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I Needed to Understand Why I Was Sexually Abused

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you have experienced emotional abuse or sexual abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Who is going to believe me? Why would they believe me? Who is going to help me? These questions consumed my thoughts, ate at my soul and devoured my life. I’ve spent days, months and years trying to piece together my childhood, to figure out where it went wrong, to figure out what I did, to figure out why. I’ve always been a logical person — 1 + 1 = 2. A² + B² = C². For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There was a way of learning and understanding and for whatever reason I couldn’t make any sense of it. I couldn’t piece together the puzzle and I couldn’t figure out the why. That alone killed me more than any of the abuse ever did.

• What is PTSD?

I don’t remember much of my childhood — something about your brain suppressing memories to protect you. I do, however, remember that I’ve been hit. It started out small, hands being hit with rulers when you held your pencil wrong, your elbow smashed against the table for eating with your elbows on the table, having your mouth duct taped shut for talking when you weren’t supposed to. It was the small stuff that was normal. You listened to your parents or else there were consequences. It was normal; it was my normal. My “normal” aged as I did, and it didn’t age like fine wine. It got worse. I don’t remember a lot of it; just what I have in nightmares and flashbacks. Although my brain suppressed a lot of these memories, it didn’t let me forget the sexual abuse. That still lingers and haunts me. But it was normal.

Rewind; back to when I was 11 or 12. My father worked midnights so his job was to come home from work and get my sister and me ready for school. He woke us up, fed us breakfast, got us ready, made sure we had our lunches and sent us on our way. The normal “dad” stuff. My father started climbing into bed with me; waking me up by massaging my breasts. “You can’t tell anyone. Don’t defy me. You’ll regret telling anyone. You’ll break the family apart. You deserve this.” It wasn’t just one morning; It was every morning. It wasn’t just the mornings; it started happening during the day, and at night. The first penis I touched, the first time I was touched, the first time was not my boyfriend’s, was not my husband’s, but my father’s at the age 11 or 12.

I know it probably sounds awkward, but even though I knew in the back of my mind that it wasn’t OK, it wasn’t normal, I didn’t stop it. I knew from school and from books that this wasn’t supposed to happen and if it did happen you were supposed to get help. But for some reason, a reason to this day I don’t understand, I didn’t do anything. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Clearly, I did something wrong. I must have done something that deserved this. I began living my life carefully, changing things I thought needed changed to prevent the reaction. I was screwing up somewhere, so it was my fault.

I began harming myself shortly after the first sexual assault. I was scared; there was no one to turn to. I couldn’t tell you what made me do it, what exactly influenced me to try it. I couldn’t tell you what got me hooked, but one time — one measly, little, stupid time started my addiction. It just didn’t make sense. I was hit for very specific reasons. I was able to figure out the mistake and not make it again. Clean your room, you won’t get hit. Go to bed on time, you won’t get hit. Don’t interrupt adult time, you won’t get hit. Don’t get a bad grade, you won’t get hit. This was the start of the puzzle I have spent most of my life trying to solve.

For a long time, I hid it. Wore long sleeves, and sweaters, rocked the wristbands and bangles. I went as far as isolating myself from people. If I didn’t make interactions with people, no one would see, no one would ask questions. No one knew, or maybe people knew but didn’t know what to say, who to say something to, or how to say something. In grade nine, a teacher saw and knew what to say. It took three times for children’s aid to be called for me to finally admit something was happening. Nothing came from it. I was put into counseling for being a “pathological liar.” I was now the black sheep who was desperate enough to break up the family by throwing around these brutal allegations. I potentially ruined my father’s reputation and any family dynamic. My father tried to kill himself that day the police arrived at my house. His suicide note didn’t apologize for hurting me, for making mistakes. No. It was a note saying he did not touch his daughter. It was a note saying he never laid a hand on his daughter. It was a note begging forgiveness for ending it because he knew he would never be looked at the same. It was a note calling his daughter a liar. His last words were a lie. A lie no one knew but me.

The sexual abuse slowly stopped. Maybe because my family was in the spotlight, maybe because he realized he messed up. Who knows, but the physical abuse continued. The abuse was more explosive, and more aggressive. It was less frequent and unpredictable. I wasn’t able to piece these attacks together. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I was running out of things to fix.

