Follows on from JAGGED #3
Chapter 11: I believe you. I hear you. Your story should be told.
I believe you. I hear you. Your story should be told. How many people really mean that when they say it to a Victim/Survivor of childhood sexual abuse? In my experience very few, but a wonderful very few, actually really mean it.
After the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Childhood Sexual Abuse society picked up ‘I believe you. I hear you. Your story should be told’ as an appropriate and handy empathetic response to anybody who had finally built up the courage to blow the whistle on some very difficult child abuse beans. Society developed a rote sympathy response to quickly trot out when a voice from the world of childhood sexual abuse popped up and said I want to be heard. Such a response from society is pretty much like the social media button press of LIKE that people use to at least give the impression of interested engagement.
Even I will say that any response is better than no response at all, but I will also say that society’s rote response in these circumstances has the ultimate consequence of shutting the Victim/Survivor down. Think of it this way – the story of any Victim/Survivor of childhood sexual abuse is not a story that can be told, or heard, in a couple of minutes or seconds. It takes time to be heard, and to be listened to, and the contents of the factual story can at times be uncomfortable in the extreme. When a Victim/Survivor, after in many cases taking decades to build up to the point of asking to be heard, says ‘I want to be heard’ the attention of the listener soon swerves away when bitter truths start to unfold. It leaves the Victim/Survivor feeling dudded because they haven’t even got past finishing the first sentence of the story of their experiences.
Despite what I have just said I do not judge society too harshly for the rote response. I can understand that there are thousands upon thousands of Victims/Survivors out there who have finally built up the courage to want to be heard, and society would grind to a halt if everybody in society stopped long enough to truly listen.
AIMN has given me the opportunity to tell my story. They have given me the opportunity to be fully heard. I am going to tell my story – no matter how uncomfortable it is for the reader or for myself. My story contains bitter truths and confronting details. In testament form it shows the living of a damaged/blighted life.
In sending these couple of Chapters through to AIMN I have decided to speak of some things that I have never been able to speak of before. Confronting things. Many events have combined to put me in this space of stark openness – yes, this opportunity to be heard on AIMN, but also the valued input over the last decade of mental health workers (psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses), the lawyers of my legal team who gave me the opportunity to begin to speak, and to a dear friend who simply said to me ‘for you it is now time to just do it’.
More and more, as the writing of this book unfolds, I realise that, to be heard, I am trying to reach through to mental health professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health nurses. People such as that seek to intervene as early as they can to minimise the trauma legacies carried by victims of childhood sexual abuse. I have great admiration for the work that they do.
It must be very difficult for mental health professionals when they try to deal with a traumatised person who just cannot speak about what happened to them.
I wish that I had been able to talk with the professionals when I was younger – it could possibly have stopped the affects of my trauma/abuse becoming ingrained or habituated to the point of permanency. In my case there was no early intervention. It was simply not available to me. Had there been it may well have made a positive difference to the state of my mind and my well being over the course of my life.
JAGGED was never going to be a happy travelogue of joyous events in the life of a human being known as Keith Edwin Thomas Davis.
This book is about the untreated legacies I carry as a result of my childhood abuse experiences, and what those experiences have done to my mind. This book also seeks to cut through the euphemistic language used in media/society to describe the experiences of Victims/Survivors of childhood sexual abuse – the language used is soft, fuzzy, and designed to not confront. The experiences were harsh. The language I use to relate the experiences cannot be anything but reflectively harsh.
People seem to think that a ‘sorry’, or some sympathy, or or a small compensatory payout then makes things all good for Victims/Survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It does not. It makes no difference at all.
At sixty-seven years of age I am having to face up to a very difficult fact. To be told that, without massive professional intervention, the prognosis for the state of my mental health is very poor, and to be told that my depression is inescapable, is very hard to take. It worries me greatly because as I age I simply don’t have the necessary reserves of nervous energy left to contain the legacies of my abuse, and it is why I hope that mental health professionals read this book and do everything in their power to stop what is happening to me from happening to anybody else.
I don’t try to hide the fact from you, the reader, that my mind was damaged by my early experiences. My friends tell me that generally I come across as a quiet, thoughtful and polite man who never seems to smile much – it is not as if I walk around with a banner saying hey I wish my mind worked a little better. I use what I have as best I can.
