For many years now I have wanted to share my story.
The thought that I may be able to help others by sharing my own experiences has been an important factor in my own recovery and healing process. It has given my suffering meaning and with this I am able to rise each morning, count my blessings and, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, ‘live deliberately’.
Unfortunately this week I have also been plagued with nightmares. It has been exhausting.
Last night I had some particularly disturbing nightmares about the abuse I suffered whilst living at Denver House. After waking for a third time I called for my dog. She knows this routine well now. She dived under the covers, turned herself around and then settled down next to me with her head resting on the opposite pillow.
Having her next to me and listening to her breathing (snoring) helped me to ground myself in the present and go back to sleep.
This time I had a wonderful dream that I would like to share with you.
I dreamt that I was cycling along a winding, cobbled road that climbed a steep hill. I was tired and it was dark. The bike I had was not suited to the road I was riding along which made the journey difficult but I would not allow myself to stop. I had a sense that I was almost where I needed to be although I had no idea where I was or where I was going.
I kept on cycling until I reached a flat surface on the hill. I stopped just as the sun began to rise. As it rose it spilled light over everything below it, revealing a beautiful town just on the other side of the hill. Beyond the town I could see the ocean glistening.
I like the way the light of the sun takes the place of the night’s darkness each morning.
I am grateful that I am enveloped by this light every day no matter how long the night before it.
The sunrise reminds me that light finds it’s way into all places in the same way that our inner light will shine through an open heart and wash over all of the darkness we have known.
Earlier this week, as I was trying to concentrate on reading a journal article for a university assignment, I became very aware of a seemingly unimportant memory vying for my attention. I often notice things like this happening when I am busy with something else and my usual reaction has been to try and shut these memories out and carry on doing whatever it is I am doing. This week, however, I decided to stop what I was doing and give the memory my full attention. For me, this means becoming present to the moment, allowing all thoughts, feelings and physical sensations to arise and subside without any attempt to control them. My goal was to simply witness the memory in its entirety whilst remaining aware of the present moment, to include a felt awareness of the body, the breath, the senses and the space around me. Scientifically speaking, what I am describing is a shift from a beta brainwave state to an alpha brainwave state, which happens when one becomes consciously and vibrantly aware of this moment – otherwise known as a meditative state.
I was remembering one of the boys from Denver House, who had made himself a cheese sandwich and smothered it in tomato ketchup. He had such a big grin on his face and was happily enjoying the lunch he had made. At this point my mind jumped in to question why on earth I was remembering this now when I had an assignment to work on. I let those thoughts drift into the background without judgement and allowed my attention to return to the memory, because clearly there was something within me that wanted to explore it.
By now I could clearly see this boy eating his cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich and my eyes filled with tears. I tried to resist feeling the physical sensations of this sadness and immediately became aware of a sharp pain in my left shoulder blade. I softened and relaxed my physical body, allowed myself to feel the physical sensations of sadness and the pain in my shoulder dissipated. I then became aware of my peripheral vision within the memory. The boy was central to my vision but I could now also see the kitchen in my peripheral vision. The kitchen was usually locked up and inaccessible for us kids but on this particular day a member of staff had opened up the kitchen and allowed this boy to make his own lunch and choose whatever he wanted to eat. Even the serving hatch was open, which I could now clearly see in my peripheral vision. Upon noticing this I became upset again.
Now I was able to see the importance of this memory. I wanted to be able to eat freely like the boy. I wanted to be able to choose what I wanted to eat and enjoy it, all of it, from the choosing of the ingredients, to the making and the eating, but I couldn’t. I felt trapped in my body, unable to express what I wanted. I would have loved to have eaten a cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich with this boy and share in his happiness but I couldn’t. I couldn’t open my mouth to speak never mind take the physical steps needed to make lunch, such was the power of my early conditioning and the effects of being trafficked, whereby all of my early conditioning was reinforced.
This inability to express what I wanted or take the physical action necessary to bring those goals to fruition became a pattern of behaviour in my life that extended out into almost all other areas of it. As I reflected on the memory that had surfaced I wondered if perhaps the first step on the road to expressing your authentic self, in word and in deed, is to first be honest with yourself about what is occurring for you in any given moment, how you are feeling, what you would like and so forth, not too dissimilar from the process of exploring my memory which I’ve described. I guess the second step is to then be honest in your actions, be that going and making a sandwich for yourself or asking someone for assistance in making it. As an adult I’ve realised the kitchen is always open, however, sometimes I still require courage to firstly, acknowledge what it is that I want, secondly, take myself to the kitchen and make it happen, and finally, enjoy the fruits of my labour, just like the boy from Denver House who thoroughly enjoyed the cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich he made.
Earlier in the year I noticed an adult dunnock with some fledglings in tow looking for food in the back garden and decided to see if the youngsters would feed out of my hand. I sat very still in a meditative position, seed in hand, and waited. After a while the young family returned to the garden to continue their search but they did not approach me, and then out of the corner of me eye, I noticed a black bird. But I wanted to feed the babies! I observed the thought and felt the energy of those words in my body… “but I want to feed the babies”. It certainly wasn’t a malevolent energy but it wasn’t exactly benevolent either. I continued to sit, seed in hand, exploring this energy in my body until a calm feeling of clarity filled me, and from somewhere deep within a voice spoke. If I were religious I might call it the voice of God, but I’m not, so I won’t.
Whenever I hear this voice, or perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say whenever I feel this voice, I am given a message which appears as a thought in my mind and I experience a feeling of total clarity in the body, and although the words appear in my mind as if they are mine, I know they are not from my consciousness. At least that is my experience of it if you can imagine that. It is a revelation, a communication of divine truth.
The voice said “all who are hungry will come”.
And so it is with anything offered in service. Perhaps it is not for me to pick and choose who I will serve if I have something to offer. Alongside my boxing coaching, I’m currently training to be a counsellor and I also lead meditation sessions for people based in different countries around the world, and it occurred to me that I do not know the background of anybody I work with. I know only what I am told and it could well be that I’ve worked with perpetrators of sexual violence and not known it. Should that become a barrier to my service? I sincerely hope not.
In service and with love,
-Zoe Patterson-Fighting back
P.S. the picture is of a baby dunnock I rescued from the claws of a cat.