In July 2015, I went to see Derren Brown perform his Miracle show live on stage.
The night before, I had a dream about the man who had sexually assaulted me.
The dream itself was nothing special; the man just appeared, umprompted, in the middle of the dream, and I woke up.
When I woke up, the real nightmare began. Awake, I remembered what he had done to me. I was in a state of panic for around half a hour. It may not sound very long, but when your heart is beating that fast, and you feel physically sick with fear, horror and shock, half an hour feels like a very long time.
Eventually, though, the panic subsided and I did not think about the dream for the remainder of the day.
That evening, I went to see Miracle.
I was excited. I had never been to a live show of that type before. I had watched some of Derren’s programmes on TV, but that was the extent of it. I was intrigued as to what it would be like to watch him do his stuff live.
For those of you who don’t know, Derren bills his work as a mixture of “suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship”. He is not a magician, because there is no such thing as magic, but in the past his tricks may well have been termed “magic”.
I won’t go into detail about the show overall, but I do want to focus on one particular bit that taught me a lot about self-belief and inner strength.
At one point in the show, Derren got all the audience members to stand up. He wanted to demonstrate what some Americans like to term “faith healing”. It’s basically where the crowd gets itself all riled up and excited and then Hallelujah, praise the Lord, the crippled man can walk again!
In Derren’s version, there was no religious element. He got us all to close our eyes and imagine ourselves on a beach. He got us to imagine seeing the perfect version of ourselves, without any of the flaws or ailments that may afflict us in real life.
For a moment, I was not sure what to imagine. There was nothing about myself that I particularly disliked. I had a healthy body and a largely healthy mind. Then I remembered the panic I had felt after waking up from the dream about my abuser.
What the hell, I thought, there’s no harm in playing along. I imagined my perfect self on the beach: someone who did not feel engulfed by panic after dreaming about that man.
That section of the show finished, we all sat down and Derren “healed” some members of the audience of their afflictions.
I did not feel any different after sitting down. I did not feel like a whole new person. I felt like me. Just normal me.
The show finished. I left, thinking that it was very enjoyable and that I’d be telling my friends and family about it later.
It wasn’t until about a week later that I realised just how much it had changed me.
I had another dream about the man who sexually assaulted me. Like the time before, seeing him in the dream was enough to wake me up.
This time, however, it was different. There was no panic attack. There was no crying, or shaking, or feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I just woke up and I felt fine.
I am a scientist, a rationalist. I do not believe in magic or religion. I know that what happened was not supernatural or the result of some divine intervention.
It was so much more beautiful than that.
It was psychology.
It was faith, of a sort, but not religious faith: this was self-belief. Faith in myself.
When Derren got me to imagine my perfect self and told me that it was possible for me to become that person, he allowed me to unlock a part of myself that may otherwise have been difficult to access.
Whilst I may have struggled, by myself, to overcome the fear that engulfed me whenever I woke up from a nightmare of my abuser, he allowed my inner strength to be unlocked through my unconscious faith in him.
Everyone who goes to see a performance has some level of faith in the performer. Why else would they spend their cash and give up their time to go and see them? The same applies to those who attend religious faith healings; they have some level of belief in the leader, and that faith allows them to believe that good things can happen.
The crippled man shall walk again.
I will not panic when I wake up from a nightmare about that frightful man.
Faith healing works because the recipient has faith that they can be healed. The strength of this faith allows them to find the strength to heal. They unlock their own inner strength. They heal themselves. I healed myself.
This is a very long-winded way of saying this: believe in yourself. You are so much stronger than you know. You have the strength to heal, even from the most horrific of tragedies.
To any fellow victim-survivors of sexual violence, I want to say this: you are strong. You can overcome what happened to you. You have a whole load of inner strength that you might not even know about.
All you need to do is unlock it. For me, it was going to watch a stage show. For you, maybe it’ll be attending counselling sessions or writing a story or doing a marathon or just looking yourself in the mirror each day and telling yourself not to give up.
I never would have imagined that I had the strength within myself to stop my nightmares, but the strength was there, just waiting to be unlocked. You have it too, so find a way to unlock it, always keep fighting and never give up.