I have done my best with that mind throughout my life. In the next Chapter I speak about one of my carried legacies, and soon I want to look at the legal and redress system that victims of childhood sexual abuse have to try and navigate. However, in chapter 14 I speak of the events that damaged my mind, and I would like to inform you now that Chapter 14 is raw and it contains some stuff that I have not been able to speak about before.
Chapter 12: Why don’t I see the non-verbal signals that are sent to me?
Medicolegal Report 27 January 2018: “He was not paranoid in attitude. He was not suffering delusions, hallucinations, or other symptoms to suggest a psychotic disorder of mind.”
Well there you go – there are some positives in this life!
I am going to try and describe something in this Chapter, and mental health professionals may well have some short latin or greek based term to describe it all. I only have the following words to describe it all.
I have very few friends, probably largely because I am not a social type of person. I don’t know how to be social. One of those very few friends happens to be my best friend – she is a living example of what the kernel of true friendship is all about – she knows me very well but despite having that knowledge she still likes me anyway. Well, thank the stars for that!
Yesterday, Sunday 5th July 2020, I sat in a local park with my friend and we had a very long conversation. We talked about our decades long friendship and some of the ups and downs that our friendship had experienced. As I mentioned in an earlier Chapter – this book is being written live – as thoughts swirl up around the rim of my consciousness I write them down – and then send them in to AIMN.
My friend told me that during downturns in our friendship in the past she had sent me plenty of huge skyrocket type signals that this or that aspect of our friendship either needed to change or was about to be changed. She could not understand, since I could walk and talk and think – sometimes even at the same time – why I didn’t appear to receive those signals very well. I tried to talk about the fact that not only did I not receive the signals very well, I talked about the fact that I did not even recognise, in the main, that any sort of non-verbal signals had been sent to me in the first place. From my point of view we had never had a conversation like the one we were having in that moment.
What it comes down to is this I think. I don’t have a non-verbal signal de-coder that works as well as it should – one that fully interprets mood or emotion accurately in another person. I don’t read faces very well, I don’t read the emotional signalling of another person very well, I don’t pick up on the hints and clues that are apparently flying around my ears very well. So when the long hinted at change finally happens I always feel as though a B52 has, out of the blue, dropped a stack of ordinance on me from a very great height. Must be quite frustrating for the person who, via non-verbal signalling, has been trying to make the obvious very obvious to me. I think that faulty non-verbal signal de-coder affects my personal relationships and did greatly affect my working life.
All of the above probably explains why I read a lot. I am a voracious reader of just about anything I can get my hands on. Reading about characters/human beings in books and how they react in various situations allows me to accumulate data-sets in my mind that I can call on when I am in conversation with another person. It helps me to guess which appropriate response suits which occasion. Because I don’t personally feel such things as happiness or joy very well a lot of reading about such things is of assistance in some social situations.
All of this is quite difficult to describe, and in conversation with my best friend last Sunday I, for the first time in that almost thirty year friendship, made the effort to describe it. It was worrisome at the time because I was afraid of being judged or thought strange. I don’t often show ‘me’. Anyway, all’s good, my friend did not fall from the park bench in shock.
The above probably also explains why my conversation is intense and lacking the social graces of small talk. In conversation I often ask people how they are feeling, I ask that a lot in order to get some feedback on how they are feeling because I don’t quite pick up on the visual clues that they are signalling or sending out. I generally can only get a sense of who a person is by – as silly as it sounds – asking them. My sensing ability is a bit of a shot duck.
So, it is not as if I do not have a non-verbal signal de-coder. I do have one. If somebody rushes at me with an axe I’ll be out of there pronto without bothering to hang around and asking them how they ‘feel’ at that moment in time. But in other areas of life my de-coder fails to live up to the intended specifications.
To get through to me people have to talk to me in very clear, unambiguous, and literal terms – I like you, I don’t like you, what you just did makes me happy, what you just did does not make me happy, I want to end the conversation now, I want to talk with you for hours, I desire you, I do not desire you, I feel sad, I feel happy – all of that sort of spoken stuff I can receive, and understand easily enough. Seeing that stuff in signalling non-verbal form on your face doesn’t always get through though.
About a year or so ago another of my few friends asked me flat out where I sat on the Autism Spectrum. That kind of rocked me back a bit because I’d never even thought of that. Here are some of the characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (from the usual place – Google):
- problems with social interaction with others
- unusual interest in objects.
