I was only 5 years old when it began – just a child. I was an expressive busy yet serious little girl who loved to laugh, and sing around the house. To him, I was just somebody of his sickest circumstance. He always had his eyes on me and “the incidents,” as I refer to them now, became routine. So routine, that I thought it was normal. He touched me every opportunity he had. He
didn’t care the time of day or who was home, all he needed was a five-minute window and he took advantage. I always felt dirty afterwards, that I would shower with a Brillo pad till my skin was red and painful. I knew what he was doing was wrong but he always looked me in my eyes and told me never to tell. I kept his secret even when I wanted to tell, the gifts that I received kept me duped into quiet.
Then one day, a few months before my 9th birthday, I finally told. He didn’t deny it, yet begged for forgiveness. My family believed me all the while separating us but we never spoke about it again. We continued on with Sunday dinners and big family functions as if nothing ever happened. It was like they locked it up in the box of “things that never happened.” And I, like everyone else, threw away the key and believed that lie.
In my mid-twenties, I struggled in relationships from those painful memories. I never bring it up because I know he’s loved — a father, a husband, an uncle, a grandfather. The idea of tainting his reputation is just too much for me to bear. So, I’ve been carrying that burden for a long time…until now. I don’t proclaim to be a doctor or a psychologist, yet a continuous survivor of the illness of another that has ravaged my life and adversely affected me. Yes, I took critical steps with counselors, God and finally within myself to heal. At a crossroads in my life now, I still have unanswered questions and I franticly want to understand how my childhood sexual abuse has affected my adulthood. What happened in that house for all those years was a violation of my innocent mind, body and spirit. How do I move on? How do I erase the painful memories that constantly come back to haunt me? Things that I thought I never knew, suppressed so far back in my memory, and are easily triggered by smells, TV theme songs from the ’90s and even patterns on fabric. In the times with my psychologist, I was able to bring out the stuffed down pain that was disguised as a silence. For years, I put off writing about how I felt because of the
“shame” of shaming my mother, my aunt, my sisters, my children and family, yet I wake up this morning and realize at age 49 years old that it’s a subtle secret of silence. For a person who has been sexually abused, I always heard ‘what happens in our house, stays in our house’ and we don’t talk about these things, I don’t want my children to inherit the lies that I have internalize and not share what may have happened to them, I believe that most families don’t talk about sex, let alone sexual abuse.
For many of us, we have buried sexual abuse so deep inside, that would never connect it to today’s physical illness and pain, our depression or addiction, our inability to hold a job, get out of debt, find satisfaction in a relationship, nurture our children or simply say no to people or situation that do us harm. It took me to this age to master some of these things, and I still struggle with the realization that my past sexual abuse urgently impacts my life now.
As I discovered in all the events of my life, I had begun to peel away things that I thought were just everyday life responses. However, that wasn’t the case.
The self-awareness bug would slap me in the face, yet again. Through this 6 year journey that I had no self-confidence even though I displayed the preverbal poker face. We don’t tell enough stories about abuse. Yes, we hear the blame but we don’t hear what it takes to come back after this has taken over our lives, invaded our egos and partook of our bodies. The damage done to us would invade our eating habits, our responses to perceived dynamics and clear failures to our bodies. Each area of us crying out not to be heard in silence. We live every day, this way reliving the initial shock of the misguided responses from our trusted deliverers to our first “out”,
over and over like “Groundhog Day”. Again and again we live in isolation.
We never stop thinking about what happened and we ae always giving out should of and could of shame. Alone with shame and its dreadful reactions to choices, to kill the pain. I want to share with you some of the main points that I learned and wished that someone would have told me that I would begin to experience AFTER and well passed the abuse.
I like so many others were not believed when I did report it, or worse, they I punished for sharing the family secret.
This is a difficult topic to write about and a hard topic to read as well. The thought of anyone using a child to gratify their own perverse sexual desires is an incomprehensible evil. It is an evil that has disgraced, destroyed and devalued the human race. But it’s real. It happens and the numbers of those affected by it are growing. Maybe it has happened to you.
I understand that you may want to stop reading at this point. If you have memories of sexual abuse, it can be painful to revisit those memories and the emotions associated with them. Or maybe, you are one that has no memory, but you have a ‘feeling’ that you were abused. You occasionally get an image of an event, a person, or of yourself in an uncomfortable situation and you wonder. Perhaps there is someone in your past that causes negative emotions to surface whenever you think of them or have to be around them. Again you wonder, but don’t know for sure. Maybe you don’t want to know.
If so, I understand. What you’re feeling is typical. You’ve survived until now by shoving the abuse, the memories, that ‘wandering feeling’ deep down so that you could get on with your life. Or you have minimized the abuse you do remember by saying, “it really was not that big of a deal”. But lately it has been surfacing unexpectedly. You’re no longer able to keep it buried. It’s having an impact on your dreams, your marriage, your parenting, your ability to trust and to be intimate. Perhaps you need answers to questions like, “Am I this way because of what happened to me as a child?”
