February's been an interesting month. I spent the first half of it running up to my birthday which fell on the 18th. This year's birthday felt like a real biggie for two reasons – it was my 45th birthday and it was my first birthday as Fi MacLeod. There were many things going round my mind.
Before my birthday I found myself looking back at my life with regrets, wishing I'd not spent so much of my life in survival mode. As I looked back I saw many things that have not been part of my life because of the abuse – for instance - kids, relationships, marriage, career, being able to drive, car, security – and they're just for starters.
Maybe you're wondering why I said not being able to drive is down to the abuse? It's because when my brother, who is 3½ years older than me, reached the age where he could legally learn to drive my parents paid for his driving lessons, took him out in the family car in between lessons and when he passed his test they bought him a car, paid for his insurance etc. What happened when I reached that age and requested the same? I was told I'd have to wait until I was able to afford my own lessons, my own car, my own insurance etc. Oh and I was severely beaten for having requested parity with my brother.
During my adult life when I was able to work I was in low paid jobs – partly because I am a woman and women do get paid less than men – and partly because of the jobs I was able to do - travel agency work does not pay highly, nor do administration, hotel or youth work - in spite of working hard and gaining extra qualifications. After leaving college I worked for 4 years in 2 separate jobs before being made redundant and was unemployed for a year. I got a job as a hotel receptionist and worked for 18 months before having a breakdown and no longer able to work. As a result I could not work for 7 years after that and lived on unemployment benefits which gave me virtually no income. Then I went to university to better myself and improve my chances for employment and income. After gaining my degree I got a good job but only 6 months in I was forced to stop working when my health collapsed and I was diagnosed of M.E. Since then I’ve been living on disability benefits. A lot of my income from benefits goes on servicing debts I gained as a student and now have no hope of ever being able to pay back. I did not expect to leave university and spend the rest of my adult working life on disability benefits. That was not the plan but how it worked out. It's been 9 years now since I had to stop working due to ill health. Out of the 27 years since I left college I was able to work for only 7 of those years, due mainly to the effects of the trauma of the abuse upon my body and mind. That makes me very angry. That is a really soul destroying legacy of the abuse. That is so unfair. I did not ask for that but then one thing life is – is not fair - that is for sure.
Now the government are talking about reducing disability benefits and making it harder to people qualify for them. It's easy to get the benefits if you are obviously physically disabled but when the disabilities are not obvious but hidden – no one can see the extreme fatigue and agony of body memories, not to mention the depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health issues which severely limit my life. I know my disabilities, long term physical and mental health problems have their root in the abuse I endured. That fact is made worse by being alone with no family or relatives as a result of that abuse.
When you've no family to fall back on and your only income is from government hand-outs it makes life very hard. With the government's plans to restrict disability benefits to only those most severely disabled my income and future livelihood are seriously under threat. With no family nor any other form of safety net if my benefits get cut due to austerity measures I'll be forced into bankruptcy. That prospect does not thrill me.
Ever since I was left for dead in the snow in 1986 I've been living from hand to mouth, always one wrong move away from homelessness and destitution.
As a result I've never been able to afford to learn to drive. I had an old second-hand 50cc Honda moped for 4 years between 1994 and 1998. That gave me some independence but when it needed servicing and the costs of keeping it on the road became more than the bike was worth and more than I could afford the bike had to go. I still miss my bike because being able to drive is so essential and not being able to drive places me at a huge disadvantage in many areas of life, including socially. It's extremely isolating not being able to drive.
So the not being able to drive is a huge issue and one of the legacies of the abuse. Not an obvious one maybe, but it is a huge issue for me.
Another thing I was painfully aware of as I looked back was not having been able to have any kind of relationship. That causes me immense pain. Relationships are something most people take for granted. For me, relationships have been impossible. I'm not just talking sexual relationships but any kind of relationship. Even the friends I let in I keep at a safe distance.
I don't even know where to start socially. The biggest hurdle for me is always having to explain myself and my situation.
