In April 2021 a group of people came together to embark on a creative writing course. We met once a month online, for a period of six months. All of those involved identify as adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The NSPCC estimates that 11 million adults in the UK have been sexually abused before they were sixteen years old and it’s likely that the actual figure is even higher. Because of entrenched shame and stigma, survivors of CSA often feel isolated, finding it difficult or being unable to talk to others about their experience.
We are so proud of the work in this anthology and the people who produced it. It’s been an honour to go on this journey and we want to acknowledge each other for the courage, commitment and integrity that’s gone into this anthology. This is just the beginning for Kindreds Creatives and we’re so excited to facilitate more sessions to connect survivors of CSA and to lift their voices up.
Please note that some work contains reference to CSA and trauma.
We hope you enjoy reading this anthology as much as we enjoyed making it.
Keys: new home, new car, freedom.
A fresh new notebook.
The odd-looking plant my lecturer gave
me because it wasn’t getting enough sunlight…
his name is Edgar and he is thriving today.
The necklace my parents gave me.
A pot for planting.
A positive pregnancy test.
My car, it’s been a useful escape in a lot of ways.
Mornings and new mugs.
Belly buttons, shoots of bulbs, sunrise.
Heart-shaped stones, raindrops hanging on leaves.
Even though they didn’t listen; even though they wouldn’t stop.
Even though you felt threatened and you were told to shut up,
Listen younger me–you will speak.
Your words became choked,
Your beautiful words fell into an abyss,
Your words no one wanted–locked away, out of reach.
Listen younger me–you will speak.
Even now when your words stumble,
When they feel locked away,
Remember, now they’re listening–
You are free to speak.
A lone figure sits on an empty beach,
sand glittering, beds of aquamarine
pools like abandoned piers stretching
for the horizon.
Sun on her face, hair whipped
into salty dreadlocks framing pink cheeks,
eyes that flicker and glisten.
Her heart beats to the same rhythm
of the swash and backwash of the waves,
breathing slow and heavy and deliberate,
loaded, weighed down with the scent of
salt and drying seaweed.
She came here tonight to learn how to fly.
Arms stretch out like wings that have not yet developed,
to learn what it feels like to be utterly weightless,
just for a moment.
Instead, flip flops skidding
like a newborn colt finding its feet,
she picks her way slowly down the cliff path,
a gentler route.
Her heart is fit to burst as the water steals
kisses from her toes, soul glowing
the same shade of peach as the clouds
splashed against the sky.
She is here, moulded to the shore
like her life still depends on it.
She sits in air like hardened amber and, for now,
that is enough.
You wake up with only a little tension around your knees, your thighs, and have a smoothie and a cinnamon and raisin bagel and hope it doesn’t make your body cry.
You wear your comfiest clothes because no one is around to see you and because no one is around to see you, you cry thick snotty gargles.
Fluttery, butterfly eyelashes, and
Pale moss irises, framed by
Gentle black circumferences
When you cried over some guy who was not worth your time…
I was your rock when
He broke your heart
We cried together
Shared the loss–both
Wondering where our worlds had crumbled to…
On each other like
And collided in a dense wood–roots
We ploughed through life.
Wounded and resilient,
Scattered and determined, you
And we planted new seeds to grow through the fragments.
Bulbs full of daffodils and bright yellow ideas about the future.
The flowers will bloom
And you will see,
That new branches and leaves grow from upturned trees damaged by stormier weather than we can perceive–
There are struggles that will exceed these–
And when they come
Nest in each other’s arms,
Hold on to the calm,
‘Til the storm is just a breeze
Every sense, underlies sensuality
Every thought, sculpts divinity
The essence of all things
The blossom of life
Grace, beauty, other worldliness
Ceremonies for a luckier life
All improve divinity’s script
Everything is divine, after all
Every word, every thought
Whatever goes around
Will come around
This divine sacredness
Supports the entirety of life
These divine echoes
Enhance simple living by light.
