The long-term effects of child sexual abuse can be so pervasive that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly how the abuse affected you. It permeates everything: your sense of self, your intimate relationships, your sexuality, your parenting, your work life, even your sanity. Everywhere you look, you see its effects.
The Courage to Heal, A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
Yes, I have compartmentalized my life: I have written a book, This Tumbleweed Landed, about my childhood in a small ranching community–there’s no mention of incest or sexual abuse, and I painted a pretty idealic life. How can that be? Many survivors live two lives. I did have a great childhood. The stories and poems I share in that book are real, but a pall of horror hung over that same childhood that I didn’t understand until many years later.
In June of 1993, my Mom and Dad were preparing a surprise celebration of my 40th birthday, and Mom had gathered together an envelope of pictures of me–a variety of ages until my high school graduation. She planned to post them on a poster board at my party. It never happened because I spent my 40th birthday in a Sexual Trauma Treatment Center in Los Lunas, New Mexico.
The two collages in this post are a selection of those pictures–brokenhearted Mom sent them to me in treatment. So on my birthday I went through the whole envelope and told my story to the other clients there. One client read a children’s book, celebrating the day I was born. We laughed; we cried, but we celebrated Larada.
Today when I created these two collages, I mulled over how this last week affected me, an incest survivor. My hands shook–I wondered if this was a good idea, but I had to do it.
When did I realize I was an incest survivor? The flashbacks started when my first husband and I separated, and I went to live in a Christian community in Windsor, Colorado. The flashbacks came like a black and white movie of my life, but I remembered only one of my perpetrators then. No one talked about sexual assault or abuse then in the late 1970’s.
After my divorce in 1981, I began to drink and act out sexually for seven years, repressing the memories that haunted me. In 1988 I ended up in CoDA (Codependent Anonymous) treatment in Kingman, Kansas. I was 35 years old. I dealt with those memories that had surfaced years before, but there were more to come. In treatment, I realized I was an alcoholic, so recovery became the focus of my life.
After my treatment in 1993, I met with a therapist regularly for about twenty years and healed a large part of the injury to my soul. When I first started therapy, I defined myself as a victim; I saw the whole world through the lens of a survivor and it narrowed my perspective and possibilities for sure. As I healed, I grew to not view myself in that tainted way–now I loved my reflection in the mirror. Life continued with ups and downs–not perfection but lots of times my God helped me through. It seemed the sexual trauma issue was behind me, and I walked away from my therapist thinking we were finished. For many years, it never crossed my mind, then. . .
As the election campaign of 2016 unfolded, I heard Trump bragging about barging into the young ladies’ dressing room for the Miss Teen USA contest and something ruptured deeply in me. I held my breath–this couldn’t be. I heard more allegations about his victims. On the night of the election, I stayed up until after 1:00 am shocked and horrified to see that Trump had won. My husband commented later that my look that night was more distraught than losing an election. Yes, it was–I had to face a perpetrator as our president. I returned to therapy and renewed my ability to let go and realize that “God is control not Donald Trump.”
December 2017, the #metoo movement hit–The Silence Breakers. I felt validated by these courageous women and their stance. Perhaps this world was changing. We had to unite and tell our secrets, so I disclosed that I was a survivor on Facebook.
Then this last week came. On top of the emotional stress of the week, I had a urinary tract infection and was sick. On Thursday, I couldn’t sit and watch Dr. Ford testify–I visibly shook and turned it off, then on, then returned again and again. I wept at the horror of having to tell her story in front of the world.
The previous night I had read some of the transcript of Dr. Ford’s Opening Statement and gasped when she said that the perpetrator had held his hand over her mouth to quiet her. A similar horrific memory crashed in on me. One of my perpetrators held his hand over my mouth as he raped me and then said, “Be quiet! It doesn’t hurt.” At that point, I knew–it’s specifics like that resonate.
So I focussed totally on the Hearing and the Confirmation on Thursday and Friday–more turmoil as I read comments on my Facebook page by people accusing Dr. Ford of being a liar.
Saturday morning, I had a flashback to the last time I saw one of my perpetrators and I didn’t panic, hyperventilate or dissociate. I wrote a poem titled, “The Ultimate Betrayal,” I wrote in my journal, and I cried. I breathed a sigh of deep freedom–I have healed. Those old memories have no power over me anymore. I didn’t need to act out, rush over to my therapist or melt on the floor in a puddle of tears. I acknowledged the memory and let it go. What a difference for sure!
I agree with E. E. Cummings: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” I know without a doubt that I am really Larada today–65 years old, loving life and married to the love of my life–a gentle kind man. We dance, we laugh and we enjoy life. Last week was hard but I survived–ready to go on believing that survivors everywhere will unite and end the secrets that need to be shared!
Again this week, I experienced my two lives but today the healed Larada won. I will follow Dr. Ford’s charge about sharing our truth: “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me.” And I did.
Are you a survivor? Be sure and look for The Courage to Heal–A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse at Amazon.com
THOUGHTFUL RESOURCES TO PERUSE
If you need any information, go to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) “is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.”
Look at this post on George Takei Fan World Facebook page–a visual always speaks louder than words–a stark reality.
Another resource – “How Trauma Affects Memory: Scientists Weigh In On The Kavanaugh Hearing”
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