Saying that it is a little-known fact that I am a survivor* of childhood sexual abuse is an understatement. A severe, understatement. To this day four people know explicitly, and I imagine maybe another two have a sneaking suspicion that I was abused, but no grounded confirmation that it was anything more than ‘abuse’ as a whole.
*I will be discussing my feelings around ‘survivor’ later.
And the reason for this isn’t important, and this post is not an account of my trauma. Nor is this something, for obvious reasons I want to disclose to the world. However, the fact that I am a survivor and that it is a little-known fact is important.
For many years I forgot that my abuse happened. Like total and utter suppression of memories. When they did return it was a horrifying lonely experience. It was alone and it was sobbing not quite understanding the things I was remembering.
It took me a long time to heal from it, with the help of a friend. But at the same time, I was able to quickly return to normalcy, come to terms with my abuse and the things I remembered. It helped I had moved very far away from my abuser and would not be seeing them regularly anymore, nor ever again.
It is fact that I do not consider myself a survivor for many of the reasons I said above. I didn’t feel victimized, I was moving along with my life, coping with no-one knowing what my abuser did, and with them being free and essentially unaffected by what they had done to me. I was coping. Yes, I had blanked out that part of my life for many many years, but when realization did come to me it was with a panic attack, a long time recovering, and a realization that I am where I need to be now. A full person, for the most part, unaffected by my past.
To be a ‘survivor’ made me think that I was forever victimized by something I had moved on from.
But recently, and this is the entire reason that I’m writing this post, I have been struggling a lot with my abuse. It has been coming up in my thoughts more often, it has been making me worried about the future; something that even right after the abuse stopped had never happened.
All of this is happening because I am being presented with new situations. New love, new experiences with people, with aggression, and confronting my distrust and anxiety around men. I am confronting my new life fully and with grace and excitement, but it is unavoidable that new experiences try to find a pathway of knowledge within me.
And with these explorations of sexuality, of meeting new people, of intimacy and love, and the ideas of the future and even potentially meeting and seeing my abuser again or more often, comes the confrontation with what I experienced and had never needed to relive.
And so, this post.
That I have never been bothered by my abuse, and yet suddenly have panic attacks, and have to hide behind my lover, and step away from new contacts with male coworkers or family members has bothered me. Is still bothering me.
I thought myself over this, beyond this, healed and whole. I never saw myself as a victim, I overcame and pushed my abuser away, made it known I would stand for it no longer, even as young as 9 as I was. So that now, at 21 I am suddenly left breathless for reasons I cannot pinpoint is a blow to my confidence, to my pride, and to my steadily stabilizing life.
BUT that does not make me weak. It does not make you weak either if you have experienced the same.
Abuse, all kinds and that happened at any point in your life create experiences in your mind, and they will not be the kind of experiences that create common pathways. This isn’t like tying your shoes or writing your name; the associations you make with your abuse will vary, and sometimes will make no sense.
Mine come from shame, and disappointment, and also a lot of distrust from the people in my life I might have told once upon a time who had dismissed my abuse or didn’t understand my askance for help. And while shame and disappointment often come up in my life the last association doesn’t.
Except for recently where the threat of someone not listening -or perhaps hearing me is more accurate – has become much more prevalent it makes sense that the association is cropping up more. And more.
Thus the question that leads me to write this entire post: Does suddenly being affected by my past abuse make me weak?
Feel weak? Certainly. I feel out of control, I feel pathetic, I feel ashamed of my own inability to move on from something that did no permanent damage and happened when I was very young.
Make me weak? No. Never. Do not let yourself think that. I am a growing experiencing human being, and these matters come up and will knock you sideways.
The fact you have lived long enough to make it to these new experiences should be proof enough that you are strong. You experienced and pushed through. Whatever you used to cope is fine – it doesn’t matter if you pushed it away or confronted it head on – you coped, you moved on, you got HERE. And that is fucking fantastic. You should be proud of yourself.
You should take the time to do what you need to heal too though. Explore these new associations in safety and comfort, and see what you need.
For me it was my partner talking to me, asking me to make sure they knew where they stood, and where I needed them to be. It was a trigger for me (the whole shame thing is pretty powerful) but also a balm. Their knowing about my abuse helped me feel less ashamed, less like a victim. Them knowing and talking to me like it was normal and not a shame helped me calm down when the panic did spike. And so together we explore these things as they come up for me.
Fact: I refused to believe I was a victim. I refused to believe it had affected me, that I was a victim of sexual abuse, that it had happened to me. People would talk about their experience, their abuses and I would think ‘thank god that never happened to me’ but it did. I was abused, I had just distanced myself from it.
It did and that is fact. What is also a fact, is that having moments where my abuse affects me more than usual or blindsides me is normal. It makes me no less strong than I was when I was standing up to my abuser, it makes me no less healed and whole than I am when I don’t even think about having been abused at all.
AND all of that is true for you, and every survivor, every human you have ever met. Regardless of their story. Regardless of their place on this journey in life. Regardless.
You are strong. You are living. You made it this far. It is not your fault. You can move on. You can get out. You can get stronger.
I am. I did. I will continue to do so too.
“So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialized, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault & responsibility of the adult. I was—and am—innocent.”
―The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis