As I am here alone at Christmas, I think of Christmas past. Seventeen years ago I miscarried my son Toep. I held him in my hand for a moment, not bigger than my palm. His face, hands and feet were already developed, he had the tiniest fingers and toes.
I buried him in the front garden and planted a tree on top. As the grief washed over me, wave after wave, his father was cold and heartless. My cries annoyed him. My sorrow angered him. I ended up running away from him, with our son, fearing for my life. He died last year.
Now my son only has me, and my other daughter, his half-sister. And I grieve alone. I look back and I realise I have always ever been alone.
Just like that Christmas Star. It is enveloping me, like a comforting blanket. But it is time to get out there, and face my fears and demons.
So my goal for 2021 is that I make new friends and truly connect. I need to show my real me, but also set boundaries and protect myself. Because I don’t want to be alone at Christmas or any other day. I want to live outside the cage I built and truly enjoy life. And I want to share it with someone.
But only with someone I can trust and who is interested in me, someone who actually cares.
So for all of you out there, cherish the people who love you, and love them back. But most of all love yourself. At the end of the day, the person you have to live with every second of the day, is yourself, so you better get to love that person most.
If you are like me, treated badly all your life and you can’t trust your own parents, you have to trust and rely on yourself. What has happened to you is not your fault. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t mean you are worthless. On the contrary, you are precious.
If you can’t think of any reason why you should live, make time to discover your talent, your joy, your reason. Dig into yourself and discover the gem inside. There is one. But it all has to start with self love. Find the little spark of love inside and shield, feed and care for it. It’ll grow bigger, the care becomes easier. And you’ll suddenly find yourself enjoying something intensely. You are then on your way.
That is my Christmas pledge to myself and my message to you. Life can get better, just work on it one tiny step at the time.
In the last week before Christmas I am still a week ahead of schedule with studying. This week, the topic is the death penalty. Obviously as a revolutionary socialist I am firmly against the death penalty, hell I am against the whole penal system. In this last blogpost before the new year, yes I am also taking a break, I will explain my thoughts and theory on this topic.
I will start off with an interesting view on murder by Friedrich Engels (1845), who is for those of you who don’t know, the financial force and co-author of Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’. He personally wrote ‘The Conditions of the Working Class in England’ in which he made this statement about the concept of ‘social murder’:
“..they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual” (p.126).
I would go as far as saying that all crime is a consequence of the material conditions people live in, which means that the capitalist state is ultimately creating crime. The capitalist state then punishes its citizens for committing these crimes, but doesn’t acknowledge its role in creating them nor does it have to face scrutiny or consequences for committing ‘social murder’ itself. This is because the state decides what is crime and has the power to legislate. When I say that the capitalist state creates crime, I mean it creates the conditions in which people are forced to commit crime, or are driven to commit crime. I know the causes of crime are very diverse and complicated but I think a lot of crime is caused by inequality, exploitation and deprivation which are the components on which capitalism thrives. Okay, yes, this is just my own personal opinion, I am not going to delve into it further and back it up with evidence.
Now the arguments in favour of the death penalty fall into two categories (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 197):
Arguments around preventing future harm
Arguments based on morality
The first argument has two components:
1. deterrence – the threat of death will deter people from committing a similar crime
2. incapacitation – by executing the death penalty a person will be permanently removed from society and thus does no longer pose a threat to society. This then suggests there is no hope for change within the offender.
Resulting from this line of thinking (deterrence), one has to conclude that capital punishment should result in clear reduction of murder rates (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 197). Unfortunately this is not the case. In the US the states with the highest murder rates account for around 80% of all state executions (Drake and Scott, 2019, p.193). So you can’t say it actually works as a deterrence, as evidence suggests otherwise.
Then there is the arguments based on morality. This includes retribution so that the death of the perpetrator can somehow provide ‘closure’ to the victim’s family. Unfortunately, this argument also is based on a sense of morality rather than evidence (Camus, 1957; Pojman and Reiman, 1997).
