Iden Manor, the women’s only treatment centre that I spent seven or so months in, required residents to have a dressing gown.
As I only had the proverbial black rubbish bag filled with a few possessions, most of the clothing not fitting anyway as I had rapidly bloated post detox, I was given one.
I wasn’t presented with a second hand garment either, but a new and relatively expensive one.
I was instantly suspicious, people don’t give unconditionally.
I quickly ruled sexual desire out of the equation as Sister Rosemary, the gift giver, was not only a nun, but an old and seemingly asexual one.
At that time I couldn’t believe that anyone could give me something beautiful, or do anything loving, kind or nurturing for me without motive.
I also couldn’t treat myself as something, let alone someone, of value.
Eating good and healthy food, pleasurable baths…none of these things were enjoyable experiences for myself or for my fellow patients.
As we were removed from our abusers and no longer in situations where we could consistently hurt ourselves through drug and alcohol use, we tried to find ways to make our new environment more like home.
We would cut, burn and starve ourselves. We lost the sense of fitting into our bodies and would find ourselves banging into things, having constant physical accidents.
Now this rehab catered specifically for women such as myself.
Most treatment facilities at that time used a confrontational approach; tough love.
However that wouldn’t have worked for me or others of my ilk, we were used to tough; what threw us was nurturing and affirming love.
Iden Manor was for women, and only broken, abused and bottom of the barrel women.
The home later started rehabilitating eastern European women rescued from the sex slave trade, which gives an idea of the issues they worked with, although I was by no means in this league of tragic damage.
Erin Prizzey who set up the first refuges for battered women said in, Scream Quietly, the Neighbours will Hear, that an abusive environment can create an ease in relating to violence that is akin to addiction (similar in some way to Eric Berne’s negative ‘strokes’) and once removed from that, the victim will search out situations and people who recreate that feeling of comfort and familiarity.
After I left Iden Manor, a further four months in a secondary facility, then a year in a dry house, I still found that I was learning what was comfortable for me was not necessarily ‘good’ for me.
Prior to cleaning up, I had a series of brief abusive relationships, and several destructive but not violent longer term ones (especially with drugs, alcohol and food) and violence became more frequent in my life as I grew older and more ground down.
I remember talking with a friend in N.A about how weird it was that we both had been raped so many times, what was the probability in that?
I’d never, NEVER say that anyone ‘asked for it’ but in my case I seemed to gravitate towards destruction and as I grew more frightened, my fear sent out signals that abusers (be it physical or otherwise) would pick up on.
Over time I either confronted and changed these patterns or learned through many, many experiences that some things I seem unable to change and must accept.
I can’t mix with bullies. I will initially fight my ground but gradually erode.
I cannot explore BDSM role plays or aggressive sex games, no matter how much they may excite or stimulate me. I get lost and fall into a role of passive victim which spills beyond the bedroom and into my life in a terribly destructive way.
Sometimes knowing and learning about yourself can be a drag!
I no longer duck or flinch when someone moves rapidly, and can even see a violent film on occasion (although seeing Monster was incredibly upsetting, and I still refuse to watch Nil by Mouth or Boys Don’t Cry) but I avoid mixing with macho or aggressive people, and have never been able to have relationships with someone who is physically much larger than myself.
Yeah, I feel sometimes that I have become a dreaded ‘straight’, but you know, I actually like and value myself now.