Stitching Myself Back Together Again.

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My forwards backwards journey towards getting back to who I was meant to be went something like this:

Tell someone. I did it accidentally.

Harry was a soldier in World War 2. His initial training ground just happened to be at my boarding school. I got phone all after phone call and letter after letter saying he was coming there for a reunion. The anxiety built in me, and one afternoon, following yet another phone call with Harry saying he couldn’t wait to see me, and me feeling I would rather shove red-hot barbed wire into my eyes…it all got too much.

I burst out crying and fled the boarding house. I was supposed to be going to netball training, but instead, found myself running down the avenue of memorial trees – blinded by the fear swallowing me up. And the tears.

I found myself on my knees, punching the rough bark of a tree, with blood dripping off my knuckles and coursing down to my elbows. A hand reached out and touched me hesitatingly on the shoulder, and I heard my friend, Roz, ask “Are you okay?”

I couldn’t speak. I was choking on salt and distress. And it didn’t matter. My beautiful, frightened friend just held me while I fell apart at the seams.

As soon as I could breathe again, Roz called her Mum. Doris came and got us both, and took me to their house. It was a safe place for me, and I blurted out my story over about 1 000 cups of coffee and twice as many cigarettes. Doris told me I needed to tell my Mum.

I have no idea what Doris said on the phone to Mum. But it must have been one of the most heart-breaking calls she had ever made. How do you tell someone their daughter has been raped since she was tiny?

I stayed there overnight, and Mum picked me up the next day. I don’t remember when or what I told her….but I knew she would tell Dad. Again with the debilitating terror. This was the point when I knew my life was about to fall apart; when I would lose everyone I loved, and I would ‘get in trouble.’

As soon as Doris had phoned up, Mum had gone to her GP. She had no idea where to turn. How afraid and lost she must have felt.

The second thing to do is find an official agency to help you.

Mum took me to the Sexual Abuse Clinic at Bendigo Hospital. My counsellor, Sharon, asked me to tell her my story. And I did. Emotionless. Like an automaton.

She asked me why I wasn’t crying. And told me that all the other kids she worked with cried when they first talked about what had happened.

There was other kids? What? I thought I was the only one!

And the floodgates opened.

I saw her several times a week for a few months. Then only when I needed to. And my therapy has gone on like that. When shit gets too hard – I go and find help. Most bigger hospitals have Abuse clinics annexed to them – just go and ask. You have nothing to lose. Special note: Sometimes the person you see isn’t the right fit – don’t be afraid to try someone else. It’s not personal, it just is.

Soon, Sharon suggested I might like to press charges.

Go to the Police.

Another friend I am blessed to have in my life, Kylie, came with me to the police station. She sat in the car for hours while I gave my statement. I couldn’t have driven anywhere. I was drained.

The police had reams of paper with old charges on it pertaining to Harry. And he had got off every single time. Mostly due to character references from church Ministers. Saying what a good bloke he was. Paedophiles don’t look like monsters…they’re generally charming and people oriented, who get on really well with children – they must appear squeaky clean to be above suspicion. This was the moment I lost faith in organised religion.

The police were so kind to me, and I was grateful. It was hard, telling the story yet again.

The case went to court, and Harry got 6 years. He was carted off to Pentridge in Melbourne, and quickly relocated to Sale, where apparently the ‘rock spiders’ are safer. Shame no-one had kept me safe…..

Harry served 2 years and 2 months. And was released. The whole time he was locked up, I experienced a sense of safety I had never known before.

Read and research. Listen to the stories of others and know you are not alone.

I read – a lot. There was no internet, so it was a paper-based gig. I can recommend “Breaking the Silence – Survivors of Child Abuse Speak Out’ by Liz Mullinar and Candice Hunt. It sits on my bookshelf still, gathering dust, but the pages are stained with pain. Hearing someone else’s story always make you think how lucky you were. And the idea of not being alone is very empowering.

Find Your Passion.

I paint. It takes me out of myself and I get lost in the ebb and flow of putting pigment on paper. The colours kidnap me into a soothing space, and hours drop away. If I am ever sad or hurting, picking up a brush can help immensely.

Love the children.

Be aware. Be vigilant. Give the children in your life permission to question – everything.

If you suspect a child is at risk…think about this:
Can you live with the consequences of doing nothing?

If we don’t protect the children, who will? I am a mandatory reporter, and have had occasion to file several reports. The fear of being wrong is always overtaken by the fear of being right. If you suspect – do something about it. Can you live with the guilt of doing nothing? I can’t.

I took on a career that has become art of who I am. I spend hours a day with children, and my main personal objective is to build a connection with them, through laughter and trust, and be their safe place. Because that is what I needed.

