This is an opportunity to write about your experience of coping - how you remember it, how you're still doing it, how it's affected your life. Write with as much detail as you can, always from the perspective of honouring what you did.
It is quite staggering to accept that I have been 'coping' all this time. I have never felt like it was coping. It was just my life. A weird life full of patterns that I didn't seem to be able to break. I suppose, until you acknowledge that something wrong happened, you can't really acknowledge that you did something to deal with what was happening.
I have convinced myself that I lived a troubled life as a teenager because I was the problem. I didn't know how to be normal.
The list in this chapter pretty much covers all coping mechanisms. I'll talk about the ones that I used and just mention the others briefly.
"Minimising means pretending whatever happened wasn't really that bad."
I didn't realise I was minimising till Tanisha brought it to my attention. I suppose I should be thankful that I talk to her about this stuff openly and being the person she is, she jumps to my defense; even if it means making me face some hard facts.
I think minimising what happened helped me keep the more intense memories of the abuse at bay. If I pretended that he only touched my waist or thighs, then I would be able to block out the vision of his penis covered in semen, dangling centimetres from my mouth.
If I told people it wasn't too bad, they would stop thinking of me as dirty and maybe still talk to me.
Also, my eternal problem of feeling selfish gets some help as well. If I pretend that things weren't so bad, I would be taking the attention away from myself and hence being less selfish.
"Rationalising is the means by which children explain away the abuse."
For a long time, I told myself that he himself was young when he had sex with me. Even as I sit here and write this now, I am scared that that is going to turn out to be the solution to my problems. That he was young and his teenage hormones were acting up and he couldn't help it. So he can't be blamed. Hence, it was OK. And I don't have a problem. That I should be ashamed of myself for making this what it is.
I even found myself making excuses for my mother not doing anything about it. Why blame her? After all, this is her sister's son. She can't break off ties with her own sister, surely? Not in favour of her daughter.
I suppose rationalising it at the time is what kept me from losing my mind completely. The pain of what amit bhaiya was doing and what my mother was not doing would probably have been too much for me to take.
The logic of rationalising made things seem better than they were. It gave me an immense ability to explain away people's shortcomings. Maybe that's why, on the whole, I am a non-judgemental person.
"Denying is turning your head the other way and pretending that whatever is happening isn't or what has happened didn't."
I have never been in denial. The day I realised something wasn't right or that it could have drastic results, I told my parents.
Again, the day Tanisha suggested that it was rape, it felt like she was telling the truth. It was scary, but I didn't pretend to myself that it wasn't as bad as that. I knew there was nothing anyone could do but I did have a very real sense that what was happening should not be happening.
"Forgetting is one of the most common and effective ways children deal with sexual abuse. The human mind has tremendous powers of repression. Many children are able to forget the abuse, even as it is happening to them."
I keep coming across the term 'children' and continue to be amazed. I've never felt like a child and yet I was. I was an 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 year old child.
In this section, a survivor talks about how she doesn't remember the abuse so much but if you asked her to describe the room they were in, she could do it in full detail. I can relate to that. I can tell you what bedsheet was on the diwan. I can paint you a picture of the bathrooms he took me to. I can even remember exactly how cold the bathroom floor felt. But there is very little I can actually remember about the abuse. I know it happened a minimum of once a week. I know the feeling of premonition I got when it was about to happen. I know when he went upstairs to lie down, how much longer I had to leave it before following him upstairs and pretend to lie down next to him.
a. Lack of integration
"One of the by-products of forgetting is a feeling of being divided into more than one person. There is the little girl having the good childhood, but underneath there is the child who's prone to nightmares and sees people hiding in the corner of the room...
... on the inside you feel evil and bad and know that something is very wrong, but on the outside you present a different view to the world."
Although I was always aware that what was going on was wrong, there was also the need to make sure no one got the slightest inkling it was happening. I have blamed my parents for not doing anything and yet I always pretended everything was fine. How can I blame them if I never let them know that it was still happening? Everyone in my family knows me as a quiet, contented soul, who doesn't want anything from anyone and is always ready to help. No one knows that what I really do when I'm on my own is pig out in front of the television, lost in a world of my own.
I can quite easily flit between the two personalities. Good example is me sitting at home feeling miserable, unshowered and still in my pyjamas, and then my neighbours says she's coming with her daughter to play with Veer, and within minutes I am the image of hospitality, genuinely happy to see her.
