Sipping my golden turmeric latte sprinkled with cinnamon, my gaze wanders towards the wood-fire that is blazing cheerily in the fire -place in my neighbourhood café. I can feel the warming glow, flames licking the logs occasionally spitting out sparks with crackles of the lively flames. It brought warmth into my heart and a feeling of safety. It was awing my mind with inspiration and vibrant vivacity.
Then it took me back 28 years, when fire represented danger and recurrent nightmares to a six-year-old girl. It was my first job fresh out of school when I use to sit in with the social worker to learn how to help children affected by trauma. This girl shared that she couldn’t sleep at night because she had nightmares of the man who abused her coming toward her with burning flames on his hands. I will spare you with all the other details she shared that had both the social worker and myself in tears. The hands with flames stay vivid in my mind, carved forever, as something that is untamed and consumes things with force.
I wonder where she is and how she is doing? This little girl never had the healing modalities available for her to fully recover. Now I know that every time she sees fire she might be reminded of the abuse. Culture shapes the expression of trauma or traumatic stress. So she could have buried it so deep that it is inaccessible. Now I know that survivors of sexual abuse store anger in various parts of the body including the muscles of the genitals and rectum resulting in physical and mental health issues later in life. Having worked in this field I have sat with hundreds of people using various forms of addictions – work, shopping, food, shopping, drugs, toxic relationships, sex etc – to numb the feelings that arise from the abuse.
Recollections of various conversations with many women over the past year came flooding to mind: some experiencing recurrent infections, cysts and other reproductive ailments, some who have not been able to be intimate with their husbands because they kept seeing their abuser on top of them, some being triggered by smells, some being scared to sleep because the abuse happened at night time, some saying their bodies are constantly tense that that state has become their normal, some being disgusted by their sexual organs, and the list continues.
Waves of thought then brought me back to the café and my feeling of safety and the warmth of the fire. There is a duality to fire. I thought to myself what does fire symbolise? – Energy, power, passion, action, sexuality, creativity, authority, consumption etc. I am painter so I have painted fire in positive and negative ways, which I have included here.
The birth of the global #metoo in 2017 has given many survivors a voice. In 2006 Tarana Burke founded the Me Too Movement to raise awareness of the epidemic levels of sexual violence in the society.
A courageous survivor or maybe I should say thriver, Madeleine Black, shares her story of being violently raped by two young men when she was just thirteen years old and experienced three more rapes before she turned eighteen years of age. Her healing journey is what strikes the hearts of many suffering in silence, filling them with hope that they too can lead a fulfilling and happy life.
Madeleine shared her story in the Maldives, 100% Muslim country, at the International Women Empowerment Events(IWEE)’s launch conference in July 2019. Following her talk one of the participants stood up and shared that she was a victim and requested all the participants if they would stand brave with her if they had experienced sexual abuse, assault or rape. About 95% of the room stood up including myself and 3 other speakers.
This was a mini #metoo movement. I had goose bumps on my skin knowing that we have been able to provide a safe space for these women and that this could be their first step in their healing journey. As the trauma specialist Bassell Van Der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Traumastates, “…as soon as the story starts being told, …it changes – the act of telling changes the tale.” Madeleine in her numerous talks shares that when she wrote her book and started sharing her story on various forums the healing that she felt was exponential. Through forgiveness she was able to thrive. Her book and her talks releases people from the slavery of shame they have been mired in. She emphasises that not everyone needs to go on a stage to share their story. One must choose whom to share the story with – someone who will consciously listen without judgement, be present with you and acknowledge the pain and hurt that you have been carrying.
Global statistics of 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys grow up having experienced childhood sexual abuse with many having no access to healing, and worse being told to “just get over it.” This is an epidemic and a public health issue as much as a justice issue. IWEE’s focus is on internal challenges is to offer healing or start there healing process through conferences and other engagement forums. We know that women who have suffered sexual violence whether in childhood or as an adult, internal challenges impact how they respond to external challenges.
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