Content warning: the following post discusses childhood sexual abuse. Please take very good care of yourself before and after reading. This post is part one of a series.
There is a little girl I know. She has a story that needs to be heard. Not yet three, she lacks the vocabulary to speak out about what happened to her.
I’m going to attempt to do it for her.
A person she should have been able to trust, her birth mother, took her away from her foster family on a trip. During that trip, she let terrible things happen to this child, her child. Afterward, she brought the little girl back to her foster family, and disappeared, never to be heard from again.
The child showed signs of trauma. She would not eat or drink. Her foster parents took her to the hospital, where she was strapped down and administered IV drugs for dehydration as well as the antibiotic tetracycline, to treat a sexually transmitted disease.
She recovered, at least physically. Her foster parents legally adopted her and gave her all the love they had, and more. Still, the trauma haunted her for years. She jumped at shadows, feared the dark, and never really felt safe, even in her cozy, suburban home.
The little girl is me. The story is mine. As you can see from this photograph, the antibiotics permanently stained my baby teeth.
The rest of the damage I kept locked away, buried deep inside my subconscious for almost 50 years.
No matter how deep I tried to bury them, glimmers of memories would occasionally float to the surface. I was triggered by the oddest things. The smell of bleach. Wool blankets. Bumping the top of my head caused tears and panic. I paid no attention to these clues, choosing instead to shove them back to the dark place from which they came.
(I should mention here that while my family told me about being in the hospital at age three, they never discussed why or how I ended up there. I do not blame them, they did what they thought was best, as most parents would, maybe hoping I would never remember.)
Two years ago, I was finally ready to face the unspeakable, and started therapy. Together, my therapist and I pieced together what happened to me all those years ago. I learned that physical signs of my abuse were always there, but I did not understand them. (For example, during my first gynecological exam, I had a panic attack and kicked my doctor in the face.) Still struggling after 6 months of sessions, I quit therapy and tried to go back to my usual routine of ignoring my demon. This time, however, the beast wouldn’t leave me alone.
Mentally and physically exhausted, I made the choice to try again. A few months ago, I started a new form of therapy called EMDR, (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). The results have been miraculous. Finally, I can face the secret that held me prisoner for most of my life.
Not only face it but conquer it.
I will discuss EMDR at length in a future post, but for now, I need to take a break. This is not an easy subject to discuss, and I am sure it is not easy to read, but I had to write this post. My story might be your story, and I want you to know that there is hope. That your voice matters.
That you matter.
Many brave survivors came forward when the hashtag #metoo was trending. Maybe you were one of those courageous souls. Or maybe, like me, you hadn’t yet found your voice – you just weren’t ready -and while you cheered for the women and men coming forward, their stories tore open old scars and you needed to hide and tend to your wounds.
I want you to know that it’s okay to stay silent. Sometimes, keeping quiet is the only way to survive. You, and only you, will know when it’s time to speak up. When it’s time to let go.
Until then, brave warrior, stay strong.