What I mean by having to explain myself is that in ALL social situations people always ask “who are your family, loved ones?” etc. It may appear on the surface to be a simple enough question that most people take for granted but for me it is fraught with difficulty.
That question is a conversation stopper for me because I have no option but to say I have no family, no relatives and am alone in the world, otherwise I come across as evasive.
Most people look at me as if I have two heads when I say that. Some people look concerned, drop their voice, move a little closer and ask “how come?” “What happened?” Some people look concerned but turn away and move off. Most people say something along the lines of “come on, there must be someone, everyone's got someone". I find myself going on the defensive explaining how it is that I'm totally estranged from my family and find it very difficult to make relationships. Often I find people ask if I've forgiven my abusers believing, thinking and often communicating that I must be a bitter and angry person because otherwise I'd want to be reconciled with my family thereby implying it's my fault I do not have family. The fact that my family abused me and left me for dead seems to always get lost at this point. So often I find myself having to justify myself or arguing the point.
Actually the truth is it is the fault of my family, my abusers, not me, I did not choose that situation, they did. It’s hard enough being seriously relationally impaired without people I try to relate to making it harder by judging me for being alone in the world and being unwilling to reconcile with people who treated me like I was worse than a piece of dog shit on the side of the road.
It is one of the things that keeps me really isolated because I really cannot face those kind of questions any more. It's too painful. But social situations and relationships require them.
I don't want anyone's sympathy or pity I just want to be accepted as I am but in order to enter into any kind of relationships those questions have to be addressed. It really is too painful for me and people do not realise just how hard it is to have to cope with those questions day in, day out. So it's just easier to withdraw rather than face the pain, the arguments, the assumptions and probing questions that I'd rather not be asked in the first place, never mind have to answer in order to fit in socially. Another legacy of the abuse!
The other big hurt I had on looking back was the one of having no kids and remembering the kids I did lose when I was only a kid myself. That hurt is indescribable and one of the worst consequences of the abuse!
Anyway, I navigated a path through all those hurts, regrets, grief, broken dreams, lost hope and realisations of all that has not been because of the abuse and reached the day of my birthday.
The day dawned to a ‘me’ who felt able to celebrate the fact it was my 1st birthday as Fi MacLeod. It was my first birthday under a new name. It was my first birthday as a different person. It was my first birthday under my new identity.
I felt able to embrace the new beginning. I was able to begin to look forward for the first time in my life. I've spent my entire life surviving, looking back, never forwards, never daring to hope because I never ever believed I had a future. I never ever believed I had a valid part to play in life.
Now all that is changing. I'm starting over. I'm not sure who Fi MacLeod is. I'm not sure how the future "looks”. All I am sure of is I have a future now, I have hope now.
Now I've begun the healing journey I know what is ahead cannot be worse than what is behind me. There are many things I've missed out on in life because of the abuse that I can never have. However, there are some things that may be possible for me now I've begun to face the pain and horror of my past instead of just stuffing it down inside.
There is one fundamental difference between the ‘me’ of a year ago and the ‘me’ I am now. That difference is I've spoken out. I've broken my silence. I've begun to bring those dark secrets out into the light. I've been believed. Yes, I've been believed and that's so good. Yeah, ok so I didn't get to see justice done and that's not so good actually that's really crap BUT at least I have help. That help has given me hope. I'm not stumbling along now in the dark alone with all this stuff. I do have help, understanding and support now.
The dark secrets are beginning to come out and aren't eating away at my insides like a cancer or a deadly flesh eating infection. Those secrets were slowly killing me from the inside out.
Now I'm tentatively beginning to realise I am a VALID human being and I do have a future. I cannot wipe out the past. The slate cannot be wiped clean. I can never get my childhood and innocence back and will always have a past that is frankly so horrific that I wish I could forget but cannot.
There is the possibility of a future now. That's the most amazing thing to realise I have a future and it is worth doing the hard painful work of healing in order to gain that future.