I had forgotten the thrill
of water in summer
of throwing my entire body
into it headfirst. I’d forgotten
how that felt–the exciting
uncertainty of its welcoming
When I was younger, I didn’t know
that water in summer was not
a given. That you had to choose
to spend time with it–with her
to be fed her nutrients
to be reacquainted with my body
and be reminded of its
Now I know how precious
that moment is, of floating
in her cool saline arms
while kissed by the rays
of sunshine on my eyelids,
the tingly headrush of
a somersault that transforms
me back into a mermaid
as though I’d never left.
In nature I feel safe, alive and inspired. I feel surrounded by life and everything that goes with it. I feel invigorated and connected. It is my beating heart.
Tiny crab basking in the sun on the beach,
Girl cross-legged, basking in the sun on the beach,
Rising tide brings in kelp that threatens and then smothers the crab–unexpected, shocking, suffocating, terrifying.
The girl’s rising tide brings shame: choking, suffocating, threatening to strangle the girl’s self-worth–not letting it grow.
Tiny crab emerges, urgently, frantically: ‘Fuck you seaweed,’ it thinks (that’s right crabs swear),
The girl emerges urgently, frantically: ‘Fuck you shame’ (that’s right girls swear).
A home from home
A place I don’t feel alone
The wind that touches me
Damn it’s godly
My feet they grip the ground
Pulling me, anchoring me down
The sun she warms me up
It’s just something about her
I enjoy her love
She lights my heart-space up
Resting for decades, perhaps more,
waiting with inhuman patience to be scooped up
by sand-tightened, glass-calloused hands.
A silence that is away from the world.
A stillness that feels like peace.
Quiet but not quiet.
The rain falls
But that’s ok,
All weathers are welcome
in my presence
Even silent days.
No one has ever made tea for me like this:
no one has cared so deeply,
so consistently and persistently
about what I want and what my body
and my soul might enjoy.
Then it was carrots.
Her gentle ridicule of my prejudice.
Her invitation to actually taste without deciding first.
The example given and never forgotten,
amplified through a thousand future moments–
and passed on perhaps–but in any case mine.
Everything is chaos, wonderful,
kitchen roll to mop up grease, my hand
cupping his transportation of the whisk across the kitchen,
Yorkshire pudding batter dripping into my palm.
The time it takes to caramelise the onion reminds me
of taking my time, and that I’m worthy of taking my time.
Here is my happy life.
Sea salt drifting. A gift of wood, crafted by the sea, tossed around, battered but ultimately beautiful. Crashed by waves and dashed by currents but still found its way to daylight, to the beach, to the sun, to me. A metaphor of life, of power, of still retaining beauty. Its shape is comforting, I want to look after it, admire it and keep it safe. It’s been through a lot and come through. Landed on the beach, in the sun, the crashing has stopped, a new chapter has arrived. The sun warms it through, in safety, in serenity. Memories linger in the cracks and the crevices, the embedded bits of stone in the wood have their own stories.
I remember charcoal drawings, their mystery an origin, peppering bad-touch cobalt felt dividing us from interaction.
I remember crisp ice, and how much it hurt when kissed by a knee.
I remember validation.
I remember pinprick eyes of glassy intelligence, belying an edge which I could not see from my vantage point.
I remember too-large fabric on too-soft skin, hanging off a non-skeletal, non-angelic body.
I remember falling many times, in a thousand different ways.
I remember velvet slipped around my neck: a false fantasy of consensual non-consent.
I remember more art–much better than my own–scratching out shadows and details and all the other minutiae I never knew about your life.
I remember the self-esteem I purchased with illegal tender from the bank of my mouth.
I remember being hunched over a bucket at 3am, curled and shivering with sickness, hoping the part of you that was missing would show up and play doctor.
I remember the song and dance I performed each and every day to ensure no understudy would ever usurp your command of the stage.
I remember remembering fuzzy green capitals on a defunct application, screaming of death.
I remember remembering to remember how little I remember of you.
I remember a dusky coat swallowing a smile dressed as a person.
I remember finding grace.
I remember finding patience.
I remember finding an anchor.
And I remember finding none of that in you.
