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Love Is All Around Us

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I’ve been thinking about this post for the past few weeks. Then, with Valentine’s Day falling this past week, I thought about it a bit more.

I’ve been thinking about love, and how we seem to compartmentalise it. There are people we ‘fall in love’ with; people we are ‘expected’ to love, as a matter of duty, people we are assumed to love, and even deities that are demanding of our love. The idea of ‘self-love’ is bandied about – and we are expected to know how to love ourselves before we can ‘truly’ love another. I dispute this, as it happens. I know that I loved my children long before I loved myself. In truth, I think my children were instrumental in teaching me how to love myself.  But I digress.

While there are people we are ‘expected’ and ‘allowed’ to love – love is treated as something that is in short supply: We’re not encouraged to be too flaithúlach (an Irish word meaning ‘overly generous’) with our love, and declarations thereof. As if, somehow, declaring love for someone not on our ‘permitted / expected’ list is somehow an aberration. Like you, I’ve also heard that old saw that you can’t love someone you don’t know, and it takes years to get to know someone well – and well enough to know that you love them.

Here’s the thing, though. I love a lot of people – and, in part, I’ve only realised that, or allowed myself to recognise my feeling for these people as ‘love’ in the past year or two. There is a very long list of people I love, and I have started (only recently, mind you!) to tell them.  I’m newly confident. That confidence is as a result of a number of things that have happened to, and because of, me in the past year or so.  I’ve started telling people I love, that I love them. I don’t expect them to respond in any way but to hear me and to believe me. When I tell you I love you, I’m doing so in all honesty and sincerity. I’m doing so even though I may not have known you for years. I’m doing so even though I may not know every facet of your personality. I’m doing so even though I may not know or love everything about you. In a way, it’s similar to the Sanskrit greeting ‘Namaste’ – which means, essentially, that ‘the Divine in me recognises the Divine in you’.  The essence of love in me recognises the essence of love in you and wishes to acknowledge it.

 

Life is short, and the things that really matter have been brought into focus for me quite sharply in the past week or two. I’ve read what Dr Alistair McAlpine learned from his terminally-ill, paediatric patients. I’ve witnessed the horror that is yet another mass shooting in the US, that left seventeen beautiful children dead. Closer to home, I’ve read Emma Hannigan’s touching and dignified farewell post on Facebook, with tears coursing down my face.

 

Life – even the longest of lives – is short. What matters is other people, and spending time with them. Spending time loving them. Eat the ice cream. Eat it with someone you love. And tell them that you love them.

 

The Lack of Provision for the Special Educational Needs of Children of Gifted Intelligence in the Republic of Ireland is a Breach of their Human Rights.

 

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I know, I know, it’s a mouthful.

It’s also the title of a paper I presented at the SLSA (Socio-Legal Studies Association) Conference in Lancaster in 2016. If you want to read it (with the added bonus of my slides attached!), you can do so here. 

Forgiveness (Part 2)

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Last month, I wrote the first part of this ‘series’ in Forgiveness. If you’re interested, you can read that entry here.

I wrote about what I think forgiveness isn’t. I ended the piece talking about peace – and how those of use who have been hurt (and are generally called upon to forgive) need, and deserve peace.

Here’s what I have learnt about forgiveness in recent months, though – bearing in mind that I have researched this from an academic point of view, as well as engaging with people who work in law enforcement, and others who are dedicated to reform, here and abroad.

My ‘aha’ moment around forgiveness, though, came when I was talking to a financial coach, Karen McAllister.  Funny how the answers you’re looking for don’t necessarily come from the source you might expect them to. Anyway, talking to Karen about forgiveness, I realised that my version of forgiveness was not about exonerating the transgressor, but about reclaiming the power that I was settling on them. 

Let me unpack that, and explain what I mean. At this juncture, I’m going to go backwards for a little bit, and look at the etymology of the word ‘forgive’. To forgive means to grant a pardon, and a pardon is to ‘pass over an offence without punishment’. ‘Pardon’ has its roots in two Latin words: ‘Per’ (which means ‘forward’ or ‘hence’) and ‘Donare’ (which means ‘give as a gift’).  To forgive, then, is ‘the granting of the gift of, henceforth, not punishing an offence’. Forgiving, then, in the traditional sense, the way I wrote about it last month, essentially gives the forgiven a free pass, while not doing an awful lot for the forgivee.  To me, that reinforces something else I mentioned last month; that the only person we need to forgive, in that sense, is ourselves.

To come back, now,  to the idea of forgiveness as a reclamation of power, I think that is the manifestation of forgiveness of the self.  The person who has damaged you, who has trespassed against you, is not given a free pass, but you reclaim the  power that they have stolen from you.

Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to use a real-life example. My eldest brother, Nigel Talbot, sexually abused me for most of my childhood. He is not remorseful, and though he has said ‘sorry’ in person, he has continued to abuse me in other ways, and he has also continued to abuse other women – sexually, emotionally, and financially.  My forgiveness took the form of a letter to him. Initially, I was going to send it to him, but – thinking about it – I realised that, to do so, would still be giving him power. I would still be expressing a desire for him to do something / to be something that he could choose not to be. What I need to do, for myself, is to call back that energy that he holds while I don’t forgive. The forgiveness is about me, not about him.

In any event, I know that if I did send a letter to him, his wife would keep it from him.

If you would like to read that letter, you can do so here.

This was the first of many such letters I’m writing, and with the penning of every one, I am feeling stronger, and more self-reclaimed. It’s definitely something I’d recommend, and if you do it, too, I’d love to know if it works for you.

 

 

                                                                                                           

 

 

 


 

 

Smear Campaign

Pearls of wisdom

CW: Child Sexual Abuse, Pregnancy Loss

 

This year, European Cervical Cancer Awareness Week falls from January 28th. As a result, the past few days have seen my Twitter feed full of reminders that smear tests save lives; that cervical cancer is an awful way to go; that it is preventable; that a few minutes’ of (unnecessary) embarrassment and (minimal) discomfort are worth it if they save your life; that you really don’t want to be one of the 70 women in Ireland who dies as a result of cervical cancer this year.

I chose to believe this piece of research that instructed me that there is a statistically significant number of false positive results. I decided to nod in agreement with pieces like this from The Guardian. Never mind that it’s nearly 15 years old. I liked what I read.  I also had a look at the academic journals and read the ones that would confirm my existing bias. As a full-time researcher in the social sciences, I know better; but I decided to suspend my natural and professional critical interrogative proclivities in order to tell myself I was making an informed decision. Hey! I wasn’t going to be publishing my findings, and I wasn’t going to be harming anyone (except, maybe, myself) if I was wrong.  I also had a quick look at this website and decided I didn’t tick enough boxes to be anything other than ‘low risk’.

 

So, for the 16th year running, I won’t be having a smear test. Head-in-the-sand? Definitely. I wouldn’t normally be so reckless about screening (I had my first mammogram at 27 – before I’d even had kids), but a smear test is a slightly different screening exam to most, and the reason for my aversion is – sorry to say – rooted in my experiences of child sexual abuse, and subsequent sexual assaults as an adult. I want to feel empowered as much as, and as often as, possible. Smear tests aren’t really empowering.

 

All of that said, however, I think there might be a solution. I am not the only woman in Ireland with a history of sexual assault. There are thousands of us in the ‘smear test age bracket’ who have been sexually abused, and I think it might be a good idea if we were facilitated with a bit of compassion / understanding.

 

I’m reminded, very much, of the last time a health professional went faffing around at my nether regions. It was four years ago last week, and I was losing a pregnancy. This had not been an easy pregnancy to achieve, and I’d used donor sperm for a variety of reasons (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post). Anyway.

 

Losing this baby* was devastating. Not least because I didn’t have a partner to hug me and tell me it would all be all right, but because accessing healthcare was difficult for me. I decided to do what I could to take ownership of my own care, and empower myself as best I could. The first thing I did was drive an hour out of Dublin (passing, literally, by two maternity hospitals on my way) to Mullingar. I’m a doula, and although I rarely practice any more, I am still in contact with many members of the birth community; and I hear things, and I know things. One of the things I had heard was that I could expect to find more compassion in Mullingar than in the Dublin hospitals (for a variety of reasons).

 

In Mullingar, I was treated with kindness and compassion by the young male doctor in A&E who drew blood and tried to be as reassuring as possible. I was invited (and I choose the word deliberately) to return for further blood tests and a scan at the Early Pregnancy Unit. I thought about it. I wasn’t keen, but I steeled myself and showed up. When I was registering that morning, I noticed that the nurse (Deborah) wore a name-tag which indicated that she was attached to the SATU (sexual assault treatment unit) in the hospital. Ten minutes after sitting down, waiting to be called, I decided to take my treatment in my own hands, ignored the voice that said I was ‘being dramatic’ and ‘attention seeking’ (my abusers used to toss this at me any time I got upset about how I was being treated) and I approached this nurse. I disclosed that I had a history of sexual abuse and explained that I found trans-vaginal ultrasounds immensely difficult.

 

The amount of compassion and understanding I bumped up against was instantly reassuring. Deborah asked what I needed, how she could help, offered me choices (I didn’t need to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound if I didn’t want one, and could opt for the ‘old-fashioned’ way of drinking litres of water and having an abdominal scan instead). She literally held my hand throughout the procedure and did her absolute best to make sure that I felt empowered, comfortable and heard at all times.

