Abuse
Jenna Brown

Jenna Brown

Childhood sexual abuse & PTSD

Therapy became a huge part of my life and this kicked off at the time I moved home to Taranaki 7 years ago. I met a lovely therapist named Viv, she was an English lady, I guess somewhere in her early 50’s and she really opened up an entirely new way of thinking for me which I will be forever grateful for.

I remember one of the first things I said to her in one of our very early sessions was that once my ex-partner took a gun to a male mutual friend’s house, accused him of sleeping with me, shot the gun on the property of his suburban Auckland home, yelling and causing such a commotion that the neighbours called the police and he left the scene (for clarity’s sake he was my ex-boyfriend at the time this incident took place).

Immediately following the incident my friends (from the house this was happening in) called and explained to me what had happened and that he had a gun, had just sped off from their property so I should leave my house in case he was on his way to me next. I spent the rest of the evening in protective custody with the police until he was caught and that wasn’t until the very early hours of the following morning.

What was profound about this story was not how horrific that situation was, but the comment I made to Viv when explaining it was “but I wasn’t scared of him” as I looked her dead in the eye with a straight face. She replied, “how unusual not to be scared, that sounds like a very scary situation and I would have been terrified, rattled and in fear for a very long time”.

That comment played on my mind for weeks. I think that was the exact moment my shell started to crack and I felt like I could release some of this built-up tension from all the past traumas I had been holding on to. Having someone empathise with my situation, and explain how it may have made them feel in similar circumstances somehow gave me a license to cut the bullshit and get real about my feelings and what had happened, it was VERY scary, of course it was who was I kidding?

I guess this mindset came from growing up around a lot of people who had the “just get over it” mentality. Don’t be weak, don’t be a pussy, be staunch etc… It had obviously seeded itself so far into my head that my natural response was to pretend that I hadn’t been affected by this huge traumatic event. It was swept under the carpet by everyone around us at the time, including the justice system, family, friends and also by me.

Viv allowed me to feel the feelings and be free to feel the fear, that was liberating and was the start of a very long journey of self-discovery. I realised at this point that the people closest in my life, people offering their advice, insights and opinions on what had been happening to me were extremely unhealthy and I backed away from them accordingly. Best decision I ever made.

Over time more and more emerged as I bared my soul to a woman who had shown me more compassion and balanced views than I think I had ever had before. No agenda, no invested opinions, nothing to gain other than helping me muddle through this shit pit of bottled up emotion. Although at times it was extremely painful it was also extremely refreshing and somehow empowering. I started to feel the betrayal, anger and disgust in all of the events that had happened to me up until now.

As things were unearthed Viv sent me off for a consultation with a psychiatrist and after the long 3-hour meeting I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following childhood sexual abuse. For some reason, this feeling was amazing, a relief, a confirmation that this was a real and normal thing I was experiencing and it had a name, a medical name, and I wasn’t the only person ever to have experienced it. I could now read, research, talk with others and develop strategies to help cope with these overwhelming and dark feelings I had on a daily basis. I wrote more about coping with PTSD in an earlier blog which you can read here.

Being groomed by a family member as a young girl and into my early teens was something that I didn’t see coming. At the time, I thought I was getting loving attention, I didn’t once suspect how sinister and manipulative this behaviour was.

I thought I was in control. I thought all of the attention was a good thing. Until it wasn’t. I actually didn’t realise at the time exactly how wrong it was. It wasn’t until I was an adult, much later on when my daughter was maturing, that I really saw what had happened to me and the magnitude of how wrong it really was.

I certainly didn’t instigate this behaviour and I now know that it wasn’t my fault like I had believed all those years that it had been. For about 13 years I kept this secret entirely to myself, never having told anyone. One night, a very close and trusted friend of mine confided to me that she had been sexually assaulted when she was a child, by her father. I was so alarmed and furious about this, angry that someone could treat her this way, no less her own father that it really shook my whole world. I took that information away and pondered on it long and hard.

The next time I saw her, I told her that I also had a secret. Something had happened to me too, not by my father but by a male in the family. She was the first person I had ever told and to say I was scared is the understatement of a lifetime. I had a huge hangup that no one would believe me and if by some miracle they did believe me that it would be turned around on me and I would be blamed somehow.

Turns out I drew the winning ticket on this experience because from the minute that secret left my lips I was greeted with nothing but kindness, compassion and love. There was a deep understanding and connection that I don’t think I have ever felt again, a relief, a knowing that only someone who has been through a similar situation can understand.

If I have one wish it would be that any abuse survivor gets to share their story for the first time with someone equally as comforting. We discussed at length what had happened, when, and the details. Over a few weeks, I opened up to her about it more and more until ultimately it consumed me. I started to feel angry. I started to realise that this was sexual abuse and that it was not OK. I decided to open up about my story and tell my family what had happened all those years ago.

This is when I met with my GP who gave me a list of therapists to contact and how I came to meet Viv.

My therapy sessions were weekly for the first year, then fortnightly and finally, toward the end of the second year, they reduced to monthly. I felt quite comfortable that I was on the right track and had set some healthy habits for myself and could take it from here.

I had a lot of changes in my thinking. A lot of things I had been taught by different people over the years, their beliefs and opinions, which did not align with me, thinking which I had previously gobbled up as the truth, had been well and truly thrown out the window. I had finally taken my power back and I felt a whole new sense of self. A calm sense of self.

Willing to learn, and willing to hear information and take from it what I needed. I had developed a higher understanding of empathy, compassion and the importance of my own boundaries. At this time, I felt well enough in myself to go to my last therapy session to say goodbye. It was beautiful and not sad at all. It was more like a celebration than a sad detaching which I had been dreading in the lead up to the end.

If anyone has the opportunity to speak with someone about their emotional wellbeing, like a therapist or counsellor, I highly recommend taking the first step and trying it out. The worst that can happen is that you learn something new about yourself and the best that can happen is that you open your mind and yourself up to learning everything you can about yourself, to do this, you have to set your ego aside and peel back the layers.

Fear held me back for the longest time. Fear of judgement and a fear of what might come out in therapy. I have since learned that there isn’t anything to be scared of. The truth is that there aren’t any surprises, this information, it’s all already inside you, sometimes stuffed way down low but it’s always been there.

All therapy does is help you to bubble it up to the surface so you can start dealing with it. Not to say this is an easy experience, it can be extremely confronting and some of our experiences are horrible to examine, but it does help you in the long run if you are supported and guided through the process by a professional with whom you form a trusting and secure relationship.

Learning to cope with your experiences in a more positive way can only help you grow as a human and enjoy your life more of the time. I am a firm believer that we can all do a little growing, each and every one of us, each and every day and why wouldn’t you want to?

There’s a whole world of joy out there to be had.

J


Disclaimer: The J Word NZ and its media content are created based on my own experiences and opinions, as well as those individuals who share their stories with me. I do not have any formal medical or mental health qualifications. If you are experiencing any issues with mental health, please consult your doctor or a medical health professional for advice.

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