I want you to know
I’ve come out my shell
Matter of fact there is no shell
I’m completely out
Whatever that means
It’s time for me to fulfil my deepest dreams
I knew my deepest desires
I just never realised I was calling my future
I’ve repressed myself for so long
I wasn’t seeing me that was wrong
But I’m writing this
So I obviously see me now
I hope I am
I just want to be me now
I can’t believe I’m finally free
Come on universe it’s time to embrace me
Our tears are thoughts
Rushing through desolate streets
Chasing our hearts
Into desperate bleak corners
Pulsing with fault
Holding grief with unkind hands
Laying blame at our own feet
What about if it was not us never us nothing about us
What if it’s all on them acting only from their own selves
Maybe we’re nice and clever pretty perfect loveable clean
Maybe we can let them carry their own shame
Maybe you thought by doing that I would be quiet and silent,
but still I smile
you hurt me badly, you did what no father should do,
but still I smile
I tried in my heart to forgive you. I can’t.
But still I smile
I asked you to admit it, and say sorry. You didn’t.
But still I smile
You are dead now, and I wonder if you are at peace,
but still I smile
I speak of your crimes, I tell my story, my truth,
and still I smile
Now I am free, I am happy,
and I laugh out loud.
I wanted to cry for you
For the times I did not cry for me
For the first unwanted touch
For all the kisses sucked in whole
For all the times I cracked back ribs
For all the times my heart split
For all the times I spread my legs
For the first blood-stained sheet
For all the wanting, willingness, wedged under pillows
For all the pillows. Sheet. Legs. Ribs. Split. Whole. Touch. Me. You.
For all the parts
Each drop that makes it through
Thuds heavy and conspicuous
Protections are in place to prevent this
There are regulations
Tongues will wag
One drop gains a foothold
Weakening weight bearing structures
Violating section 3 paragraph 4
Heads will roll
This little container of memories that only I inhabit
It needs a lot of upkeep to stay
afloat. It often sinks, and when it does,
I sink in it because it is me.
The pain is never far beneath the
surface, not anymore anyway.
Sometimes I choose denial still and lose myself
in another ocean invented by others, pretending I’m
a fish that doesn’t have to know what water is.
But sometimes I choose to face my stories and ghosts
and accept that I have to dwell amongst them for a while,
remembering what was done to me on a dark night remembering
the paralysis and agony and fear of the endless pit.
This is all I have but it is something and I am still here–
So I kick my way back up and I fight and find my way to the living to breathe.
And what a breath! These are my lungs filling, this oxygen
was intended for me. This drumming in my chest is my own heart,
This pain is my own pain, this anger is my own anger.
If they say I am beautiful, it’s true.
If they say I am talented, it’s true.
And it belongs to no one else.
Still I live, I’m here standing quiet no more. Not ashamed or “reserved” or “a difficult child.” Louder, bolder, stronger. I have words. I can choose loud or quiet. Still I live.
The blinking bulb is the sun
even though it is dark outside.
You will be strong, your time will come,
even though you feel away from the world
your body is here and your mind will come
to join you. I want to cry for you
for all the times I didn’t cry.
I’m sorry. Do you want a hug?
Tell me in tears or curse words
or mime or whispers. I’m here.
I’m listening. I see you.
‘If you don’t mind I will just stay and sit here,
next to you, if you do not mind…
so you do not feel alone’
I don’t have to defend myself against
your sobs. They belong to me too.
This little woman crying and crying
and screaming and dying every time she
remembers the pain the triggers of
her terrible memories.
She was innocent and a child.
What if nothing is personal?
Can we then stem our eyes,
calm our breath, hold our grief
and just be with the sad imperfection of life?
If you’ve sat on the edge
of your bed with your head
in your hands, or on the edge
of something much bigger,
worn lipstick like armour,
crushed a man’s heart beneath
your heel because to do nothing
was to be crushed yourself,
you are so strong.
Your sobs fill the entire room,
flowing out from under the cubicle door.
I try to find any rhythm in your sorrow,
listening to your staccato tears and gasps,
trying to make sense of your sadness.
A futile gesture.
I want you to know I’ve been here too.
Sobs muffled into sleeves pulled over arms
and waiting for the safety of the hand dryer hum
to scream ‘fuck this’. I am here too.
But listen, I hear you and fuck it, fuck the haters and
the judges–you are awesome. Your body and mind they
are magnificent–your tears, your sweat, your very being.