- need for sameness.
- great variation in abilities.
- under or over reaction to one or more of the five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, or hearing.
On the surface all of that could seem to be a fair description of me. I’m not socially adept. I have an old military compass that I think is one of the most fascinating objects I have ever seen – with it in my symbolic hand/mind I can get just about anywhere – and quite accurately too. Anything good that comes my way I want it to stay good, I want it to stay the same, I put very little effort in trying to ‘change’ anything. As for abilities – one day I can generate up an intellectual storm in my own teacup – the next day I’m flat out tying up my shoelaces. As for the under or over reaction thing – I am fully hyper-sensitive to what I see, to touching or being touched, to hearing discordant things, to smells that jar. But taste, at least, is not on my list.
Despite the fact that a shallow assessment of me could quite easily place me somewhere on the Autism Spectrum I can assure you that I don’t sit on that particular Spectrum at all. There is not a whiff of autism hovering over any part of my being.
What I have is a fucked visual signal de-coder.
When I was young I learned to not see what I was looking at. To simply survive I had to learn to not see what I was looking at. When I looked at the angry face that went on to punch or rape me I had to learn to not see what I was seeing. That might sound strange to you but it makes an awful lot of sense to me. Standing aside from my abuse experiences – I have an enquiring mind, I am curious about everything, I look at things, objects, people, very directly – I’m not rudely staring when I do that, I am simply gazing directly at what is in front of me in an enquiring manner.
So, it comes down to this. My enquiring mind does not allow me to drop my eyes away from anything – that enquiring mind naturally wants to see, and know, and understand. But – then throw in seven years of sustained abuse, abuse that my mind was incapable of looking away from … and so here we get to the nub of it …
I saw things no child should ever see, things that no child who has ever existed should ever have to see. I saw the rapes of self being perpetrated, I saw my own traumatisation happening to me, I saw the flying-in of violence directed at my being. I could not look away, I could not, and would not, and did not have the capability to drop my eyes.
In that circumstance, in order to survive, what can a young mind possibly do? It learned to not see some of the things that it had no choice but to see. That’s the best explanation my mind can give you.
It has left me as a socially inept adult who cannot for the life of him see that the majority of the non-verbal clues signalled out towards me by other adults do not have harm as an inevitable follow through attached to them. The wiring of my mind changed to the extent that my mind simply refuses to process or de-code anything that my eyes see that my mind thinks will be any sort of threat to my being or existence. Gives me the absolute shits to be this way, because most people tell me that they wish me no sort of harm at all – but my mind simply refuses to process some of the things that my eyes see, and it confuses itself with what non-verbal signalling is harmful and what non-verbal signalling is not harmful.
This book is about the enduring legacies of sustained childhood sexual abuse experienced over an extended period. This Chapter looked at one of those legacies.
Chapter 13: A bummer of a burden.
I forget if it was a psychiatrist or a psychologist who told me the following, but I do remember that it was not said by the new age therapist who waved crystals over my being back in 1994 – she guaranteed, for the princely sum of $80, that if I gazed with rapture up at the spinning orbs, and threw in a bit of meditative chanting as well, all would be forever good. If I had that $80 back now I’d spend it with a psychologist or a psychiatrist.
Here’s what was said …
“There is a slight trouble with how your mind works. It leaves you carrying a burden. You understand what happened to you. Your mind understands how it was changed by those experiences. You also understand that I cannot really help you, or change anything much for you.”
I started to use the word bummer a lot after that.
Chapter 14: St. Vincent’s Orphanage. The Catholic Family. My Darkness.
Medicolegal Report 27 January 2018: “It is always wise in the medico-legal setting to try and determine if a plaintiff has given a self-serving history, or has feigned (malingered) symptoms. I do not believe that either will apply in Mr Davis’ case.”
Thank you to Psychiatrist Johnathan Phillips. The power of being believed, the respect you showed me by being very honest and direct, your summation of why I am the way I am, all of that has made some difference in my life.
So … the section called My Darkness further down contains confronting truths that I have been incapable of speaking about before.
At the end of 1957 I was a five year old kid. My family had recently broken up and I became a State Ward and I was placed into orphanage care under the dual auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Order of the Sisters of Mercy.
I was tall for my age apparently. Blond haired. Blue eyed.
