t have to deal with people who deny and dismiss the things that almost cost me my life.  But I still have to.

** I gave this horrible quote as the title to my first zine, on surviving child abuse. https://writteninshadows.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/surviving-csa-zine.pdf 

*** In the UK, non-consensual sex between women is defined as sexual assault, not rape.  Other countries have different definitions, so please don’t generalise or use this as a way to derail survivors.  Whatever it is called, it’s still a terrible thing.  

A link to a few UK specific resources for survivors of all genders https://www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/rsa/rape-and-sexual-assault/support-for-victims-of-rape-and-sexual-assault/

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Lyrics to Walking Wounded, by Everything but the Girl

What do you want from me? Are you trying to punish me? 

Punish me for loving you, punish me for giving to you 

Punish me for nothing I do, punish me for nothing 

You punish me for nothing, for nothing.

I’ve had the same two choices for my entire life: violence or isolation.  To be part of a family or relationship meant pain.  To leave the pain meant loneliness and desolation.  This has always been  the only two roads I could take.  I have lived in this part of London for over twenty years, but I have no local friends at all.  Strangely enough, most Eastenders don’t take well to bisexual, black, disabled survivors.  Most of them seem to think people like me don’t exist at all, and when they discover who and what I am, any outstretched arms of friendship wither away as they step back and keep on going.

Most folk think when I ran away from my family, all the pain stopped.  Some think that time and distance from the abuse and violence has faded, and I am left as an everyday, ordinary person.  Sure I flinch when a cup shatters on the hard floor, or freeze when the rare person tries to hug me, but I must be better by now surely?

The truth is only part of me escaped.  Only part of me survived.

I often wish I were Asexual.  I often wish I could live without sexual desire and all the problems it brings up for me.  But asexual people still have hearts; they have friends they snuggle with, and sensations their skin enjoys.  There is closeness, warmth and comfort that sing them to sleep.  What I want is to feel nothing, to protect myself from being hurt by denying I can feel at all.  This is not asexuality.  This is sadness.

Pic: a piece of beachglass and silver jewellery I made in 2005.

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Tattoo reads, “When words become inadequate, I shall be content with silence”.

There are words waiting: a poem

My fingers, pink side up

Hold stories made of gestures, 

Signs and twirls.

The whorls 

Of each fingerprint start a chapter, a Sign Language tale.

Violence made me mute when I was younger;

It still returns as an adult – the silence

I surrender

To a fractured part inside my soul.

Another name, another author

Of my life takes hold.

And when I stare at my palms, the lines,

So fractured, divides

Into several paths, many lives

I have carried:

A library of personalities tallied.

My fingers move, my body remembers

Trees towering above me

And a book burning

As another part of me rises from the embers.

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Touch-starved, but don’t touch me.

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse

Consent means a lot to me; as a survivor of abuse and violence, there have been far too many times in my life when I was touched without my permission.  Touching used to be the start – invasive fingers and sexual organs being forced on me often followed next.  Abusive people look like ordinary folks, because they are.  There are few abusers who look like monsters from horror stories – they are people who live next door, who stand beside you at the bus stop, and who live with you under the same roof.

I have had no voice in the past.  Selective Mutism and fear of additional punishment usually meant I knew I could never say “No,” and even if I did try to stop them, my actions and my pleas were ignored.

I have a voice now.  When an adult comes toward me with arms wide open, hands raised, my mind, fractured and scarred from twenty years of abuse, doesn’t think ‘hug’.  My mind thinks ‘DANGER’.  I am touch starved, but it doesn’t mean I want people touching me without permission.  I want to be asked, “Would you like a hug?” Or “May I hug you?”  And I want my answer to be respected.  For there is a small part of me – a frightened child who takes over when I am distressed.  I freeze, my voice changes, and I get prepared to strike back.  All of that changes if my consent is asked for first.  Yet it seems impossible for many people to understand that.  

Here in the U.K, people are usually quite reserved.  But I’ve noticed that when it comes to those perceived as women, especially if black, we don’t get to have a say in how we are touched.  We are presumed to be open and here for everyone’s use, but never for our own.  This needs to change right now.  So the next time you want to express affection or joy toward another person, ASK THEM FIRST.  Consent isn’t just about sex.  Consent before embracing, bear hugging or picking someone up and swinging them around with joy, may seem needlessly polite to you.  But that’s the thing – it isn’t just about you.  Consider the other person who may have emotional/mental/physical issues that make it a bad idea.  Show you can be a good friend to them.  Ask them first.

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I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill;

Of things unknown but are longed for still,

And her voice is heard on a far-off hill

For the caged bird sings of freedom.

I have loved this poem for a long time.  As a fellow survivor of child abuse, I can connect with what Maya said in these words.  I have many scars on my body as a result of the first 22 violent years of my life, and whenever I saw them I would remember the incident that caused it.  I see tattoos as positive scars, and with the bird tattoo I’m especially happy as it’s the first colour tattoo I have.  Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my time as an activist – that I’m shouting into the void.  But I shout for freedom – for disabled, survivors of abuse, the ageing, people of colour, and LGBT+ people to be treated better than they currently are.  Freedom shouldn’t feel like an impossible dream to me.  I hope this tattoo will remind me to keep going; keep on singing.

The tattoo was done by Tracy at Pride Tattoos, http://pridetattoos.webeden.co.uk

P.S – the snowflake above the bird was my first ever tattoo done in 2005.