 

I can honestly say that hearing the dreaded words ‘I’m really sorry – there’s no heartbeat’ was made that bit easier by the way I had been treated with compassion and dignity every step of the way.

 

Now, I know that having a miscarriage and having a smear test are different – but in many ways, they’re not that different. So what I’m wondering is if might be possible to have some additional consideration for women who have a history of sexual assault? Is there any chance, for example, that we could have our smears done in one of the SATUs around the country? Or – given that I know how over-stretched the SATUs are – could we have HCPs undergo additional training to make them more aware of the issues  faced by abuse survivors? Is there any possibility that we might have trauma-informed care around smear testing? Honestly, if I were to re-consider my position, that is the one thing that would make me do so; and I don’t think I’m the only one.

 

This is one of those times when I’m going to say ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and encourage you – if you live in Ireland and own a cervix – to check here to see if you’re due a smear test. And if you are, to go and have one.

 

*Lookit, I know it wasn’t really a baby, but it was in my head, because I desperately wanted it to become one. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness (Part One)

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Forgiveness is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to – specifically with regard to sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Forgiveness seems to be something that is as good – if not better – for the forgiver as for the forgivee.

The way forgiveness is generally talked about, it appears as if forgiving confers on the forgiver a deed to a piece of land high up on the moral ground. Forgivers are seen as morally superior, somehow. ‘Good’ people forgive. ‘Bad’ people don’t. This puts the onus back on the transgressed to do the right thing; to fix the situation. We are urged to ‘let it go’ to ‘move on’, to ‘let bygones be bygones’ to ‘be the bigger person’.

But is it really better for the person of whom forgiveness is expected to actually give that forgiveness? Is forgiveness the same as saying that whatever happened doesn’t matter? Or it doesn’t matter any more?

We’re told that holding on to the anger just hurts the transgressed – it does nothing to the transgressor.  But are anger and a lack of forgiveness, and / or a refusal to forgive, the same thing?

I think the notion of forgiveness as the ‘right’ thing to do comes from religious traditions; specifically the Abrahamic religions. The idea of turning the other cheek (so that can be slapped, too), of giving your coat to someone who is suing you for your shirt is the ‘right’ thing to do; the ‘better’, the more noble thing to do. The morally superior thing to do.

I would contend that the only person you have to forgive is yourself. You don’t have to ‘forgive’ the person who hurt you, you don’t owe them anything. You do, however, owe yourself your best life. The only person you need to forgive in life is yourself. Really. You are the only person you ever have to forgive for anything. What could a person who survived child sexual abuse possibly have to forgive themselves for? We need to forgive ourselves for believing the lies we were told. We need to forgive ourselves for believing we were worth nothing. We need to forgive ourselves for hating ourselves; for turning the tyranny inwards. We need to forgive ourselves for being hard on ourselves, for expecting more of ourselves than it was possible to give or be. We need to forgive ourselves for the frustration that brings. We need to forgive ourselves for trying to love the people who were abusing us. We need to forgive ourselves for the denial of the damage that was done to us.

Other people, I feel need to ‘earn’ forgiveness. I think that can only happen when the transgressor is remorseful. There is a dyad involved here, and in order for the exercise to be effective, each must play their part. There’s also the fact that people who do not experience remorse will transgress again, simply because they do not believe that there is anything wrong with their behaviour.

What we’re looking for is peace – peace inside ourselves so that we can move forward and live our best lives, without the wrongs done to us tormenting us. Or continuing to torment us. We don’t need to forgive – in the accepted sense – in order to manifest that peace.

 

More about that in my next post.

More On ‘Due Process’

Due Process

I really dislike repeating myself, but it’s time to revisit this topic. I wrote about this in November – you can read that post here –  but felt compelled to return and write more after listening to this podcast from the BBC’s Woman’s Hour.  The women in conversation  with host Lauren Laverne – Salli Hughes, Zoe Strimpel, and Afua Hirsch –  discussed the #metoo campaign and there was mention made of how naming men on social media was not affording them ‘due process’. Again, there was a presumption that due process is fair and easily accessible. It’s not.

 

In addition to the points I mentioned previously, there is the very real fact that men still hold more power than women in every facet of life, including the law. Laws are written by men. The language used in laws, therefore, is ‘male’ and patriarchal and serves men better than it does women. The majority of victims are female. The majority of court officers – solicitors, barristers, and judges – are male. Even where women are Officers of the Court, they are working within a patriarchal system that rewards non-feminine behaviour. So, while more women may be in the legal professions, they are still marching to the beat of a patriarchal drum, with little leeway for their own feminist interpretation.

