Dear Mother, Dear Father:
There is no easy introduction. There is no careful beginning to help soften the blow. When I was a child, a small child, I was sexually abused. This is a confession a life-time in the making. This is a truth never uttered verbally from my lips. Even staring at those words makes me tremble and my stomach churn.
But how? And who? Where and when?
This is the place of my condemnation, I may never be able to answer these questions. For you, or for myself.
Well, then how do I know? Where does this confession come from if I cannot give you the face and the name and the place? If I cannot give you the who, why, where, when; how can I possibly know?
The answer is easy, because I have always known.
There has never been a day in my memory that I have not known this as a simple fact of my life.
I may not be able to remember the event(events?), but I remember the aftermath which has always been with me.
As far back as kindergarten age, I recall the sickening feeling in my belly. I remember the heavy weight on my shoulders. I most of all cannot forget the deep, enduring sense of shame and disgust at myself for what “I had done”. I was a little girl, and I somehow heard of the word “rape” and had a sense of what it meant. I knew it involved a violation, and a physical act of some private kind. I didn’t know anything about sexual intercourse, neither was I violated in that particular way. Yet, I sat on my bed in my room trying to swallow the panic lodged in my throat while thinking, “I’ve been raped.”
“How can I tell my mother?” I would think through tears. I don’t understand to this day why I never did say something. I know I wanted to. I know I really wanted to. It seemed too big, too grotesque of a truth to say to my mother who knew me only as an innocent girl. What would she of think of me? Will everyone hate me? I must be really, really bad. I bet God hates me too because I’m dirty.
I tried to forget. As I got older, left elementary school and went into middle school. I tried to push it far away. I tried to convince myself that I had to put it behind me. I was worn down by the secrecy. I was worn down by the weight of it all, crushing my chest and making it hard to breathe. I wanted peace. I wanted to be a girl, unmolested. So, I decided I would never remember it again. I was in 6th grade. I told myself it was forbidden to think of. I pushed it way, way down and wrapped up it up in a box and threw away the key. I would not allow myself the knowledge of it anymore. It would be gone, and I would be free.
But I was not free. I did forget though. But never the feelings, they stayed stubbornly with me. They insisted on bubbling up to remind me of my uncleanness, of my secret, of my ugliness.
I turned on my body. I took out my rage against this cage of flesh so determined to destroy me. With diets and vomiting and scratches with pins until I bled. I will forget. I will be normal.
Soon, whatever rage and despair I had carried with me was combined with the new traumas I endured. I realized my body was once again a deceiver and a problem, when that 40-year-old man painfully forced his fingers into me at 14. I had tried to move on. I had tried to be new. I had tried to be clean and forgiven. But here I was, laying still on the dark grass while a man taught me the same lesson again; your body does not belong to you. Your body is a temptation and a problem. It must be me. It must be my fault.
You see the body does not allow you to forget its violations. It remembers. When I shudder at the gentle touch of a friend, because I wasn’t expecting their hand on my shoulder. When I still cannot sleep without some sort of light on, I have to know who is coming for me. When I am overwhelmed with anxiety from a doctor’s exam, their hands and tools triggering a flight or fight response. I am not allowed to forget.
I tried to overcome this body-remembrance dilemma by cutting off all feelings of attachments to it. Punishing my body didn’t work, just left scars and fluctuated my weight. So maybe I could become a spirit, totally separate from this fleshy prison. I would leave my body whenever I was abused, now as a teenager and young adult. I could watch myself from outside of my body. I learned how to go through motions and sounds without feeling anything or being present.
But you know what? The spirit doesn’t forget either. And then, when I tried to make love to a man that I wanted to be with; I realized I had been robbed of the ability to feel. I couldn’t just turn it back on. And, even worse, my problem body would react as if I was being abused even if I wasn’t. I had been trained to associate anything sexual with pain. I was stuck.
Drugs helped to numb the pain away, and distract me from all this hell. But it also led me to places where I was being hurt on a regular basis. My body became currency, because it was all I had left to give. If I didn’t give it, it would be taken anyway. Once again the same lesson, your body is not yours. I was taught at 16 by the men who dragged me down a hallway kicking and screaming that it is better not to fight. Just give in, fly away, endure it.
I have endured. But now, I want to stop running away.
This is just too big. How can I possibly address every act violence committed against me? I don’t think that I can. It is too much. But I can address the feelings. I can address how I relate to myself, to my body, which is in fact mine. I can ask for help. I can set boundaries and actually stick to them. I can find myself worthy of defending again. I can place blame where it rightfully belongs, not on my fragile bony kindergarten shoulders, not on the broken back of my teenage self, but rather on the broad grown shoulders of the men who choose to hurt me.
And you, my parents, could you try to remember with me? Maybe there is something, anything you can recall about what took place? If not, then just support me. Believe me, and believe in me.
I am starting to believe in myself.