The park bench is leaning a little bit but it does look sturdy enough to sit on. One of those rustic age-old wooden creations that can be found at almost any park in Britain.
The wind is picking up and I can see the clouds moving across the sky at a slow pace. We’re both wearing thick winter coats and as we sit down on the bench I struggle with figuring out what to say. How do you ask someone about the most painful experiences that they have ever endured in their life times without hurting them with your questions?
As I had mentioned earlier on last week, I had asked a very good Survivor friend of mine for an interview for my blog. I am not sure what I was trying to accomplish, other than to get someone else’s story on these pages to give space for their pain and for their survival.
My friend agreed to meet met on one semi-sunny afternoon, yet in the beginning admitted that she had been scared of what I would ask;
“I think it’s the fear of the unknown..I got really worked up about the interview and thought maybe I won’t be able to answer the questions but just sit here and cry.”
Obviously I can’t use her real name, so when I asked my friend what pseudonym she’d like to use for the story she said she wasn’t sure. Later on during the interview she then came up with Andraste, an ancient Roman Warrior Goddess;
“I really try to be that, a powerful and strong person.”
What follows is written in in her perspective as much as possible using direct quotes – I wanted this to be about her, and not about me and my journalistic story-telling ways of writing up interviews.
Andraste starts by telling me she was abused by two different people from early childhood to her teenage years;
“I can’t tell how old I was when it started, but I remember how big I was, so I guess it could have been anything between the ages of 4 and 7. I know I was little. The first incident took place outside my home, it was more like a humiliation incident more than anything, and when I told my parents about it, they made it to be my fault, and I never ever told them anything about what was going on after that.
After the first incident, the abuse moved into the house, and continued until we moved to a new place. Then the other person, a family friend, took an interest and started abusing me when I was 13. ”
“I try not to feel this way, but it’s like…I already was abused by two people, and I used to wonder what it was about me that made people think they could do this to me. I also dated someone in my teens, and to cut a long story short, one time at his house, if I hadn’t run away, two of his friends would have attacked me. It’s like…What draws people to treat me like this?”
A jogger with her dog runs past. The yellow labrador sniffs around and Andraste freezes. “Are you afraid of dogs?” I ask. She says she is frightened by them, as well as a multitude of other things, as it turns out;
“I am afraid of dogs, cats, spiders…But I don’t mind lizards. It makes no sense…I am also afraid of crowds, someone attacking me. Yea, I have a fear of getting attacked and of dying. At the same time, I have tried to commit suicide, so it really all makes no sense.”
Where does the fear of being attacked come from?
“I think it’s basically like, if you get abused in your own home, you don’t feel safe. Anyone could attack you. This has left me feeling like it since then, I often don’t feel safe.”
So how has the abuse affected you, apart from leaving you with a lot of fear?
“I don’t know the difference between me, and who is me because of the abuse. Like, when I was younger I used to read a lot – it was kind of like my way out of it. Now, would I like reading if it wasn’t conditioned into me because of the abuse?
Also, when I was 8 I decided to never wear a dress or a skirt again. I only wore trousers because I was disgusted with being a girl, I didn’t want to be feminine. When I was 13 or 14 I needed stitches in my knee and the doctor told me I’d have to air it out to let it heal, and I refused to even then wear a skirt, and eventually my mom had to get me a pair of long shorts for school!
Saying that, I have decided to change and search for myself in the recent years. Like, I bought my first skirts and started wearing them a few years back, just to see if I’d like it, if this was me. If it wasn’t then cool. I am really trying to figure myself out now.
I feel like a several people. I am a completely different person in different situations, and I’d like to become a whole person, be comfortable in my skin, and connect with the girl I was before I was 13. Right now, I don’t feel like I ever was her, we’re totally disconnected.”
What do you want to be then?
“I am lost most of the time. I want to not be lost. I want to live, to be…me. I have hated me, and have wanted to not be here, but I now really want to live and figure myself out. Who is Andraste? That’s what I wanna find out.
Like, I don’t hate anyone. Theoretically I should hate, but I don’t. If you hate, you only allow them to have power over you, and I don’t want that, I want to focus on me and deal with myself.”
It is very obvious to me that sitting next to me is a woman with courage, perseverance, strength and a fighting force inside of her that have pushed her forward even in the toughest of situations; she is studying and working, enjoys a healthy social life and is really thinking this thing called life out. I wonder what she would list as her positive traits?
“I’m a good listener. I am fiercely loyal. I know this might sound funny (she starts giggling), but I’m a really good cook! Cooking is like my playtime, you know how children like to get their hands dirty when fingerpainting? Well, that’s what cooking is like for me, I am only truly happy when I’m in the kitchen, dancing to music and baking cakes!
I think I got the cooking thing for my auntie, she taught me how to bake. She has a daughter who also got abused by the same family friend who abused me, but my cousin told her mom who believed her…I have so much respect for my aunt, it’s like, wow, there actually are mothers who take care of their children and believe them.”
So why didn’t you tell anyone?
“Like I said, after the first incident, which involved humiliation, I told my parents. They were on the aggressors side and somehow flipped it like it was my fault. I learned to not trust, and I think for years I have felt isolated because of that. It’s like…the people who you are meant to rely on don’t believe you, so who would?
I forgot about the abuse for years. It wasn’t until I was on a holiday with a group of people when I experienced my first flashback, and even then I didn’t tell anyone. It was really hard, that day, the shittiest day of my life. I felt so alone and isolated.”
When did you tell someone?
“I told my really close friend a while ago, and I have to say that the support I was given was just…life changing. I think supporters of survivors will never have a clue of what the positive impact they have on the survivor; just having my experiences validated was a lot. I also told my best friend, and I think it has been amazing to have her know because she was in my life when the abuse happened, and for her to not have changed her opinions about me is amazing.
I am very thankful for these two people and how they have helped me, like I said, I don’t think a supporter will ever know how incredible valuable it is to have them believe me, and validate my experiences.”
We could go on for forever – the evening is approaching and the coldness has taken over my fingers. We sit in silence watching the world go by and I feel incredibly honored that Andraste has shared a slice of her life – not only with me, but with the whole world.
I wish I could write a book about her (I tell her this, and she smiles), as I feel her journey is worth more than just these words on a blog post. She deserves her path, pain and beautiful future to be shared, honored, and celebrated, and I can only hope that even the little scribbling I am able to post on these pages will allow her to know that she is not alone in this, for the world is listening.