The Recording Angel

24 May



Twelve months ago, I found myself in a situation that eerily replicated scenes from childhood. I had done everything in my power to avoid the circumstances, knowing the damaging effect they would likely have on me. In the initial example of traumatic repetition the matter was taken out of my hands by the other party in a betrayal of trust that continues to leave me stunned, and exhausted by the fatigue that accompanies the struggle to come to terms with events over which one has no control.

I behaved exactly as I had when a child. I became compliant. I tried to anticipate the other’s wishes. I did what I thought the other wanted me to do. I felt outside of myself, an observer rather than a participant. I fled, as I did as a child, into the persona I came to think of as the recording angel, the only part of me with any agency, the part of me that witnessed, the part of me whose role it was to remember.

I’ve watched and listened as survivors of childhood sexual abuse give their wrenching testimony to the Royal Commission. Every one of them has, like me, their own recording angel who witnessed, and remembers the events that determined the course of our lives. Every one of us found ways in which to stay alive except for those of us who didn’t, and who died of grief, and despair, and wounds that would never heal. Every one of us knows what it is to live a life in which every choice we make, every step we take, is steeped in the aftermath of our experiences and so is never free, and all too often self-destructive or at the very least, not in our own best interests. We have tainted perspectives on our own best interests. How could it be any other way?

My experience of a year ago plunged me into an ongoing nightmare of flashbacks, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, terror, self-blame, and ultimately despair that I will never be free of my history. I thought I was free, or at least as much as I could expect to be. I thought I had learned to manage the ongoing fallout from childhood. I thought that managing it was the best I could hope to achieve and all in all, that wasn’t too bad an outcome. Yet out of nowhere I encountered circumstances that released the demons; as an adult I failed to protect myself though I was certain that I had, and in a matter of minutes I found myself as powerless as I was when I was ten.

My life-long belief in my ability to manage, even overcome the damage of childhood was destroyed in those few minutes. That was the scaffolding on which I built my adult life, and it collapsed.

When survivors tell the Royal Commission their lives were stolen, this is one of the things they mean. We are never free. We never know what circumstances lie in wait that might hurl us back at the speed of light into the terror and powerlessness of childhood experiences. We cannot trust that our scaffolding will hold fast, subject as it is to the vagaries of memory provoked by unforseen reminders of hideous events.

There is what the abusers did to our bodies. There is what the abusers did to our hearts. There is what the abusers did to our spirits. And there is the recording angel, witness and testifier, speaker of truth.

To Cardinal Pell I would say, find the courage to face the testimony of the recording angels. If you wish to salvage something of your soul.









9 Responses to “The Recording Angel”

  1. Anonymous May 24, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    powerful writing Jennifer…..i hope it is helping to comfort, protect & heal you…as a survivor & fierce advocate myself, i feel that the 2 Royal Commissions would benefit enormously from your input…(ie/submitting essays you’ve written here re; issues pertinent to both/ particularly on family violence/ tweaked a bit to satisfy the Commissions requirements)(perhaps you already have?)… i have found the RC into FV in Vic. fairly flexible in their requirements…just a ph call away..personable, supportive & try to accommodate…1300 306 017…(29th May 15 closing date)…powerful voice

    Liked by 3 people

    • Anonymous May 24, 2015 at 11:47 am #

      want them to hear your powerful voice

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson May 25, 2015 at 6:51 am #

      Thank you, Anon, I’ve decided to contact both RCs. It certainly can’t do any harm, and it may achieve some positive outcome, or add clarification from a survivor’s point of view. Many thanks for your encouragement to do this.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Anonymous May 25, 2015 at 9:53 am #

        That’s fabulous Jennifer, long as it doesn’t re-traumarize you. Fingers crossed that they have the capacity to understand & hear your invaluable contribution, not only from a survivors point of view but also from your far reaching knowledge & expertise on so many levels in these areas…:)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Anonymous May 28, 2015 at 9:36 am #

        Jennifer, sorry i gave you incorrect ph. no for RC into FV Vic…it’s 1800 365 100.


  2. Florence nee Fedup May 24, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    I never suffered as a child but I know what you are saying. I am a DV survivor, where my children suffered extreme abuse. Yes, forty years down the track, we still seem to be reliving the time over and over.

    We do not dwell on the past, but it has tainted the present. Family relationships are very fragile, one never knows when the past arises, comes back to bite.

    Reality tells me, I know I did my best, couldn’t control what happened. That I was a good mother who loved and lived for my kids. Trouble is, my heart tells me I failed and I am to blame for their suffering.

    Pell has much to answer for. after all, he was the one in authority. He owed a duty of care to all under his care.


  3. hudsongodfrey May 24, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    I can’t I fully understand or even that I’m sure how far I begin to do so, but the least I would hope society manages out of sheer decency is to help in not letting abuse define the victims.

    There’s this very typical profile of child abuse victims who survive into their fifties still having to deal with forty year old traumas. This excessive time to heal seems to be much longer than it is even for women who’ve been raped. In either case an undeserved punishment is carried in the form of stigmatising the victims. We not only can’t change the past, but we don’t even know how to talk about it

    For example, like a lot of people these days I place no real premium upon the concept of virginity, but when it comes to this issue it strikes me as too dismissive to say virginity is no great loss to an abuse victim if you wouldn’t say legs are no great loss to a war veteran. Whereas the amputee carries his scars on the outside and learns to deal with people’s unwanted pity I imagine those carrying those internal scars find little and cold comfort indeed in a society that just doesn’t want to know.

    There should always be a little elasticity in even the most overstretched social welfare budget to offer help and counselling to a number of people for whom the Royal Commission brings back bad memories or prompts them to deal with seething, perhaps barely repressed, psychological damage. However I think the main benefits we may hope to get from the watershed moment we hope this enquiry represents is to take permission away from abusers who’ve enjoyed what does almost amount to entitlement within institutional settings in the past.

    I hope there’ll be recourse to justice no matter how delayed in some cases, and restitution made to victims in others, and I hope we do all of this without taking more permission to hate anyone. I for one would leave have us inquisitions to medieval Spain and get on with the task at hand which is to concentrate on the victim’s interests. Those interests are quite apart from indulging in unproductive vengeance if it eats up all the time and resources that could better have been spent on support services.

    It may just be me and a mindset I temporarily find myself swayed toward, but I get sick from time to time of people wanting so much to bring back the death penalty or bury the criminal in the deepest hole of a prison that they can find whereas the same hypocritical voices won’t spare a penny for the victims of crime or social services like drug and alcohol programs to deal with how crime really affects people’s lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 25, 2015 at 6:53 am #

      You’re right, efforts and resources are focused on getting the baddie and wreaking vengeance, while the people most affected are largely left to sort themselves out. Which is, of course, expensive, time consuming and out of the reach of the majority of victims.

      Liked by 2 people

      • hudsongodfrey May 25, 2015 at 10:13 am #

        Its the cop show narrative that pervades, having seeped across from the US I fear. Over the course of the hour we’re treated to thirty minutes of bad guy rampage, some sleuthing, fifteen of ads a car chase if we’re lucky. In the remaining dying minutes a brilliant coup perfectly executed corners the evil doer who’s lead away to his fate… fade to black…. roll credits.

        When recourse to justice through punitive measures is assumed no restorative process to aid victims need be required…..

        Nice theory, but that isn’t what the many now middle aged victims of institutional abuse are telling us about their condition. And I think we all know very well where the funding for the support and services they need should be coming from.

        Liked by 1 person

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