My Journey to Disobedient Recovery 

By Evangeline Del Cisne 

I am a survivor of childhood abuse, as well as multiple abusive relationships in adulthood. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how my experience of seeking help became just another trauma for me to heal. As soon as I left my abusive household, I started to experience symptoms of PTSD; panic attacks, flashbacks, night terrors, and severe social anxiety. I knew I needed to seek help straight away, and referred myself to the NHS for a psychological assessment. Little did I know this would be the start of some of the most difficult years of my life. The initial assessment took months to happen, and at first they misdiagnosed me with BPD. I was then told I would be put on a 1-2 year waiting list for long-term therapy. During this period I was severely suicidal, lacking any kind of social support apart from my fiancé, and offered no buffer services. 

I had also been declared unfit for work by my GP, so I was essentially in a state of limbo, waiting for a letter from the NHS that never came. Two years later I contacted the service I’d been referred to and asked if there had been any progress. They couldn’t find my details—apparently there had been an administrative error and they’d lost them, which meant I had to go back in for another assessment and be placed back at the end of the waiting list. I was absolutely devastated, and I was offered no consolation or any real apology. It was very clear to me that these people simply didn’t care. When I went for my second assessment, they gave me the correct diagnosis of Complex PTSD, and then sent me back on my way.

Another 2 years of no support, no buffer services, and no real care. In total, I waited 4 years for help from the NHS—help that never came. In the end, I set up a mutual aid fundraiser on Patreon to cover the cost of private treatment so that I could start as soon as possible—and that wasn’t an easy task either. I spent most of my days unable to get out of bed, leave the house, cook, clean or really do anything but lay there crying. On top of this, I was experiencing chronic physical pain from my untreated trauma symptoms. Looking back on this period, I wonder what it was that contributed to the total lack of care I received from the NHS, and from the other people around me. I would often try to write about my experiences on Facebook to break the stigma of mental illness and of being a survivor, and I would also try to ask for support. 

People either ignored my posts, or attacked me and said I was “attention seeking”, or “weird”. The message was loud and clear: I wanted too much and I was saying too much. At the time I really needed a community of people to rally around me, bring me meals, come round and clean up, take me to the park or for a cup of tea—basically just demonstrate that they care. None of that ever happened, and sadly still hasn’t. Some people were even angry at my attempts to fundraise for myself so that I could finally get treatment.

As I look back over these years, I wonder if it’s because I wasn’t a very “sympathetic victim”. I would often get strange comments from therapists and acquaintances alike about how I dressed. One therapist told me I shouldn’t complain about street harassment because I was clearly “looking for attention”. Other assessors would remark that I “looked fine”, or when I said I was signed off work would reply “lucky for some”. Before I got my diagnosis I was working as a model, and I was never shy about showing skin. I enjoyed dressing up and getting my hair done, but the way I dressed and presented felt like a real hindrance to getting any help, or even any sympathy.

My whole experience of recovery has been marred with misogyny, misogynoir and respectability politics. I’m simply not the type of person that others deem “worthy” enough of support. I also found that many people simply want to try to save you and dictate how your recovery should be, rather than walk alongside you. I experienced many people telling me to take psychiatric drugs (which I never did, and never wanted to do) or to try certain therapies or ring certain phone lines. When I told them I wasn’t interested in those things and asked them to do things I actually needed, these people would get exasperated and disappear.

I’ve found that people want to see victims of abuse as one-dimensional and in need of saving, but to honour our multi-dimensional nature as human beings might highlight the fact that anyone can be a victim of abuse, and that we are not some subcategory of human beings that you can separate yourself from by behaving in a certain way. Many people still believe that the victim has brought abuse upon themselves, and I believe that’s a huge reason so many people have such a lack of empathy towards survivors. What we’ve been through highlights issues people simply don’t want to look at.

It’s been about a year since I’ve been getting private treatment, thanks to my mutual aid fundraiser. I’m doing music and art therapy, somatic experiencing, micro-dosing, shamanic healing and I get regular massages for my chronic muscular pain and inflammation. I found that even traditional talk therapies in the private sector had a lot of prejudiced therapists who had a severe lack of knowledge about trauma and how to effectively and safely treat it. In my 4 years of waiting, I became somewhat of a DIY trauma expert. Every ounce of my time was taken up by reading books on the subject, watching talks and lectures, taking courses, and reading articles. I also came to learn about the racist and colonial history of the psychiatric movement as a whole, and have since distanced myself from the medical industrial complex.

I wanted to believe the NHS could help me, but I quickly grew tired of the western medical model of treating mental health. People who have suffered abuse and trauma are pathologised, and it’s seen as though there’s something wrong with the individual and not the society in which we live. I was frustrated at the lack of justice for the perpetrators, and how there was never any attempt to change or even address the systemic problems that allowed the abuse to happen in the first place. I decided to take a decolonial approach to healing, and gained so much wisdom from indigenous approaches to healing which emphasize community support, joy, nature and finding purpose. They know that to heal trauma we quite literally need to shake it off physically through dance and ritual, we need to reconnect to ourselves and those around us. Trauma lives in the body, and these intuitive somatic practices offer so much healing.

I felt people’s judgments as soon as I decided to do away with the western model. And I almost felt that they thought I shouldn’t be complaining if I didn’t go along with it. Being perceived as mentally ill is already a huge stigma, but being seen as mentally ill and not cooperating with standard treatment is a whole other thing. The western mental health system is very carceral: people who suffer with their mental health are often perceived as irresponsible and needing others to make decisions for them—Britney Spears’ conservatorship is a prime example of this. I even worry about having a good day with minimal symptoms in case someone tries to discredit the validity of my suffering, or try to make it seem like I’m overreacting because I’m experiencing happiness for once.

