Unbroken – Speaking the Unspeakable

On Friday June 14th I stood on the famous TEDx red dot and shared my story with an audience of 2000!  Here is a transcript for you of my talk :

Is there something holding you back? Something that nobody else knows, that you can’t speak about?  When I was thirteen, I knew my childhood was over

The Café

I had this friend at school who was so cool, everything that I wasn’t and when she suggested a night out, I jumped at the chance

Her mum was away and we both lied about where we were staying and somehow managed to buy a bottle of vodka which we took to a Mexican café in north London.If it sounds sophisticated, it wasn’t. It was pretty scuzzy. It was also the kind of place where a load of Americans hung out and when we arrived a few of them joined our table.

I was just a skinny 13-year-old who had never drunk before, and unsurprisingly the drink went straight to my head. Soon, I was chucking up everywhere and we were asked to leave.

We were put in a taxi by two of the young men from our table and taken back to the empty flat belonging to my friend’s mum.

The Flat

By the time we arrived I was literally legless, so the two of them bumped me up four flights of stairs, like a sack of potatoes

Immediately they split us up into separate bedrooms. I really thought that they were just going to clean me up, take me out of my clothes I’d been sick in, and let me sleep off the alcohol

The event

But it became clear, very quickly, that they  were there for something else.

Its very odd what takes place in your mind when your being raped by two men ///

I became aware of a party taking place outside in the communal gardens and I’m thinking to myself I wonder what they are having? Chicken or beef?  Burgers or kebabs?basically  refusing to connect with the “scene of the crime”, my body.

And when my attention came back into the room, I noticed that there was a wall paper border going around the top of the walls, which was made out of pink & grey bows and I counted those bows over, and over and over again.  There were forty-four in total, which is still a number I see everywhere

But the violence escalated, and the counting didnt help anymore. I literally left my body which was so surreal.

Because here I am on the floor tied by a wrist and an ankle to the pipes of the radiator and here, I also am, sitting on top of the wardrobe watching the scene down below 

Very near to the end the worst oneheld his knife against my throat saying, if you tell anyone, we will find you and we will kill youI believed him.

Then they put me back in the bed and left.

Immediately afterwards

In the morning I heard this jingly jangly sound -thinking it was the keys in the door, I thought to myself they are coming back to finish me off”, but the sound actually  came from the bracelets on my friends wrist. She was now  lying in the bednext to me.

She was still fully dressed; I was naked

She hadnt been touched; I had injuries on my body but no idea how I got them.

There were traces of blood, semen and excrement; I had cuts, bruises, bites; I had been burnt with cigarettes on my thighs and breasts and I had been stabbed ///

Everything was so hazy to me.  The only thing that was clear to me was that nothing would ever be the same again

I ran the hottest bath and scrubbed my body till it was red raw.

Once dressed,we decided to clean up the flat and not to talk about what had happened. Because I thought to myself, I had been drinking, we met boys and had lied about where we were staying. What did I expect?  I had brought it on myself, this was my fault

Return to routine

And then we went our separate ways. 

And the next day we went back to school as if nothing had happened. Except thats not quite true, because I know that what we dont speak about “leaks out of us” and it leaked out of me in so many ways.

I developed an eating disorder, I had so many fears, phobias and anxieties. I used alcohol and drugs to numb myself 

But worse of all was what it did to my mind.  Whilst I couldnt remember muchdetail from that night, I just remember feeling so worthless, dirty and contaminated

I didnt understand the point to being me or being alive and one night, I swallowed handfuls of  pills, hoping to end my life.

Clearly it didnt work!  But can you imagine how I felt when I woke up, not even knowing that Id had my stomach pumped out.  You cant even kill yourself, you cant even get that right, what a loser

I was transferred to a childrens psychiatric ward and spent a couple of months there.

The Note

But my behaviour didnt improve. I rebelled even more and partied hard becoming  promiscuous because I was too scared to say no ///

One morning  I snuck home late and my mum was waiting for me  with these words… Dont you realise the danger youre putting yourself in, anything could happen!

But I still couldnt find my voice.  So, I left a note on my pillow

And when I got back from school my parents asked me, is this true?” “Yes”I replied.  So, they called “my friend”, but she said …..No, shes wrong, they were nice boysthey just brought us home

Good things happen

Just before  my 17thbirthday – I went to Israel for a year and about 4 weeks before the end, I met this guy called Steven. He’s blonde, blue eyed and….  Glaswegian!  I mean why wouldn’t I fall for a Scot?!

He was the first man I felt safe with and I knew I could trust.  And with his love, I learnt that I was loveable and could give love back in return.

After a few years he popped the question and I said yes!  Initialy the idea of starting a family terrified me as I thought it would be like being raped, but my Best Revenge was having my three gorgeous girls and living my life as best as I could

Memories return and forgiveness

And I really thought that I was healed by motherhood

But Anna turns thirteen. OUT OF NOWHERE  the memories, flashbacks and nightmares come flooding back. I thought.”I’m going mad!”

So, I went back to therapy again-  and asked my therapist to make these pictures stop. For years I had been stuffing them down inside me like a jack in the box, but now the lid had opened, and I couldnt shut it in anymore. He kind of laughed and I soon realised, the way in was also going to be my way out.

Towards the end of my sessions my therapist suggested something outrageousto me- perhaps these two young men weren’tborn rapists.  I couldnt believe what I was hearing, I was so angry.  How dare he say that to me?

For  years I had fantasised about somebody kidnapping them, taking them to an empty flat, tying them up, beating them up, raping and torturing themfor four to five hours on end – like they had done to me.  Then they’d understand that the impact of rape doesnt last for one night- it lasts decades.

But a seed had been planted in my mind and I needed to understandhow could these young men know know to be so violent towards another human being?

I remembered something that my good friend who used to be a midwife said years ago- I never forgot it. She told me that she has delivered thousands of babies and she never once met an evil one

And, I also believe that we all come in to the world as a blankcanvas but we get conditioned by life. I wondered what those two men had seen, heard or even experienced themselves to make them behave that way with me.

So  somehow, I found myself feeling compassion towards them. If I held onto all that anger, it would have no impact on them-it would only hurt me and my family.

And then I took it a step further- I realised that I could choose to forgive them in order to make peace with my past 

I need to be very clear and say two things here.

One; I will never forgive the act of rape, because it was a total violation, not just on my body but my mind and psyche. Secondly, I am not saying that in order to heal you “need to forgive”. This was my path and how I chose to do it. 

Forgiveness was actually nothing to do with them, I didnt need them standing in front of me to say that they were sorry.  It was an act of self-love, totally self-empowering and my key to freedom that broke the chains connected to my past.

The intense crippling shame I felt for years never belonged to me it always belonged to them.

I recognised that I’m not my body or the things that were done to me, I’m so much more than one night.

And I understand now that it’s not what happens to us in life that is important, but what we do with it that really matters

Wrap up

If I have a choice in how “I respond” then  “we all” have a choice, too. 

I’d like to leave you with some questions to think about

Is there an event, hurt or disappointment that you still hold onto?

And if you do,  what purpose does it serve

And could you,  like me,learn to accept the facts for what they are, knowing that they cant be changed and……….let it go?

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