Every time I achieve my goal, little Carol heals a bit more.

 

Heal or Die.

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Sisters in spirit

We come through the fire

Burnt

but not beaten.

We rise from the ashes of a childhood betrayed

By the ones

With the power.

I wrote a lot of bad poetry as I learned to live around the cracks in my personality.

Abuse, in its many forms creates a legacy that scars permanently. It never goes away, but you do learn to live around it. 12 years of sexual abuse bound me up in so many suffocating tentacles that had to be unwound – promiscuity, addiction to escapism, depression and anxiety complete with panic attacks, anger, guilt, shame, fear, a need to control – everything. (I have put most of those to rest, but I still feel a need to sit facing the door wherever I go. So I can see what’s coming at me.)

Healing is a long, long journey, and done effectively, I don’t think it ever ends. It stops and starts…and goes into hibernation….but whether it happens is up to you. No-one else can do it for you.

Everyone’s path is different. There is no ‘One Size Fits All’ magic formula. There is just hard work and confrontation, tears and grief, and acceptance and forgiveness. Of yourself, mostly.

Or you can push it to the back of your mind, swallow a teaspoon of cement…and just harden the fuck up. I promise you though, all those horrors won’t go away, and they will grow, slowly and insidiously, like a malignant tumour…and eat away at your ability to find peace and happiness.

For me there was no choice, It was heal or die….

Finding my Courage/I Hate Hankerchiefs.

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At 12, I finally twigged that every Grandfather was NOT doing this to his grand-daughter, as Harry had told me so often. He insisted my other Grandpa was doing it to my sister. I believed him – I was taught not to question adults – to blindly obey authority (that lesson hasn’t stuck.)

Grandpa D did spend a lot of time with my sister…so he must have been taking her down to the creek to do stuff, right? A child has no frame of reference to know what is truth or not…unless they are taught explicitly to question everything. I was a child born in the 60’s – my job was to be seen and not heard. I wasn’t usually very good at it.

(I found out years later that Grandpa D actually felt sorry for my little sister because Harry spent so much time with me, so he made sure she didn’t feel left out. God bless him – he was my good Grandpa. Harry lost the title of Grandpa a long, long time ago….a “grandpa’ is someone who loves you and nurtures you…not twists your little soul into a rag of it’s former self.)

It wasn’t happening to my friends at school – they weren’t screwed up like I was. We never talked about it….me, because of the mantra in my head “If I tell, I’ll get in trouble.” And my friends because I assumed they probably had nothing to tell. Ill never know.

Anyway, for my 13th birthday, Mum and Dad let me choose the new wallpaper for my room. Harry was a painter, so he was tasked with putting it up. He stayed with us while he did it…and that terrified me.

I would come home from school, (Mum and Dad were running their business, so weren’t usually home when we got off the school bus) and try to avoid being around him. I hung out with the other two kids, but he always found a way to corner me and take me into the shed. My ears were never so sharp as when I was listening for footsteps or cars. The anxiety of being caught doing something wrong has never left me.

After I had spat his poisonous slime into his hanky, life would return to normal. I would rejoin my brother and sister, and sit stewing in silence and self-loathing, and envy them their non-participation. I hated him being in our house and suffered such huge guilt and fear and shame, now that I had realised what we were doing (what he was doing) was wrong.

I had been groomed since being a toddler to know my life would fall apart…that I would “get in trouble if I told our little secret’ and Dad had a pretty bad temper, so I never doubted he would “go mad and shoot” Harry and it would all be my fault.

One afternoon I stumbled off the bus and walked with a lead weight in my chest down the track towards the house, garnering every skerrick of courage I could find within my 12 year old self. I told him I needed to talk to him and he came outside and stood on the gravel driveway with me. I have no idea where the other kids were – probably watching telly and eating biccies and milk for afternoon tea.

“I want you to stop touching me”.

There – it was out.

But he came back with, “Why?”

Head rushes and tailspins…I felt myself slipping into a vortex of terror….I couldn’t tell this adult I was afraid of that I KNEW NOW it was wrong. who knows what would happen? What could I say? I couldn’t tell the truth…what seemed like hours was seconds.

“Is it because you’ve got hair growing down there?” He said.

Yes, yes, that’s it…..that’s it. A Get out of Jail Free card for me.

And that was that.  I was no longer his ‘special girl’. It was over.
He went back inside, and I stood there, on my own, in my school uniform; and cried sweet tears of freedom.

I had no idea the perilous journey that lay ahead.
 

‘Our Little Secret.’

