How I'm Reframing My Childhood Sexual Abuse
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
For the first half of my adult life I thought very little, if at all, of the abuse I endured as a child. I thought of it as “no big deal” and refused to look at it or even really acknowledge it.. I was supposed to be “over it.”
I got married and we had a good life, the two of us. Any thoughts or feelings I had about my abuse were immediately and forcefully dismissed because I was “over it,” and I refused to admit otherwise. Then I experienced infertility, infertility treatment (including four surgeries) and IVF. We were amazingly lucky and had two beautiful children. When my second child was born, the labor and delivery didn’t go well. It included lots of interventions, an emergency C-section and a hospitalized newborn. During the emergency c-section I slid into a terrifying flashback; my brain told me I could feel my abusers wiggling fingers inside of me, I panicked and had to be sedated. I was humiliated. I hoped it was just a fluke, some random reaction to the stress and I just ignored it.
Over the following months and years it got so much worse, the depression, the anxiety and the rage. As my amazing children began to grow, I became obsessed with their safety, to the point of hysteria. I was resentful of the way they acted like children. I was consumed by rage and empty dread. I became very depressed; I tried to hide it and be a good wife and mom. I blamed it on everything outside of myself; I took meds, I went back to work, but none of that helped. My youngest child began having some difficulties so I took him to a pediatric developmental specialist. She told me bluntly, I was the problem, he was reacting to me and I was the one who needed help. I was mortified, I was unintentionally hurting my child.
I was sick at the prospect of therapy, but I had to do better for my family. I used my son as the excuse for going to the first appointment. It took the therapist about 15 minutes to just ask me flat out who had abused me as a kid. I assured him it was no big deal, not “really” abuse because it had no effect on me. Inside I wanted to die. I didn’t even make an appointment to go back, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. After a few weeks I called for a second appointment. I knew I needed help. I was a mess.
The first time he talked about “little me” I immediately pictured in my mind a broken and naked child laying in the mud and I hated her. He spoke about how I left her behind and I needed to have compassion for her. I wanted to kill her, to run her down and stomp on her broken body. I scoffed at him, rolled my eyes and said that was stupid and he could just keep her.
After many months of quietly speaking the unspeakable things I began to understand how little and innocent I actually had been. I began to hear it when he would say “it’s not your fault.” I would get irrationally angry at that proclamation. I would argue and explain why it really was my “own stupid fault” he often would frame it in a way that if I blamed my 5-year-old self I would have to blame my child if anything bad ever happened to them. “But that’s different” I would whine at him. But it wasn’t.
As I began to change how I viewed my own past I began to realize I was parenting out of fear and anger. To stop being so angry, I had to stop punishing the little girl I had been. I needed to have compassion for her. I had to accept and believe that as a 5, 7, 9 or 15-year-old child I could not “tempt” another into violating and raping me. No matter what I said or did. That as a child, because I perceived it as loving attention, this did not mean I “wanted it.” I had to believe I “went along,” not because I was a child whore, but because I had been trained and groomed to comply and I didn’t know any better. After all I was a child. A child with a broken family from birth.
I had to admit that these horrors would have happened no matter what I did or did not do. I was set up from birth to be a perfect victim. I was never in charge of any of it, I was left to the whims of others with selfish intent. I needed to believe that child was not at fault and she did not deserve my hate.
Some days, I do believe that now. I had to learn how to comfort that small, broken and terrified part. I had to reframe my internal dialogue and be kind to myself. Sometimes I can do this; it takes thought and effort on my part and it is a daily struggle for me. I have seen the difference this makes in my life. I can look at my children and see how amazing they are, see their innocence and not be angry or bitter. I can love them without fear. I can feel angry and sad at the people who hurt me so badly and not point it anywhere else except at them, right where it belongs. Sometimes I can even feel worthy of the life I have now.
Getty image by Hibrida13