Thursday, 24 July 2014

Age of innocence

It was my son’s last day of primary school yesterday. Every day I hear phrases like “can’t believe he’s grown up so fast” or “where has the time gone?” I don’t identify.

It feels like a lifetime ago that my baby boy started school. A different world, another life. So much has happened and so much has changed since then. I think about my happy innocent boy, who trotted off for his first day in school with no idea of what he was going to go through over the next seven years or how much of a different place he would be in by the time he started high school.

I think of how naïve I was, the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' rings true. When my boy started school I was 9 years into an abusive marriage, yet blissfully ignorant to what my husband was doing or how the abuse was escalating. In my mind my husband had a few mental health problems and I was hopeful and excited about him overcoming them, I looked forward to the life he promised us. 

I was a full time manager, a career woman, my husband had gone back to University whilst I supported him on my earnings. Life was hard; he was away and I was on my own with our child. When he did come home he was bad tempered and angry; complaining bitterly about the course tutors who didn’t understand him and weren’t as clever as he was. But I was filled with hope. In my mind by the time my son left primary school he’d be top of his class, with a bunch of awesome lifelong friends and his parents would be happily married both with successful careers, his dad would be a role model who worked hard during the week and hung with him at weekends.

And now here I am 120 miles away from that school. My son has been to three different primary schools, been diagnosed with autism and found school tough. He has hidden in his bedroom while his dad beat me up, he’s run and hidden from his dad chasing him, he’s sat in fearful silence not knowing what to say to his dad’s endless criticisms. He’s endured humiliation, fear and physical pain from the man who was supposed to love and protect him. He’s watched his mum turn from a confident career woman to a broken mess who cries in the kitchen whilst cooking his tea. Far from having a role model my son has had to sit and explain to social workers why he’s scared to be alone with his dad.

My beautiful innocent little boy who happily raced his friends across the playground has seen and endured things no child should. I think back to how innocent and naïve we both were and a part of me wishes we still were. We’re both jaded now. He’s not yet eleven; he shouldn’t be jaded. I am so proud of how he has come through the things he has battled, how emotionally intelligent and strong he is, what a mature thoughtful approach he takes to his experiences, and how hard he tries to provide his brothers with the good male influence he never had. But I am sad, so deeply sad that he has had to.

When he starts high school in September his baby brothers start primary school. And I consider how different it is for them (and me this time). When my older boy started school I was naïve and filled with excitement and hope. Now I am cynical and tired but I still hope. In fact I have more reason to be hopeful now and my hope is grounded in reality, not in fantasy. Somehow though that makes me feel sad. I’m not sure why.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

It's not about me

My decree absolute arrived this week. I knew it was in the post and was expecting it and was already experiencing some mixed feelings around receiving it. When it finally arrived I felt an enormous sense of failure and loss and I spent that day reminding myself that it is not me who is a failure or a loser

I had a post penned to this effect, a pretty angry post about all the things my husband had lost and how in real terms all I had lost was a bunch of fruitless hopes and dreams. I ended it by pointing out that I’ve gained more than I have lost; and my husband is a loser.

But later, as I prayed, read my bible and listened to a beautiful song my friend posted on facebook I realised that it’s not about that. Life isn’t about winners and losers. My life, well it’s not about me, and it’s not about my ex-husband. It’s about Jesus. 

I listened to the lyrics “Your tears will dry, your heart will mend. Your scars will heal and you will dance again” and I thought about how, for me, healing has been a conscious effort. All my energies this last year have been focused on healing from the pain my husband caused me and I’ve put God at the centre of that because I know I can’t do it without him.

I’ve known my tears will dry, I’ve known my heart will mend and I’ve known my scars will heal and I’ll dance again. Why? Because I’ve known my God is faithful, that he loves me and as I’m his child he wants me to be whole and happy. For me life has been about feeling better and I’ve comforted myself in the embrace of a loving father who I know wants to fix me and wants me to feel better.

