Old stories, New perspectives

We’ve recently tried out some new ways of delivering our training at REIGN. For the past four years we’ve shared our experiences of CSE as part of our workshop in the same way – from beginning to end, as if reciting a script we’ve learned off by heart. 

Whilst this has always worked for us, the challenge of delivering workshops to 200 or more participants over Zoom gave us the incentive to shake up our format. We rewrote our experiences to highlight specific lessons that we wanted to pull from them. For me, it was the grooming process. This meant cutting out my involvement with services and explaining how the abuse finally came to an end, and instead delving into the early process of coercion and manipulation that I was subjected to. 

Rewriting my tried and tested script from a brand new angle unsurprisingly kicked up some details and caused me to reevaluate elements of my experiences that I had become accustomed to viewing in a certain way. It was a pretty valuable exercise. Viewing it through this new theme prompted me to build theories around what happened and why. 

At first, it was hard to force my mind to recall details which I generally spend a lot of effort trying to forget or ignore. If they can be useful for someone else though, I want to make the most of them. 

Every time I rake through long cooled coals, I find still burning pebbles just under the surface. These unanswered questions and memories that I’ve swept under the rug all start to demand my attention once they’re burning in the air again. 

People often go to counselling for a space to process traumatic experiences as it helps to have someone safe to guide them through as it gets difficult, but some depths of trauma are never fully processed and many of us don’t want to be in counselling for the rest of our lives. I’m definitely from that camp.  

At some point we may reach a stage where we have the tools and practice hours under our belt to do the work on our own. However, I usually find it feels counterproductive and excessively navel-gazing to open the box and start rummaging around examining it’s contents on purpose. There’s a guilt that comes with giving myself permission to think about my past. I don’t want to wallow or dwell. This doesn’t fit with the image I like to have of myself as someone who has it all sorted. I don’t like the thought that 12 years later, these demons can still drag me back down. 

I’m possibly doing myself a disservice with that attitude. I may be better off accepting the fact that as victims of severe and prolonged abuse, we will naturally spend our adulthoods working on recovering from our childhoods. It’s not a sign of weakness or self-absorption to manage the trauma whenever old memories are kicked up. Yes, it’s frustrating and I’d rather be doing something else, but the regular housekeeping of my mind is an important adult skill. I need to live there, after all. 

Delving into my past experiences for the sake of using them in a REIGN workshop gives me that excuse, but what of those survivors who are not engaged in activism or ‘using their stories for someone else’s benefit’? What of the times I am not using mine in REIGN?

It is important to take time to reflect on and reorganise the reality of our lived experiences which are often hard to hold. Every time life gives you a new perspective or something else to carry, you’re going to have to adjust your grip to manage it. 

As I teach others about CSE I learn a lot about myself. I also learn a lot from other survivors in REIGN. Learning can’t happen if you’re closed to it or feel guilty even just allowing yourself to think about some childhood memory you wanted to be done with.

Going forward, I will try not to view the reprocessing of my memories as gratuitously languishing in my own trauma, but instead give myself permission to see what I am capable of learning and understanding. I have a right to know myself and give myself attention. If I also get to use that knowledge to help others through my work then fab, but it’s also OK just to do it for me.