International Women’s Day 2023 – #EmbraceEquity

Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme is #EmbraceEquity. Kari, one of Healthwatch Essex’s Trauma Ambassadors, wrote the blog below about her lived experience of abuse, how lockdown became her lifeline, and what she is now doing to help others going through the same.

I always knew my life wouldn’t be simple. The reason I knew this was because, from a very young age, I suffered abuse.

I had to grow up overnight, I had to deal with and overcome some major obstacles. I learned to navigate my life predominantly on my own; through trauma, devastation, and sadness.

I was often scared, isolated, and alone. Life was tough and I never truly understood what had happened to me.  I kept it all to myself. A secret. I lead my life in survival mode, struggling to keep myself safe from people, from situations, from places.

I had learned to lose my voice. I had learned the need to always keep the peace, no matter what situation or potential danger I might face.

I became introverted. Not good enough. Lost. Lonely.

I always had friends, but I had never felt I could be myself. I would be in the background. I would never put my hand up in class. I would be full of anxiety if I had to speak in front of a group. I would never speak about how I was feeling. I felt nobody would care. I believed no one would believe me if I spoke up, as that was what I was told.

My teenage years were pretty much the same. I bluffed my way through life. People pleasing. Putting others before myself. Avoiding uncomfortable situations. Allowing others to take the limelight. To overpower me. To push me around. I neglected myself.

Having no help with what I had endured, I became dependent on others. Silently wanting someone to save me. Save me from my life, save me from others. I totally gave my power away, making me feel even less important, less loved.

This was reinforcing my constant feelings of unworthiness.

I would paint a face on every day until I convinced myself I was ok. Kari is always smiling, always takes everything in her stride, they would say… little did they know what was actually behind those smiles.

I made huge mistakes; I invited the wrong people into my life. I had awful relationships. Attracting controlling and abusive men.

Still, I carried on repeating the cycle.

People pleasing reared its ugly head, time and time again.

The abuse escalated more and more each time.  “Was this all I was worth?” I used to ask myself… “Really?? Is this the life I was meant to have??”  I was lost, dissociated, and disconnected from myself and others. To the point where I had no clue as to who I even was anymore.

Abusive relationships just seemed to follow me. I thought I could heal myself. I thought I would just push through and get to the other side like some miracle was going to appear out of nowhere. Surely it can’t happen again, can it?

But I was worn down. I was exhausted. The constant process of living in survival mode was getting to me and taking its toll. I lost everything, I felt I was nothing. I had hit rock bottom.

I did my best to find the correct services for support. Although I did seek help, which assisted in getting through life on a day-to-day basis, I still struggled significantly and to retell my story whilst still in the midst of it was just re-traumatising me.

I realised I could only go one way or the other. I could decide not to continue with life, or I could decide to make a change.

I decided on the latter.

In 2020 Lockdown hit and quite honestly, it became my lifeline. I no longer had to hide what I was feeling. I didn’t have to make excuses about not seeing anyone because that option was taken away from me.

I didn’t have to put a brave face on things for the sake of other people.

I could just feel. Feel anger, feel upset, feel lazy, and no one was there to push their expectations on me. I didn’t have to pretend anymore and sweep away how I was doing that day.

This freed me significantly, I felt a release, I felt relief, I felt more at ease.

After two years of lockdown, finally, I was in a place I could do things MY way.

When lockdown lifted, I received counselling, which is where I fully opened up about my childhood. The abuse was NOT my fault, it happened to me, not because of me. Finally, I was being listened to. Recognition for what I had dealt with, and I was provided with tools to bring me focus and lift shame.

I educated myself… I learned about abuse. I used my time effectively to not only understand the effects of abuse on survivors, but also the tactics of people who perpetrate.

I joined groups, I gave myself outside interests, I invested in myself, and I GREW, each day that passed. I became stronger.

This empowered me to have the courage to remove myself from others who influenced me in a negative way. Those who did not give me peace. Those who would rather keep me within that cycle than see me truly flourish.

I FINALLY started putting my needs first. I stopped feeling guilt and shame over the past. Bit, by bit I regained my POWER.

I joined Healthwatch Essex, as a Trauma Ambassador, which I adore, and I am so proud of what we continue to achieve. Our Trauma card being one of our greatest. It gave me purpose and helped me realise, as a survivor, I am not alone. It also showed me that I could belong.

I trained online day and night. I got myself accredited as a Trauma Informed Narcissistic Abuse Specialist, a Meditation Facilitator and now coach women who have gone through similar hardships as I have. Providing the tools, they need to survive and thrive after Domestic Abuse and toxic relationships.

I also set up a Facebook group, holding a safe space for almost 200 women who have gone through similar which continues to grow. Something I would never have believed four years ago, I would have the confidence to produce, when I could barely face the day ahead.

I am rising, I now know who I am.

Most importantly for me, I HAVE A PURPOSE, I HAVE A VOICE and I am no longer scared to use it. I am using my life experiences and making it my mission, to empower others to do the same.

There truly CAN be LIFE AFTER ABUSE. It is not the end… it is just the beginning.