Survivor Stories

 

Mouna: 

“I was told alcohol is evil and that my flesh will rot if I touch pork because pork is haram*, and if I ate it, or sat with someone who ate it, I would not only bring shame to the family but also meet a horrible end in the afterlife where I would be kept alive only to be tortured.

When I left and I got my first job as a waitress, I kept running to the bathroom to throw up because pork was being served there.

To be honest when I first got the job, I didn’t think about it, I didn’t think it was such a problem, but a few times when I was young I think I asked if I could try it. I didn’t realise how serious it was. The reaction was like I had asked to kill someone or done something really bad. 

I just wondered about it to my sister. My sister told my mother and I was beaten by everyone in the family for weeks after that. It was like they took turns and enjoyed hitting me. They told me it was for my own good. 

After that I could never even look at a picture of bacon again. 

But yeah, I got this job and anytime someone ordered pork, I fell apart. All kinds of things happened to me. I did throw up a lot. I don’t remember what the manager said, but they had to let me go. 

Then later I had a secretarial job and the office went for team dinner and I didn’t want to talk about my religion, especially since I was feeling so good since I left it, and I had a couple of beers and I was really relaxed and I just started saying, “pork is dirty, isn’t it? I think pork eat their own faeces.” (I wish someone told me how petty and silly that sounded, also it may have sounded judgemental because I was calling them dirty for eating pork). Even though I let go of everything else, that idea stayed with me. I still don’t eat it, but I don’t overreact now when I see others eating it. I don’t know why I don’t eat it, I just don’t. Also, I hate seeing ads with pigs in them, and I don’t find Peppa pig cute, it scares me. But I am much better now.”

 

*Haram = forbidden by Islamic law

 

Program focus used with Mouna: 

  • Identifying your emotions.

  • Understanding your values. 

  • Articulating emotion.

  • Understanding and role playing the impact of your words on others.

  • How to express your views without imposing them on others.

  • Healthy boundaries 

 

Saima: 

“At work (selling phone plans) it’s really hard for me, because my manager instructs customer-facing staff to smile at people, but the whole time I was growing up, I was told over and over that you don’t smile at random men, because that’s haram, you are tempting them. A smile is an invitation and a woman should guard herself. Your expressions are the first purdah (veil). You keep your eyes down, and don’t look at men/boys. And if you wear loose clothing, then you are safer from their eyes. Yeah, so I have a hard time at work. I cannot explain to my manager how many times I was humiliated and shouted at in a market or at the grocery store for saying thank you with a smile. At school it was important to smile, and say thank you, the two went together. And with my family they thought I was acting like a prostitute if I smiled and said thank you. Working with CAP, with so many supportive workshop leaders, I have realised it's harmless but up to now, I just didn’t have much contact with others. Yes, I am free to step outside, but I am scared to speak to strangers, I am scared of what they ask, and I am always scared of the flashbacks. But mostly judgement, I’m scared of being judged. 

 

Judgement is big for me: I could never raise my hand in class because in my house, you don’t speak when elders are talking, it’s an age thing, younger people’s opinions are not worth listening to, and as a female younger person, forget it, you may as well not exist, but then at school the teachers said, “Speak up, what do you think?”... I could never really discuss topics with my teachers. I did have ideas though. I have been told to shut up because I don’t have the right to speak up in my culture, and now at meetings at work I am always trying to speak, I have the idea at the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t get the words out.”

 

Program focus:

  • Use roleplay to normalise appropriate expressions in different situations at work and contrasting them with personal issues that may arise.

  • Practice in critical thinking and presentation skills, using extemporaneous debate* techniques and watching Ted Talks on relevant topics. 

  • Movement and wellbeing: game-based workshops

  • Nature walk/ nature craft/ transient art  

 

*Extemporaneous debate means preparing the content spontaneously and then presenting without preparation. It allows for a more natural speech which in an audience setting keeps the audience more engaged. It also allows us to speak without the pressure of an “exam preparation”.

