It is the voice in our heads that tells us we are not enough, that we don’t deserve love, that it’s our fault, that no one will love us and that we don’t belong.
That message came to me many times in my lifetime, but I wasn’t ready to expose it and give it voice.
It came in intervals. Like the waves in the ocean that can come fast and hard and take us with them, or slow and steady giving us time to jump over them. It came during both the toughest and most precious moments of my life.
It came when I was five years old sitting on men’s laps and it came when I was 11 years old. I heard it again when I was 15 and pregnant and I heard it when my boyfriend’s first kick hit my back on my way out of my building.
I heard it when I gave birth to not one but two beautiful children, and I heard it when I ended not one but 10 pregnancies. It came during the darkest nights of winter and the loneliest days of my life and it came when I was on the beach and madly in love in the summer.
That voice has no boundaries and takes no prisoners but will lock us away for years until we are ready to face the past head on.
In a split second the voice of childhood trauma speaks to us and sabotages our relationships, our careers. The voice has cost us too much—it feels like it has cost us our lives. It has cost us our relationships, abundance, our health, watching our children grow up and dreams paralyzed in time.
I remember feeling like I didn’t have another breath to give, space to love another person or another tear to shed. I remember not having energy to support another person, give another day at work or another day at life.
It is a paralyzing moment when either all our dreams are about to come true—or we are about to lose everything we have ever worked for.
It shows up when least expected.
No one ever talks about the little things, the not-so-obvious things that we as survivors of childhood sexual abuse have to manage invisibly.
It’s those instant decisions and reactions, the roller coaster ride of emotions that survivors make in the blink of an eye. The imprint of childhood trauma shows up in our lives in the smallest ways. In what we see, in what we hear or what we smell.
It can show up in a simple touch from another person, in the way a picture hangs or a shirt that someone is wearing. Sometimes it’s going back to the home, where we grew up, that holds the memories of the abuse we experienced and witnessed. It’s all those things that trigger us, day in and day out, when we least expect it.
It costs us everything.
We are always in recovery.
In a split second, at the places we least expect it, we will go to default—I don’t belong here, it’s my fault, I am not enough. It will play over and over in our heads. This internal voice is the reason we wonder why we were not protected. It is why we don’t understand why the person who hurt us is still part of our community and no one has done anything to hold them accountable.
It is why we sometimes speak up and are not heard or believed.
For some of us, it’s the knowing and not being able to tell that eat us up inside. It’s the stares that we have to manage because people are upset we disclosed. It’s the disapproval of people who think that we deserved it. All of it costs us the things the people we love the most don’t see or hear—we, as survivors, don’t have words for and can’t explain.
It is the reason we stay.
It is the reason many women stay after domestic violence. It doesn’t matter if the violence happened last night, we will still get up the next day and cook dinner for our family. The voice that tell us we deserve abuse. It is what allows little girls to get up and open their Christmas gifts after being sexually abused the night before. It is the reason why no matter how we say it to our family, they don’t believe us.
Or our communities think they can keep talking about the abuse as if it never happened. It is because when the person who hurt us is part of our community, we love them anyway.
It is all in the family.
When childhood trauma happens at home with people we love, it complicates everything. The hurt is so deep that we loose our ability to trust ourselves. Our sense of self, our ability to listen to our intuition gets lost. Lost between “but I still love them” and” why me?”
The people who hurt us may be everyday people in our lives—who we love, trust and never thought would hurt us. We loved them before they hurt us and that does not go away. It actually makes the matter that much worse—it hurts more and it complicates the choices we make. It impacts the story we create about ourselves, from that moment on.
It forces us to make unbelievable choices.
At the cost of belonging, of being loved, we will show up, protecting those we love. We will keep silent and lose sleep; we will be stressed and we will get sick. It’s about what will happen, what we will lose and what it will ultimately cost us if we disclose what happened.
It is that fear of losing more than what we have already lost that keeps us going back. It is also the illusion of, or the holding onto what family can be, if we continue to show up and shut up. The facade of a happy family will cost less than the punishment and continued abuse that will happen if we disown them.
It is exhausting but healing is worth it.
Healing is worth it. Survivors will create life, love anyway, heal anyway, forgive anyway and trust anyway. Sometimes our very existence can be exhausting. Yet, people will want us to heal on their time. They will ask to hurry up, forgive and move on. However, people don’t understand that it takes a lot of focus, practice and courage for us to show up.
Between preparing, protecting and surviving, life can be a blur.
People expect us to be rational, determined, responsible and accountable—move on and never look back, be successful people who will never let this happen to their children. Even with a plan in place, it takes everything we have to sit in front of our abusers and pretend that nothing happened. We put a smile on our face so that everyone doesn’t know we are scared, that our stomach is tight, that our breathing is short and fast, that we are not numb thinking that we might find ourselves alone with them.
Although, holding onto the abuse, day in and day out is exhausting—the healing work, to live and thrive anyway, is absolutely worth it. The choice of healing happens in moments when we decide that something in us has got to change. When we decide to look at our lives and retrace our steps to put it all together, to make sense about who we are.
What experiences have shaped our identity, we start to truly answer, how did we get here? How did it get this bad? When did we lose ourselves? What is it that had so much impact in our lives that we are now in a cycle of violence with ourselves and others? When did it cost us our word, our integrity, our dreams, our family, our life?
We have nothing more to lose—we only have our dignity, humanity, truth and power to reclaim!
Author: Dayanara Marte
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author