Content warning: Some references of rape / sexual violence.
When Charlie (not her real name) first came to Yellow Door to receive counselling support, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She was worried that she may be asked to talk in depth about what had happened to her, that she might be judged for not reporting her experiences to the police, or that she wouldn’t be believed - but this wasn’t the case.
In her own words, Charlie tells us what her therapeutic sessions were like, how she came to learn that she had never been “broken” and offers some words of advice for anyone else thinking of seeking support.
When I first visited Yellow Door it was called Southampton Rape Crisis, and it was in a different building from where it is now. I’ve been to the new building too so while what I describe is the *old* building, I know that anyone going for the first time will find the same things in the new building.
The counselling room itself was always calm, peaceful, uncluttered and felt friendly. There would be very little in it - usually just two chairs (often those ones from Ikea) and a table. Sometimes there was art on the walls or a patterned rug. The table would always have a box of tissues on it, and sometimes a box of small toys, or art materials, or maybe even pebbles. Even though I was 29 when I went into counselling, and might not have expected a toy dinosaur or glitter paint to help me, I eventually used all those things in sessions.
Before I started, I’d been scared that the counsellor would ask me to describe what had happened, or maybe ask why I hadn’t been to the police or say it was my fault for having gone to the place where my rape happened. None of these things ever happened.
Usually what happened was that my counsellor would meet me with a smile and then we’d go to the usual room together. We’d sit down and I’d often feel unsure about how to start talking. I’d been told not to tell anyone about what happened to me, and also had a long history (since I was about 8) of carrying other people’s emotional baggage and so I didn’t really know how to be supported by someone. I felt like I was making things up, being too sensitive and over reacting.
My counsellor would settle herself on her chair, opposite me, and look me in the eyes and she’d usually ask me, ‘So, how’s the week been?’ Because I’d never really had support before, there was always something going on that was difficult, that pretty much tracked back to my bad experiences. As I talked about my week, and over time, my counsellor would help me see these links. She helped me understand that I was accepting bad treatment, or treatment I didn’t like, as I didn’t know I was allowed not to. Most of my sessions were spent like this - talking through how I was feeling, why I was feeling that way, what I could do about it.
There were times when we talked about the actual rape but they were very, very few. I was terrified of this, especially as I didn’t remember it all, only flashes. I thought because of this, my counsellor wouldn’t believe that it had happened. My counsellor always believed me and said that my brain would not usually give me anything that I couldn’t cope with. If I got panicky she'd help me relax and talk with me about how to help calm my body and how this could help calm my mind. She was very gentle and never got angry or snapped at me, which I had been very used to.
I even learned to cry. I was so scared to cry in case I couldn’t stop, I’d been holding it all so long, and one day she gently almost teased me and said, ‘We haven’t got rooms full of people crying 24 hours a day’. She made me realise that she understood me, and that I wasn’t alone because my experience wasn’t unique.
I basically feel like I went into counselling, took myself apart and then rebuilt a new me. A lot of lessons I’d learned early in life got unlearned. I learned to say ‘No, I don’t like that, I don’t want to do that’. I learned to say ‘Yes, I like that and I want to do that.’ I even learned to say to other people, ‘Hey this looks fun, shall we do it together.’ I learned that I had never been “broken” but had had a perfectly normal and healthy reaction to a terrible thing that was done to me and to the subsequent lack of support from my family.
To this day I love and support Yellow Door and advocate for them. I tell people about my experience and the help they gave me. If you're struggling with something that happened to you, please know three things
1. It was never your fault
2. Like every baby ever born, you deserve love and happiness
3. Yellow Door will believe you.
If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence/abuse at any point in life, there is support out there for you. For more information about Yellow Door, the services we provide and how we might be able to support you, please have a look through our website or contact us today.
Acknowledgements: We'd like to extend our gratitude to "Charlie" for the ongoing support she has shown to Yellow Door, and for allowing us to share her experience in this blog.