I am one of many people waiting for a day that will never come, as a childhood sexual abuse victim.
Sexual abuse survivors wake up each day, we eat breakfast, we spend time with our families, and we go about our lives as millions of others do.
But, at least once or twice, and sometimes even all day, we will think about what has happened to us. We don’t mean to, nor do we want to. It’s a reality some of us will never fully recover from, no matter how hard we try.
We will stand in hundreds of showers in our lifetime, with the warm water flowing over our emotionally drained bodies, wiping thousands of tears with the water, knowing we probably can’t hide our blood-shot eyes.
We try to hide our faces from our husbands or wives because we are tired of crying over it. We will take moments to hide our faces, to cry, to let the anxiety out, to let ourselves mourn. We dream of a day where we will wake up “fixed,” and be free.
Coming to terms with the fact that we may never be fixed is daunting. Abuse survivors deal with it the best ways they can but for many, it will never be gone.
Most people will never understand what that feels like.
Knowing that for every single day of their lives, they will forever have this dark place in the back of their minds that forces them to fear themselves, question themselves, question reality and question who they can trust. The dark place that takes a survivor and swallows them whole, only every now and then allowing them up to breathe, usually when spending time with other people. And once they are alone again, the darkness sneaks back in and clouds the edges of their minds.
Knowing that they could at any point of any day be triggered by sex with a partner. Or triggered by remembering a house, a street, a food, a drink, a smell and even their own children. Survivors can be triggered by anything our minds choose, without our control. Once that trigger is set, all we can do is to roll with it and allow ourselves to go with the pain of it—because fighting the sadness and depression just isn’t worth the exhaustion. Fighting it, not asking for help, not allowing ourselves to cry, not accepting it is happening—this will only make it worse.
Survivors know that people, friends or family want to understand them and how they are feeling, but sometimes they can’t, no matter how hard they try.
They will never understand the confusion of having missing parts of a childhood, missing memories of themselves or a vital member of their family—their own mothers, fathers, or siblings. These missing memories only serve to create bitterness toward their childhood and themselves for not speaking up sooner—maybe they had, everything might have been different—the what if’s.
As adults, they understand how fragile a child can be.
Survivors of abuse assume that the bad things happening in their lives are a result of their abuse—even though, deep down, they know they are not their abuse. They are better, they are stronger.
But, you can get you back.
These are five things I did to get my life back (in no particular order):
I wrote. My counselor said to me, “You should write a book.” I started with a private blog and just let it all out, every detail, feeling, fear, and any strength I had, I wrote it. Eventually I made it public and the support flooded through. I didn’t hold back anymore, because that’s what was holding me back.
I accepted what had happened. I stopped pushing it down as I had for 18 years. I stopped pretending it was okay and that I was fine. I accepted it as part of my life, as part of my story and realised while I am not my abuse, it has shaped me. I realised I am stronger for it.
I exercised and ate well. I had fallen into a slump of eating my feelings, but when I did something for my own health, I felt powerful and in control. Even two to three days a week of just walking or running with music in your ears can change your perspective on many things, even if earlier, you felt weak and sad. Running changed mine.
I cried when I needed to. If I was having a really bad day full of flash backs, I let it happen and I let those around me know I was struggling. You will be surprised at how much people want to be there for you when you need it. The support from so many friends and family members saved me.
I got help. I can not stress enough how important it is to find a counselor who gets you. If you don’t like the one you have, maybe they’re not for you and it’s time to find a new one. Having someone you click with will help you feel comfortable and able to be honest. You will learn incredibly fast how great you really are with the right help.
Life will be good again.
Now as I sit outside in the sun and watch my children play, I have struggled to find the right words for how I feel. I’ve opened and closed the laptop more than five times trying to find them. I know I am only who I am now, not because of my abuse, but because of how I have overcome it, even though at times I fear I am failing.
We are not failing.
Giving into it is not giving it power, it’s giving us the power. A voice. A light in the dark.
We are who we are because we are better than those who abused our innocence. We might wake each day in a fog begging ourselves to not dwell on the past, to not allow one memory to ruin a day—but even if we do, we have not lost. Surviving it is not losing.
We are grieving for what we will never have. And that is okay.
Author: Antanika Holton
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s own