February 10, 2003
So it's not my fault....? by Colm
I struggled for a very long time to get past my feelings of shame and guilt...so ofetn in vain. I just felt like it was my fault...the abuse, my responses to it, actually anything bad was pretty much my fault. I wrote this piece in 1998, three years after I had first disclosed my abuse. I had started to work with other people who had also been sexually abused and had realised that we all did this...that we all struggled with shame and self-blame...
SO IT'S NOT MY FAULT....?
I hear so much in my work with people who have been abused about the deep shame and guilt that they feel about their "role" in their abuse. On a personal level I spent 25 years beating myself up, blaming myself for the abuse I suffered. I always believed somewhere that I was responsible for what had happened to me...it was all my fault, no one else's. Once I started to talk about the abuse and seek help so many well-meaning people worked very hard to show me that I was wrong that I wasn't to blame. I can still remember the reaction inside me as I listened to them. I would nod, look grateful and say, " I know...it wasn't my fault".
I was so convincing everyone thought I was great! I never quite managed to convince myself though...deep inside I still believed I was wrong and bad and to blame. I tied myself up in knots...here I was getting help and I couldn't even do that right! I knew that they were right...at least in relation to everyone else in the world that had been abused and raped, not to me though. I was too scared and too afraid of confronting the depth of my self-blame to ever question this. I didn't want to offend the good (so much better than me) people who were trying to help me. I owed it to them to do it right...I agreed with them.
So, once again I abandoned myself; I disregarded how I felt. I left myself alone in that place of self-blame...cold and miserable and beyond redemption. One thing was certain, I had to hide it...it seemed so important to everyone that I realised I was not at fault. I had no right to deny them this. If I did then I would only prove myself right...I would be wrong and they wouldn't want to know me. I would offend and hurt them and I couldn't do that. I made myself acceptable to them...I gave them what I perceived they wanted from me. I was strong and I coped...I was good and did it "right".
The thing is this that reaction in me was not solely based on my misconceptions of what was expected of me. There was, and I believe still is, a tremendous amount of pressure on those of us who have been raped and abused to be well, to "heal", to become "survivors". To find happiness and be all OK! Well, sometimes it just isn't like that. Sometimes the reality is a long, long way away from OK! The reality can be so deep in shit that there doesn't seem too much else there. All there is, is the smell, the taste, and the memory of it. Yet all around people are saying its OK, you can heal. It's not your fault.... Sometimes there is so much encouragement that there is no room left for the shit, no place for the pain and hurt and blame. No sign of any desire to connect with the reality that I was stuck in. Everyone wanted to see me as OK, as strong and coping. As brave and beautiful, that was what I felt was expected of me. So that was what I gave them. After all I had learnt to give people what they asked of me, that was my role in life. That was what I learnt at five years of age lying on my belly with my face in a pillow being raped by a grown man...I knew how to give people what they wanted. So, once more I gave it to them...
Now, I know that they were right...I appreciate the truth that they tried to show me. I had to find it for myself though. It made no difference to me if they all said I was not to blame, it really didn't help me that much. It didn't change the fact that I believed I was guilty. The depth of their desire to get me to see my innocence ultimately meant that I couldn't allow myself to confront my feelings of guilt, there just wasn't the space for that. The pressure of their desire to see everything being all better didn't give me the freedom I needed to face me, my truth, my feelings and experiences. I knew, and still believe it to be the case, that they were not ready to face the feelings that I had buried deep inside me, that would have been too much.
The crunch truth here is that in order to help someone who has been raped and abused the helping has to allow the truth of that person to emerge. If there is self-blame there is self-blame. If there is self-harming, self-mutilation, despair and loathing then that's the reality of that person and it needs to be respected and explored. It needs to be held and understood. It's not crazy, wrong or bad. It is simply that person's unique desperate effort to deal with what happened to them and IT MATTERS. It must not be argued with or dismissed. This is that person, this is you and I as we try and try to come to terms with what was done to us. This is the only way we know how...it may be flawed, it may hurt us but it's all we had it is what got us through unimaginable pain and despair and IT MATTERS.
If we are to find our way through it must be our way. Each person's way is unique to them. We have much in common, so much in common. This can be a source of great comfort and support, it can inspire us to keep going, to know we are not alone can give us so much. It must not however demand that we do it in any one way; there can be no dogma. If we are to be free then it is through our truth that we will set ourselves free. Our truth...no one else's. If we can have this...if we are given the space to be really, truly us - guilt, blame, shame and all, then we can and will do it. We will be free.
Colm O'Gorman. 1998.
Posted by Colm at February 10, 2003 12:10 AM
I have a copy of this since you posted it before.
It really speaks to me, especially the second last paragraph where you talk about "the reality of the person". I can identify so much with all of it.
Thanks for sharing it again.
Colm - I read this again this evening, and you know what, it is just so amazing; it touches a part of me that has been buried for so long. I have discovered in reading it, for the first time yesterday, and again several times today, that it is the one sure way to make me cry. In therapy I have literally begged my therapist to make me cry - for months and months, without achieving it.
It's so powerful, I wonder what else you could do with it? Would you be willing to have it published in the Irish Times/other newspapers. The awareness it creates is immense; it would serve to inform those well-meaning people of just how deep the pain is, and how difficult to "cure".
There is so much in this. I find myself reading and reading it today and in some ways giving me light again in the darkness I feel at the moment.It says so much.
