November 11, 2022

The Secrets we Keep: Surviving the Imprint of Childhood Sexual Abuse.


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I know what you’re thinking.

“Here we go again with another article from a victim of childhood sexual abuse, detailing all of the ways the abuse has defined their life.”

I get it. I’ve read them too and while they are sobering and necessary for some victims, this article is not that.

What is this article you ask? I’m not quite sure. I think it’s therapy.

I believe it is important for me to share my story with you. Whoever you are? Like any good first therapy session, we must be willing to be vulnerable and disclose our secrets to total strangers. I won’t spend any energy on the details. I spent the first 21 years of my life dwelling on them. There is no space for them in this article.

Truthfully, my story is not unique. In relative terms—compared to others—you may think it’s mild or as a friend once told me, “experimental.” Now, I’ve grown to a place where I can summarize my experience in three words: familial, betrayal, neglect. It’s as simple as that. However, my childhood was not ensconced in these words, rather, it was anything but.

I didn’t begin to really understand the imprint that dysfunction creates until I was 16 and my parents were in the midst of a divorce, at the expense of their children. It was then that a memory of heat and a hay-filled loft flashed across my mind.

I think the trauma of the divorce fed on trauma from childhood or at the very least, provided that spark. Until then, I looked at what I’ll refer to as “the event” as curious and harmless, truly. But throughout the course of my teenage years, I began to realize the insidious imprint it left on me.

Fast forward to a few months before my wedding. I was experiencing a mental breakdown of a proportion I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t leave my bed. Not for work, not for friends, not for anything. Little did I realize this crippling disease was triggered by an upcoming expectation of marriage…and sex. You see, I hadn’t had “sex” since the event (a more “aware me” now knows “the event” wasn’t sex, but rather abuse).

Everything I knew about sex was formed then. So for me, it wasn’t an enjoyable experience—it was something of nightmares only to be shared in total shame and secrecy. It was dirty. I could feel my body rejecting the idea. So much so, it became almost tangible. It wasn’t until the night of my wedding that I first disclosed the abuse to anyone, ever. After that, I began disclosing to a small group of people I knew I could trust and it’s how it remains. Until now.

They often say disclosure of abuse feels like a weight has been lifted. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt “the lift,” but rather “a shift.”

The weight shifted from shame to a responsibility to free the child within me and the adult I was becoming. I knew I couldn’t sustain a life where I wasn’t wholly known by the people who love me. I read what I call “my bible” during that time, Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love by Marilyn Van Derbur. 

In the book, Marilyn described everything I was feeling, and through a series of email exchanges, she provided a guiding light with the statement: “they will never really know you until they know this about you, and I can’t imagine anyone I love not really knowing me.”

It was simple and profound, but still not enough for me to gather enough courage to disclose the abuse to my family. Unfortunately, due to circumstances out of my control, the abuse was disclosed for me. While not ideal, I can’t change the course of that event. I can only manage it and move forward.

One thing I can truthfully say is that disclosure of abuse to anyone can be uncomfortable. For me, it has not always brought the “ah-ha” moments that one might expect, but it’s certainly made me more “Dominique” than ever before.

I don’t have all of the answers and my journey is not done. It has just begun…today. Maybe this article is that. 

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