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Ask Dr D; ‘I was abused’

So many  women carry a secret.  A deep dark hidden  secret. Sometimes this secret is so buried and disguised and has morphed  into aversions, fears or strange behaviour that isn’t even remotely  recognised for what it is.

Recently, I  read ‘Women Trashed’, an autobiographical book by Joanne Brodie which speaks of  her life as a substance abuser, her addiction to prescription drugs, her sexual  promiscuity and prostitution. The fact that she came from a respectable, middle  class family who couldn’t confront is highlighted, as is the realisation  previously blocked, that she was sexually abused by her father.  It is  also an account of courage and recovery.

The book  may not be true to every addict’s or abused person’s story but you will  resonate with the power of the emotion, the confusion and the misunderstood  gaps in your life. 

Joanne’s  story reminded me of a powerful therapy session which took place a few months  ago, during which the reality of abuse emerged for the first time.

Katie: I  think I have made a mistake.  I must be  crazy. I’m not sure what I’m doing here. I mean thanks for the appointment and  all that but … I’m so confused.

DW: You  wanted the time and now you don’t know what to say…. how to start.  

Katie:  Well, I have nothing definite. Actually, you know what … I’m fine…
  (Puts head  down.)

I’m so  stupid!

DW: There’s  clearly something that’s really worrying you. Something that’s confusing and  hard to talk about because it is not clear and sounds stupid.

Katie:  Exactly

DW: (Looks  at Katie) – Silence.
  What is it Katie?

Katie:  Okay. Well it’s … so many things. I just feel that I’ve fallen apart.

DW: What’s  changed and how have you fallen apart?

Katie:  I’m not coping, with my work, with my  boyfriend, with my life.
  And I’m a  ‘coper’. I’m just not on top of anything and I feel scared. It’s not me.

DW: We need  to talk about exactly what you mean… but first tell me when did this start?

Katie:  (Thinks) Actually, about six weeks ago.

DW: Six  weeks ago?

Katie: I  know it was six weeks ago because that’s when my sister had a baby.

DW: That  seems like an important event to you.

Katie: It’s  been amazing. I’m the godmother. I spend all my spare time with this beautiful  little girl, just holding her, looking at her … (becomes tearful).  

DW: Yet  there is something else.

Katie:  Look, I know it sounds stupid but ever since that baby was born I just want to  be with the baby.

DW: So…

Katie: But  do you know what else?  When I’m with men  in a room, I somehow begin to feel sick, nauseous in fact and I have this fear  like something will happen. Even with people I know, even with my boyfriend who  wouldn’t hurt a fly. I just can’t control it.   I’ve tried to talk to myself and tell myself how stupid I am but this  fear and sickness keeps coming back.  

DW: So you  don’t feel safe around men and you just want to be with the baby?

Katie: It’s  so special being with that baby. It’s like when she looks at me she sees into  my soul.  It’s amazing yet it sought of  goes on…

DW: Goes  on?

Katie: Just  look at me, I’m such an idiot.

DW: What  goes on Katie?

Katie: You  see, I have these dreams. Sometimes I kind of have these visions, even when I’m  awake (cries).

DW: This is  tough to talk about.

Katie: Very  and I don’t even know why!

DW: The  visions

Katie: Well,  I see a baby girl in a cot, it’s not my niece ‘cos she is about three or four  playing with a pink bear.

DW: Tell me  about the little girl.

Katie  (child like voice): The child is happy. The child loves the bear…

DW: Then?

Katie: He  comes in, he comes in quietly…He plays with the bear and with the child …

Katie: (in  adult voice): That’s it. That’s all I remember.

DW:  It’s okay Katie, it’s okay… Tell me about the  little girl and the man

Katie: I  know this child. I know this little girl.   I need to protect her. I need to protect Katie.

DW: You  need to protect baby Katie because…

Katie:  Because, she gets hurt. She gets hurt, she always gets hurt. She gets hurt by  someone she loves.  (sobbing)

DW: (Takes  her hand)
  Katie, you  know the man.