Arguments against the death penalty are also divided into the same 2 categories, based on morality and around preventing future harm. In case of the latter, the death penalty does not prevent future harm as a general deterrent, meaning that in places where the death penalty is applied as a threat for specific crimes, these crimes still happen at similar rates to places that don’t have the death penalty. It does however obviously work as a specific deterrent; a person killed through the death penalty will not commit any crime ever again Bedau, 2001). Another point is that often people legally killed by the state like this turn out to be innocent of the crime. It is also impossible to determine if someone would kill again in future (Zimring, 2004).
The moral arguments against the death penalty are for instance that it can be argued to be an act of hypocrisy that allows the state to commit legal murder on a person accused of the same act. Critics also question that it is mainly poor people who are sentenced to death, which undermines the application of the death penalty (Culbert, 2001). International human rights bodies like the UN argue for the importance of the ‘right to life’, and highlight the way that the state has power to take life, questioning the right of the state to have such powers (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 201).
I think after reading all this, that there are much better arguments against the death penalty, with evidence to back it up. It really makes me wonder how society would develop if we would live in a much more equal society, based on the common interest of improving living conditions for everyone on this planet. If life was not based around competition and producing the most profit and private property for a few extremely rich individuals over the backs of the billions of workers who are exploited for their labour.
Imagine if every aspect of life was based on the idea of improving everyone’s living conditions equally to the maximum possible. That is what socialism and ultimately communism is. There would be no competition, because we would all work towards this common goal. The death penalty does not belong in that picture. Yes, we would still have generations of extremely disturbed murderers we have to deal with, but because the whole outlook would be different, we might discover ways to rehabilitate most criminals and even murderers. If we would collectively look at solving those problems, I am confident we can find a way that works much better for both the victims of crime and their families, and the criminals and their families.
And living in a world that has to improve all life equally, the causes of crime would slowly disappear. To give an example, I once read about an experiment with rats. One rat was put in an empty cage with two bottles. One filled with water, and one filled with water laced with heroin. Very quickly the rat would start drinking from the laced water because it would feel better dealing with its surroundings and become addicted.
Then the same rat was put in a cage but this time it was filled with lots of fun activities, bedding, food and a few rat friends to accompany him. Both bottles were still there, but the rats hardly touched the heroin laced water. Conclusion, having company, warmth and activities to do making the rat feel comfortable and safe meant that it wouldn’t get addicted. Off course the same counts for humans.
In this capitalist society where individualism is encouraged, and communal activities are discouraged, there is lots of competition for necessities like food, water, housing etc. which places people against each other. Every aspect of life is made a commodity and love, care and empathy are rare and often also made a commodity for sale. This is extremely unhealthy behaviour and leads to addiction, loneliness, crime and deprivation. Communism is the opposite of that, it encourages working together, diversity, respect and love. I always have to think of the motto of the three musketeers: ‘One for All, All for One!’.
Engels, F. (1845) The Condition of the Working Class in England, Oxford, Oxford University Press (this edition 2009).
Drake, D.H. and Scott, D (2019) ‘The Death Penalty: state-sponsored murder?’, in Drake, D.H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D (eds) Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 183-208.
Camus, A. (1957) Resistance, Rebellion & Death (including Reflections on the Guillotine) (Trans. J. O’Brien), New York, Alfred A. Knopf (this edition 1961).
Pojman, L. and Reiman, J. (1997) The Death Penalty: For and Against, New York, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Bedau, H. A. (2001) ‘Abolishing the death penalty even for the worst murderers’, in Sarat, A. (ed.) (2001) The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Zimring, F. (2004) The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Culbert, J. L. (2001) ‘Beyond intention: A critique of the “normal” criminal agency, responsibility and punishment in American death penalty jurisprudence’, in Sarat, A. (ed) (2001) The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Drake, D.H. and Scott, D (2019) ‘The Death Penalty: state-sponsored murder?’, in Drake, D.H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D (eds) Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 183-208.
Many aspects of my study of Criminology remind me of the abuse and behaviour surrounding abuse in my own life. This week I am studying the violations of human rights by states and how some regimes behave in ways to avoid, deny or dismiss accusations of human rights violations, and every person’s responsibility in addressing this issue.