But there may be another reason you’d rather not keep reading. Shame. The shame that whispers, “You’re to blame. You didn’t say no. You asked for it. You wanted it. You allowed it to continue. It’s. All. Your. Fault!” I’ve led hundreds of women through sexual healing, and more than half of them experienced some form of sexual abuse or trauma, as in rape. And every single one of them had at some point believed that they were to blame.
It’s a lie, a horrible, evil lie! You were not to blame. It is not your fault. You were a child. Children have no sexual desire, unless that sexual desire is awakened against their will. I’m praying for you. Praying that you won’t let the shame, fear or the lies keep you from claiming the truth. Truth is this: you are not alone. It wasn’t your fault. You can be healed. There is hope.
My connection between sexual abuse and developing an eating disorder entangled the guilt, shame, anesthesia, self-punishment, soothing, comfort, protection and rage. I was given some foods in my younger years to calm me in order for the abuse to continue. I now know that the very things that i was bribed with became ingrained into my psyche. Crackers, cheese, chocolate and the right not to eat what my siblings had to eat. As i got older, I ate very little and actually kept food in my room so that i had control of what i ate.
Sexual abuse can have many different effects on the eating habits and body image of survivors. Sexual abuse violates the boundaries of the self so dramatically that inner sensations of hunger, fatigue, or sexuality become difficult to identify. People who have been sexually abused may turn to food to relieve a wide range of different states of tension that have nothing to do with
hunger. It is that confusion and uncertainty about my inner perceptions that lead me to focus on the food, whether little or alot.
It is said that many survivors of sexual abuse often work to become very fat or very thin in an attempt to render themselves unattractive. In this way, they try to de-sexualize themselves. I became a tomboy! Other survivors obsessively diet, starve, or purge to make their bodies
“perfect.” A perfect body is their attempt to feel more powerful, invulnerable, and in control, so as not to re-experience the powerlessness they felt as children. In the reverse, some large men and women, who are survivors of sexual abuse, are afraid to lose weight because it will render them feeling smaller and childlike. This, in turn, may bring back painful memories that are difficult to cope with, as it has done for me.
Don’t tell, I won’t tell!
Children do not tell about their abuse for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they don’t realize that anything wrong was happening at the time, or they don’t want to believe anything is wrong.
Sometimes a child is dependent on the abuser, so he or she may not want to risk upsetting the security of the status quo. Sometimes children keep the abuse secret for fear they will not be believed. And sometimes they keep the abuse secret because they are threatened or are bribed to keep silent.
Sexual abuse can come in many shades of nuance beyond overt touching. One father repeatedly bragged to his daughter about the size of his sexual organs and how he needed special large underwear to accommodate them. Another patient reported how her father and brother would forcefully hold her down and tickle her all over until she became hysterical and was gasping for breath.
People with eating problems often suffer from symp-toms of post traumatic stress disorder without realizing that its origins lie in sexual abuse. Post traumatic stress may be characterized by depression, feeling chronically “dead” inside, having recurrent anxiety or nightmares, or feeling constantly and painfully vigilant to one’s surroundings. Victims of post traumatic stress disorder may begin to en-gage in self-destructive behavior such as entering into repetitive abusive rela-tionships, losing themselves to drugs, alcohol, promis-cuity, and even self-mutilation. Self-mutilation refers to inflicting bodily harm on themselves, such as cutting, burning or even excess body piercing.
Of course, none of these symptoms is absolute confirmation of abuse, but they are strong indicators of past sexual trauma. Connecting these symptoms to an actual event of sexual abuse can be a validating experience because the symptoms of inner turmoil begin to make sense.
Money I would be given money to keep silent. For years, i would take the bribery money wash it then iron it flat placing it under my bed mattress. I remember thinking that the money was filthy and feeling that i was unworthy, naturally coming of age i feared money and always had money challenges.
Relationships and Intimacy
There’s another way your abuse could be impacting you and that’s in your enjoyment and desire for sex with your spouse. In addition to the ways sexual abuse damages our bodies, spirits and emotions, sexual abuse also damages our view of sex. When we’ve been used for others’ sexual pleasure the experience becomes associated with a negative view of sex.
One of the most confusing things for the sexual abuse victim is how their bodies responded during the abuse. How can something that feels scary, wrong and shameful also feel so good? Often a strategic pedophile grooms his victim by awakening their sexual desire making them a more willing, pliable participant. Now something that God designed for a holy, precious union between a husband and a wife has been seared on the young person’s brain as something shameful, dirty, and painful.
Then they get married to the person of their dreams. They’re madly in love. They want to have sex with this person; except, when their sexual desire is aroused, the unexpected happens. The old familiar feelings of shame, disgust and the sense that this is wrong squelches their desire and causes them to shrink back from the loving touch of their spouse. Or if their abuse was violent causing fear and feelings of helplessness, those same emotions will arise during sexual intimacy, even though this is a safe person. You see, sexual abuse not only robs a child of their childhood, but also steals from their future. The result is an emotional and physical withdrawal on the part of the sexual abuse victim fracturing the marriage union at its foundation.
