Trigger warnings: discussion of self harm, domestic violence.
Dear friend, reading this. Be careful. Did you know that if you use the italk counseling service, and you tell them about one time 6 months ago your dad made you feel unsafe, they will call the fucking police?!!
Ok I admit, I was naive. I’m a middle class white cis girl who grew up in what was, to all intents and purposes, a good family. My parents were not dogged by social workers, because they had money and they were married and my dad had a stable job and we were securely housed. Instead we went to family counseling. I’m not saying I never learned to keep my trap shut about stuff, but I never had to actually put this into practice. I was never in danger of being put in care. I was physically disciplined as a child, but I don’t consider myself to have been physically abused (note: this is up to individual preference. Some people consider all physical discipline by parents to be abuse, and that’s up to them. Trust me, I’m sure they have their reasons).
I already know not to tell counselors if you’re thinking about self harming. Because they’ll call the police, and you could get committed for something that, for many, is a coping mechanism. (note: I am not one of them. And self harm may not be a healthy coping mechanism, but being committed is likely to be a billion times worse.) But apparently it never occurred to me that the same thing could happen to me in this situation.
Ok, I’ll tell the story of how it came up. Basically my counselor asked me if anything in my past was maybe affecting the way I am now. I told her it was, in my opinion, affected by 3 things: 1. depression is on both sides of the family through my parents, 2. R’s emotional abuse, and 3. growing up with an angry father. I explained my family dynamic, where my father loses his temper and my mum makes sure everyone tiptoes around him. I have his temper, and it’s one of my biggest regrets about myself. When I move out and away from his influence I plan on working hard on that temper. My upbringing wasn’t abusive but it did make me the person I am today, and that person gets angry in a similar way to how her father does. That’s why I brought it up.
She asked more questions and, inevitably, asked if my father had ever hit me. I told her that me and my siblings were smacked by both parents, rarely but sometimes in anger, as in the parent doing it didn’t seem to have full control of what they were doing. (I don’t want this to become a debate about physical punishment for children, because I have only one cultural perspective myself and it’s a very privileged one. But if you are a parent who physically punishes your child, surely the most important requirement is that you are calm when you do it? What if you hit them and can’t stop hitting them because you’re so angry?!) I also told her about a time 6 months ago. No one outside the family knew about it until then. Basically we’d been driving home from Newcastle all day having been at a family funeral. My dad was probably tired and cranky. I don’t remember what made him so angry, but I remember my brother was involved in some way. Possibly he got involved in a disagreement my dad and I had and it annoyed me because he told me to calm down or something. At some point in the conversation, whatever fragile grip my dad had on his temper broke and he completely exploded. I was at the top of the stairs, and he came charging up them at top speed, shouting his head off until he was right over me (me curled in a ball screaming and crying by this point) and for the first time in my adult life I thought he was going to hit me, but he didn’t. Then he stopped as suddenly as he’d started and went away. He’s a big man, and I’m a small woman. It was very scary.
Later I talked to my mum about it and mentioned I was frightened he was going to hit me and she was shocked. (I should note she witnessed the incident in question.) ‘He would never hit you!’ Um, well he already has, when we were children. ‘But that’s different! Smacking children is different!’ Hmm, yeah, ok. Seriously I never get when people make that claim. Why do children, at a stage in their life when they’re smaller and weaker, make sense to hit but not your adult offspring? Why do people who (they claim) would never hit an adult, find this ok? But my point was, the boat has already sailed on ‘he would never hit you!’ How was she so sure that my dad, who everyone could tell had gone straight through ‘lost temper’ and out the other side, would not hit me given that he was so clearly out of control? Did I not have the right to be scared of that possibility, even if it was just a possibility? Well apparently not, according to her. As you can imagine this discussion was very frustrating. And the incident with my dad did leave to me resolving to move out, then and there. (I’d like to admit that, in practice, I just went back to my normal living at home self, feeling too scared to even look for places in case they were all too expensive-I live in a very expensive area-or I couldn’t handle the logistics of everything. The actual moving out I’m doing now came much later.) My dad returned to normal, as he always does. It’s disconcerting, but of course a relief, because honestly he is very rarely like this.
I told this to the counselor. I made it plain that I did not feel in any danger from my dad any more, despite having felt so briefly at one point 6 months ago. I assured her, after some prompting, that I would call the police if it happened again. (I doubt I would but I know a leading question when I heard one.) I thanked her for listening to something that no one outside the family knew about. We made another appointment. I thought that was the last time we would talk about it. The next day, I got my phone out of my locker after work to find 3 missed calls. The first was from a private number. The second two were from italk. I had a voicemail from the police (the private number), asking me to call them back about my dad. The other two were from italk asking me to call and ask for the duty practitioner. It was obvious what had happened. I rang italk, both panicky and furious. The duty practitioner advised me to call 111 and answer the police’s questions so I could get it resolved. I did this, and the person on the phone told me they’d call me back later in the evening. Apparently it wasn’t enough that I said on the phone that the police had been called without my knowledge and I did not want to pursue anything further with them in any way. This entire time I’m panicking that they’re going to call my dad and let him know anything’s happening. I’m terrified of the very idea of that, and not just because he would be so angry (though that is a factor) but also because my parents, both of them, apparently have no idea what was done was wrong. They’d think involving the police was ludicrous. And in my opinion, they’re right!!! And they’d think it was my idea. Which it absolutely, certainly was not. Later that evening, a policeman called me from his car, which was outside the house. ‘Can we speak to your dad?’ OH MY GOD NO YOU CAN’T. My family never found out why there was a police car there, I doubt they even noticed thank god. But what on earth would the policeman have said if I had put my dad on??! My dad probably doesn’t consider the incident in question to be of much significance (lucky him). That would have been a fun conversation afterwards.
I know that italk counselors have to report back to a supervisor after a session, so I’m guessing one of two things happened. One, that my counselor relayed the whole thing back and missed all the parts about me being sure I’m not in danger and feeling safe at home, so it sounded worse than it was. Or two, that my counselor did relay those things but the situation I described, despite having happened 6 months ago, hit some sort of secret combination of italk factors that mean they have to call the police according to their policy. Either way, I don’t want to blame my counselor because it may not have been her fault, but I can’t help but feel extremely wary of talking to her any more. I was given no clue that the police might be called and was left in a state of panic when they were. Also, in the rest of the session, I got the impression that they won’t be able to help me anyway. I approached italk before with a specific problem and got some help, but it seems like if you don’t have something specific in mind and want someone to talk to they are at a loss. I told them about my anger problems at work, they told me they don’t do anger but emailed me an anger workbook. (I didn’t like it much). They also sent me some stuff on assertiveness which will be a long read but well worth it I think.
I have my next appointment tomorrow. I’m trying to think of good things that came out of this because I think tomorrow I will ask her if I can be discharged from italk. I would also recommend that all my readers from the UK are wary of this service, especially the phone appointments. Calling the police without warning is very scary for someone who is already mentally ill. Or anyone who might be in an abusive home. What if it causes ramifications for the abused person by escalating the abuser into anger? It makes me scared to think of that happening to someone.
Maybe I’ll write another post tomorrow after the appointment.