I built up walls — so many walls — walls that were thick and tall, that no one would break through. Maybe my family was right. I was making it up in my head. Maybe I was, in fact, a liar. Maybe I was “crazy.” All of these began making me question myself and my integrity. I did have a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back. I lived in a good house, had toys and games, and was even able to play sports outside of school. That was it; I was crazy.

I didn’t have a lot of friends. I fought with a lot of people, and didn’t get along with most kids. I was weird. I put everything into sports; my anger, my confusion. Sports made me forget what my life was at home. For a few moments, I was just like everyone else — wanting to excel and win. I found comfort in the church. I still harmed myself but not as much, and not as frequent. I did everything I could to avoid home. If I avoided home, I avoided making mistakes, which ultimately avoided a beating.

Self-harm gave me control. It was my pain that I did it to myself. I controlled where it would go, how it would look, how deep it would go, and how long it would be. Everything was in my hands. It was my own pain. The only thing I knew that was real — the only thing I had full control over.

I was 21 before my walls finally came crashing down. My second year of university was the worst and best year of my life. Most people thought it was the overwhelming life of a university student that brought me to my breakdown. It definitely was a factor, but it wasn’t the sole reason. I injured myself, and was not able to distract my mind with sports. I began to struggle in school, and everything came rushing back in my head. The walls I had built and spent so many years perfecting began to crumble. I started having nightmares; my nightmares turned into night terrors. This resulted in me not sleeping, me not eating. I went from a woman at a healthy weight to a woman who was disintegrating. The self-harm slowly began getting worse. I can’t count how many times I needed stitches. I didn’t want any help so I sealed my own wounds shut. I was harming myself every day, multiple times a day. I tried to kill myself multiple times.

My coaches and teammates noticed, encouraged me and held my hand while I got the help I needed. It was a long road, but at least I was starting. Instead of building the walls back up fully, I was creating doors to get through them and allow help to make it through. Then my world was turned upside down when my best friend died. My psychiatrist admitted me into a psychiatric institution. Three weeks I spent there. This place is where my recovery really started. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), major anxiety and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Hours and hours of counseling, a variety of classes to teach me new skills and to improve the skills I had, group sessions, individual therapy and medication all became a part of my life. These became a crucial part of my life that became an important and necessary routine.

Fast-forward to six years later; I am married, have two beautiful children, own a house and have a fantastic job. My friends who brought me to my counseling every day, who helped me bandage my wrist, who held me during night terrors, who gave me a shoulder to cry on and who called 911 when I tried to kill myself are now my son’s godmothers and we are closer than I ever imagined. Every day is hard work. It is hard work that reminds me to use my tools to work through my emotions; to work with them, not against them. Emotions are important. When they come up, they are trying to tell you something. Listen to them — it’s probably something important.

I still struggle every day. I constantly think about the control I had when I hurt myself. Every day I have to remind myself to use my tools, reach out to my friends and family. I have to remind myself not to be afraid to ask for help. It’s been three years since I’ve harmed myself and I plan to keep that streak going. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today, and I will need to continue to work hard to better my future for myself, my family and my kids. I’ve made a promise to myself that I will do everything in my power to prevent a relapse; to not make my kids suffer or watch me suffer. I take medication every day and still continue to reach out to counselors and take classes. Mental illness is real and needs treatment. It’s not something that just goes away.

I might never understand my past or the reasons behind it, and I’m slowly accepting that it’s OK. I may never know the full truth, discover the answers or finish the puzzle. But maybe some things are better left unsolved. My father is still in my life, and probably will continue to be. I will never forget, and live with caution when he is around. I know living in the past isn’t healthy, and isn’t going to make my future any better. I am not embarrassed or ashamed of my scars. My scars tell a story; a very important story. Everything happens for a reason. My past helped me get to my future. If I had to relive and repeat my past to get to where I am today, I would do it — no question. My life isn’t perfect but it’s mine and I worked hard to make it mine. I control my life.

If my story can teach anyone anything, it is that self-injury is real. It’s not an attention-seeking behavior, it’s not selfish and it’s not wrong. It’s a way of dealing with something extremely hard because you don’t know any other way to deal with it. The best thing anyone can do is listen and not to judge. Everyone has their story. Be a hero in their story, not a villain.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Originally published: May 25, 2019
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