Saturday, November 11, 2006

Needling thoughts

I lay for an hour yesterday with twenty or more needles stuck into my head and body, contemplating the direction my life has taken since I left my ad job a few weeks ago. I am in a period of transition; that much is clear. I have taken a short break from writing the book. The first five chapters were evisceratingly honest and involved ripping out my worst thoughts and fears and writing them down. It threw me back into dark places, and there were times when I had to struggle to the surface for breath, and turn my face away from the screen, and look at the weakening sun. Afterwards, I felt drained, and afraid. The long shadows of the past were haunting me again, and I was reliving them, day after day, writing it all down, and it was hard, and I wondered when I would ever be free of them completely.

Why am I writing it then? Because I have to: until this PTSD book is done I can't write anything else. And because it is helping me, and I hope it will help others when it is done. Because when my world fell in, all I wanted to read were the stories of others who survived, and to draw hope and strength from their journeys. And to find out what the hell was happening to me. The symptoms of PTSD are frightening, and there is little information about them.

So I have been trying to look after myself, whilst I work on this project, and trying to protect myself from darkness and negativity; hence the acupuncture, the going for walks with dogs and friends, the daily engaging with fellow-humans, and being open to what life throws at me, whilst shielding myself from what is malicious and toxic and untruthful. Trusting that justice will come, though it may take a while. Knowing that I walk in the light, and the dark shadows are phantoms, memories, other people's projections and cannot touch me unless I invite them in.

Sometimes life sends you strong hints about what you are supposed to be doing with yourself. Last week I spent some time with a writer and a BBC director, they had asked me to talk to them about a terrorism drama they were working on, set in the future, a few years after July 7th 2005. I kept saying, look, I don't speak for all victims, (unless specifically asked to speak by a group). Only for myself, and my opinion is no more important than anyone else's: I only write about what is going on in my life on my blog, like millions of other bloggers, because it is there in my life at the moment. I don't have any special wisdom or insight just because I was on that train: I could have been anybody. That's the whole point.

I just write, because that is what I am; that is what I do. I read about terrorism, and crime, and politics, yes, and I think about terrorism and crime and politics, because it has affected me, and people I care about. But if you were to get on any Piccadilly line train at 8.40am on a Thursday, and talk to the passengers you would find hundreds of opinions about the world, and all of them as valid as mine.

But they said that they wanted to hear from me, because there is a character in the drama who is like me, so that was all right, and I was interested and happy to talk to them and I hope it helped them.

This week, three more people contacted me about doing some TV stuff. I had dinner with a researcher who contacted me to brainstorm some ideas about authoring documentaries. I'm still thinking about that. I have some ideas bubbling. (And not necessarily ideas about rape or terrorism. There is more to my life than just being a survivor of horrible things, after all.)

But 'surviving horror' does still come into my life on a daily basis. Yesterday, I got a call from Jane, one of the police officers who had worked on my 2002 rape case. I am still in touch intermittently with some of the police who stood at my side and fought for me in the time of worst darkness, who I will always be grateful to for their compassion and determination.

Jane was the officer who first interviewed my attacker when he was brought into a South London police station after mugging a woman, and the chain of events that brought him to justice got properly started. That we got justice at all is partly due to the bravery and instincts of two women who were instrumental in bringing my attacker in.

The first woman was a victim, whom my attacker followed, then beat and robbed, taking her bag and phone, using far, far more violence than was necessary to overpower her, because that is the kind of angry, vicious man he is. Hurt and shocked, she flagged down a police car.
' Would you recognise him?' asked one of the officers . 'Yes', she said, though she was bleeding and in pain, and so they all drove around, looking and looking, and then she saw him, at a bus stop, and she cried out, and the police officers jumped out, and jumped on him, and there was her bag, and her phone, and another phone, and some other stolen items that had been reported by other robbed and beaten women. So he was arrested and taken into police custody.

And at the police station, Jane, the police officer on duty, interviewed him, and she knew there was something very wrong. Her instincts told her this was not 'just' a mugger, but someone very dangerous indeed. Rather than let him out on bail, she insisted he was kept in the station, and further checks made. (This was in December 2002, five months after the man had got into my flat and left me for dead, and then disappeared.)

They took his DNA. And they kept him in custody.

And because other police officers and doctors had carefully got every possible particle of forensic evidence from my body and my flat, and had kept sending the DNA samples back to the lab so it could be mixed and they could get a proper, full picture, and because they had tried and tried to find this man, who was not on the UK database ( he was a seventeen-year-old illegal immigrant from Jamaica), and because they had comforted me and told me again and again, we'll get him, Rachel, it is only a matter of time, I had never given up hope. And a few days before Christmas I got a call. There was a DNA match.

'We've got him'. In the background I could hear cheering. They had done it, through good police work and determination and instinct, and through the bravery of the other victims who had reported him, especially the woman who said 'That's him, there, at the bus stop', holding a blood-soaked tissue to her face in a police car.

That Christmas, the excited police officers told me, I need no longer fear for my life. Whilst I celebrated with my family and friends, he would stay locked up, and I and other women would be safe from him. The relief was indescribable, the gratitude overwhelming. And in January 2004, after endless court battles and fiascos and time-wasting, and him changing his plea, and sacking his counsel, and even trying to escape from the van that took him to court, he was finally sentenced to 15 years in total, 3 to run concurrently, so he would be jailed for 12 years ( which means, six, normally, because of the strange way it works here). I came to every single hearing. I stared him down. I looked at his blank face as they led him away, for the last time. Justice had been done, in the end. And I was glad, and I was proud. We all were.