So I want to start off by quoting a few passages in my study book which deal with the concepts of denial and acknowledgement.
To be ‘in a state of denial‘ is to block out or repress or to simply avoid acknowledgement of, in this case, human suffering (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 175).
The opposite of denial is acknowledgement: recognising what is taking place and trying to intervene to make a difference. This can involve all sorts of different actions, but key among them is the act of questioning a situation wherein other human beings are suffering, being harmed or killed (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 175).
Cohen (2001) identified 3 main ways people deny knowledge of suffering:
Literal denial: atrocities are not acknowledged to have happened at all.
Interpretive denial: a harm is reinterpreted so that it appears as less serious.
Implicatory denial: when people recognise the reality of human suffering but deny any personal responsibility.
Cohen (2001) then identified 7 forms of implicatory denial, which he referred to as ‘techniques of denial’.
Denial of responsibility: A person denies they are fully or even partially responsible for human suffering they have directly witnessed or caused, but did nothing to stop. It was not their fault, it was an accident, or it was not intentional. The perpetrator, or observer, claims ignorance of what has occurred.
Denial of injury:What happened did not hurt. There was no or only limited damage caused. The action was harmless or the suffering created insignificant.
Denial of victim: There is no identifiable victim of the action. The sufferer has lost their claims to being a victim by precipitating the action themselves or undertaking an action that led to them being harmed: ‘They brought it on themselves’.
Condemnation of the condemners:The person who is complaining should be condemned. They may be hypocrites, liars or not seen as a respectable person or an authority who can make such accusations.
Appeal to higher loyalties:That the harm was done for the greater good. The suffering serves wider purposes, personal commitments, ties, bonds and beliefs. Somebody else is a more deserving person to be labelled a victim.
Denial of knowledge:This is when people claim they have no knowledge of certain events. There are gradations of knowing, and there is a fine line between knowing and consciously not knowing.
Moral indifference:The suffering of the other is acceptable. There is nothing to be explained away. Moral indifference arises when people become desensitized to suffering, emotionally overloaded, or when they distance themselves from others, seeing ‘the other’ as a lesser being.
In cases of domestic violence and also rape and sexual abuse all the above ‘techniques’ are being used by the perpetrator, and also by witnesses, family members or others with knowledge of the abuse. After reading this I was struck by the behaviour I recognised of some of the perpetrators, family and also of myself.
If you have read some of my former posts you will know I mentioned that as a child I was talking a lot, and also in a raised voice. I also questioned everything. At school, but also at home. So when my father came home from work I bombarded him with facts that happened that day between my mother and my sister, but also with questions. I wonder if I was always told to shut up because I was asking too many difficult and confrontational questions about my mother’s but also my father’s behaviour. As it says above, a key part of acknowledgement is the act of questioning.
Then all the different techniques of denial mentioned above make me think too. I recognise lots of different bits from all of the 7 points that I have seen in the perpetrators in my life. I think it is possible that perpetrators find all sorts of excuses, depending on the accusation and moment in time to defend their action or in-action. I think the human mind will always desperately try to avoid the confrontation with the reality of their behaviour, when challenged but also in case they are unchallenged. Over time their mind shapes a convenient memory they can live with, which often is not how it really happened.
Take point 1: Denial of responsibility: A person denies they are fully or even partially responsible for human suffering they have directly witnessed or caused, but did nothing to stop. It was not their fault, it was an accident, or it was not intentional. The perpetrator, or observer, claims ignorance of what has occurred. This is a point my parents keep making, they didn’t mean to do it. So that’s alright then, because they didn’t intend it. We still love you. And that is all in the past now. Well, no. It isn’t in the past, it keeps happening. And you keep saying you didn’t mean to. So no.