Within the space of twelve months or so I was subject to oral rape by an adult male. He smothered my airways with his erect penis and he punched me into silence. A nun allowed him into the room so she was collusive in the act as far as I am concerned. Who I was faded right there and then.
A couple of years later I went into the sacristy of the orphanage church to take off my Altar Boy clothes. I was grabbed from behind, punched repeatedly, and was then anally raped by a catholic priest. There was no lead up, there was no grooming.
After the anal rape I was scared and I hid my dirty shorts (dirty with blood, semen, and shit) in the communal clean clothes cupboard. A monitor nun found my dirty shorts, probably by the smell they gave off, and confronted me with the evidence. She called me a dirty little shit and beat me repeatedly with her heavy leather belt. I can still feel the force of her back-hand. She then locked me into the darkness of the cupboard as punishment. When I try to talk about the darkness my eyes tear up and my heart hurts and I lose my way …
This is now the next day. I’ve had a day away from what I wrote yesterday.
Life in the orphanage was very hard. There was no love there. The mental cruelty from the nuns was not a standout occasional thing – it was always just there as a background thing. Whether it was a punch, or a back-hand, or a whip of their belt, a push, or an angry staring put-down, or a sarcastic comment – it made me feel as though I was worthless and deserving of what was happening to me. The catholic god in the church of the orphanage told me that the good don’t get punished, only the bad get punished. I could not escape the punishment so I must have been very bad. I believed that I was bad.
There must have been days in the orphanage when nothing bad happened to me. Why can’t I remember those days?
You know, for most of my life I could not talk about the things above. They hovered there in front of me and I could not articulate them. But finally being able to articulate them over the last few years has brought the other layers of darkness up into some sort of hover position. I want to articulate what other events played their part in creating the darkness.
But it is so hard. How do you speak from the void? How do you put into words what cannot be put into words? The darkness I talk about can only be felt.
I am now going to take a risk. For me a huge risk. I thought, if I was able to do it at all, that I would do it towards the end of the book, the safety of that vague as-yet-unwritten region that exists towards the end of a book. But it has to start to happen now.
The rapes above were not the only rapes I experienced. I have never been able to talk about the other rapes I experienced. The mental cruelty above was not the only mental cruelty I have experienced. I have never been able to talk about the other mental cruelty. I’ve been flat out trying to cope, admittedly not very well, with the experiences listed above.
As a matter of course, and it probably happened to many of the orphanage kids, and it could only have been done with the approval and the blessing of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Order of the Sisters of Mercy, I was loaned out to various Brisbane catholic families on occasion – probably to try and socialise me into whatever family life was supposed to be way back then, or possibly as a way for the family to assess me as a possible future foster kid.
No doubt, at some point, I must have spent time with a good and safe catholic family. But a time such as that is not in my memory. Why can’t I remember that?
What is in my mind/memory is the ‘family’ who spoke with an accent, I think they were of Mediterranean background as they sometimes ate raw mince balls with an olive oil coating – and they were the paedophilic male and female bastards who, along with the nuns and priests at the orphanage, finally terrorised me permanently into the depths of my depressive illness/darkness.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Order of the Sisters of Mercy were responsible for my safety. They had a duty of care towards me. I hold them personally responsible for what was done to me, not only in the orphanage, but also when they approved my placement with that visitation family.
Three years ago I could not tell my lawyers this, three years ago I could not tell my psychiatrist this, I was flat out trying to tell them what I was able to speak of. The whole three years of my claim against the catholic church have only now created a space in 2020 where I can begin to talk of some terrible things.
To put things in perspective. Between 1957 and 1964: I was anally raped by men more than once – three times that I am fully aware of. I was orally assaulted by men more than once – twice that I am fully aware of. I was molested by the same woman more than once. Those physical things did not happen to me every day – they happened to me at certain points in time over a seven year period when I was under the care of the Order of the Sisters of Mercy. The mental cruelty is something different, it happened more often. I try to keep these things in perspective because around the world there are child-brides who are subject to the same or worse on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis – and around Australia there are women who are subject to domestic violence and who are abused and killed each and every week. What happened to me did not physically kill me. My body recovered from it. My mind did not.
Right now I am angry. For the sake of fucking mercy how are these things ever allowed to happen to a child. To any child.