 

Naeema: 

“My family would tell me I speak too loud, too shrill for a female, and I should try to sound timid and this really confused me. I became quiet. In school they tried to get me to talk louder. Teachers would say, “Your ideas are good, you should speak up.” Then I got marked down for lack of participation. They tried to talk to my mum and she said, “it's good she doesn’t chatter senselessly.” A few teachers were really nice to me and encouraged me to join after school clubs, that saved me. I was doing all the self-harm stuff. I cannot explain why. I couldn’t speak at home without someone shutting me down, sometimes I got a slap on the head and I always got a headache after that lasted for days. 

It wasn’t anything like domestic violence or real beatings like I have heard other survivors talk about. I feel like an impostor sometimes in the survivor sessions. Everyone sounds like it was really bad for them. For me I just don’t know why I was doing the self-harm stuff. I read about it online a lot after that. And it makes sense that I was trying to feel something maybe because I was numb? Everyone in my house just shouted at me or told me off or ignored me for about 16 years. I couldn’t feel happy. Sometimes if no one was home I watched a show and saw a family laughing. I wondered what that was like. 

The after-school clubs really helped because my mom and dad thought it was academic and that is ok. Enjoyment is not ok. Enjoyment is for lazy, frivolous white people. After school they wanted me to go to Farsi class in this flat in my council housing estate, which was also the class on how to be a Shia (denomination of Muslim). The teacher called white people frivolous and loose and shook her head at them all the time. Sorry. I was trying to explain how the after-school clubs saved me. In a few weeks, we were laughing together, like a real family: it was great. Then my Farsi class started to clash with timings (of my after-school club) and I had to stop. But that gave me hope that there was another kind of life. 

 

I looked up definitions online, I know you’re not an expert but do you think I have a personality disorder, I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, I cannot focus on stuff, people say I just zone out. And then I also see my mum shouting at me. I know I am not supposed to dwell on that stuff. I know I am safe now, but the flashbacks feel real. But I used to lash out and over react and now I am learning that doesn’t help anyone, it does not help me ‘achieve my goal’ – that’s what the emotion management workshop teaches me, and it makes sense. 

 

I work a lot and I love my work, and I know I burn out because I cry a lot at home. I workout so much to stay thin because everyone in my family looked like massive scary monsters, they ate and they forced me to eat and they wanted to fatten me up (because I was considered too skinny to be a (culturally acceptable) bride. They commented a lot on my dark skin colour and how I would never find a family to marry into. They thought eating a lot more would stretch out my skin. It sounds ridiculous now but I was really afraid of ending up like them. And one time I said, “leave me alone I never want to get married” and my father almost broke my jaw. And they wanted me to do so much cooking, I was always cooking, because they always had all their community meetings at the house. I never had any time for coursework. If I ever said anything about needing time for school, or needing to do an assignment, my brother would just rip up my notebooks. 

 

At school, teachers thought I just was not doing assignments. But there was not even a closet where I could hide to do my coursework. I was really scared after that time when my brother ripped up all my notebooks and said, “now go help mum.”  After that one time I tried again, and I really wanted to do an essay the right way with the right research and I loved the topic of Suffragettes and my teachers encouraged me as well. I was so happy that week. But then I missed one family dinner and some aunty of mine commented that I wasn’t a family type of girl, and my mother just cried and cried and said I have shamed the family and the news would spread all over the community that I would not even come down for dinner. I said, “For Fxxk’s sake mum, say I am studying so I can pay for 900 dinners to be catered for my mum.” And after that she just pretended to be sick and lay around and made me do everything, even the daily cooking, the ‘six times a day’ tea rituals each time someone stopped in, she just forced me to do it. And I couldn’t tell anyone. How would I explain. In these CAP sessions, it took me eight weeks to say just this. But I feel safe here, but no one else will ever understand so it is better to bury this stuff. My friends tell me to get over it, forget it, but there are things like that I can’t forget.

Like, another time I fought with my brother when he tried to rip up my essay just as I finished it and I just couldn’t take it. Shame at school for never being able to complete coursework, shame at home for wanting to study, and I could never be good enough for my family. 