Or, as it has been evidenced in this blog so far, my dislike for my mother is pretty strong and yet I have proof that I have written letters to tell her how much I miss her and how much I want her to come and spend some time with me.
b. Leaving your body
"Children who are abused or battered often numb their bodies so they will not feel what is being done to them. Others actually leave their bodies and watch the abuse as if from a great distance."
I've already discussed this at length before now. I do leave my body.
Not with the abuse, but with my mother's beatings I have often left my body as it was happening and seen the rulers break on my arms or back. I don't remember the pain from those beatings.
I don't feel the need to control. Never have. In fact, I have always left decisions up to other people; my parents, boyfriends, friends. I adapt. It's my speciality.
"Survivors sometimes maintain control by creating chaos."
This seems more fitting to what my life has been like. I am attracted to situations that need solving. I've always been controversial. I'm the one two friends turned to when they got pregnant and needed abortions. I found a doctor and sorted it out. Sorted a traffic jam out with Tanisha. My mother-in-law once said that when I'm cooking, it looks like there is such a lot of mess all over the worktops but nothing seems to be ready and then suddenly, this amazing meal appears on the table.
I never clean up. I remember where my things are in a mess but don't know where to look when Darren tidies up.
I work best in a crisis. I can be the ocean of calm. The midwife delivering my son said I went into my zen mode in the middle of giving birth. I thrive on chaos. It helps in life, this ability to remain calm in stressful situations, but it also means that I don't allow myself to feel things as they should be felt.
I feel uncomfortable if there is no drama.
Spacing out (my favourite!)
"Survivors have an uncanny capacity to space out and not be present."
Exercised this ability to space out regularly. In class, at home, at parties. Sometimes I can even space out when I am not doing anything anyway. I have no thoughts. I am not there.
My mother always said, you're not fooling me, you're fooling yourself. I can laugh at jokes without hearing a word of what's been said. Regularly space out during conversations. Even while writing. Only come back when I lose the thread of what I'm writing or struggle to spell simple words. Amazing.
Got through my entire junior college like that. No wonder I barely passed. I even space out when I know that it's really important I stay present.
Being super alert
"As a child, tuning into every nuance of your environment may have saved you from being abused.You may always be aware of where you are in a room...
... You may always be hyper-aware of the people around you, anticipating their needs and moods."
You had to be aware of every sound of every footstep and the creak of every door. One, so that no one would walk in and find you in the state that you were; and two, so that when he arrived at the door, you could make sure you were in a place which would prolong the journey from there to under him.
With my mom, I knew exactly when she was going to get up from across the table for a cup of tea or a toilet break. Or to throw something at me. I knew when she went to lie down whether she was awake or asleep by the subtle change in her snoring. Even now, I can tell the exact moment that Darren falls asleep. Have been able to do it since the first night we spent together.
I am always conscious of what people need and can sense how they're feeling. I adapt my behaviour accordingly. 90% of the time, I'm right.
There was a test someone once taught me. Just some 20-questions nonsense to find out what find of personality someone had. I did it with a guy I had only just met. And as we were going through the questions, he was only humouring me, that was clear from the beginning; but at question 6 or 7, he properly got bored of it and his mind wandered. I stopped mid-sentence and said, 'I know you're not really listening so I'll stop.'
He seemed genuinely shocked at how I could tell because he was doing a pretty good job of pretending to be interested.
I have had a lot of practice of saying the right things to the right people. Avoiding certain words of topics in front of certain people. It's helped. I adapt easily.
"A tough sense of humour, a bitter wit or sense of cynicism can get you through hard times. As long as you keep people laughing, you maintain a certain protective distance."
This is a recent coping mechanism, obviously inherited from Darren. I have become just as cynical as him but making a joke out of an unpleasant situation helps more than getting down and miserable about it.
But it also makes me feel like I'm losing my sense of self. Adapting to Darren by being like him and losing myself in the process.
"Staying busy can be a way to avoid being in the present moment, to avoid feelings."
I've never used being busy as a coping mechanism.
"As a child or an adolescent you may have made attempts to run away. If you were passive, there was escape through books, sleep and television. Many adult survivors still read obsessively."
Yep, I have done both. I have run away twice. Once when I was 18/19 and once when I wanted to marry Darren. Although I didn't consciously do it to draw attention to myself at the time, I did wonder what would happen when my parents realised I wasn't coming home that night. It was quite a thrill to walk out knowing I wasn't coming home for at least one night and they would only find out when I didn't.