 

The fact that so few cases of sexual assault actually get to court means that very few solicitors and barristers actually have experience in these cases. Bear in mind, too, that no judge in Ireland has availed themselves of the training offered by the Rape Crisis Centre to educate them on how sexual assault and sexual abuse impact on victims.

 

If a person does decide to go the civil route, and sue their abuser, the cost is prohibitive, and the course is a lengthy and emotionally tortuous one. This prevents many from even contemplating seeking redress from the courts.  So the notion of ‘due process’ is a bit of an equality fairy-tale. At the same time, though, one of the legacies of abuse is that those of us who have been abused feel a responsibility to save others from the same pain, humiliation, and trauma. Sometimes, all we can do is warn other women. Our feeling of protection towards other vulnerable women far outweighs our concern that the men who hurt us might be annoyed by our speaking out.

 

I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of discussing ‘grades’ of sexual intimidation, harassment, and assault. That kind of discussion generally goes down the route of ‘X only did this, so he’s not as bad as Y.’ I think it misses the point and results in many women minimizing their own experiences because they ‘weren’t as bad as’ someone else’s. While, as far as the judiciary is concerned, there are levels of seriousness, for those of us who have been hurt, there need be no ‘grading’ of our experiences: We have all been hurt, we have all been humiliated, we have all been targeted for assault based on our sex (regardless of our gender).  We deserve to have that recognised, even if it’s just by ourselves. The first, and most important disclosure of sexual abuse is, after all, the disclosure a victim makes to themselves.

In-between Days

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There have been many thoughtful blog posts, and posts on social media recently for those of us who do not have family, and for whom Christmas is not a pleasant, or a happy time. For those of us for whom abuse was a part of our every day experiences of childhood, with no days off for Christmas – or even for whom Christmas made the abuse worse – Christmas is a time we’d rather avoid.

 

All that said, however, many of us who have fraught relationships with toxic or dangerous families, or for whom Christmas is tinged with grief, have wonderful friends. These wonderful, thoughtful, friends often remember us, and invite us to join with them on December 25th, and 26th. Then we find ourselves, on the 28th, or so, alone with our thoughts. If we’re lucky, we will have plans for New Year’s Eve. But there are the days between Xmas day and NYE that can be even more difficult than the days of ‘celebration’ themselves. The week that lots of other people humourously refer to as ‘the lost week’ where they don’t know what day it is, and there’s still mountains of festive food knocking about can be really difficult for those of us who haven’t felt we have much to celebrate.

It’s a week for concerted self-care. For this In-between Week, I have a list of things that you can pick and choose from to make yourself feel better.

 

  1. Get off social media for  24 hours (be sure to post in advance that you’re going to do this, so people don’t worry for your safety!). I love social media, but there’s a lot going on there at the moment that might make you feel more alone.
  2. Join a park run. You don’t have to actually, run, but it can be good for you to feel your body, and feel yourself in it. Park runs are fun, free, and you don’t need to register. Just turn up.
  3. Practice some self-appreciation. See yourself as a container for receiving good, and fill that container! By ‘appreciation’, I don’t mean ‘value’. Trying to value yourself often results in little more than either feeling squeamish, or like you’re trying to puff up your ego. Honest appreciation for what is present and true will boost your confidence in a powerful and authentic way. Honest appreciation is specific, both in what it is appreciating, and how it words that appreciation. Remember, appreciation is a gift you receive into your heart.
  4. Paint. Even if you don’t, do.
  5. Put some thought into buying a beautiful gift for someone – something you know they’d love, but would never get for themselves. If you don’t fancy braving the crowds in the sales, do the shopping online. In this exercise, though, that ‘someone’ is you.
  6. Plant something. Tend it, and look forward to it blooming. Give it what it needs, when it needs it. If you don’t  know how to grow things, read up, or ask a green-thumbed friend. Treat it the way you should have been treated.
  7. Every time your brain presents you with memories that you don’t need, thank them for showing up, but tell them it’s time to go.
  8. Make sandwiches, or buy biscuits and / or chocolate, and drop them into a soup run. There are several organised throughout the week and they are always grateful to receive donations.
  9. Download Borrowbox, and check out an audiobook. This app works even when the library is closed. There is something lovely about having a book read to you.
  10. Make a list of the films that are the celluloid version of comfort food to you. Watch them.
  11. Read some contemporary poetry, or get on YouTube and enjoy some spoken-word artists.
  12. Have a guilt-free duvet day.
  13. Print off some kids’ colouring pages from the Internet (unless you have a colouring book to hand) and colour them in. Don’t worry about the lines. Just enjoy yourself.
  14. Change the sheets on your bed.
  15. Go through your wardrobe, chuck out anything that doesn’t fit / you don’t like / you haven’t worn for at least three months. Remind yourself of what’s in there that you actually like, and that you know looks well on you.