No Longer the Silhouette


by Elizabeth Shane, a CSA survivor, poet & guest blogger

I was the one in the shadows, blending in with the wallpaper hoping no one would notice me. The silhouette quietly hiding, too scared to open my mouth and when I did speak, it would be anxious chatter of a child, covering up the fear with humour, a deflection of the truth.

I remember the first time being told I had experienced trauma. I completed an in-depth assessment of my early life experiences as part of an adoption application and our social worker at the time, interpreted my life based on my paperwork and interviews. I recall reading the words, ‘Elizabeth has suffered from trauma’. Have I? Why wasn’t I aware of this? I felt I could recite my life in a monotone voice and not feel anything. Did I sleepwalk through my childhood abuse?

At the time, I couldn’t connect the dots to my emotional and mental state growing up into adulthood. I never realized the impact of being sexually abused and emotionally abandoned and how it would affect my mental health. I took all the anger I was too scared to show as a child, from all the controlling, bullying behaviour against me and acted the same way, but to the extreme. I had no idea I was suffering with complex PTSD. I obsessed about everything and became convinced my life was a catastrophe, that I was being punished for being a ‘bad person’. From the age of eight, I had a constant desire to overdose and self-harm, I assumed my anger and rage was part of my personality. I didn’t believe I was lovable and would push away anyone that dared to get close to me, whilst at the same time, crying out for someone to accept me for who I was. For so long I wondered what it is like not to wear the heavy anchor of shame around my neck as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I spent much of my adulthood trying to reconcile what happened to me with various professional counsellors and psychiatrists telling me it wasn’t my fault.

I wanted to believe them; I really did. I read the self-help books, I also kept telling myself it wasn’t my fault. But did this ring true? No. Instead I carried around a secret burden that I couldn’t eradicate no matter how hard I tried. It followed me wherever I went. As a parent, as a wife and a person living in a world where I felt silenced and misunderstood without ever knowing why.

It was in 2016 when my previous counsellor suggested I take up a creative hobby as an outlet which I agreed to somewhat reluctantly. So, I joined a choir, leading to singing lessons, taking up drama and writing to improve my lack of confidence. This creative haven has been a life saver in some many ways and a positive impact on my mental health. With the support of my drama teacher, I was encouraged to discover my life through the power of writing and this gave me a safe space to explore my emotions. The day after one of my abusers passed away was when I wrote my first poem. Writing was my creative tool to express all these bottled-up feelings, anger and pain that I had struggled to articulate out loud.

Poetry has been one of my therapeutic mechanisms of helping me find my voice again and a way of dealing with the emotional scars of trauma. My poems share a part of my journey with some of the difficult feelings around my sexual abuse, the shame, low self-esteem, abandonment issues, struggles with complex PTSD, disassociation and fear. But I also write about my strength and empowerment of taking back my voice. I had never considered sharing my story, the thought of speaking out was terrifying. After reaching my lowest point last year I had the opportunity to go on a short family holiday to the coast. I have never felt such a connection to the sea as I did at that point. I gave all my emotional pain to the power of the ocean. What came back was clarity. Not only was I meant to survive the storm but walk through it with my head held high, with acceptance and recognition of my own inner strength. What also became clear was the overwhelming desire to open up about my journey and experience to give hope and strength to other survivors, which led to me writing my first poetry book, Silhouette of a Songbird.

I grew up thinking I was a sinner for loving my abusers. That I deserved what happened to me for not fighting back or saying no. It has taken me over 40 years to finally acknowledge that what happened to me as a child, was never my fault. That I no longer need to keep quiet. Singing, drama and writing my poetry book about my journey, has given me a voice from an entity of silence. I will never allow anyone to push me back into a corner, forgotten. My story is mine to share with others to give them strength to know there is light on the other side. Everyone deserves a voice and a right to be heard. I am not only meant to survive but thrive and speak my truth so others can take hope and comfort they are not walking through the storm alone. Today, I am no longer the silhouette, but the songbird.

Silhouette of a Songbird is available to buy through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

 


SEARCHING

Where are you, are you there?

Did your soul get snatched before it had a chance to start over

All new and wiped clean, or has it shattered into a million pieces like my heart?

Sharpened edges cutting into the sky

No place yet to go but gathering in readiness to light up the night.

Where are you, are you there?

Are you an echo in the shadows that grips my hand dragging me through the same story as I fight my way out of the storm?

I look for solace in the clouds as they gather me up in a warm, gentle breeze to guide me forward along the way.

Where are you, are you there?

Can I hear you in the trees, whispering and conspiring to hold me hostage as I stand underneath an umbrella of fading leaves?

Soon winter will come and strip your cover

No longer so powerful or dominating, now naked and bare for the world to see

My body pushes with all its might to set myself free from the entangled branches

I continue forward on my journey.

Where are you, are you there?

Are you the mist of the ocean hiding in my salty tears, or have you fallen amongst grace against the wrath of perilous cold waves, as they sweep you further away from me?

My feet plant firmly in the sand as I stand bravely in my true form at the water’s edge, looking out onto the gateway of freedom

One day I will join the ocean to meet the waves and say hello when they have forgiven the storm

Until then I leave behind my tired, heavy stones

They no longer need to be carried

As I walk away, a residue of footprints stay imprinted in time as it waits there for my return

This poem is reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Shane. It first appeared in Silhouette of a Songbird


GROWTH

When did it start, how did I know

The time when I felt I had started to grow?

My voice was so quiet, as soft as can be,

Weighed down from the trauma carried in me.

But a sound from the waves saying hello,

Here is the place for me to let go.

At first I stood back unsure of my fears,

Whether the clouds could fit all my tears

To wash away a lifetime of pain

And watch as it dances away in the rain.

Instead of the rage that tears me apart,

There’s now room for peace to fill up my heart.

The ocean has opened the door to my mind,

To wash through the sadness and leave it behind.

The scars of my war might always be there,

But my bravery shines and will help me repair.

I am a warrior for all I’ve survived

My fight from within has kept me alive

I stand in the light not willing to hide

I no longer need battle the demons inside.

Open and ready to be the best that I can,

To truly accept the woman I am.

This poem is reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Shane. It first appeared in Silhouette of a Songbird