How did I find out about my forced marriage? Right. One of my cousins was teasing me once that he didn’t like my tea and that my in-laws would hate me, and I said, “I’m not getting married,” he said, “yes you are, next month.” And that’s how I found out my parents had arranged my marriage and were going to just make me do it. I didn’t know their plan.

I told a white friend at school and she helped me escape and get a train and we went to stay with a friend of hers. My parents didn’t know I had any gora* friends, so I got lucky. 

I know I’m a bit of a workaholic and a perfectionist now, I am so scared of leaving things unfinished. My colleagues say it's unhealthy, but my manager likes my work, and says they are all jealous.  My colleagues are happy with me sometimes, when I do their work for them and they pass it off as their own. I just want them to like me, but I know that everyone can’t always like me.”

 

*Gora = white person

 

Program focus:

  • Understanding your worth/ Ikebana 

  • Articulating emotion/ learning your human limit

  • Developing a support network/ friends circle that matches your values.

  • Making space for self-care/ Nature walk

  • Healthy boundaries 

 

Wanda:

“I tried to get help but I lived in a small community and everyone knew each other. I was cutting myself and I think my mother knew it. She ignored it, and I wore long sleeves all the time, I knew how to hide it. One parent of mine is originally from a Pakistan family and that was the problem. He didn’t get along with his family. He was the rebel but then if I rebelled against him drinking too much or hitting my mother or forcing her to have sex, then I was the problem and he would try to shut me up. He hit my mother really hard for small things, like too much salt in the food, or too little.

She worked for a mental health services charity, and when I tried to get help for myself, when I told my mum, she just said, “Don’t you dare come round to my work. Don’t tell anyone. What will people think? That I can’t get my own house in order. I am no good at my job.” I begged her and she started crying and she really broke down. It was the first time I saw her like that. She said, “Please don’t do this. If you go to them for help, then I have nowhere to forget the hell I live in. Please don’t tell anyone.” I knew I had to go when my dad started getting more violent with me over small stuff, like he was with her, and I couldn’t protect her either, because she didn’t want the shame. She said she could take the beatings but not the shame. I told her to run away with me, but she said no, that was how she was raised to accept the things a man does because a man is king. I kept thinking, we live in the UK. but she acted like our house was that country where men were kind and you could use and abuse a woman and treat her like a prisoner. 

I left home, but now I know I am depressed. I am getting help now that I have admitted it. I also realised I don’t want the shame of saying it, because in my house, mental health was never discussed, and my mother must have had issues, but she never admitted it. The way the community talks about you, it's like you are crazy. They laugh at you, so she was always afraid of the community, “what they will say?” etc. I wish I could say to her, stop being afraid of being judged, focus on yourself. But maybe I need to tell myself that. Sometimes I do really well at university, but then sometimes I just can’t get my s%it together. I find it hard to prioritise stuff. And here one thing I find really useful in the program, I learnt to calculate consequences. Growing up, there was so much drama that all I did was cry, because also, that was the acceptable thing for females to do, if I cried, I had half a chance someone might let me be. But now in a crisis I am learning to be calm. At school, my science teacher believed in me, and I sometimes told him stuff, maybe I was hoping he would do something, but maybe he didn’t want to interfere.”

 

Program focus:

  • Practice in decision making/ calming oneself/ mindfulness 

  • Emotion recognition/ Self Expression via Haiku 

  • Distraction techniques when feeling overwhelmed

  • Problem solving with an emphasis on weighing different consequences. 

  • Movement and wellbeing/ Nature walk

 

 

In this HBA impact briefing we look at four HBA survivor testimonies. Each survivor testimony was collected over a six-week, eight-week or one-year period, depending on the length of their program. They are relevant quotes kept within the context of their conversations and the workshop they were in when they made these comments. 

 

Note: We signpost our clients to the relevant mental health services, as and when they need. We also accompany them to appointments when they feel overwhelmed. We wait for the appointment to end, and then have a calming walk or tea to help them let go of the event where they were triggered so they can get on with their week. 

 

Explore our programs:

Accompaniment for vulnerable individuals 

Unfurl program for HBA survivors

Emotional Recovery programs

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