My purpose of sharing my childhood sexual abuse experience is to spread awareness about the effects of trauma and inspire others to seek help to heal from their past. Now that I’m at a point of clarity and understanding about the abuse I went through, I want to break the silence and encourage other survivors. I want the world to be a little better for those who have suffered by making this something we can talk about.From the outside, my childhood probably looked pretty normal.
My parents were (and are) married, I excelled in school and soccer, and I had good friends. There were some very big secrets though, secrets I did everything I could to hide. There were scary, traumatic things going on that I didn’t understand, but didn’t feel safe enough with anyone to ask for help.
My uncle started sexually abusing me when I was about 4 years old. (At least that’s my first memory I have of it– he might have started before this.) He would target me at family gatherings and find ways to isolate me from everyone else. He would touch me and do things to me that scared me and made me feel like I was going to die. This continued for about seven years, until I was 11.
It was too much for a girl that young to understand. I didn’t know what sex was, let alone sexual abuse. One of the most painful parts for me, then and now, is that I loved my uncle. As an adult, I can see how he “groomed” me. (I hate that word. It sounds disgusting… well actually it is disgusting.) As a predator, he gained my trust and guaranteed my silence. He played with me and talked to me and made me feel special and loved. My own dad didn’t do those things with me, so my uncle filled a gap in my life in a way that felt good. It was SO confusing that someone I loved and trusted could also do things to me that felt so scary and wrong.
As I got older, the things he did to me seemed to get increasingly more extreme. By the time I was about 11 years old, I started to understand a little more about sex and I connected the dots more about what he was doing to me. I tried to fight back a few times, but it didn’t stop him. I told my older sister about the last incident and she told my mom.
Having my abuse “come out” was almost as traumatic as experiencing the sexual abuse in the first place. (During the abuse I was also protected in a way, because I dissociated, which means I disconnected from myself and reality to not feel so scared and hurt.) My mom confronted me about the abuse and I told her what happened. She then took me to a counselor where I had to tell again. Every time I told someone about it, I felt re-traumatized and it made me feel intense shame about what I had been through. I wanted so badly to just be a normal girl. Having to go to a counselor made me feel like something was deeply wrong with me and that if anyone knew about it, they would not want to be my friend. I felt so confused and alone. I don’t even remember anyone explaining to me why what he did was wrong.
I felt lost and alone in my pain during this time (and for years to come). My family never talked about the abuse. We all dealt with it on our own and I don’t even remember my parents ever talking to me about it after the first time I told my mom. Counseling helped a little, but mostly it just made me feel broken and like I had more shameful secrets to hide.
The most traumatic memory I have from this time period is when my mom took me to the Children’s Justice Center, where I was supposed to tell yet another scary stranger about all the terrible things I had been through. Going there felt like the pinnacle of shame for me. I felt like I was in trouble. I felt so much pressure to “do it right” and also so much confusion and pain. I didn’t want to think about those scary and bad things anymore. I actually felt sad for my uncle, because no one made sure I understood things. I thought he had just made a little mistake and now my mom wanted him to go to prison for it. In all my confusion, I just didn’t want him to get in trouble. Well, the annoying interrogation lady (who, bless her heart, was only trying to help me) got me to talk about only one or two incidents. Because I didn’t tell her more, the judge didn’t press very severe charges on my uncle and he didn’t receive the consequences he deserved. (Looking back now, this infuriates me. I even tried pressing charges again two years ago, but because of some stupid laws, he can’t be punished “again.”)
The effects of trauma (especially repeated childhood trauma) can be extremely severe. I was able to hide a lot of these because I turned my pain and anger inward and became an extreme perfectionist. As a very sensitive, tender person, my trauma and lack of emotional support was especially damaging. My home and family never felt like a safe place where I could talk about feelings or receive the kind of help I needed. I grew up thinking I should just forgive my uncle and move on. Because no one helped me the way I needed, I felt broken, ugly, inferior, unworthy, and like an outcast. I thought I had “moved forward” and forgiven my uncle, but I didn’t know that the trauma had affected me to the core. In the two years since I started healing, I have uncovered layer after layer of damage done by the trauma.
For years, I plugged along, thinking I had left the past behind. I went to therapy off and on because of the anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and low-level depression I could never get rid of. I didn’t even know it was related to my sexual abuse and emotional neglect. It got a little better from time to time, but then I would be triggered (in ways I wasn’t even aware of at the time) and go back into the hole of feeling terrible. I thought that this was just what life was. I thought maybe everyone felt as bad as I did.
I had no idea that life could be peaceful and fun and not so stressful. I had no idea I could feel loved even when I didn’t achieve something, that I didn’t always have to feel like I was barely surviving. Because of the false beliefs I developed over the years of my childhood, I was stuck in feelings and thought patterns of hopelessness.
Miraculously, two years ago (almost exactly) I realized that I needed to find a therapist who actually specialized in trauma. It took about nine months to find a trauma therapist I clicked with and a LOT of work after that, but I have come out on the other side of my deep healing phase feeling like a different person. I feel free from the layers of shame I carried for so long. I respect and honor myself for what I have been through. I love myself and I like who I am. I am figuring out who I am without all the things I used to do just because I was a perfectionist. I am proud of myself for choosing the path of healing.
I hope to write a lot more about my journey– what I have been through and what I’m still going through to heal. I have found writing to be extremely helpful in my recovery, especially being able to express myself, when for so many years, I wasn’t able to.
If you are someone who has also gone through sexual abuse or trauma of any kind, I hope you will seek support and get the help you need. (I am here for you, too!) I have lots of resources that have helped me and I’m also pretty good (Daniel says incredibly good) at just listening and validating. Going through trauma is terrible, but living with the effects are just about as bad or even worse. I hope you know that you are worth any and all help you receive, and that life is so much better on the other side of recovery.
If you have a loved one who has gone through anything like this, I hope you will talk to them and be there for them in the ways they want and need. (It’s usually best to ask them to know how to help, since everyone is different.) Healing happens in community. I am extremely grateful for Daniel, my sisters, close friends, my therapist, and my sexual abuse recovery coaches, who have helped me so, so much.
My trauma has affected every part of my life, especially marriage and motherhood. As I heal, I am finding ways to let the lessons from my past help me. Because I am a survivor, I feel like my level of appreciation and joy in my family are even higher than they would have been if I hadn’t experienced the lowest lows that I did. My goal is to continue establishing a home where we grow together and enjoy healthy relationships. I am grateful for the strength I find in myself as I grow and develop as a mother.