Do you remember when I said “The top layer is say nothing, and I have spent the majority of my life at that level. The second layer, the layer that Psychiatrist Johnathan Phillips dug into so well, is speak of what you can, and speaking of what I can has been unfolding over the last three or four years or so. The third layer holds what cannot yet be spoken of – the bastard stuff – the darkness.”
So … and my fear is running rampant right now …
Have you ever been thrown by an angry woman into a dark locked chicken coop on a cold night with your body smeared with chook shit and feathers? Have you ever scraped the top of your fingers trying to pull through the wire to escape while she stood there and laughed at you? Have you ever been anally finger-raped by a woman while her other hand reaches around to fondle your genitals? Have you ever had the living daylights smacked out of you because you did not rake the yard correctly? Has a smelly old man ever molested you and then tenderly rocked you to sleep while he cries and tells you that he loves you and thinks that you are beautiful? Does the smell of garlic sometimes make you want to vomit? Have you ever lived in a world where such things are deemed normal by the perpetrators and of no great consequence? Did you stand still and say nothing when they showered you and cleaned you up and returned you to the orphanage and then made arrangements for you to visit again?
Have you ever been in a room where the other two people in the room just sit there and stare at you? Have you ever been in a room where one of those people decides that it is their turn to molest you? Have you ever been in a room that you cannot escape from? Have you ever been in a room with crucifixes up on the wall and with statues of the Madonna on the shelves? Have you ever been in an inescapable room where, just outside the house or just down the street normal people are just going about their normal happy business without any sort of idea what is happening in that room? Have you ever been returned to the orphanage and hit by a nun because you would not speak or stand in line or listen to anything?
None of that killed me physically, my body recovered. But it scarred my mind. It damaged it. My mind never recovered.
My mind is trying to find the words to speak, it is not easy. My time with that ‘family’ was the final ending of me. There was no safety in the orphanage. There was no safety with that family. There was no safety. It shut my spirit down.
You might read this book and think – oh well, at least he can scribble out a few words. But words don’t tell you how all of this feels to me. Words don’t tell you what being in my locked-down dark universe feels like. Words don’t tell you what a depression that you cannot escape from feels like. Words don’t tell you how difficult it is, and how it feels to describe the life of a person who never felt ‘there’ in his own life. Words don’t tell you how it feels to see your son walk away from you because he cannot reach you. Words cannot tell you how it feels to be anxious and scared all of the time. Words don’t tell you anything much about it at all.
Words don’t tell you how it feels to be an observer of, and an incapable participant in, your own life.
In 2019, a friend and I visited the Port Arthur penal settlement in Tasmania. I asked her to stand with me in support in the Isolation Cell of the Separate Prison. The cell was small, cramped, and no light could get in. I wanted to confront my imposed demons. I wanted to try to feel courage.
When we left the Separate Prison a few minutes later and walked down a path in Port Arthur this then 66 year old man totally broke down and cried. My mind came up with all sorts of incoherent reasons for the breakdown.
I now know this about that moment in time. When the door of the Isolation Cell closed there was no confrontation. I felt safe. It felt like home.
I felt safe. It felt like home.
This comes from the third layer of me. Standing on that path in Port Arthur I realised the depths that my childhood sexual abuse experiences had dragged me to. It is unspeakable, unspeakable, to realise that the only form of comfort finally left to me is the ‘safe’ nothingness of my own inescapable depressive illness. That is what I mean by my darkness – the recognition of it is why I broke down.
Don’t feel sorry for me. If you are a mental health professional please think deeply about these things – please think deeply about that last paragraph – please intervene early with your childhood sexual abuse patients – do everything in your power to not let them end up where I find myself.
The body recovers. The mind does not. My mind did not recover. The help that it needed, the help that might have made a difference, was not available to me when I was younger. To see that my mind cannot recover from the abuse is a living blow. That is the primary enduring legacy of my childhood sexual abuse experiences.
Chapter 15: First attempt to achieve justice via civil litigation against the Catholic Church.
This will be the first Chapter in my next installment for AIMN. Because of the genuinely given high level of moral support provided to me by Porters Lawyers (Canberra) when I initiated my claim against the Catholic Church in Queensland – I am still here today, and writing this book – that is a truth, and a thank you to the Porters Lawyers legal team that I do not want to understate. The legal process itself and the response from the Catholic Church over that period, drove me to the edge.
To be continued …
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