Today I am going to finish chapter 3. This part of the Sexual Healing Journey is about “remembering sexual abuse” and “telling others about the sexual abuse”. And I think I’ll jump right in.
Remembering sexual abuse
Like many people who have been sexually abused, I have memory issues. It’s quite amazing to consider it, actually, but after sexual abuse having been a daily (I think) part of my life for 15 years, after I had gotten removed from my family, I forgot about it. Thinking back I find that creepy, that I could just forget it, like it never happened. My sexual behavior was still way different than what’s normal for 15 year old girls, but I managed to forget that I had been abused. The memories only resurfaced lots of years later, many months after I had come to live with my family. I started having flashbacks and memories returned.
Even so, I still don’t have coherent memories of the abuse to this day. I have memory fragments, a collage of a plethora of memory snippets, but I have a hard time determining what goes together, a hard time putting them in order and sometimes even a hard time really making sense of the fragments, because they are so small and isolated. Some of the fragments consist of visual memories from my own perspective, some appear like scenes from a movie, from an outside perspective, some consist only of feelings and a vague sense of something happening and no real visuals to go with them at all… it can be quite confusing.
Usually I do okay with the memory fragments that I have. Sometimes, however, something scary happens. I suppose it’s some kind of flashback thing going on. Then memories will appear before my mind’s eye, and I feel like I am seeing a memory clip of sexual abuse happening under a stroboscope light, so that rather than smooth movements I see rapid successions of pictures, along with the eerie feeling that goes with the strobes effect. It feels like not being able to breathe properly. It’s a really fucked up thing to happen.
So I guess I have memory issues and remembering sexual abuse properly is a challenge. The book says that’s okay, though. It also says that while it can be helpful to retrieve and make sense of the memories, it’s not absolutely necessary for healing, and that the mind probably knows best what to remember when and that it can’t and shouldn’t be forced. I like that. And what I find important is that the book says to trust memories or feelings of abuse when they do appear. Sometimes I get visual snippets of some seriously sick shit, and I don’t know if those are to be trusted or if they are just my own imagination being really sick. But I am working on trying to trust them. A little.
Telling others of the abuse.
Okay, so remembering was one thing. Telling others of the memories is another. The book says that often people don’t tell anyone of the abuse that happened. That can be
- for fear of others not believing us or downplaying it
- because we feel ashamed
- because we don’t want to be seen as victims
- because we were told not to tell
- because we’re afraid the other person can’t handle it
and probably various other reasons, too.
I think I am at least partway lucky (if you can speak of luck in such a context) insofar as I don’t have memories of being told not to tell. I was told it was normal, something all good little girls had to do. As a child I would have never told anyone because I didn’t want to call anyone’s attention on me, did not want to give people ideas, and most of all, because I would have felt way too embarrassed and exposed to ever speak about it. I think I tried to pretend the sexual abuse didn’t even exist the best I could, so acknowledging it was indeed real by telling someone else about it? No way! To my mind there was nothing I could have told anyone, especially not nosy teachers who were concerned about me.
But on the positive side this means I don’t have to struggle with disobeying anyone now that I am older and can tell someone of what happened. Even so, at first I still struggled with all those feelings I knew from when I was little, after memories of the sexual abuse had come back. I didn’t want to tell mom because I was ashamed and felt exposed and vulnerable and like she might come to see that I’m nothing but a sleazy whore after all, causing her to abandon me because she doesn’t want someone like me for a daughter. Yeah, so that caused me to act out quite severely, which in turn caused mom to be all over me, so that in the end I didn’t know which was worse anymore and ended up telling her.
I’m still her daughter, so all is well, and very slowly I learned that it’s okay to talk about the abuse in appropriate contexts. I’m speaking about it right now. So I guess I am doing okay acknowledging the abuse, even when my memories are still upset and there still are things that get in the way, like my feelings disappearing when I talk about the abuse, or the opposite happening (especially when I talk about it with mom).
Okay. So with the acknowledging chapter behind me, I think it is time to go on tomorrow. I’m a little sick and tired of acknowledging, to be honest. So tomorrow I will deal with “Identifying the Sexual Impact”. Stay tuned if you want to learn what it’s about! 🙂
And I think a thank you is in order to everyone who is following my journey, who leaves kind comments and words of encouragement. I really appreciate that. Thank you. 🙂
Missed the past episodes of the journey? Here they are:
MALTZ, Wendy (2012): The Sexual Healing Journey. A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse; Third Edition; Harper Collins. New York.