If this is you, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for all that’s been robbed from you–your yesterday and your today. There is hope for you. It no longer has to rob you of your future. You can choose today to break its hold on you, to heal from the pain and shame to love and live in freedom and wholeness.
I can hear some of you saying to yourself, “But I’ve done all the counseling…I’ve tried everything I can think of, and nothing has worked.” You may not like my answer, but I’m going to encourage you to not give up. Don’t give up. Healing is a journey, a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Many survivors’ lives are characterized by frequent crises e.g. job disappointments, relocations, failed relationships, financial setbacks. Many are the result of unresolved childhood abuse issues. The reasons are complex, but for many survivors ongoing internal chaos prevents the establishment of regularity, predictability and consistency. Many survivors function in ’crisis
mode’, responding with stopgap measures which don’t resolve the underlying issues. This can be exhausting and dispiriting and contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
A touch I was affected just by a touch and i would experience nausea and sometimes projectile vomiting during intimate times. I hated facial hair for many years.
A place dark cellars or basements were totally off limits for me in my adult life. I never knew why until i used the tools of meditation to clear my many thoughts to which we call multi tasking. My mind kept busy to not notice or hear what i needed to face.
No matter how much time has passed, unresolved childhood traumas wreaked havoc on my personal life and the lives of the people around me. This is especially true when it comes to romantic relationships, because these in particular require a great deal of trust and intimacy. Victims of childhood abuse are not always comfortable with others close to them; early experiences taught them that loved ones were not to be trusted and that safety and security were merely fairy tales.
Decades later, even when in a loving and supportive relationship, they still cannot erase those false scripts from their heads and wholly embrace a loving partner.
Lack of trust can manifest in different ways. Some people become haunted by insecurity and doubt, which leads them to become jealous and suspicious of a partner — even when there is no reason to suspect infidelity. They might need to be constantly reassured of a partner’s love. Other people might push their loved ones away, refusing to make deep and lasting connections for fear of getting hurt again. They would rather live a life of isolation and loneliness than become vulnerable and intimate with another person.
I was stuck in a cycle of abuse. Every relationship i allowed continual abuse. People thought for me, talked for me, demeaned me, just did what they wanted to me. This is known as repetition compulsion, and it describes the pattern in which victims of trauma find themselves constantly reliving the abuse.
I as a young girl who was physically abused by father figure and found myself constantly seeking out abusive and unavailable men. Although I did not realize at the time, the reason behind the string of bad boyfriends, subconsciously, I was choosing these mates because I wanted to recreate the trauma and “fix” the situation. I tried to be “good enough” for my partners, to be sweet enough, pretty enough, smart enough, obedient enough — anything to earn this partner’s love and hence rewrite history. She figures that if she can find a partner who is similar to her father and find that unconditional, supportive love he never offered her, it would almost be as if the pain of her childhood never happened. I failed miserably.
Of course, the chances of that result is slim, because any partner who resembles her father (angry, violent, aggressive, withholding, etc.) will not ever be likely to offer her love and respect. Hence, she gets caught up in a cycle of unhealthy relationships, constantly choosing partners who are disrespectful and violent with her.
Addressing the wounds of childhood takes therapy. I can remember my day of reckoning was after a night of drinking walking from my friends house. As i walked closer to my house and the more i looked at it and really saw what it was, i began to cry. I was was 17 years carrying my 8 month old son. As i got closer, i sobbed uncontrollably because the abuse was still fresh and never dealt with. The next thing i remembered was sitting on the railroad track and it was dark my son playing and smiling wiping my tears, the train never came. I got up walked home and i remember thinking i can’t even commit suicide right. But there was a bigger destiny that i didn’t even know. I cried for 2 days straight and no one accept my brother realized it.
But my salvation came as i rode the us that next day with my son, with tears streaming down my eyes and my jubilant son wiping my face a lady walks passed me touches my shoulder then leans to whisper to me four words” you may need this”. It was a business card of a local therapist. My journey to heal began, alone.
A therapist who specializes in childhood abuse will be able to offer the assistance and resources needed to finally break the chain of abuse. Everyone deserves a life that is filled with love, respect, and hope, and such a world can exist only if the wounded child that is still suffering inside gets treated.
I’m not saying i was healed then but I had some tools to work with. It would be years later that i began therapy again, as life took on that same circle. My little girl was still in pain.
When we are young, our world revolves around our parents or primary caregivers. Parents or caregivers are the primary source of safety, security, love, understanding, nurturance and support. Child abuse violates the trust at the core of a child’s relationship with the world. When the primary relationship is one of betrayal, a negative schema or set of beliefs develops. This negative core schema often affects an individual’s capacity to establish and sustain significant attachments throughout life. As a Survivor I often experienced conflictual relationships and chaotic lifestyles, frequently difficulties forming adult intimate attachments and display behaviours that threaten and disrupt close relationships.