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“If you tell, Dad will go mad and shoot me. I’ll be dead, and Dad will go to jail. They* will come and take J and R** away and you’ll never see your mum again. Don’t tell…it’s our little secret.”

I will never know what it is like to be a person who was not sexually abused. Actually, let’s call it for what it is….

 

I was a child who was raped. Repeatedly.

 

I tried hard  to pull it apart in this blog entry but it became too huge. I hurtled back to being the little girl I was – totally powerless, and it ripped me to pieces. And that is a pain I avoid at all costs.

If I was sitting with you in a park, or a pub, I could tell the story from go to woah and not show even a grimace of emotion. Like it happened to someone else. Because it falls off my tongue like a silken horror story….I don’t have to think about it when I speak.  I’m good with oral language.

Putting it in paragraphs is different. Tying the words together makes me confront the truthful horror of what it really was…and no child should have to go through that story. Ever.

After 50 years I still cannot piece it all together in a way that is palatable…and that is the nature of the beast. Evil.
My rapist wasn’t a member of the clergy or a scout master or a  mistress in an orphanage….not anyone I am entitled to compensation for. Yet I have spent my entire life living around the cracks…no; ravines, that have been created in my life. I was raped by someone I should have been able to trust. Someone I was taught to obey.
My rapist was my (step) grandfather, Harry…and he did it right under the nose of my totally innocent and naive parents.

Harry brought his family of three to our farm at least once a fortnight. It went on for 12 years. You do the maths. Add in the school holidays, and the visits at their house for Sunday  lunch when he would have me sit on his lap on his special  chair in the lounge while his hand went up the dress my Mum had sewn for me…just round the corner from the family sitting at the kitchen table.
Yet they didn’t have a clue it was happening. My Mum and Dad had no idea. Honestly. Harry, my rapist, was that clever….and I learnt to be a good liar.

As a parent myself , my heart is ripped apart by the guilt my folks must suffer. As their child…I wish they would just tell me that they love me, that it wasn’t my fault, and that they understand I might be a little fucked up because of it. I live in hope.

A child is never raped without emotional abuse. Paedophiles are not stupid people. There’s good reason they are rarely caught.

First, there is the emotional blackmail. For me, the mantra was:

“If you tell, Dad will go mad and shoot me. I’ll be dead, and Dad will go to jail. They* will come and take J and R** away and you’ll never see your mum again. So don’t tell…it’s our little secret.”

I can hear him saying it like it was yesterday. The words fall off my tongue like drops of poison. Terrified is not a strong enough adjective. If I told anyone what was happening to me…my whole world would fall apart. I would be left with nothing and nobody. And such is the world of a small child.

The lies I had to tell to my parents and non-offending grandparents, my brother and sister, friends, teachers and sport coaches became such second nature that most of the time I didn’t know what was true and what was fantasy. I became so adept at making shit up on the spot to cover my arse that even I believed the crap that came out of my mouth.
But I was playing for high stakes.

“If you tell, Dad will go mad and shoot me. I’ll be dead, and Dad will go to jail. They* will come and take J and R** away and you’ll never see your mum again. So don’t tell…it’s our little secret.”

My whole life has been coloured by the years of fear and apprehension The lies I had to tell so no-one would find out. (Now I’m an adult, I HATE lies, and liars. Cannot abide them…and a lie by omission is just as bad.)

“Oh, we just went or a walk down the creek.” (His fingers in my five year old vagina.)

“Look what I made in Grandpa’s garage.” (Him looking at incest porn mags while my six year old hands wanked him off.)
“We’ve been fishing.” (His French friend taking photos of me, 7 years old, spread-eagled on the bonnet of the Kingswood….while they did things to my tiny body only adults can understand.)((This one came back to haunt me at at 19, when the Feds knocked on my door and asked me identify some photographs. 12 years it took them. I fell apart. Nuff said.))

I am loathe to write too much – I have no wish to titillate offenders, or to provoke those who have paedophiliac  (?) tendencies.

What I will say, in case you haven’t got the point yet, is that the cream and gold- embossed wall paper on my grandmother’s bedroom wall is imprinted on my brain. It was the only thing I could see when I was bent over the bed and raped anally by a 60 year old man who was my grandfather by marriage only.

 

I was 8.

 

I’m sorry. I know that is confronting…but it is the reality for more children than you can imagine, and there is no point in beating around the bush. And to be honest, if we were sitting in the pub, my language would be much bolder. I wouldn’t pussy-foot around the terminology. I would be crass and honest…and you would cry, but I wouldn’t shed a tear.

