In 2004 ago, suffering from PTS after a car accident and having been raped twenty years earlier by a man who had suddenly re-entered her life as a vicar, Christina had a breakdown as the buried memories of her ordeal re-surfaced.
My journey began one weekend aged 23 shortly after the death of my father. Some friends invited me to a pheasant shooting party as a distraction to my grief. To my surprise I was put in the same hotel room as a male acquaintance. In a remote spot, surrounded by extremely drunk hooray Henrys, I was without transport and unable to leave. My hosts who was almost unconscious from smack and booze appeared unconcerned. I went to bed early, pulled the beds to the opposite sides of the room and feeling uneasy read a book and fell asleep. At around two o’clock and fast asleep I was raped. The perpetrator left before sunrise. At breakfast the next morning I told my hosts what had happened. The room was filled with their friends and relatives. Embarrassed, they immediately changed the subject. I was outnumbered. Physically unharmed but mental scars are more difficult to detect.
Two years later the perpetrator turned up on my wedding day, a school friend of my husband. Out of shame I had buried the episode and continued to do so, unable to confront it alone. We saw one another socially. I did not in any way communicate to my husband the strength of my deeply buried hurt. It was wrapped up, out of sight, underground. Safe or so it seemed. Forgiven and forgotten. They entered a business partnership. We became financially inextricably entwined.
Then the business partner found God through the Alpha Course and became ordained as a non-stipendiary minister of the Church. I even, to my shame, attended the ordination service. True forgiveness or so it seemed at the time. He was in our life at every corner. I tore up a novel I had written, documenting the episode. My behaviour then became erratic and inconsistent. I was often tearful for no apparent reason. I put it down to being hit by a car, not going to hospital and suffering mild post-traumatic stress. A visit to a private psychiatric ward did not help. I was accused of being delusional since the car accident had not been recorded on my health records. The reservoir of anger was filling fast. My protests at being raped by a minister who had intruded in our life were dismissed by the doctors in charge. Their answer was a syringe. When I woke up I was a terrified zombie.
When I came out three weeks later, by now in my mid forties, I confronted him and he immediately asked for forgiveness. Under duress I agreed. The matter was swiftly closed. However, his humility was only skin deep. His sense of righteousness appeared to increase after our encounter and I was branded an ‘unreliable fantasist’. My ability to forgive evaporated.
Imposed forgiveness can have destructive consequences.
My husband was caught in a trap of conflicting loyalties and our marriage collapsed in a quagmire of blame and recrimination. Mentally and emotionally broken down, I was sent to a well-known private mental hospital. Whilst there I was fed a cocktail of terrifying drugs, force-fed television and therapy came in the form of flower arranging classes. No self-help books, arm’s length twenty four hour watch, stripped of dignity and no one in charge who could spell the word empathy – the doctors least of all. Sick sadists at worst, well meaning incompetents at best. Initial anger turned into helpless, irrational rage. Scared of everything and anything, I had lost contact with reality and I was sectioned under the mental health act. I got out with an efficient lawyer on legal aid.
Just before this I had started to write a screenplay and my shaky voice began to be heard. Other women with mental trauma had suffered sexual abuse but the psychiatrists, trained in medication-orientated cures, did not make the connection. Self-harm was for some victims the only form of emotional release. Seeking oblivion, violent suicide for some appeared the only way out. I wrote for those who did not have a voice or a university education. Self-preservation motivated me, and a quest for tranquility and internal peace.
We were all suffering from buried rage or “inrage” as I have come to describe it (anger denied expression or ignored that implodes under stress). My healing was about allowing the “inrage” turn to outrage – and an uncomfortable journey it was. Learning how to express anger cleanly was not easy. Writing is a form of catharsis but being properly listened to, heard and vindicated by those you respect is without doubt the most effective cure.
Thankfully I received help from a supportive NHS psychiatric team, whose remit is to get patients better. After two years in a lonely wilderness of social stigma and separation uncertainty, my marriage is miraculously repaired.
Anger is a response after all, not a sin. Repress a current at your peril. It will come out sideways in the end. The journey to healing and true forgiveness is often through exploration. Turning it inside out, looking at it from all points of view.
Forgiveness for me is possible but only at a safe distance. I am not going to boil the kettle for another cup of tea, which I would have liked to have spilt down his front. There is nothing more precious than the happiness of my family and the love of my husband and children. Living with psychosis was hell for them all.