But that’s not all. You see it’s not just about me feeling better; in fact it’s not about me at all. It’s about Jesus. The song ends, not with “and you will dance again” but with “and of his kingdom there will be no end, for Christ our King is coming back again” Me feeling better, that’s not the end of the story, that’s not the end of the story because I’m not the protagonist. Christ is. This story it’s not actually mine. It’s his

So this week I’m not writing about my triumph over feeling like a loser by reminding myself that someone else lost more. Instead I am reminding myself that without Christ we’re all lost anyway, and that my part in this story isn’t that of the triumphant heroine who beats life’s adversities but is actually that of a lost child rescued by a wonderful faithful God. It is he who deserves the glory and adulation in this story, the triumph is his, not mine. And this is why I praise him whether I feel better or not, because however I am feeling that day he is God and that is enough.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Top Ten Tips for surviving the summer holidays (especially if your child has autism)

My eldest son has autism. He likes routine. School is brilliant for offering structure and routine and so when school suddenly stops in the summer my son struggles. He’s about to leave primary school now and so we’ve had quite a few summer holidays, some completely disastrous and others totally awesome. Between us I think my son and I have pretty much sussed how to get through the summer holidays without anyone being murdered. Although these top tips are things I have learned for supporting a child with autism I think they can be useful for any child, I have also found that in supporting my other children in their recovery from domestic violence a lot of the strategies that help my eldest child to feel secure have been really useful.

1.       Plan. You need to do this at whatever level of detail works for you and your child. One year I made a timetable that planned out morning and afternoons for every day of the summer holiday, of course that didn’t mean I was entertaining him constantly, but I planned out when he would read, play on his x box, watch movies. Although that sounds really dictatorial my son really liked having the timetable to look at and follow; he likes things like that. Now he is older he’s learning to use his own coping strategies and he also likes more autonomy so I can now just decide what activities we’re doing in a week and as long as I tell him roughly what’s happening and when he’s fine. Some level of planning in advance always relieves stress and helps stop boredom.

2.       Have a plan B and communicate it in advance. If you have an outdoor activity planned you will want an alternative for if you wake up that morning and the heavens have opened. There may be other scenarios you need a plan B for: For example if you’re doing something with a friend you might want a plan B for if that friend doesn’t turn up. My son hates unexpected changes, if I have told him we’re going to the beach he expects me to take him to the beach even if he wakes up and it’s snowing! So I have found that telling him “we’re going to the beach but if it’s bad weather we’re baking” then meltdowns are avoided if I cannot carry out my original plan.

3.       Don’t be afraid to use holiday clubs. I know some people with children with autism or adhd or similar worry about leaving them in clubs. My experience has been that most people who run kids clubs are incredibly understanding and happy to care for children with special needs. I always let them know in advance that my son has autism and I make sure I tell them how it affects him and how they can best care for him. I also make sure they have a reliable contact number. I think summer holiday clubs are brilliant; they don’t just give children a more varied experience and opportunity to work on social skills but they give them some of that much needed routine and structure and you some respite. Check out what your local council has to offer, ours is mostly sporty but they are starting to add in more arty activities and nature walks. Also local libraries and museums often put clubs on in the summer. These types of activities usually are fairly cheap. My son also goes on Mad Science camp every summer. It costs an arm and a leg but he loves it, and I feel it’s worth every penny for what he gets out of it.

4.       Go for days out. Have fun. You don’t get this precious time with your kids for that long. Before you know it you’ll be shopping for school uniform and setting the alarm clock for the school run again, and it won’t be too long before they don’t want to spend their holidays with their mum. Days out don’t have to be expensive zoos and theme parks (though if you can run to them they are a lot of fun, I save up BOGOF coupons through the year for the summer holidays) You can go for walks in the woods, for picnics in the park, building sandcastles on the beach, skimming stones in a river. Add in some beach combing or leaf collecting and then you’ve got an art activity for a day at home.

5.       Think about dinner in advance. If you have taken them out for a day chances are you won’t feel much up to cooking when you get home. If you can, cook some meals in advance and freeze them so you don’t have to worry about them eating rubbish all summer. You can get home from a day out and have a yummy meal that just needs warming through.

6.       Get the balance right. If you’ve got a big day out planned then plan a day at home watching movies or something quiet and relaxing for the following day. I found that too many exciting days out in a row only leads to tiredness, over stimulation and meltdowns- from both of us.