Another point I want to make is that a lot of feedback I get from others about my behaviour is the fact I have mental health conditions which are ‘probably partly to blame’. That sounds a lot like point 4 about condemnation of the condemners. Well, I know exactly what I am saying and doing, and why I am saying it and I take full responsibility for every word and action. I am writing this blog to question and bring into the open traumatic events that have happened to me, my sister and to what I have witnessed. But I am also honest about my own role in events and I want to question myself too. Because I believe, and this is what I think the text in my study module is referring to, that the only way to recover as a victim, and rehabilitate as a perpetrator is by facing up to the reality of what happened. By covering it up, staying silent, not discussing it openly and denying events, perpetrators will feel empowered to continue their sick behaviour, and the harm will continue.
I have decided that whenever I encounter harmful behaviour from anyone I have to protect myself, and my children. When I kicked out my ex-husband years ago, I only did that then because of the threat of my children being taken away from me if I did not act. But now, years later I have learned that I have to protect myself and my children by taking us out of the situation as soon as it’s clear that other options are exhausted, like setting boundaries, talking, confronting and ultimatums. I would like to take a quote from a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet (1981):
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Point 6 I also find very interesting. ‘Denial of knowledge: .. there are gradations of knowing, and there is a fine line between knowing and consciously not knowing’. Off course in my module material the famous example of German citizens claiming ‘Ich habe es nicht gewußt’ (I didn’t know it) after the war and the atrocities of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis became clear. This is a devious act of denial; consciously not knowing. What is that? Pushing your acts to the back of your mind, to somewhere so obscure even you yourself can’t find it. Or pushing it so violently away in your memory it seems to be gone, until one day 35 years later you suddenly start to get nightmares about it. And there it is. Or like most murderers knowing to have done it, but because they decide from the offset to deny it, at whatever cost, until they themselves believe they are innocent because by denying it they have pushed themselves over the thin line between knowing and consciously not knowing.
In point 7 dehumanising the victim is mentioned. Well, my sister was definitely dehumanised by my parents, by humiliation, denying her food and entry to the house, locking her up or out etc. Also point 3 denying of victim. Because always her ‘bad’ behaviour needed to be punished, like wetting the bed (a sign of emotional distress in children) refusing to eat, or do as was told.
But the bigger point I want to make, is about rehabilitation, reconciliation and recovery of harms. To even start with these processes one has to begin with acknowledgement, and then recognising the behaviour in real time, then stopping the behaviour and lastly changing the behaviour. Depending on how seriously ingrained the behaviour is, this process can take a lifetime. And a big chunk of people never even start let alone finish this process. It needs a level of self awareness, openness in case of the victim and also ability to feel remorse and guilt in case of the perpetrator.
Drake, D.H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘Dangerous States’ in Drake, D.H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 157-182.
Cohen, S. (2001) States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, Cambridge, Polity Press.
At my core I have a deeply engrained self-loathing. My own analysis concludes that when my sister was adopted when I was only 2 years old, I must have subconsciously concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. I also developed a jealousy towards my sister, as she did towards me. This is a common issue between siblings, so I guess it is not surprising between adopted siblings either. She was a novelty in those days, and attracted a lot of attention, although in our village there were several other adopted children, and a few years later we moved to a street with right next to us two Indian families with in total 5 children.
But besides us both developing jealousy towards each other, I think subconsciously I must have wondered about the reason why my parents adopted a child from so far away. My theory is that along the way I developed the idea that I must have been not good enough. When they undertook the trip to India to collect my sister, I was brought to my mother’s eldest sister, who had a daughter a few years older than me. I still remember some details about that. But off course this can be seen as an abandonment, even if it was just for a month or so, especially that when they returned suddenly there was this dark skinned girl to compete for my parents attention. This must have been a big shock for me.
Then the abuse towards my sister started. What message does that send to me, her older sister? First of all, that is a lot of attention directed towards her. Yes, it’s negative attention, but attention nonetheless. Second, it made me feel unsafe, and that I could not trust them to defend my sister and me, to provide care. Neither of them ever choose our side, stopped the abuse and neglect. Nor did any other family member, neighbour, childminder or school teacher. So I learned to distrust adults, and hate myself.
