The Discomfort Of Compliments And Shame

Recently I embarked on reading my diaries from start to finish. I began writing when I was twelve so my journey will take a year and a half reading at my current speed of one month a day.

My motive is to reacquaint myself with memories that the trauma monster kicked out of my mind when it was roused into frenzied excitement by the court case against my paedophile grandfather. The legal proceedings also exposed many questions that I hope these unexpectedly fascinating pages can answer, such as, how is it that I am now estranged from my family?

Although I’m only half the way through, what an incredible journey it’s been!

I revisited with gentle understanding the blinkered years of denial when I bought Christmas presents for the man who repeatedly assaulted me as a child, believing that everything was perfectly normal when it was anything but.

With warmth and nostalgia, I relived the security of being part of a family which I no longer have; the games of Trivial Pursuit, the collective distress of my brother’s cancer diagnosis and the comfort of routine and familiarity.

But I quickly skimmed over the entry when my parents chastised me for pushing away my grandfather when he wanted to hug and kiss me goodbye; the day I disclosed his crimes to them. Because instead of feeling pride at taking this huge and terrifying step, I felt great shame.

Shame. Shame accompanies me through life as if it were a hereditary disease.

Whilst reading my diary, I’m constantly reminded of errors I’ve made such as simply mistaking someone else’s shopping trolley for mine to repeatedly returning to a boyfriend whose cruelty towards me is painfully documented over years. But I haven’t disclosed most of my shameful memories to my diary, because, well, I’m too ashamed.

But I haven’t forgotten them. Oh no. Because several times a day, shameful memories randomly pop into my mind and I cover my screwed up face with my hand and groan through my clenched teeth as the pain of self-loathing stabs my chest.

I even felt ashamed graduating from university, to the extent that I refused the professional photo with the mortar board that is proudly displayed on so many mantel pieces. Even though my brother was terminally ill and my boyfriend, a man I loved, was raping me, I felt I could have done better.

For me, it’s as easy to feel shame as it’s hard to acknowledge my achievements. Even if someone I trust compliments me, I either think they are mistaken or are just being kind. And if it’s someone I don’t trust, well, then I immediately wonder what they are grooming me for sex, money …what do they want?

‘You should write a book!’ one of my friends said recently after my paper time machine transported me back to the days I roamed around places like Iran, Papua New Guinea and Mali. Indeed I’ve swum with jellyfish, sharks, dolphins and icebergs, I’ve slept in gers, caves, capsule hotels and hammocks, I’ve eaten fugu, ants, crocodile and never again, surströmming. But I dismissed ten years of solo adventures as ‘just following the backpacker trail.’

Not only am I unable to acknowledge my triumphs, I don’t even remember them despite having a steadfast memory of all my mistakes.

I remember with clarity, struggling with the sensitive controls of a private plane for a few minutes before giving up. It was a sparkly, wirebound journal that reminded me that I had subsequently grasped how to fly a small plane, steering around clouds whilst controlling the altitude and peering at skiers on the Japan Alps below. How could I forget that?

An A4 folder of stolen school paper revealed my refusal to take a domineering boyfriend on holiday with me, confirming boundaries I had forgotten and reversing the image of the love-struck pushover I thought I had been.

And with such pleasure I read how I dumped, then turned my back on a particularly malevolent boyfriend to rejoin a party, leaving him crying alone in the van in which he had raped me.

I’m so thankful to my diaries for reminding me of my achievements to balance the failures that I’m unable to forget.

The only time I remember feeling pride, was hearing the judge’s sentencing remarks in court following my grandfather’s conviction. But even then, I reminded myself how fortunate I was that the police and CPS had decided to prosecute.

And this occasion was still coupled with shame, my faithful shadow. This time body shame that society has bestowed on me that I felt when the judge mentioned my vagina and labia. And as I also readily accept others’ shame as my own, I was deeply embarrassed by my family’s absence in the courtroom.

I probably wouldn’t have been in court had I not endured the worst humiliation when the police seized my precious diaries to use as evidence. All those details of my sex life (and sometimes photos too), with golly, so many men, broadcast in black biro.

Nevertheless, the judge praised me for keeping a diary and indeed, so have many others. But compliments make me so uncomfortable that I quickly mumble that many people write diaries and I’m lucky to have mine.

And there you have it, I put 38 years of documenting my life every single day down to ‘luck’.


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