The aftermath of trauma.
This was written by my friend Fiona Yardley. Fiona is many things; artist, poet, mother, partner. And she is a survivor. The #metoo movement has seen many of us share our experiences of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Trump inadvertently kick-started something recently, where survivors shared the reasons they didn’t report their assaults.
Here, Fiona shares how she deals with what she experienced, years later. It’s not always as simple as just moving on. Access to help isn’t as available as we might think or hope it is.
If you have experienced trauma and it’s aftermath, especially from sexual assault or harassment, you might find this a hard read. Or, you might find it a familiar one. No one wishes these kinds of experiences on others. But there is a small comfort in knowing that someone out there understands how you feel.
It’s 8.47pm, it’s a Tuesday night, you are listening to ‘Cold Little Heart’ and it’s filling you with feelings, helped of course by the three glasses of white wine you’ve had since 5.30 this evening.
Your man came home after the kids were in bed, and you both had a dance to some Leon Bridges, and you showed him how to segue into the tandem Charleston, and you collapsed against one another laughing and breathless, and the silly dancing got sillier when Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ came on autoplay and you made a point of dancing like a disjointed skeleton to have fun throwing yourself around. Sometimes the kids have the best ideas, and the un-self-consciousness of the truly young is a wonderful and brief thing.
But now it’s later, and you’ve tried calling again, and gotten the serious, discreet, middle aged voice apologetically explaining that all the counselors are busy, and you can leave a message, and if a counselor calls back they will not identify themselves or where they are calling from unless directly to you on the phone. And again you have a minor heartbreak, hearing that, because you know there are women in far more dire circumstances than you, calling this line deep in panic and distress, and here you are, you’ve put your beautiful kids to bed and you’ve had a dance and a pash with your gorgeous husband, and life is good, really, except that when it isn’t good it’s the fucking pits, and some insistent voice is telling you how shit it all is and will always be, and that you’re not good enough and will never be, and that all the mistakes you’ve ever made and all the lies you’ve ever told are the most important things about you, and outweigh the fact that you want to work hard at something that matters, that you’re smart and compassionate and educated, that you can make pretty much anything with your hands, that you try really hard to at least behave the way a smart, kind, funny person would behave even though on some level you are actually convinced that you’re a simulacrum of a person and not an actual person.
You know that if you were your best friend, you would say, ‘Call again, in ten minutes. Drink some water.’
You have tried to call again, you go to the fridge and drink soda water straight from the bottle, toasting this imaginary conversation. The courage required to call, each time, to reach for the phone and call the number, is itself a disincentive. If there’s no clear triage for afterwards, no opportunity for self-care or to reach out to a knowing friend and be an awful disheveled mess, then you won’t call. With two small kids to look after the potential times you could call are few. It’s hard, and it shouldn’t be, but it is, and just by itself the complexity of that particular push-pull is enough to exhaust you.
Another one in the media, today, and some part of you is cheering that more and more people are saying, this is fucking enough, we will not be quiet about this so-called ordinary shit anymore. Another part of you is saying, jesus, really, what a shame (I like him as an actor, so what a fucked up double standard that my sympathy is there wholly for myself and the loss of a hero), and another part of you is thinking when’s the next one, and who, and who did they fuck up, and when will we hear about it, and fucking when, fucking WHEN will this actually be intolerable anymore?
Your cheeks feel slightly numb, and your blinks are slower than usual, and you bless the wine that you drank earlier, even though it’s tensing up your shoulders and making your movements looser than they really should be. You start thinking about tomorrow, cataloguing, checking when you will see people, what and where to hide and from whom. Your friend will probably get in touch again, checking in, considerate as ever, and you will probably brush her off again because there’s a triggering thing just about having told her that you’re thinking about this ancient fucking history. Though ‘thinking’ just doesn’t cut it as far as this feeling is concerned. For the first time in many, many years, your heart’s skipping beats and you feel a panicky tightness in your gut almost all the time. It’s hard again, as though it just happened, and you are struggling even to accept that feelings are not rational, and that it’s okay not to know why you’re feeling something.
It’s been so different this time, with the second kid.
You’re so in love with your son, who is now thirteen months old (can we say, a year old?) and who is gorgeous and round and happy and cheeky and plays games like the going-to-bed-game-where-he-leans-on-your-foot-and-pretends-to-sleep or the I’m-in-the-tunnel-and-you-can’t-see-me-when-I-lean-this-way game, or the speeding-up-when-headed-towards-the-edge-of-the-park game. Your older daughter, full of fire and stubbornness and laughter and compassion, is also a source of deep frustration and joy. Whole days can go by where only a few hours out of the allotted twenty-four are spent out of contact with another warm body. This you find unexpectedly difficult; sometimes when your daughter leans into a cuddle while watching a show, you notice yourself edging slowly away and the finding something to do in the kitchen. That you notice this sometimes makes you realise you must be doing it more frequently. This makes you feel sad, and guilty, and you try to imagine yourself from your preschooler’s perspective, and you fail in this, spectacularly. You resolve to try harder, do better.
So you’re drunk and circling round the issue again, and you know you could call one of a few friends’ numbers, but you’re finally at the point where the words ‘trauma counselor’ have more comfort for you, more practical, honest-to-goodness, fuck-yes this is what I need resonance for you. And they haven’t called you back. All this shit in the news, all these rape and assault and indecency cases, and the endless circle of recrimination and painful self-exposure are taking their toll. All this in the month that the service you’re calling for support has had its funding cut.
They are all busy.
They are too busy, busier than anyone dealing, professionally, with these issues, ought to be, and that stops you calling too. So when you call and you get the busy tone, and the friendly but concerned middle aged voice with the recording about what your options are, it’s just so fucking hard because it was so fucking hard to even pick up the fucking phone at all and call someone to tell them that you were raped, assaulted, abused, and that even though it happened a while ago (and sorry, to all those other people trying to call the service while you’re speaking to one of the few counselors, all of whom are amazing, and tired, and incredible) it’s fucking you up, and you’re pretty sure you’re drinking too much and too often, and you’re pretty sure that you’re not a hundred percent in charge of your feelings, your reactions, and when you say you’re pretty sure you’re drinking too much I mean for god’s sake it’s Tuesday and it’s 9.13pm and you’re drunk and you know you’ll have bad dreams again tonight and piss them away in the pre-dawn hours, hopefully, and maybe hopefully not (this time) lie awake, heart pounding, thinking and trying not to think and circling again and again this inevitable set of shitty things that are wholly, unfairly preoccupying you, with the skin prickle and heart pound, and you’ll pick up some book or other where the protagonist (flawed) overcomes unusual circumstances and metes out some kind of fucking justice in the meantime, and then you’ll turn the lamp back out and lie on your back staring at the ceiling wondering what all these other poor fuckers are doing right now.
You take a breath. You look at your hands. You scrunch up your toes into the carpet; you roll your shoulders up and back and take another, huge, belly breath, and exhale. You close your eyes and try to smell something, five things, and name them. You look and try to see five things (always the easiest part of this). You listen, you hear.
You keep going.
Do you need to talk?
If you need to talk to someone, whether it’s about the aftermath of trauma that happened long ago or something more recent, please know that these helplines exist:
If you can, please write to your local member about increasing the funding for these vital services.