Then I was talking a lot, probably in an attempt for attention, and with a raised voice, which must have been very annoying. So I was repeatedly told to shut up, for years and years on a daily basis. I didn’t fit in anywhere, I felt different, and I wanted to be a boy. I didn’t like playing with girls, so I tried playing with boys. But they didn’t want to play with me, because I was a girl. This then resulted in me always being on the periphery of groups and just feeling awkward and alone. I felt I wasn’t listened to and to add to it, my father often laughed at me on moments that were particularly important for me to be heard.
During my teens and adulthood I have always sought to reinforce this feeling of hate inside me. I choose partners and ‘friends’ who were not interested in me, were emotionally unavailable, abusive and manipulative. By doing that I was never confronted with having to show my vulnerability. And if someone did take an interest I would skilfully avoid. But now, this is harming my own children because I struggle to show them love, physical touch and emotional support. How can I if I have this self-hatred? When my daughter tells me she loves me, I struggle to say it back, because I feel this rejection inside me. ‘You wouldn’t love me if you knew the inside me’. That is the kind of thoughts I have. I have no social life, no close friends and no family nearby. I have to change that.
I guess somehow I have to start loving me, really loving myself. But how do I go about that if my natural tendency is to reinforce this message of hate? Well, I have a few ideas. First of all, I have to set boundaries and stick to them. This is very difficult. Because I constantly make excuses as to why this person doesn’t need to abide by them. Say I get to know someone. One of my boundaries should be to never go to someone’s house the first time I meet them. Always meet in a public place and make sure my son knows where I am and what time I will be back. Or, set boundaries when and until when somebody can call me. Cause if I stick to those ‘self-love’ rules I will look after myself and my health and safety. But instead I often ignore all that, and allow myself to get into situations I can’t get myself out of or to be used. Because I give in to the promise or even just the anticipation of attention, physical or otherwise, which to me look like love, but I know isn’t. And then, I get abused, raped, manipulated, ignored or dumped and that, off course proves I am worthless, stupid, ugly etc.
When sometimes somebody comes along and actually is gentle, loving, caring and sensitive I feel extremely uncomfortable, awkward and I just want to run. Which I always do. Leaving people heartbroken, angry and upset. And I am alone again.
Now being alone feels so comfortable and great. I made myself believe it is better this way, because I am safe, my children are safe and nobody gets hurt. Which off course is a lie, because as long as I live like this my daughter gets hurt by me not meeting her emotional needs, and I have an enormous hole in my life of deep, black emptiness. So yes, I now realise I have to work on it, because I realise it. Ignorance is bliss, but sadly I am never ignorant.
Then there is the issue of the fact that every human needs other human contact. And I am still human. So all this time I have yearned for emotional comfort, safety and closeness. It’s called love. But I have never really felt it, truly. So I fight it, because deep inside I hate myself, but at the same time I want it. I need it. That is what Borderline Personality Disorder, or Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder is. Push and pull. Pull somebody close and push them away, sometimes in one sentence, in one moment. I bet you can see how hard it is to be in a relationship with somebody like me.
In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim.
Herman (1992*, p. 8)
These are the first lines of a chapter in my learning materials I was studying this morning. And they hit me like a brick. To me, this is so recognisable in my life. Most of my abusers, including my parents, have done exactly that, secrecy and silence and attacking my credibility.
In fact, since starting this blog I have received an angry email from my father blaming my personality disorder and accusing me of publicly slandering his good name and venting lies about them on social media. Then he went on to say I had to delete it and how and what I could say instead.
Since I was a child he has been telling me to shut up, be quiet and let others speak. I had a big mouth and was always exaggerating everything. He was always telling me how things should be done and what was best. And now, nothing has changed, he still thinks he knows best. Well, I am an adult now, and in my experience people learn by example. He might have told me many times over what was best, but he didn’t show me in his actions. His actions are that of a coward, hiding behind his infantile wife who bullies him and her children around. And even now, 40 years on he denies facts and tries to silence me.
