I want (no, I need) to talk about what it feels like to be a survivor of sexual abuse, alleged to have committed same.
It’s like taking the scar that you have carefully wrapped, stitched, and mended (as much as these things can mend) over the past 36 years and tearing it open with sharpened fingernails, watching the blood seep out, feeling the excruciating sting of everything you worked so hard to heal.
It’s reliving that nauseating feeling that you did something to deserve this horrific, awful event, because there is no answer to why these things happen. I mean, we can throw out justifications: mental illness, abusers who were abused, alcohol, etc. But the truth is, it is often just a moment in time that presents opportunity, and someone decides to take advantage of that perfect storm, sometimes once, or repeatedly, even for years.
I was five years old when I was abused, only a year younger than my daughter. It took me sixteen years to say a word to anyone, to let anyone in on the horrendous secret I hauled within me. It sat inside, and festered until I just couldn’t stand to live with it on my own anymore. I tried to eat it away, numb myself, pretend it wasn’t significant. I didn’t really begin to restore and piece together those damaged parts of myself until I became a mother. It was when I had these beautiful, tender, vulnerable souls to protect and care for that I knew, above anything else in the world, I never wanted them to experience the kind of suffering I felt at the hands of another human.
Becoming a mother finally allowed me to open those dark pockets, and begin to sweep them clean to let in the light. It has taken so much work to be at home in my skin, and it is only in the past year (and a few in my 20s until I was sexually assaulted again at 24), that I have truly hit my goal of self-love. I just want to let that sink in: out of forty-one years, I have had about ten where I have felt good about myself. That’s thirty-one years of anguish, self-loathing, and physically feeling so uncomfortable with my body that it has permeated my life and relationships. It has also cost me people who cared deeply for me, and who loved me even when I couldn’t love myself, because I never felt worthy.
I have been so protective of my children over the years. Anytime anything has come up that might even resemble anything suspicious, I have always asked questions and reassured them that they could always come to me. I taught them at a young age that their bodies are theirs, and theirs alone. I talk with my teenagers now about how important it is to practice consent, and how to care for themselves and others in physical situations. With all of them, I talk frankly using the proper terminology, because I feel it is important to know the body inside and out for one’s health. I work in a field where I see women all the time who have no idea how their bodies function. It has always felt essential to me to make sure that my children are well educated in this area.
So, when I became accused of abuse, I almost vomited. Suddenly, I felt as helpless and powerless as my five-year-old self, the one who would run into the bathroom to lock out her abuser if she could get away. The one who never felt there was a way to escape the nightmare that she lived over and over. I felt the waves of shame and guilt I have worked so hard to subdue rise-up from their black depth (because it never truly goes away), and they crashed all over my soul.
Shame and guilt go hand in hand, by the way. They co-exist beautifully in these situations. I feel horrible shame that my children are going through this agonizing process, and that I am being blamed as the root cause. And I feel guilt that there is nothing I can do to stop the train of accusations that are already in motion, and that I can’t protect any of my children in a way that I want. All our relationships will change after this, and it is going to take so much time for the broken, invisible trust that we didn’t even know we had threaded through each other to be rebuilt.
And then comes the self-questioning: have I said anything that could be misinterpreted? Am I going to have to live under a microscope for the rest of life and parcel out every word or action? Will I really survive being accused of something that has torn my own spirit apart? Do I have the strength to endure this kind of trauma? How do I fucking get through this for the next week?
The questions feel endless, as does the pain of feeling that something so unjust could happen to me, despite the love and tenderness I have poured into my children. It is a sorrow and suffering I would never wish on anyone. Even with the support of my family, friends, and community, I have never felt more isolated than I do on this journey.
I can’t stem the crying. Tears just come out of nowhere, and I feel relentlessly vulnerable. I keep thinking: what if I can’t mend that gaping wound that sits inside, slowly bleeding my strength? I keep fearing: what if I lose my children, and this torment never ends?
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...