Thank you Colm
"Each person's way is unique to them." Colm, clarifying that issue over the past year and a half has been central to my recovery and to hear it here...well...enough said. Thank you.
I haven't posted on the board for a long time, put I read this piece you wrote - and! - of course I have to do a little posting to thank you for it.
I can identify with a lot of what you have said. I keep telling myself, get out of it, get over it, get on with it, but I can't. The one person who knows a little bit about it tells me to stop whipping myself, be positive. For the first time, I feel that someone is telling me, I'm not going mad.
Happy New Year,
In ways I've been fortunate to become re-acquainted with you at this stage in your life. What I perhaps missed was the time before we had met again, and your own battle. We've spent so much time staring at the ball in the goal mouth, that I guess we've both missed the oppurtuntity of discussing how the ball actually got there.
This piece was as moving as it was eye-opening as it was ultimatlely positive, and draws me towards you even more as a person, as well as a fellow traveller. Thank you very much!
I am absolutely amazed that after five hours of discussion between Ken Rielly, Marie Collins and Cardinal O Connell and other SELF INTERESTED parties that years of antagonistic argument about the rights and wrongs of Child Sexual Abuse can be resolved in such a short time.
The two things which appear to have come out of this meeting are that files which the Church held on victims are to be handed over to the Police. History has shown the Catholic Church is unable to deal with the perpetrators in a satisfactory way or the victims in a humane way.
This is the second time this promise has been made. The Cardinal promised to hand over all files last October.
After years of trying to get my own files from the Catholic Church and the State UNDER THE SO-CALLED FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 1977. I know the complete files will not be handed over and as for Marie and Ken going on a committee for child abuse with the Catholic Church, In my opinion the Catholic Church should have nothing to do with protection of children. Child protection should always be the domain of the Police.
May I suggest that the Irish Government send Ken and Marie to have talks with George Bush in Washington. After five hours they will be able to stop world war three and save the whole world they might even be offered a position on a committee.
Posted by Mary Mc Cartan at January 5, 2003
I totally agree that child protection should be the responsibility of the Gardai and the State...the catholic church has shown itself to be totally unwilling and uninterested in dealing witht he issue with any real sense of integrity. That is why One In Four has always sought responses and action from the State rather than the church. It is obvious to me that the reason why all of this abuse was able to happen in Ireland was ultimately becuase the State and wider Irish society failed to take the protection of children seriously and allowed the church to be supreme in these matters.
As we all know only to well for may years there was any suggestion of sexual molestation or abuse then parents would often go to the local parish priest rather than the gardai....enough said!
I do know that Ken and Marie went to that meeting as private individuals who still feel a sense of connection to the catholic church...the Dublin archdiocese is their diocese and they felt that they wanted to be part of any response...Marie has said that she is not someone who believes everything that has been said by the church but that she wants to see what can be achieved...that is her view and I believe she in entitled to it...even if personally I believe that the church has never shown any real desire to deal with this issue on an institutional level...
That is why when Connells resignation was being sought I said that I didn't believe that any single resignation served any purpose as it was the institutional church that was corrupt and not just that one individual...his resignation would have let the wider church off the hook...a sacrifice to save the institution and a deflection for the true picture of a church that institutionally is wholly responsible for its policy of protecting itself from scandal and challenge by allowing and covering up the rape and abuse of children...
As for the State...there is no doubt that they have failed us all in many ways and equally that our society...us all...carry some of that responsibility...but we have to try to be part of the response...we have to be in there challenging the response thus far and offering some kind of proposals for what we want to happen...we have to be part of the solution. One In Four is NOT the voice for victims or survivors...we do NOT claim to speak for all those who have been abused...we can only speak for ourselves and those that we support. We are eager to be as inclusive as possible and eager to have as many people be part of that work...it is also worth noting that One In Four is NOT a lobby or campaign group. We are a support and therapy agency that primarily seeks to provide individual support and responsed to individual experiences of abuse, where ever they have happened. We work with people who have been sexually abused in any setting by any person. Men and women abused as children by men and women..whether they were abused by clerics, peers, parents, friends, teachers, doctors, babysitters etc etc...
We do not have a scale of victimhood, each persons experience is unique to them and the imapct on them is equally individual. We believe that ther eis little to be served by denying the experience of any other person who was abused, by claiming that the experience of abuse was worse for one rather than another..each persons pain is their own and IT MATTERS!! My hope is that we can all work together to ensure that we achieve the vision statement laid out above...if we dont we will ALL have simply failed again...
Thanks for your comments....I wholeheartedly agree with many of them and hope to see you here again soon....
Many thanks and warmest wishes
thank you for your piece. I have never told anyone what happened to me. but when I read this, I can imagion every thing might be ok.
Fantastic piece on the importance of allowing your own voice to come out. You express true insight in how you are more than the sum of your parts while still embracing them all: you are the "good boy" and more, you are a victim and more, you are a survivor and more, and you are more, much more, than all of them put together.
It is so important to express your own true voice, the light and the dark, the warts and the beauty, and to be true to yourself and to others...
Well done, keep the flag flying, and don't forget to keep your sense of humour with you at all times - a crucial accessory!
I'm all at sea, want with every fibre of my being to find a way forward as I deal with my abuse. This struck a chord. Thank you.
And we are OK, even when there isn't a friend to hold us, and even when there is. That's all I want to add to this wonderful work. Thank you.