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On being entombed

On being entombed, in a mine or in a mind.

Last week it seemed the whole world watched transfixed as 33 Chilean miners were successfully released from a 69 day ordeal during which they were trapped deep below ground when the mine they were working in collapsed. It is a tribute to the men and their rescuers that a potentially disastrous situation was brought to a successful conclusion. We wish the miners good health as they readjust to life above ground and in particular in dealing with the demands of their newfound celebrity.

These events brought welcome relief to a world growing weary of bad news stories of debt and recession. They also got us thinking here in Counselling Connections and talking about the notion of being entombed and various meanings around this. In the first instance we were struck by birth analogies in the manner in which the miners were rescued and delivered back to the world from ‘mother earth’, if you like. But our focus has remained on a different, darker aspect of what the story brings up for us when we reflect on our experience as counsellors working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

There is a psychological equivalent of the ordeal which the Chilean miners have endured. There is a dark place where the light of love or any kind of nourishment does not shine. There are boys and girls who have grown up to become men and women for whom there never appeared to be any prospect of either rescue or escape. And they have been walking among us, apparently free and in broad daylight while at the same time enduring the psychological entombment of abuse.

Natascha Kampusch’s book ‘3,096 days’ was published last month telling the story of her 3,096 days captivity at the hand of her paedophile captor. She is a young Austrian woman who was kidnapped at the age of ten and kept in a cellar for eight years. Her story is reminiscent of that of another young Austrian woman, Elisabeth Fritzl who was held captive in a cellar for 24 years by her father. In Elisabeth’s case she was repeatedly raped by her father and bore six children and suffered one miscarriage with him. These are horrific stories.

It is with sadness that we report to you that we are aware of many quiet lives lived by many people in our own localities who share some of the experiences of Natascha and Elisabeth. Psychological abuse is an intrinsic part of sexual abuse. The abuser maintains silence and keeps up his perverse practices with a reign of psychological terror which prevents the victim from speaking out. It is not unusual for such a perpetrator to be well regarded in his locality, someone with some standing in the community. He knows this and the child knows this and this is the psychological entombment of which we speak and which can last for year after year after year. No light of love, no oxygen of hope, no prospect of escape reaches into this particular tomb of abuse.

Learning to speak, to finally say the unsayable; finding someone to listen, someone who can understand, who will wait with you as you shine a light in these dark chambers is the beginning of the way out. There is relief and some comfort to be found in the resurfacing that can be achieved after a long therapy process to deal with these unspeakable things. It is long, slow and painful and at times deeply confusing to look back over chronic traumatic events and reorder these in your mind and slowly come to terms with them.

The president won’t be waiting to greet you when you emerge from the therapy room. Nor will there be press, nor cameras nor applause. But there can be a quiet, we hope contented, sense of being free and of living your own life anew. Anew or maybe even for the first time ever.

FB & MMG, Counselling Connections Dundalk.

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