Elizabeth Shane: Look Up

This story has a trigger warning

Creative self-expression, and especially writing, can be a powerful way of dealing with emotional trauma. Elizabeth Shane articulately describes how writing poetry has helped her cope with the emotional fallout from childhood abuse. Trigger Warning: References to childhood sexual abuse

Elizabeth Shane

Look up. Two simple words once said to me and resonated. I never realised until recently, that I have spent most of my life looking down. Looking down through shame, through fear, through self-loathing and feeling too vulnerable for people to look into my eyes and heart in case they saw the darkness I felt.

It started so young. Hazy memories, blurry lines, eyes focused on one spot. But it continued and progressed to the point where I could trace the flowered wallpaper with my eyes, I stared at it for so long. Sometimes, I told myself I was lucky. I thought I was special for having all this secret attention when everyone else in the house had abandoned me.

I never realised how the impact of being abused affected my mental health growing up into adulthood. The constant desire to overdose, self-harming, not realising I was experiencing PTSD as well as anxiety, a form of OCD and depression. For so long I wondered what is like not to wear the heavy anchor of shame around my neck as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). I spent much of my adulthood trying to reconcile what happened to me with various professional counsellors and psychiatrists telling me it wasn’t my fault.

I wanted to believe them; I really did. I read the self-help books, I also kept telling myself it wasn’t my fault. But did this ring true? No. Instead I carried around a secret burden that I couldn’t eradicate no matter how hard I tried. It followed me wherever I went. As a parent, as a wife and a person living in a world where I felt silenced and misunderstood without ever knowing why.

I reached a point, where I could no longer be silent. It was affecting my mental and physical health, eating into every corner of my life. I needed to acknowledge my pain and conflict. I had never considered sharing my story, the thought of speaking out was terrifying. But I was given salvation through the power of creative outlets. I joined a choir, started singing lessons and began finding ways to express myself through singing, drama, and writing. With the support of my drama teacher and counsellor, I was encouraged to discover my life through the power of writing and gave me a safe space to explore my emotions. I began using it as a tool to process some of my painful thoughts and feelings through poems. Poetry has been one of my mechanisms of helping me cope with some of my emotional scars left from childhood sexual abuse and to find my voice again. It was quite terrifying and scary to open my heart so publicly with my poems as I’d never imagined sharing these, but it felt the right time to do this and wrote my first poetry book, Silhouette of a Songbird. What a release to express the anger, the shame, the fear, the silence, the rage, and the emotional pain of abandonment, my confusion whether my abusers loved me and the continual searching for someone to just take me in their arms and love me the way I deserved.

I grew up thinking I was a sinner for loving my abuser, for loving them both. That I deserved what happened to me for not fighting back or saying no. It has taken me over 40 years to finally acknowledge what happened to me as a child, was never my fault. That I no longer needed to keep quiet. Singing, drama and writing my poetry book about my journey, has given me a voice from an entity of silence. I will never allow anyone to push me back into a corner, forgotten.  My story is mine to share with others to give them strength to know there is light on the other side. Everyone deserves a voice and a right to be heard. I am not only meant to survive but thrive and speak my truth so others can take hope and comfort they are not walking through the storm alone. To this day, I have continued to look up.

Silhouette of a Songbird is available to buy through

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