I suppose he will be released in 2009 or 2010. Heaven help us when he is out.

Anyway, Jane is still a police detective, and she works with BBC TV producers now as well. And she was calling to ask me if I was interested in making a programme about restorative justice.

Now I have always been fascinated by restorative justice. But for it to work, you have to have a victim and an offender who will get something out of it. The offender has to be willing to engage with what he has done and the victim has to think that there can be some healing found by meeting up with the offender.

I spoke to the man researching the programme at length. I am going to keep talking to him. But I do not think I am the right subject for this programme. I don't know that I want the exposure, nor do I think it will be a fair programme, given that I hold all the power. I am not sure, either, that rape is the right subject for restorative justice. I cannot think of anything to say to my attacker, because I do not think he is capable of any feelings other than anger and self-pity. The only thing I think of, when I think of him, is relief that he is locked up, and pride that I had a hand in it.

I will write more on restorative justice later, because I am still thinking about it.

The final TV thing was Iain asking me to be on 18 Doughty Street on Monday night. I feel very guilty that I still haven't done a report for the station. The last few weeks have been very tied up with helping the police with ongoing stuff, and lawyers, and meetings, and charity stuff, and 7/7 survivor group stuff, and dealing with the fall-out after reliving the worst moments of my life again and again, and I have been too drained to record a straight-to camera piece as well. But the acupuncture and herbs are helping me rebalance, and I am feeling fine again. So I said yes to Iain, and thank you, and see you on Monday night, and I had better go and swot up on current affairs now.

And maybe I will get to talk about something other than rape and terrorism, who knows? Hope so. Life is very rich, these days, with a lot of things to rejoice in and be interested in.

But the bad stuff is there too, and right now, it is crowding in. Maybe it is a good thing. Maybe I need to go back there to come out the other side, free. I can write about politics, but the personal is the political, these days. I walked out of an advertising job, and into a new life, where I write, and I think, and I do what feels more true to myself. For years I have kept up my shield. Even now, I still keep it up, to protect me from the strange malice of strangers.

I worked hard to make this life, which I love and appreciate, and I am going to keep living it, the way I want to live, regardless of the attacks. Because I know most strangers are not like this; most people are kind, and compassionate, and have wounds of their own, and live their lives with courage and dignity, and do not seek to abuse and lash out at others, in a spiteful attempt to manage their own obvious misery and pain.

So. Next up. Restorative justice. And the role of therapeutic intervention.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


A powerful moving entry

As an ordinary type guy, I just wanted you to know that I have always found your writing to be truthful... and whilst I accept that there will always be non-belivers, I was saddened to read about the person who seeks to hurt you personally in their writings. I guess that humans can take all forms... but... still, this is not good.

Your writing about the events in your life... well it will help eventually. (I hope)

You are a good, fair, honest, brave and interesting writer, and I encourage you to keep up the good work - never let any critic get you down, it is just an opinion after all. (As is this comment)

Take care, and enjoy the 18 Doughty Street work

November 11, 2006 12:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One good thing I can say, is that there are a hell of a lot more humane people people on this planet, who want nothing but the best for themselves, for others and the people they hold dear.

I can't add more than what Graham has said about the writing.

November 11, 2006 1:11 pm  
Blogger Tony said...

Great post from a strong, wise and wonderful person. Thank you. You inspire me.

November 11, 2006 3:28 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you, all of you.

November is a bit of a bleak month, isn't it? But it is always darkest before dawn...and I know dawn is coming.

November 11, 2006 5:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi rachel,

i have tried accupuncture also quite a while ago for other reasons than yours and it worked. have you also considered trying bio-feeback? it may also do you some good.

i agree this is a powerful entry that youve written. again take care and ill be thinking of you when i go see "casino royale" next week- my name is bond,james bond (thick british accent) :)

November 11, 2006 7:56 pm  
Blogger wildiris said...

Dear Rachel, Thank you for continuing to write. Documenting your healing helps others more than you realise

November 11, 2006 9:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The truth will set us free.
Thank you, again.

November 11, 2006 9:49 pm  
Blogger The CEO said...

What an amazing post. You must continue to write, no matter what.

November 12, 2006 1:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because when my world fell in, all I wanted to read were the stories of others who survived, and to draw hope and strength from their journeys

That's why I read this blog. I could have written the above entry about my life and my experience (similiar). This means that I have drawn hope and strength from your journey and I thank you for that.

November 12, 2006 3:22 am  
Blogger zoe said...

i've been following your blog for a while now, rachel - via quarsan, and this entry is quite raw and striking. very well-written - do continue to blog through your new career, and all the best, you deserve it.

November 12, 2006 1:35 pm  
Blogger Helibags said...

Dear Rachel,

Your beautiful writing and inner strength continues to astound me. I can't wait for your book.

I (thankfully) haven't experienced anything like you have and I hope I never do - but your writing must be a life line to some.

Thank you

November 13, 2006 10:47 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Hi Rachel
Is it tonight (Monday 13 November)that you will be on 18DoughtyStreet?

November 13, 2006 11:08 am  

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