Katie:  (Nods)

DW: It’s  your dad, isn’t it?

Katie:  (Nods vigorously)

DW:  (Embraces her)

Katie:  Somewhere deep down I’ve known that there has been something wrong.  I could never trust men completely. I’ve had  the same boyfriend for eight years now but will not marry him…

DW: Remember  Katie, little Katie, frightened Katie? What happens to her?

Katie: It’s  a game … but I don’t like this game. First he plays with the bear and so do I,  then he says pink bear has no clothes on so take yours off too.  Then I do. (Cries) Then he looks. Then he  touches…

DW: You’ve  never told anyone …

Katie: I  couldn’t tell anyone, ‘cos I played the game and my dad always said that it was  our secret and that he loved me.  Then I  think I just forgot. Just blocked it out.

DW: So it  was the baby, your sister’s baby so beautiful and vulnerable, so innocent and  trusting that brought this all to the surface again.

Katie: I  can’t believe this… and yet there have been things crazy things that I have  always lived with.  I should have known.

DW: Like  what?

Katie: I  can never ever look at naked men it has to always be dark and sexually, the  truth is, I’ve never been able to relax not ever.  I just think that a lot of women are like me  and even though my boyfriend often asks if there is something wrong, I never  want to go there.

After my  parents got divorced, when I was six, I didn’t see my dad for a long time. He  contacted me again when I was a young teenager and I did spend some time.  He never did it again, well not directly  anyway, but he sought of liked to show off his daughter to his friends in a way  which made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable.   I avoided going there for years but never quite knew why. Anyway he died  two years ago, so there’s nothing I can do.

DW: He  might have died but the feelings and the effect of what you went through  remain.

Katie: Yes,  but don’t you understand I was also too blame.   I let him. I hated the game but I still let him.

DW: Katie,  imagine your little niece, imagine she was telling you this story, the same  story about what happened to her when she was three years old one day.  You are her godmother what would you say to  her?

Katie: I  would f*** ing kill him.

DW: You  would be outraged and protective…

Katie: Are  you kidding??

DW: But she  tells you, she participated, she allowed it…

Katie: But  … I am only three (bursts into tears).

DW: Katie, you were only three! You loved your  dad. He was supposed to take care of you. He abused you in every way, your  trust, your love, your vulnerability…

Katie:  (Nods) Of course I can see that.

DW: Now, as  grown up Kate you can say no.  You can  act on your own authority but you couldn’t then.

We need to take  away your guilt and heal. Deal with the emotions and  heal so you can reclaim your life with grown  up confidence.

Katie: I  think I know how to start. I think it has already started. When I take care of  my niece, I’m taking care of baby Katie too.   She has given me a chance to face my past and see it differently.

DW: It’s  quite a journey. This is a huge revelation that comes with guilt, anger and  sadness never realised or expressed as well as new understanding and explanations  for feelings and behaviour never addressed.

Katie:  Whew! It’s been a hellova session.  You  know what I’m thinking – don’t laugh. I’m thinking that my gorgeous boyfriend  is definitely not my father. I think he’s had a raw deal and he’s still there,  so that has to say something!

Two weeks later:

Katie: It  was really tough but I’m so relieved and proud of myself that I didn’t walk out.  I needed that push and couldn’t do it on my own. It had to be in a safe  environment. Once I understood what it was all about the visions and the  sickness have gone completely.  I still  have a lot to come to terms with regarding my father and the abuse. It will  take a bit of time but I feel so much clearer and cleaner.

DW: Katie  appeared confused and resistant however, this was a reflection of her  foreboding of what was lurking in the deep recesses of her psyche.  Through her unexplained deep connection with  her niece this was manifesting in her not coping and  experiencing uncontrolled fear in certain  situations. Actually, she was available and receptive to use the session to her  advantage.