My life will always be coloured by this experience. Some of it good…some of it bad. I am a better a parent because of it. By the Grace of the Universe I have managed to live to a time where I am able to be a warrior for children in my personal and work life. Fuck knows I didn’t care if lived or died before I had children of my own. My babies saved my life. They needed me…for the first time in my life I was special for a pure reason.
But on the down side,  I am an adult who seeks pleasure in destructive ways because of it. And I like it. That is my cross to bear. And another story altogether.

Tell them your children you love them. Too many times is never enough.

Teach your children well. Teach them to say no.  Teach them to tell. Teach them to question everything. Blind obedience leads to pain and heartache.

Suffer the little children.

 

*(I never knew who ‘they’ were exactly)

** younger brother and sister

First Star is Yours.

20106552_1584125831629572_1387304346172631715_n Just had one of the most bittersweet moments I remember.

Sorting through books and came across this bible that was gifted to me by the family when my Aunty R. passed over with HIV complications. 17th November, 1985. Pages inside the front cover telling her story to her two little boys who she had found new parents for. I had forgotten this edition even existed, and the goose bumps as I type this rise like molehills up and down my arms.

I remember the phone call from the family telling me she had finally gone like it was yesterday. It was a sweet relief in a way. She was so ill.  R had grown so thin, her teeth had all fallen out and her body was riddled with thrush. She had so much medication you would have needed a suitcase to carry it all. She managed to stay in her own home until only a few weeks before she left, and she passed while at her sister’s place.

I went out the back in the temperate evening air, and cried and cried. With sadness for myself, and happiness for her. Safe in the arms of the Jesus she believed in so strongly at the end. Never to feel the chill on her cheek again. It’s a luxury for those who die thinking they are headed for of a heavenly realm.

I had been supposed to fly over and visit with my 5 week old baby at the beginning of November but he was ill, and I cancelled for fear of passing on any germs to her already compromised system. I missed saying goodbye to her in person, but we were always careful to say “Love you heaps” each time we spoke. She knew.

She hung around to say goodbye to me in spirit, and meet my baby…but that’s another post altogether.

R was only 3 years older than me, and was a big sister more than anything else.

When R got her first pay, she took me shopping and bought me a skirt. I was 14. It was white and royal blue, with a frilly hem and a picture of a beach umbrella on it. Hideous, I know, and it was – but it was the 80’s.
Once R got her license, I was the first person she drove around in her green Celica. We waved to all her friends in Shepparton as we cruised past in what was the sexiest car I had ever been in at that point. (Mum and Dad drove Volvos – not quite the same show-off appeal.) She took me on road trip to Melbourne. I was 15. I also had my first Bundy that trip, and I have never drank it deliberate again. Hideous stuff.
We would sit on front of the open fire. She would smoke joints and I would, as I still do, say no….I’m apathetic enough without the miasma of weed clogging my brain.

We would laugh and talk about life and our dreams: boys, friends, tv shows, pop stars, the latest episode of Countdown; what we would do when we grew up. We skirted gingerly around our collective  demons. Her father was my abuser. Again, another story.

We cried together in front of the flames. Her for my pain. ..and me for hers, which I knew in my gut had to exist, but she refused to acknowledge.

It wasn’t until we sat together for the last time, in her flat in Shepparton, when she said to me, “Something might have happened, but it’s too late to be going into it now.”

I remember hugging her thin, frail body at the front gate as I said goodbye to her forever, tho I didn’t know it at the time. I still had hope there would be a cure discovered.  I was relocating to Western Australia with my husband to be…..and R was like a smoky wraith in my arms. There was nothing of her. She was just a wisp of who she had been.

Anyway, every night, when I see the first star in the sky, I say hello to her. And tell her I love her.  As I did on the night of that dually dreaded and longed for phone call. I made a promise to myself that night that every first star would be hers.

I do it as a matter of habit now. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it.

It brought me back to her to find the bible, with her words, telling her story. Really jogged my memory….in a good way. We are remembered by our deeds, and not how messy our houses or hair can be.

The beloved dead have been close to me the last few days. And I am grateful for their presence.

It’s a Teacher’s Life…

swing-846077_1920.jpgI work hard for the money. So hard for the money.

But don’t we all?

Two weeks off. Mid year hols.

Back  from the land of my childhood…country Victoria, mid winter. The time of year when you can’t get in the car before 10am without the windscreen having ice on it.

I’m sure the friend whose doorstep I landed on wondered why I was there. I didn’t go anywhere, or do anything in particular….I just relaxed. I just needed to be somewhere I didn’t have to check my email, or hear the phone ring, or someone knock on the door for me…..

I could do what I want. Go out. Stay in. Talk. Remain silent. Cook. Get cooked for.  Wash up, because it’s the guest-ly thing to do. Don’t wash up, because it’s the guest-ly thing to do.