I think it is absolutely crucial to let others know about the abuse, to talk about it and bring it out in the open. As long as it’s hidden, and nobody talks about it or knows who commit these crimes it will continue and perpetrators will know they are safe. By saying here, publicly, what happened and who did it I hope somehow I can find a way to stop history repeating itself, and it also is an opportunity to learn. I imply here, that I am not merely a victim, but also a potential perpetrator. Because the sad truth is, because this is my example I find myself in similar situations with my own children. I feel incredibly lucky to have a sense of self reflection, which allows me to change my behaviour. I have to work hard for it, because it doesn’t come natural to me to be a warm, loving mother. I have made mistakes, I have been unable to give my children the emotional safety and care they need many times, but I recognise it now and I can start to change it.
So perpetrators are often themselves victims too. Because of this it is often extra hard to admit, recognise and work on breaking the chain. But there are always opportunities both for the victim and the perpetrator to start recovery. There are lessons for both.
At the bottom of all of this is a deep lack of love. There is probably a long line of loveless parents before me, my parents, my grandparents and so on. If you are victim of domestic violence you learn you are not worth love, you are worthless. And because you don’t love yourself, you can’t be around people who show you love, and you can’t show it yourself. You will be on the roundabout of looking for confirmation of that self-loathing. And so the cycle continues into eternity. Except, you can do something to stop it. By owning up to it, to your own faults, by starting to recognise how you can’t be vulnerable to others, even your own children, you can try practise and face that deep fear. Be uncomfortable, feel anxious, be brave.
Surely that is less hard than see your children turn their backs on you, see your children suffer like you did, see them try and run away from it all, see them in unhealthy relationships, see them lose themselves in addiction and sometimes even kill themselves. I am determined to let the buck stop with me. Or at least as much as I can. Cause I know I have already passed on some of the bad stuff. But at least I don’t want to be a coward and stick my head in the sand pretending it isn’t there. It IS there. My own daughter is afraid of me, at least sometimes. But that is one moment too many. She shouldn’t feel afraid of me even one moment. I need to make her feel safe, I need to protect her. I need her to love herself. And that can only happen if I learn to love myself.
So, facing the facts is important, but also accepting that the way you experienced something might be different to somebody else’s. In my opinion a perpetrator is not allowed to devalue the experience of the victim, their feelings, nor their way of expressing those feelings about it. As a perpetrator you can only accept the facts and live with it, own up to it and do whatever is in your power to not repeat it. This is off course not even possible or feasible for a lot of people, because they simply lack the ability, deny it and continue their abusive behaviour. The consequence is this endless cycle of violence, passed on from generation to generation.
*Herman, J. (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books.
My life has always been very turbulent, a whirlwind of stressful and intense situations specked with parties, lots of togetherness and community spirit. Cause no one’s life is only horrific and traumatic.
When I left home at 17 I had no one and no where to go. I met up with my friend who already shared a flat with someone, where I slept on their couch for 2 weeks. One day we sat in a park with a bottle of wine and a few spliffs where we saw this tall man tie a rope between two trees and started walking on it. We were quite amazed how he did that and strung up a conversation. He was British and in his 30’s and very shy and quiet. He asked where we lived, and I mentioned I actually was homeless. He said he lived in a squat with a few other people, and one was leaving so a room would be available. He said if you are interested, come and introduce yourself and maybe they’ll be okay with you moving in. So that’s how my squatting journey began. I had no income, I was too young for benefits and quit school so somehow I needed money. I managed to get the child benefit money from my mum, which was very little, like f100,- (guilders) a month at the time. I remember often buying one bag of potatoes and a bottle of oil so I could make chips. But often I shared food with others, or went to a cheap soup kitchen in another squat. That first winter was very tough, I left home in October and in the squat there was only a big fireplace in the livingroom for heat so we had to venture out to collect firewood from the streets. We were roaming the streets a lot, to find stuff we could use, food at the market when the market closed, sometimes leftovers at shops who were friendly with us. I had to go to the laundrette to do my laundry, to the swimming pool to get a shower, but luckily we did have electricity and water which we paid for, like ‘normal’ people.
