It took me a very long time to speak the words, “I was sexually abused.” It took me an even longer time to believe it. And what took so much longer than I ever could have predicted was to believe that I was sexually abused…and it wasn’t my fault.
I had heard this dozens and dozens of times. Many victims of abuse, molestation and domestic violence often feel a guilt that they are not deserving of. For months I had beaten myself up thinking, “why did I do that?” wondering, “What was I thinking?” and assuming “something must be wrong with me.”
It also took me a very long time to accept that a mentor and father figure in my life had violated our trusting relationship. I kept replaying the events that had occurred in my mind, telling myself, I must have done something wrong – why else would he have done this? I must have instigated something…I blamed myself, convinced that no one could take advantage of me if I had not invited it.
I couldn’t shake off this “shame” I felt no matter how hard I tried to forget what had happened. The more I tried to block my memories, the more anxious and confused I became. I became a space cadet – hardly feeling at all. It was how I protected myself. This way, I couldn’t feel the sense of loss and betrayal. I couldn’t feel the shame of still thinking this was all “my fault.” My numbness started to alarm my friends and family, to whom I insisted that nothing was wrong at all. I kept this secret hidden inside, burning in my gut, hidden from those I loved.
The more I tried to repress what had happened, the more anxious I became, until I couldn’t handle keeping these secrets locked up so tightly. When I turned 18, I finally spilled everything to my mother. I was so afraid of what she might say or if she would judge my actions. I was embarrassed to say these kind of words out loud, let alone with my mother. My mother was shocked, upset and as overwhelmed as I was. But she still provided me with the one solid anchor that I needed. She told me it was not my fault. No matter what I told her, how I explained what I could remember, or what I confided in her, she reassured me with the certainty only a mother can have: it was not your fault.
Reaching out to someone I knew loved me unconditionally calmed my anxiety. Telling someone what had happened made my “dark” secret come to light. I became open to viewing my abuse in a different way – I was willing to take some of the responsibility off of myself. My mother and I started reading about “trauma.” I learned that in the face of trauma, you can have three responses: You can fight, flee or freeze. I could have immediately fought back against my abuser, yelling “no” or defying him in some way. I could have just ran in the other direction as fast as I could. But I was so shocked by everything that happened that I froze. Like a deer in the headlights, I couldn’t come to terms with the idea that a man that I trusted as my mentor could turn into such a monster in the blink of an eye. I mentally left the situation, disassociated from my body, and became a passive bystander to a trauma that my body was directly involved in.
I learned that the physical sensations of “guilt” register in the same way that “shame” and “helplessness” do in your body – so when a person feels helpless in a situation, the body automatically pairs that sensation with “guilt.” When you undergo any kind of trauma it causes a disturbance in your energy flow – suddenly, you are unable to feel those emotions that once came so naturally at a time. My body stopped breathing the same way it used to – a big knot of tension evolved in my chest and remained there like a cocoon. My thoughts became rigid – frightened to wander into past memories. I put up a daze like four safe walls that protected me from being consciously present in the abuse, and that daze stayed with me with or without him. I lived in a world separate from everyone else.
I wanted to see my world in color again – I wanted to feel brave enough to feel again. I protected myself in a traumatic situation by becoming numb to my emotions, but now the danger was gone, my abuser had left the picture long ago. Now, the work was up to me. I told myself “it wasn’t my fault” until I believed it. And once I felt these words resonate in my body, in my soul – I liberated myself. I had nothing to be ashamed of. And I had every right to reclaim my life, my aliveness, move on and experience the world in all of its radiant colors once again.
I was sexually abused. It was not my fault. In a traumatizing situation, I froze, while others might have fled or fought back. But with time and with confiding in those I trust, I have unthawed and faced what I’ve tried to forget. And with nothing to hide, nothing to regret or redo, and everything to look forward to in the future, I’ve allowed myself to move on.