I’ve found that taking my recovery into my own hands has been the most healing thing I’ve done. When you experience trauma, you are out of control, and that feeling of not being able to control your environment or even yourself lives on years after the event is over. Regaining some control and autonomy over your choices is crucial, and people should be encouraging that, not trying to make decisions for us or pretend they know what’s best.

My healing journey as of now is truly and completely my own. No one dictates to me how I should heal. I have found infinitely more healing in microdosing mushrooms, being in nature, painting, and simply feeling my feelings than I ever did in a cold, sterile therapy room. Although I do wish I had more community support and more empathy, and I still struggle, at least I can choose to share my voice and let others know they are not alone in their experiences.

Recovery should be accessible to all, and community support should be a given; but until it is, I know survivors will keep forging their own paths and their own recovery routes in the face of insufferable trauma, stigma, and prejudice. May we continue being disobedient survivors.

Evangeline Del Cisne 

Insta @evangeline.del.cisne

I Do Not Want My Rapist To Go To Prison 

By Naroa Hammerson

I allowed myself to fully grieve when I realised that I do not want my rapist to go to prison. 

When I tell people I do not want my rapist to go to prison, they often look at me like I’m naïve. This pisses me off for two reasons. Firstly, it is my rape we are talking about. Other people’s opinions on my lived experience are frustrating to hear when it undermines my ability to reach my own conclusions. Secondly, most rapists aren’t in jail anyway – the incarceration rates are so low that almost every rapist in society is out and about and was possibly behind you in the queue at Tesco today. 

From a young age, my understanding of rape was that monsters would drag young thin white women off the street and rape them in alleyways. This, upon educating myself more, turned out to be a sensationalised myth. However, the notion of ‘the big bad wolf who rapes and must be imprisoned as they cannot control themself’ was something I struggled with as a teenager as I was forced to encounter sexual assault and rape. My reality was that it was other girls, acquaintances and strangers in crowded places that assaulted me – not men in white vans at night. My views on rape were shaped by colonial white supremacist views and deeply ingrained internalised misogyny. 

Unlearning all of it saved my life. 

I would not have been able to even begin to challenge the shame I feel for being raped were it not for the process of unlearning how systems of domination have controlled the way I see the world. The more I unlearn the more I heal. 

As I read more about the carceral system’s lack of humanity and capitalism’s prison industrial complex I asked myself the unavoidable question “what the fuck do I do about my rapist?” 

I do not want my rapist to go to prison. Put very simply, I do not want my rapist to be dehumanised like he dehumanised me. There is no carceral system (not even the “idolised” Nordic model) that doesn’t dehumanise people. This is because people are born into this world with an innate spiritual connection to nature, community and social life. Being placed in a cage with limited rights and no autonomy violates this connection. 

So, I found myself at 17 with the socially cultivated thought that ‘my rapist deserves to rot in jail’ which juxtaposed my passionate belief that no one should be imprisoned. Incarceration severs the body, mind and spirit’s natural state of agency. My mind, body and spirit were severed in many ways when I was raped. The violation of one’s autonomy is one of the greatest tools and products of oppression. I do not want others to experience this. I will not see the justice I deserve by sending him to prison. 

I have been taught, since forever, that justice looks like a rapist dying in jail. Grieving, as society would have me believe, looks like going through a difficult court case and eventually saying goodbye to my rapist as he loses his freedom. 

As it turned out, my grief would actually look like being more traumatised by the police than my rapist. 

It is not easy to heal from rape when society polices your reaction to it. My rape was nowhere near as traumatic as my experience of reporting it to the police. I didn’t want to believe the societal view that when you are raped you are irrevocably damaged. Sometimes, I feel worthless for having experienced it.

I do not want him in jail. 

I don’t feel safer with him in jail. 

Grieving, over the past two years, has looked like making myself a cup of tea or shopping in the bread aisle at Lidl when my mind reminds me; you were raped. It has looked like me sitting in exams and having picnics with friends when I suddenly get a body memory and feel his hands on me again. It has looked like being radically honest with myself and understanding that I would rather see my rapist in passing than the police officers who were on my case – and this does not mean that being raped wasn’t horrific. 

I often feel that my grief had an assigned expiration date that I was never told about. Six months after, it felt awkward to admit that I was still very much struggling. I stopped mentioning that night as much, and it felt like others stopped thinking about it too – even though I still carry the grief to this day. I often wonder whether there will ever be a day when I don’t. One thing I know for sure is that my healing has been bolstered by my ability to humanise the person who hurt me. 

It does not serve me to perpetuate the patriarchal notion that men are animalistic and lack control. It does not serve me to perpetuate the capitalist pattern of incarcerating people who are not palatable to society. It does not serve me to have my rapist in prison where he is much more likely to become a victim of violence himself. I do not want to see my rapist as a monster. He is not one. It doesn’t help me when people think that he is. I want to believe that he is capable of growth and change. This does not mean he should have access to me ever again, but it is the simple recognition that he is a multi-faceted person and his violence doesn’t eradicate that. My grief includes knowing that society dehumanises him and others rather than giving them the healing they need. 

When I think of my rape, the most painful part was looking into his eyes and knowing that he didn’t recognise me as a fellow human. Of course, the physical assault was awful, but the memory of his eyes looking into mine was what really broke my heart. His brain has been socialised to see me as a mere object; a means for his pleasure; a tool for him to feel powerful. Putting him in an abusive oppressive institution for raping me will not stop him from knowing rape is wrong.

It’s been two years since I was raped. On the anniversary, I eat a blueberry muffin. Not for any particular reason – I just like blueberry muffins. 

Sometimes I wonder if he likes them too.