Why It's Hard to 'Celebrate' the Anniversary of Speaking Up About Abuse
“Why are you struggling with this anniversary? You were brave and survived through the trauma. You could be celebrating.”
This has become one of the biggest questions people have asked me recently. Every time it comes up I’m never really sure what the answer should be. Why can’t it be something I am proud of? To my loved ones, I hope you know this is not a bad question and I know you mean no harm. This is just my explanation for my own experience and feelings.
1. Shame doesn’t always surface by choice.
As a child who grew up with daily/weekly abuse up until the point I told, shame played a consistent role in my everyday life. Shame feeds the fire of abuse. Without it, people who have suffered through years of emotional and physical abuse would probably have told much sooner. Shame is the one of the biggest culprits for causing silence. Some people would tell me that when I told about my abuse it overcame that shame. This idea isn’t wrong. As survivors, we probably overcame some of the shame, but it is more of a constant battle with shame that was ingrained in us from when we were young. We essentially have to rewire our brains to acknowledge that we shouldn’t feel shame with this event because to us it feels like we have no right to be proud that we got out of something so awful. Many times, we don’t even want to claim the experience at all.
2. Pain and pride can coexist.
Recently, I’ve been truly struggling since the seventh anniversary of first talking about my abuse. When I finally began talking to my support people about it, I was continuously asked, “Aren’t you proud of yourself? That was a moment of bravery.” I always say how I am proud but it doesn’t really make the experience different. Because the thing is, being proud of yourself doesn’t mean there is no pain. They are too separate feelings that can coexist and that’s OK.
3. Moments of worsened PTSD can also be a sign of growth.
I would consider myself on the road of recovery from the trauma I faced as a child. When we look at one way to think about the stages of recovery from trauma, there is the victim, the survivor and the thriver. Most days of the year, I would say I am somewhere in between surviving and thriving. I can acknowledge and communicate about the pain I have faced throughout my life and recognize the role it played in who I am today. I also have many memories and experiences that still need time and a great deal of processing.
Although I am in a recovery state full of growth and potential, I still face months at a time where my flashbacks increase and my mental health tends to decline. It is really important to acknowledge that it doesn’t matter what stage you are at in he recovery process. We may continue to struggle with the memories of the traumatic events and that’s OK. It’s healthy to feel and process traumatic memories whenever they arise, even if we feel that we should feel proud of our bravery.
4. Know that although we may be struggling, we don’t regret our actions. We are proud of ourselves. We just also live with the reminder of events that impacted our lives forever.
Every year when the date arrives, I never regret telling about my abuse as a child. I was willing to be brave and overcome whatever struggles I would face at the age of 12, to protect myself and my family. I am proud. I am proud of who I was then, and who I am now. My life blossomed in so many ways because of it. This is just a small reminder that these actions changed our lives forever. Each and everyone of us may process that experience and the memory of it differently and it’s OK if we do/don’t feel proud or brave from the experience.
Getty image via Natalia-flurno