7.       Spend time with friends, but not every day. We had a summer where we planned loads and loads of days out with the same friend from school. By the end of the summer that friend was exhausted. I have found that my sons friends are really brilliant and understanding about his autism but at the end of the day they are children themselves and if you spend all your time with one friend their tolerance for your child’s ‘quirks’- especially in the summer when meltdowns may be more frequent might wear thin. I find it best to arrange days out with several different friends on different days. It’s fun to go out with other people, it’s nice for your child to have a friend with them and it’s also nice to have some adult company of another parent. But I do advise to spread yourself widely and thinly.

8.       You don’t have to constantly entertain them There will be times in the summer holiday when I throw open the back door, give my eldest his bike and send him off out, or when I leave my youngest in a room with a pile of toys. In fact there will be a lot of times like this.  It’s good for children to entertain themselves, they learn valuable skills from free play. The key with an autistic child may be that “playing on your own” is in a specific time slot.

9.       DVD’s and TV are NOT going to damage them. The laundry doesn’t just do itself because the kids aren’t in school. If you need to plonk your kids in front of the TV or in front of a movie to get stuff done this is okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re normal.

10.   Don’t sweat the small stuff  If you have a child who for one reason or another craves routine you know they’re going to find the summer holidays difficult and stressful. Children often deal with stress by misbehaving. Whilst it’s important to maintain boundaries you may also think about where you can cut them some slack, so their bedroom isn’t so tidy or they’re not being as helpful as they could be….it’s not THAT big a deal is it. Choose your battles wisely, focus on the behaviours that really matter to you and maybe be a bit more relaxed on the less important stuff. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Let It Go

Like most mothers with young children recently I’ve had three words going round and round in my head for the last few weeks

"Let it Go"

But it’s not because my kids are into Frozen, in fact weirdly enough they must be the only kids on the planet who aren’t and for that I am eternally grateful.

Of course I do hear that song everywhere I go, there’s simply no avoiding it, but it hasn’t just been that. I’ve seen these kind of memes on my facebook and twitter feeds, and from people you wouldn’t expect them from:

I have a lot of wise Godly people in my life and they’ve been saying to me recently “you’ve got to let things go Sally, you have to stop dwelling on it before you become bitter.” God really has used every means at his disposal to get this message across to me, when I’ve stubbornly refused to engage it’s been everywhere.

I also read that telling an abuse victim to move on and let it go is trite and ridiculous not only because they have formed a traumatic bond to their abuser but also because it’s a hurt you just can’t imagine unless you’ve been there. And I have found myself agreeing with this and asking God “I know I need to move on but how when it hurts so much?”

Last night I was off to bed, it was late and I thought to myself “I wish I’d found time to read my bible today but it’s late now and I’m tired” but then I just got this feeling that I should read it. I argued with myself a bit (please tell me I’m not the only one who has conversations with herself in her head? I feel a bit crazy admitting this) but in the end I couldn’t ignore the feeling not only that I needed to read my bible, but that I should read the passage I read yesterday (Isaiah 53) because I had missed something.

BBC Cross from Flickr via Wylio
© 2005 Ihar, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
And this is what I read:
 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53: 3&7)
I pondered how Jesus experienced pain, sorrow, grief, rejection, abuse. I thought for a while on how he has walked the road I walk. It’s because he’s suffered he’s able to walk this road of suffering with me, he’s the friend who really “gets it.” Yet I’ve known he’s with me on this road, I’ve known he understands my suffering, but I haven’t understood how that can take the pain away. I haven’t seen how having a loving saviour who understands perfectly what I am going through, really in any practical sense helps me to let go and move on.

And then I read this
“Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.” (Isaiah 53:4)
In the morning at 09:05 am from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 KarstenH68, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
And suddenly, like a lightbulb moment, that horribly religious phrase “leave it at the foot of the cross” made sense to me. I had always understood the concept of atonement; I’ve always grasped that on the cross Jesus took the burden of all my sins, all my wrongdoing. But it never dawned on me that in taking the burden of all sin he didn't just deal with my sin, he dealt with the sin done to me.  I understood that Jesus felt the shame of my sin, I had never thought about how he also takes the pain of sin. On the cross Jesus felt this pain I am feeling now, the pain caused by my husband’s sin; he felt this exact hurt and anguish. He didn’t just die so I wouldn’t have to; he hurt so I wouldn’t have to.