I need that in school holidays. To be totally isolated from responsibility. To walk away from everything that makes me a grown up. After 10 weeks of teaching 21 five year olds how to blow their nose effectively to avoid middle ear infections and that it is important to go to the toilet at recess, not five minutes after; in the middle of a discussion about why a triangle is a triangle; I think I deserve a break. Actually, not deserve; need.

And it’s not only the teachers who need the break. The short people do too. When humans are tired, they become irascible. Cranky beyond belief.

Case in point:

Two days before the end of term, I was on recess duty. Out in the freezing, joyless space of the concrete playground. (The joyless bit isn’t really true – I can’t fit down the slide anymore. but I have as much fun as I can with my little charges, pretending to be a zombie and chasing children ((slowly…I’m old)) around the sandpit. It helps time pass.)

Anyway, ten minutes into what we label as playtime…the only unstructured time of day in a modern school, a little girl comes up to me  almost in tears and says, “He touched me.”

Now, I’m a big one for talking to kids before I fly off the handle (usually….sometimes they’re so annoying I just go off tap off for the sake of it. They ARE five after all. It’s an annoying age.)

“Did he hurt your heart or your body?”
“No. He just ran past me and touched me. You’re not allowed to just touch people.”

Of course, I investigated and spoke to the young accused.

He’s a great kid. Earnest and sweet.

Turns out he runs like a typical 5 year old – arms flailing and legs akimbo; and hadn’t meant to go near her at all. He was most horrified when I suggested that maybe he upset her….poor little fella ended up in tears. That made three of us….him, her and me (of  frustrated laughter at the silliness of the original complaint. Don’t judge me – it’s a coping mechanism.)

I work with Kindergarten. Known as Prep in Victoria. We expect them to transform in 24 hours from nap/snack/play/screen/wobbly chucking whenever I want time, to turning up and tuning in for hours on end, five days a week. Day in, day out; these little troopers come to school for another round of social, emotional and intellectual culture shocks.

I expect a pound of flesh from my kids. They work hard.  They have to learn to decode English (which MUST be the silliest language in the world) and to break the  cipher of numeracy. They begin to learn that life is all about patterns. Choice = consequence = choice = consequence. And on it goes. Forever.

They have to learn that sitting in the class yarning circle and being a responsible, respectful listener when their peers are speaking is more important than poking the kid next to them and then being burnt by ‘the teacher look’. (You know, that withering glare. Mine is always followed by a gentle smile. My kids know I am playing a role, and that it’s the behaviour choice that I’m not okay with – that I still think they’re awesome.)

They learn that to be part of a cooperative social group, you need to play nice.

It’s exhausting for them. And the people who lead them.

I’m not saying the rest of you don’t deserve equal holiday opportunities. I don’t know how you manage on the hamster wheel without it. Might even be something in it for the government – imagine the jobs that would open up if we all had 12 weeks of dedicated stress-down time a year?

So, if you’re one of those who bag teachers out about their holidays, you can always switch careers.  If you think you can hack it…go ahead. Take extra tissues. And a sense of humour.

Buckle up…..

Here we go then.

This is not what I intended.

Writing my life out for everyone to read. Posting some new crap every day until I lose focus. Which could be by tomorrow.

But in the process of mentoring a friend into Blog Land, I decided I might give it a shot. He needs to get his voice out there (and start changing the world), and I said I could help – when I couldn’t actually do much apart from navigating a keyboard. So, doing my own blog will ensure I can lead him, right? I should have told him I had no idea, really.

I blame Jeanne. She told me years ago I should be doing this.

“You’re a great writer. You should write a blog.”

Translated, I think that means, “Inflict the misery on others.”

I’m not a great writer. I’m just someone who has a lot to say and I will say it to a brick wall if no-one else is about. I learnt about adjectives and punctuation at school, and I was one of the lucky ones it stuck with.

I DO love a chat. Give me a microphone and audience,  and I am unstoppable.  Until they tear it from my clasped, obstinate fingers. I AM opinionated. I will question everything – and I expect the same dedication from others. If you never challenge what you think, you will never grow.

I work on a stage of sorts every day – at the front of a classroom. I love the limelight. And this is no different, is it?

I will drivel on about all sorts of things……some will be mundane, some will be thought-provoking. Some will be downright outrageous – unless you are me, and then they will be par for the course.

You can read, or not. I don’t mind. It’s not for you – it’s to satisfy my selfishness and vanity. And to learn.

In the meantime, those of you who suffer to decode this will be helping the needy. At the very least, the technologically challenged. Call it an act of kindness. Charity.

A lesson in patience.