A year ago we were thinking of fundraising ideas and reminiscing about school sponsored silences and dogeared forms which got squashed banana on them in the bottom of your school bag before the days of JustGiving. And then we thought, of course, 26 hours of silence to mirror the 26 years of silence which is the average time it takes a man to tell anyone he’s been sexually abused.
So I signed up for 26 hours of silence. First of all, as a counsellor, I had to find 26 hours when I wouldn’t be with a client. I identified a time and decided, to make it more authentic, I wouldn’t make any other sort of compromise with my day – I would try to navigate a normal 26 hours but do it in silence. I also decided I would keep any frantic note writing or miming to a minimum and that my silence would extend to text and email. On the other hand, I didn’t want to appear rude so I printed out leaflets explaining why I was silent and with some information about SurvivorsUK – this way I could help to raise awareness and maybe some more money.
I had expected the 26 hours to be awkward and maybe a bit frustrating but I hadn’t anticipated the ways in which my silence – in a very small way – echoed the experience of survivors and, through my silence, I felt those echoes in a lived, embodied way.
My silence felt very loud
I just wanted to be able to navigate my day but of course my silence felt very obvious. Survivors often say that even when they don’t disclose the abuse it feels like it’s somehow tattooed on their forehead. I wanted to pass as ‘normal’ (whatever that means), but felt I wasn’t being normal.
My communication was fractured, simplified, misunderstood
On the occasions I had to communicate, using sign or gesture, I had massively to simplify what I wanted to say, it came out in a distorted, dislocated fashion and was open to being completely misunderstood. When survivors try to explain their experience or feelings without disclosing the abuse, they are having to filter their truth through a silence which distorts and fractures their reality, leading them to be misunderstood and misjudged.
I felt I was being annoying to those around me
Those close to me knew I was doing the silence and had to accommodate themselves around me. This left me feeling I was being demanding and difficult; putting them out by imposing my own needs. Survivors are often painfully aware that their loved ones also have to live with the impact of the abuse and suffer for any suffering they may, through no fault of their own, impose on others.
Navigating life was difficult
In the silence everything became more difficult. Normal tasks such as picking up a hire van, attending a meeting, clearing up after group, buying a book for a friend all became more awkward and effortful. One of the ways in which trauma casts its shadow over people’s lives is the way in which its impact extends into every aspect of life.
Breaking silence was a profound relief
Breaking the silence was a profound relief. To be able to express myself, to communicate clearly, accurately whenever I wanted, to take part in conversation and connect with people again was something I really celebrated and appreciated.
The silence was a tiny thing compared with the massive impact of the silence of sexual trauma but I was grateful for this embodied experience which gave me a richer understanding and insight.
Katherine Cox, Counsellor, Supervisor and Groupwork Co-ordinator, SurvivorsUK
If you wish to support Katherine, you can still do it by making a donation on her fundraising page on Justgiving.