So can Jesus take this pain from me? Well he already has, I just need to surrender it. All the times I’ve prayed “God please please stop me hurting” I’d known God was able to because he is all powerful, but I imagined it being like some kind of cosmic magic; where he would just make the pain vanish, and that kind of didn’t work for me. It’s only now I realise how God heals us, he does it by putting that pain onto his precious son and letting him carry that burden for us.

What a friend we have in Jesus!
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit
Oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”
(Joseph M. Scriven)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

When I get it wrong

I want to write a post to say to other victims that it’s okay to get things wrong and it’s okay to not always feel positive.

I want to tell you you are not alone.

This blog is about my progress, it’s about healing, it’s about moving on.

But that journey isn’t a straight road. In fact it’s not even a long winding wiggly road.

It’s a road with big pitfalls you might trip over or even fall in. It’s a road with sticky patches of mud you get trapped in, feel you’ll never get out of and think you’re going to drown in. It’s a road with tangley brambles that snare you, scratch you and cause you pain. It’s a road that often goes dark and you get lost on, that loops back on itself making you feel you’re not moving towards your destination but are in fact going backwards. It’s a road you often have to sit still on for a while and catch your breath and look back how far you have come even though you can see how far you still have left to go.

I get a lot wrong. I fluctuate from listening to good advice to acting on instincts and screwing up. Some days I don’t want any contact, others I find myself firing off angry emails to him demanding answers for why he abused me (seriously just don’t do this) I have periods of calm, of happiness and joy but then suddenly I’ll wake up one morning and think “how did my marriage end up like this?” Sometimes I think about the good times, I think about the times we laughed together, I think of curling up on the sofa watching NCIS Los Angeles and laughing at how rubbish it is, I think about how I’d cook him his favourite meals, or how on a Saturday night he’d cook steak and we’d watch a movie. I think about how, when he was being tender he’d touch me or hug me. Sometimes I miss him. I really miss him. And sometimes I think about that and I regret my choices and I cry and cry and cry. Yes I sometimes miss, regret leaving and cry over a man who abused me and my children. It makes no sense, my friends and family find it really difficult, they just cannot understand it, and this makes me feel alone.

Other times I think about him screaming at my children, I think about him terrifying my son. I think about how my son would scream and run and hide in his bedroom and how sometimes he’d chase him up there and pin him to his bed. Then I get angry, I get really really angry and I lose all sense of rational thought. I send him angry emails, I lay into his friends for supporting someone like this, I tell his girlfriend what she’s getting into, I scour his facebook page and find myself turning into an angry, bitter vindictive ex: the kind of person I don’t want to be.

I feel bad sometimes that I write a blog about healing because I feel like I am not healing. I feel I am a hypocrite if I talk about focusing on the future, or placing all my hope in Jesus now, because oftentimes I am not doing those things.

But they are my goal. And sometimes I achieve them. And when I don’t; when I’ve had a rough time or have done something stupid, when I’ve wallowed in self-pity or I’ve allowed anger to control my actions I know, I always know, I have a God I can return to, who says “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you” NEVER. Even when I say “screw you God this man hurt me and I’m gonna hurt him back” or when I feel like he’s not there and I’m all alone with my grief, even in these dark dark times he doesn’t leave me. He nudges me, he finds ways to let me know he’s still there, even though I sometimes ignore that nudging, and when I stop my wallowing he’ll still be there. Like the father who puts his best robe on his prodigal son, he’ll welcome me back with open arms and re- clothe me in robes of dignity. He’ll forgive my impetuousness and my stupidity, he’ll dry my tears, and he’ll love me and remind me I’m his daughter. No matter how long I travel on this road, no matter how many detours I take, how many pitfalls I not only encounter but cause for myself, I won’t walk it alone, ever. And neither will you.