Some words on trauma and using defence mechanisms to keep people away

*Trigger warning - violence, animal abuse and a brief mention of attempted sexual assault*

This isn't the blog post I started to write. Take this as you will - a woe is me if you're cynical, or someone sharing a hard time in their life in case it resonates with someone else who has lived through trauma and built walls to keep it in.
I wrote the paragraph that follows, then realised I'd forgotten the toughest 4 years of my life.
SAD is awful for my sleep cycle. It makes me completely nocturnal. I often can't sleep till 7am or later,  no matter what time I go to bed. The time I spend in bed just thinking sometimes strays onto why I'm the way I am. A few nights ago I was thinking of something that came up when I was doing CBT for anxiety and depression a few years ago. I can't remember how we got onto the subject, but it was something to do with my teens and how I grew up with a hard knock life and had to be a bit of a tough cookie to get through it.
That one paragraph is all that remains of the post I was writing. After I wrote the words "I can't remember how we got onto the subject" I was wracking my brain to recall what it was that had so troubled me in my teens. Then I remembered how my therapist and I got onto the subject. What surprised me was that I'd temporarily forgotten about this time of my life, and then I realised I've compartmentalised my trauma to survive. I was telling my therapist about when my mum moved her boyfriend into our home when I was 14 and my brother was 13. Her boyfriend turned out to be an evil drunken psychopath, and I don't use that last word lightly. I don't know if I've shared this before, because I rarely dredge this time out of memory, and even when I do share deeply personal matters I have a habit of being ashamed of it and reverting personal posts to draft.

It's hard to speak rationally about this time in my life because as it unfurls from my memory so many horrors spring at me. Let's start at the beginning. My mum moved this man in when I was away for the weekend visiting my dad. My brother and I both knew she'd done it then to have no resistance from me while he moved in. Things changed fast. My brother and I were banned by him from spending any time in the living room of our own house, so effectively we were banned from spending time with our mum, and she went along with it, possibly because she thought it was a short term thing. In case you missed it, I was 14 and my brother 13 at this point. This lasted until he finally moved out 5 years later (I was there for 4 years of it as I moved out a year before my brother did). The only thing that bastard 'allowed' my mum to do for us was our laundry. We had to cook and fend for ourselves otherwise.

While that bastard was in our house he committed two violent assaults on the family dog. This makes me feel sick to recall. He broke one of her back legs by kicking her or stamping on her, and he smashed her over the head with a shovel, cutting her down to the bone. He had plans to sexually assault me one day but I got out of there before he could. He'd called me up to the bedroom, asked me to sit on the bed and started stroking my legs. I had a massive knife on me in case things escalated, which I didn't use. I think I was 15 at this point. He waged a campaign of absolute terror. He'd wake my brother up with a Stanley knife to the throat in the middle of the night telling him he was going to kill him. He'd sneak into my room at night to unplug my alarm clock so I'd be late for work. He'd shout vile abuse at us as soon as he heard us come in from school or work. Imagine being told you're a f*cking c*nt every day from 13 and 14 years of age. He stole food from us - as soon as I went to work aged 16 I had to buy all my own food, which he would then help himself to. I ended up hiding food in my bedroom and eating convenience food so I didn't have to go into the kitchen and risk bumping into him. I know teenagers are renowned for being in their bedrooms all the time but it was that or leave the house, but for years. My brother and I were at home as infrequently as possible. I was giving my mum almost half my wages each month to pay for his enormous booze habit, so it was a hard time in so many ways.

Baths during that time were show-the-water-to-my-body and jump out again as I was terrified he'd burst in when I was in there. I was terrified of being alone in the house with him, and I often was. No one wanted to be there with him, not even my mum after a time. I developed serious mental health problems while he was there and would obsessively check under my bed and in my wardrobe (and the same in my brother's room if he wasn't in) to make sure that bastard wasn't hiding in my room. If my then-boyfriend was with me I'd get him to do it for me. If my brother wasn't in the house I'd lie in bed too frightened to move, too frightened to make a sound, almost too frightened to breathe, too frightened to sleep. It was hell. I did my GCSEs through this time, and so did my brother. Thankfully by this stage my mum's friend had stepped in and I stayed at her place at least a few nights a week so I could at least sleep soundly before I went to school.

I have no idea why social services didn't get involved, because my brother and I basically had no mother for the years he was there. No one really spoke of what was going on. As soon as my dad found out (when I was 18) I moved in with him. I eventually spilled it all out. How do you begin to tell someone you've been banned from your own living room for 4 years? But I did. My dad slept on a mattress on the living room floor for a year so I could have his bedroom and be safe. When I was 19 my brother and I got the chance to move in with my dad and work with him, so we left our home town behind.

So it turns out I compartmentalise trauma to cope. No shit! When I sat out to write this post I'd completely forgotten what it was I was telling my therapist I had to be tough about! Can you believe that?! 4 years of my life living under the same roof as that wanker in fear every moment and I forgot about it! I do the same with my ectopic pregnancies, especially the last one. I don't think I'd ever get out of bed if I was reminded often of the things that have happened to me. Even when I do think about these things or talk about them, it's in a detached way, almost like they happened to someone else, like I'm reading it off a page. Oh yeah, I nearly died - like I'm talking about a character in a book. Trauma doesn't feel real. It's a mercy, the brain does it so we can cope.

Anyway, back to the story, and the reason I started to write this post initially. When I was telling my therapist about this time he said that our brains create defense mechanisms to enable us to deal with things, and remembering this the other night made me think about my prickly nature. He said that we hold onto these defence mechanisms years - even decades - past the time that we need to use them. Our brains know they keep us safe, so we use them long after the danger has passed. And remembering that conversation with my therapist it made me think about the way I am, in MANY ways. About how I take a long time to trust people and try to put people off me - keep people away - by being abrasive. Those closest to me are there because they've been persistent, and got past my outer bitch to the soft bit underneath. It also make me think about the way I came out of the gate as a blogger virtually straightaway as a grumpy cow. I've fallen out with half the plus size brands out there for one reason or another. I've fallen out with half the bloggers out there, or they with me, lol. And on reflection, one sleepless night, I realised why.

It's easier to push people away than it is to have them close, because when people are close there's a danger they could hurt me. On an unconscious level I repel people to protect myself, at every level. I'm the human equivalent of an ink-spraying squid. I may as well run around yelling "DANGER, DON'T COME CLOSE!" Maybe it's time to start letting people in.

Footnote. I've long since forgiven my mum. She was a lonely single mother ensnared by an initially charming man, and I know she didn't have a whale of a time either. I got through it, my brother got through it, my mum got through it. It happened. I know she has massive regrets about this time, but I have to remember she was only 33 when she met him. Hell, I'm 42 and I still don't have my shit together! We don't talk about it among ourselves, my mum, my brother and I. Compartments, to keep the raw parts hidden, so you can get on with life without falling to pieces. My mum knows I would piss on that bastard's grave if I knew where it is, but other than that we don't talk about it. My mum probably wouldn't be happy if she knew I was writing this, but it was almost 1/10th of my life AND a formative stage of my life, and honestly, although I may have shared aspects of this in the past this is the most comprehensive thing I've written about this time and I feel lighter for sharing it. I hope if my mum were to see this, she'd understand my reasons for doing so. ❤ This is the first time I've cried about this for a bloody long time, but it needed to happen. Compartments save your sanity, but open them up once in a while to let some air in, okay? Don't let it fester.

Thanks for reading.
Leah xoxo

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