I have also spent nights finishing a novel or a painting. I used to get a feverish need to finish it once I'd started. I still can't start a painting and do it little by little. I have to finish it. At one point, I got addicted to Sudoku. I had to do a few puzzles before I slept. I'd have sex with Darren, then turn around, switch on the light and do Sudoku. During sex, I would be looking forward to Sudoku. At least, it distracted me from the flashbacks.
"If you couldn't afford to believe the abuse was really happening, you could make believe something else was going on."
Yep, did that one. I was always fantasising that I met a wonderful man who would make me very happy. He would be the most wonderful man ever and my parents would finally realise that I wasn't an idiot; I had a brain and knew a good thing when I saw it. They would feel very sorry, I would forgive them and then we'd all respect and love each other for the rest of our lives.
I found my man but the rest of it never happened. He is the man from my fantasies but my parents haven't exactly had a change of heart.
I've made up a boyfriend and lost him painfully so that I could cry real tears from grief. There seemed to be some satisfaction in venting about a feeling of loss.
When the pain gets too great
"Problems occur when the line between fantasy and reality blurs. For many survivors ;going crazy' makes a lot of sense."
I can't say that I have ever really gone so far into my own mind that I believe my fantasies were real. In fact, I was painfully aware that they could never be real and that always brought me back to earth with great force. I stopped believing that anything good could happen to me or that I could make something good happen for anyone else.
But, Darren has helped a lot on that front, as well as his parents. They are a big part of the good that has happened to me. My friends care for me a lot and I feel lucky to have them be a part of my life. I must respond in a satisfactory way, otherwise what would make them stick around? I pride myself on being able to make those I value care enough to stay. I have a constant fear of them possibly walking away some day but I must be doing something right so far.
Except for the one instance I've mentioned before, I have only ever been scared of the physical pain of hurting myself.
Again, only the one unsuccessful one. Never felt like killing myself again but often wished I wouldn't wake up in the morning.
Addiction and Isolation
"... (addictions) are usually self-defeating and self-destructive. You can be addicted to dangerous situations, to crises or sex."
They also mention material addictions, but apart from cigarettes, I have never felt the need for those.
I got addicted to talking to faceless people. Internet chatrooms became my scoring ground. There was a sense of liberation in talking to people who had no idea who I was. I could be anyone I wanted. I could pick an age, a gender, a profession and no one would be any the wiser. When sex came into it, I became an expert. It was a wonderful second life where everyone I spoke to loved me.
It got quite problematic though, because dial-up internet connections had just been introduced. You got only 100hrs per month and I used those up pretty quickly. My dad got angry. So I used family and friends' passwords to log in and used up their allowances. Then when I couldn't do that any more, I started missing college to go to internet cafes. It was an addiction.
Swapping from computer science to English Lit gave me a new level of existence. I felt like I had been pulled out of a ditch, up into the fresh air. I met real people who actually cared about me. The ME that I really was. It was quite refreshing and my need to interact with faceless strangers disappeared in the blink of an eye. Never done it again since. I found Darren over the internet, yes. But that was a fixed-term dip into online dating. Did it for a purpose and pulled out within seconds of achieving what I'd set out to do.
As for isolation, anyone who knows me can vouch that if you want a break from the noise, you can come to me. I have always kept myself away from company. I am most comfortable left on my own. If there is no one around me, there is no scope for them to hurt me or me to hurt them. It makes matters really really simple.
"...compulsive over-eating is another way of coping. Survivors may feel that being large will keep them from having to deal with sexual advances."
I did have a problem with food. My mother used to say that I could eat till someone asked me to stop and then I would stop.
Thinking about it now, there were a couple of reasons why that may have happened. The 'spacing out' aspect of coping had a lot to do with it. I would be eating and not realise I was eating. I would never know if I was full. I was never aware of what my body was saying because I had taught myself to ignore the messages I was getting from it. I didn't live in my body. That's why I used to wet my bed till I was 13. I wet myself during the day till I was 9 or 10.
The eating problem started getting resolved when I finished school and went to college. I was too embarrassed to be the fat girl and so I joined a gym and got a dietician. I don't think I'd expected to enjoy the exercise as much as I did. And I lost weight really quickly. That helped to make me aware of my body. That helped me limit my intake of food because I finally felt full. People started appreciating what I looked like.
