A recent article in the Guardian about sex abuse victim Esther Baker had me doing a big air punch. Baker spoke up about the VIP paedophile ring in Staffordshire who abused her in the 1980s and 1990s, after thirty years of silence. Thankfully, these days, finding an audience and a sympathetic one at that is much more likely, post-Saville. But it was the power she obviously felt in saying the words out loud and owning her story that struck me. "Once it's out there..." Esther said. "There's no point them trying to shut me up."
Admitting it to yourself
That got me wondering: what about the people who can't get it "out there"? The ones that are living with terrible truths that they can't even admit it to themselves, let alone find their voice? People who perhaps have a deep nagging feeling that something is very wrong but can't put their finger on what, or whom, on paper, have a great life but still can't be happy and just don't know why? I look around me and I know there are millions of them.
You can run but you can't hide
Therapist Judith Apps, who runs The Eden Practice, recently told me the story of a patient she had seen, a man who was thirty-five, who, for the last twenty years, had only eaten a liquid diet. He had a problem with his throat, he'd said, and he couldn't process solid foods. He had operations on the NHS, throat stretching and various consultations. These were complicated, painful, but nothing worked, so he stayed on his strange 'liquids-only' diet, and was very unhappy. Judith said: "He arrived in therapy as a kind of last resort, but as we got talking it unravelled that he had issues about food that were linked to his relationship with his mother. Four months of therapy later and he left eating a balanced diet which included solids."
Sometimes the body is trying to tell you what the voice cannot
If you are often ill, always changing your job, provoked in the same way and/or stuck in a rut but you don't know why, it might be worth talking to a therapist and seeing what they can unravel. Sometimes a major life change can be the trigger. Judith said: "People who had a difficult family background or were perhaps abused as a child, often bury it, but when they have their own children - they are forced to face the past. They have a wonderful, innocent five year old and they suddenly realise "I was innocent at five. My abusers were wrong." And it all comes to the surface. It can be very traumatic."
Therapy as maintenance
Therapy used to be a dirty word, people felt ashamed of having a problem they 'just' needed to talk about, something they couldn't sort themselves. Happily, nowadays, many have a different view. "I get lots of clients in their twenties and thirties who spend out on hair, nails, personal trainer and aren't at all ashamed to employ a therapist too, they see it as 'massage of the soul' part of looking after themselves," continued Judith. "I also see a lot of people in their fifties or sixties who have undergone a major life change - perhaps children have left home, they have lost a parent, divorce - and buried feelings resurface. And they decide- actually, this is my time to invest in me. I will live the best thirty years I can now. I will seek help for those nagging issues and resolve them once and for all. I think that's a very healthy attitude to have."
The healing process can begin
Therapy offers a safe place to speak the truth, without judgement - a space to say the things that you might not want to speak of with family and friends. Appointments are at the same time, same place, with "unconditional positive regard" i.e. you can say what you like to a therapist and they wont be shocked or abandon you. Judith said: "You'd be surprised at the number of people who have never had that space or relationship before in their lives, never been able to say what they feel without being harmed or judged or ignored. You try out saying something, you hear yourself saying it, and you gain perspective. The issue can lose its fear or mystique, and you often arrive at the solution or see the truth by speaking out loud the feelings that you may have been carrying with you and perhaps burying.
"As your therapist asks: Tell me what it is like you don't have to name it if you can't, or pretend, you can just lay out what you are feeling. And that's when the horrors start to recede."
I was thrilled for Esther Baker who found her voice. I am now scared for all those other Esther Bakers out there, unhappy, burying a truth. Our issues can beat us if we don't try and process them. We all owe ourselves the opportunity to say it out loud.