I think in this country there are a lot of misconceptions about squatting. There were in my country too. But back then, it was legal. There were strict rules like a building had to be proven to be empty for at least 1 year. So we were always scouting for empty buildings, sticking hairs on the edge of the door and the doorframe, leave it for 24 hours and come back to check if anybody had entered the building. If not, we could go in, check it out and if we liked it stay. We then had to stay inside for 24 hours, quiet as mice. If anybody would notice and call the police, we would be nicked for trespass and criminal damage. But if we could stick it out we could call the police to declare the building officially empty and they would then notify the owner. The owner could only get us out by going to court and proving to have either a building permit, a buyer, a renter or a permit to demolish. If there were no plans and the building was empty without prospects, the squatters could stay or make a deal with the owner. Sadly, the law changed and criminalised squatting somewhere after the year 2000.
I met the most colourful and diverse bunch of people during this time. There was still a lot of solidarity and a tight-knit community of misfits and drifters. I miss that a lot. I miss sitting around a fire, drinking mugs of tea with others and making music. I miss helping each other out. I miss the whole way of life, of making mend and make stuff from junk, creating homes in weird places, travelling, meeting hundreds and hundreds of others like me. But the strange thing is, I didn’t make really good friendships. Out of all those people I only still have contact with a handful, maybe 2 or 3. I feel sad about that. I feel sad that amidst all of that appearance of togetherness I still felt desperately alone.
My life was and became more and more chaotic and I felt so restless. I couldn’t settle anywhere, I moved probably more than 50 times. I drank a lot. I used drugs, a lot. I became very very depressed and I started to get psychosis. My trauma haunted me, and nearly killed me. But somehow, slowly and after 5 years of this a few things happened that really clearly signalled I had to drastically change my situation or face death. But I will talk about that another time.
Since my separation and divorce from my ex-husband I have not had a serious relationship with anyone else. I got hurt so badly that I decided it would be best to be alone. Not in the least because I nearly lost my children and I wanted to protect them from any more trauma.
But slowly as I recovered, I turned my thoughts to why I am always attracted to emotionally unavailable, distant, violent and manipulative men. I have had a few relationships with loving, kind and caring men but after a short while I felt uncomfortable, anxious and basically ran for the hills. Breaking hearts as I did. For which I feel very guilty and if any of you read this: I am sorry.
I have discovered that as I have never known unconditional love, as a child, I have not learned to love myself. Only if a child has the experience of unconditional love from a parent or carer from birth they will develop a sense of self-love. I have clearly been taught the opposite. I witnessed terrible violence against my sister, and was told to shut up and stay out of it. When I was 2 my sister was adopted, which subconsciously told me I must have not been good enough if they went all that way to adopt another child. She then got a lot of attention, mostly negative but still attention as I was the ‘good’ child. But the biggest overriding message was that I couldn’t trust my parents, they did not keep us safe, they violated our trust and loyalty towards them by abusing and starving my sister and neglecting both of our emotional needs and allowing it to continue. This is a very powerful message of rejection and abandonment which to me clearly said: ‘you are worthless and you are not worthy of love’.
Then when I grew up it felt safe to be with people who weren’t interested in me, who didn’t show care and protection and love. And when somebody did show interest, care and love it felt very uncomfortable, uneasy and scary. So I ran. Instead it felt much better to have my internal message of self-hate enforced by violent, abusive, manipulative men, because I actually believed it to be the truth!
So the inevitable conclusion is, that if I want to experience true love I have to start learning to love myself. Only once I feel comfortable with that feeling, I can allow somebody else to love me back and be in a successful mutually loving relationship. But how do I go about that? For decades I have worked on enforcing the feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing, and I have come some way of practising self-love by looking after myself better, live healthier, engage in therapy and support but I don’t think I have even scratched the surface of starting to love myself more.
The evidence of that lies in that I am still attracted to unhealthy men, bad boys, tough guys, emotionally damaged men who are in one way or another not emotionally available. Still, I am very comfortable in my own company, I look after myself physically and mentally and I don’t engage in risky behaviour anymore. But I just don’t know what the next step is, except that I have to draw boundaries and stick to them.