"When children are told never to talk about the abuse or don't want people to know what's really going on at home, they become adept at lying."
It becomes a behaviour over time. If lying helped the asshole get away with what he did, it could help me with what I wanted.
I lied at home about school, I lied in school about homework. Sometimes, there would be no need to lie and I would still lie because I became incapable of telling the truth. I was scared of telling the truth even when I would most certainly be beaten if I told a lie. There was always the feeling that 'they're not going to believe me if I tell the truth anyway, so might as well lie.'
It was liberating when I decided to be honest with Darren. I don't know why, but from the very first time I spoke to him, I decided I wasn't going to like to him or fabricate anything. It was what it was. If he didn't like it, well, he could choose what he wanted to do.
To anyone else it might seem odd that I had to actually decide not to lie. Why would you lie in the first place? Lying had become a form of escape from reality for me. It had been my alternative reality. I had to make a complete break from that if I wanted things to be normal and healthy with Darren.
"Stealing is a totally absorbing activity. It enables you to forget everything for a brief moment, even the abuse. It is a way to create a distraction, to re-create the feelings you had when you were first abused - guilt, terror, the rush of adrenaline. Stealing is also a way of defying authority, an attempt to take back what was stolen, to even the score."
Apart from using family and friends' internet connections on the sly, I stole cigarettes from my dad's cupboard and chocolates from my mom's. They thought it was the help.
Of course, my dad would never admit that he has cigarettes in his cupboard - I came across them by accident - so he would never admit they were being stolen. But my mother made a big hue and cry about the chocolates. Every time I took one, I'd think 'there are so many, she wouldn't miss one.' Until there were only two left and I would still take one. She indicated very loudly that the maids might be going through her things but never accused anyone because if the girls left, she wouldn't be able to find anyone else. It was hilarious.
Never stolen anything from a shop or a hotel. In fact, I am fastidious about paying the asking price for anything I buy.
Gambling is an indulgence and we have already established that I have a problem with indulgence. I did go on to a Bingo site recently and spend £30. Made £20 and then lost another £10. That's when I realised it was a slippery slope and pulled out immediately. Haven't gone back since.
I have gambled in life occasionally. Put my resources into things that didn't have a guarantee of success and then realised that I've wasted my investment.
Haha! Never been a problem. I only become a workaholic when it's crunch time.
Safety at any price
"Whilst some survivors have felt compelled to go out and overcome every obstacle, others have chosen security. They are the obedient daughters, honour students, good wives and selfless mothers. They take few risks, sacrificing opportunities for protection."
I have mixed opinions about this one. I have opted for the safe option with Darren. He has a stable career, he is sensible and has a good head for money. He is morally sound and very easy to please. But I had to take a risk to be with him. I had to risk being disowned by my family and also the possibility of not being able to go back to India ever again.
I had a safe option with computer science. I could've got a good job and had a fantastic career. But I followed my dream and studied English Literature and then creative writing. Not exactly lucrative.
There are many levels of avoiding intimacy. I have consistently been in relationships since I was 16. And yet, I have always maintained a certain distance, emotionally. I may have appeared to be completely and utterly smitten, even heartbroken when things ended, but I always knew that I didn't feel as bad as I showed I felt. I had to tell myself to be sad because normal people feel sad in such a situation.
I do feel like I can cut people out of my life quite easily. I've done it. I don't feel bad about it.
But, I feel like a change has started. A few years ago, the list of people I would never want to lose would have been blank. But now there are a few names on it. I am feeling more and as a result feeling more vulnerable too. Exactly why I preferred to avoid intimacy in the first place. I don't like feeling vulnerable.
Give me that old-time religion
Never been religious. Spiritual, yes, but never fanatically spiritual, in order to distract myself from the pain, either.
Compulsively seeking or avoiding sex
I have been quite promiscuous. Relationships were only about sex. Non-relationships were only about sex. If sex wasn't involved, I felt uncomfortable. I always had flashbacks and always dissociated but the expectation of sex felt familiar. Those who didn't expect sex confused me to begin with and then made me feel dirty for wanting it with them.
YOU CAN CHANGE
That's put a sort of dread in me. The idea of change is not inspiring just yet. The thought of breaking out of behaviours I am so well acquainted with is very daunting. But I also know that the liberation I will feel when I come out at the other end will be worth it. Doing it in little ways, like being honest with Darren, made a tremendous difference. One step at a time I guess.