I feel compelled to write this out, but I want to write it carefully. I don’t want to trigger anyone. I don’t often write explicitly about my past sexual abuse largely because I identify less and less with it. I have aggressively and relentlessly pursued healing. One of my greatest fears is living a mediocre life. I have never wanted to be held back from a better purpose or larger destiny as it were because of the base actions of other people. I have never been content to settle if there was a possibility for something greater and more life-giving. I am extremely ambitious in this way. That ambition has saved my life many times. I won’t apologize for it.
That being said, I have, on numerous occasions, begged to know why. This need to understand our journey and our circumstances is inherent to being intelligent creatures. We need to know why things happen. Why is there evil? Why is it allowed such free access to us? Why are children abused? Why do good people die young? Why did X event happen to us then? We need to know. We want to know. We believe that we’ll be able to finally close the book on our pain and move forward. Knowing why must be the solution, right?
I’m not so sure.
Yesterday, I witnessed a sexual predator in action in a local coffee shop. I reported his behavior to the manager. Had I not been sexually abused as a child and trafficked as a teen, my first and only response might have been disgust and anger. I, however, was afraid. I was very afraid. It was irrational, and I knew it. So, I contained that fear and did the right thing. The only thing. Honestly, he was so overt in his deviancy that the police should have been called. I was simply too afraid to do that, and I was too fearful that I wouldn’t be believed. That’s old wiring. I decided to let management deal with him. That seemed appropriate to me.
I left feeling very anxious. I’m good at displaying false bravado while I’m crumbling on the inside. I don’t have time to crumble even if I need five minutes to do so in order to put myself back together again. One must keep going. I came home and continued on with the evening, taking care of everything and everyone, putting on my brave Domestic Goddess face. I answered a friend’s text later. She asked me how my day went. I told her about the incident with the man at the coffee shop. Her visceral response matched mine. She then shared with me about one of her very ill patients. He was failing to thrive because of injuries inflicted to his throat by his stepfather through repeated sexual abuse.
I couldn’t breathe. That stopped me. She knows me fairly well, but I don’t discuss the details of my early childhood sexual abuse.
I rarely break my silence.
That’s what happened to me when I was young. I had recurrent infections in my throat and tonsils starting at a very young age. The infections did not respond to antibiotics. The infections spread to my ears. I almost lost my hearing. This went on for four years. Finally, my tonsils and adenoids were removed when I was in Kindergarten. My father moved out of our house when I was six. I never had a throat or ear infection again.
I haven’t ever connected those two things before–my constant infections with his sexual abuse. I did yesterday. Of course! I was ill constantly as a child. I was ill all the time as a teen. I have struggled with autoimmune disorders of one kind or another my entire life. Trauma affects our immune system. Science is revealing this more and more. On an epigenetic level, we are changed by it.
As I put 2 and 2 together, I felt all the scar tissue in my throat burn and come alive. It was the strangest sensation. It almost itched. I was immediately nauseated. My head started swimming. I started trembling, and I could almost feel my father’s hatred again. This is a flashback. I know this terrain very well. The panic begins to rise like bile in your throat. Your heart pounds, and you feel an immediate need to run. Run for your life. My immediate thought was, “I don’t think I ever wanted to know why. I never wanted to know why I was so sick all the time. I don’t want to know this. Why my throat was so sore all the time when I was so little…I don’t want to remember this.”
Why I hated cream gravy for so long.
We are often spared knowing why to protect us. Knowing why is a different burden to bear. It’s a different sort of trauma than the actual trauma itself.
I am, however, a different woman today than I was ten years ago. I am not in the same place, and the foundation for my personality and character is far more healed and developed. I believed and knew, in those very intense moments last night, that I was not only okay but that I was already healed and fully recovered which was why I was able to understand and bear the burden of the WHY. The truth is that I have healed from what he did to me. There are certainly scars in my being just as there are scars in my throat. Sometimes I can feel them, and they flare up in inflammation from time to time; but that doesn’t mean that I’m not healed. It doesn’t mean that I’m not okay. It doesn’t mean that I’m not strong and able to bear the burden of this WHY. It doesn’t mean that I can’t let that burden go.
If you are struggling with something very painful right now and desperately want to know why, then I gently encourage you to set aside that question–for now. Instead of asking why, ask what you must do to heal. Ask what you must do to rebuild. Ask what the necessary steps are for you to be able to receive and give love again. Begin to imagine yourself as a whole and thriving person. Then, ask what steps you need to take to progress from where you are now to how you see yourself in your imagination. If you can’t even imagine yourself as flourishing, then start there. Begin to try to dream again. This is an effort worth attempting.
The WHY does come and with that comes a certain weightiness that requires a different sort of strength. When we don’t get to know why, I’ve learned that it’s because we are being protected and cared for so that we can become who we were meant to be in order that we can flourish and move beyond enduring.
So that WHY doesn’t matter anymore.
Again, such a thoughtful and well written post.
In terms of “why”, and making sense of these things, I view sexual predators as people who are always fishing…looking for a place that requires the least effort yet provides them a way to blend in (amongst family, the internet, a location that parents deem safe) while they continually cast their line…usually coming up empty…but sometimes they catch someone…or often a vulnerable person gets tangled in their line. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that…but I remind myself of that so I don’t get caught up in the why of it all so, as you so beautifully encourage, healing can become the priority.
And, again, good for you for speaking up at the coffee house.
It’s a good way to think of it. And, it’s a good way to teach others to view it. A good jumping off point in terms of how to be savvy then. It makes it easier to talk about, too.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate it.
…And places responsibility for inappropriate behavior with the predator and not the person (male or female) who is victimized and often saddled with unnecessary shame or guilt.
Again…a brave post that will help others heal.
Shame and guilt for abuse are true hurdles to healing. I was not able to heal for years due to my belief that my abduction was my fault. I truly believed that it was my fault. “I should have known that he was bad.” No matter what anyone said to me, my false belief could not be shaken. And, I, therefore, could make no progress. I was well and truly stuck. It was only when my therapist stopped a session and, out of desperation, prayed for me, prayed that I would be able to know the truth, that I would see it for myself, that I finally did. It was a divine intervention. I suddenly saw it. Like a bright light. It wasn’t my fault. It really wasn’t my fault. It was more than relief. I never knew how much self-hatred I had carried from that belief. Healing actually came very quickly after that. Shame and guilt, I believe, are THE impediments to healing sexual abuse. Having almost a career out of healing from trauma, I can say that if illegitimate shame and guilt were eradicated, we would experience a much faster healing and recovery. It is a vital part of our process.
What a remarkable therapist…to be able to give you an opportunity to experience such a moment of epiphany…a gift that will truly impact the lives of others as well through your writing. It made a difference in my life today.
He was. We were the oddest pair, but I think it was a divine pairing. I made the most progress in my life to date working with him. Three years of blood, sweat, tears, and commitment on both our parts. He was car mechanic turned Adlerian psychologist. The best work I’ve ever done. The unlikeliest of couplings sometimes make the best outcomes.
It is, isn’t it?