It seems like a simple thing to figure out, but it’s not. in order to cope, I spent many, many years believing my abusers’ lies. It wasn’t that bad. Other people had it worse. There was something wrong and shameful about me, especially if I had a problem with what happened. Even though I acknowledged the facts, for most of my life, I rejected the label that I was sexually abused. It was a club I didn’t want to belong to, and on subconsciously I thought that if I could minimize it enough, maybe my abusers’ lies would become true. Maybe it didn’t happen.
One of the most profound and horrible discoveries I have experienced as a result of intensive therapy and finally dealing with it all is that yes, in fact, it really was that bad. Denial and minimization had such a grip on me, even when I thought I was being “honest” with myself. I was so used to going numb and dissociating under stress, it was my default way of living. For the first time in my life this spring, I finally allowed myself to fully feel what I hadn’t allowed myself to feel since I was a toddler. For months, I was a wreck. I couldn’t get through the day without crying. And you know what? It totally sucked. And yet, I wished I had been able to do it so much sooner.
Complex trauma as a result of child abuse takes a long time to unwind itself. It can only be done when the survivor feels completely safe, and has the right kind of professional support. It had been eleven years since I went full no-contact with my abusers, yet I was still looking over my shoulder for the next heavy blow. What I previously thought was low-grade (and sometimes not low-grade), ever-present depression and anxiety turned out to be C-PTSD. My hypervigilance was so ingrained into my personality, I thought it was normal. I thought my extreme stress response to angry people was normal. I really believed that my inability to cope with abusive people was a character flaw on my part. I really thought on some level that it must have been my fault, and I had been living out every aspect of my life that way ever since. The kicker is, even with all that going on, I was still telling myself it wasn’t that bad, and that “real” trauma looked like something else.
For me right now, every day is a new discovery of how bad it really was. When I finally embraced the obvious, there was much more locked away waiting to be discovered. Every “new” discovery is horrible, and yet, by fully embracing it, it takes me farther and farther away from being the kind of person who will ever minimize or condone abuse again.
This is the merit of tragedy. When profound and terrible things happen, it opens the door for growth, healing, and a global resolution to never let it happen again. When Romeo and Juliet died from their own tragic and senseless folly, their families resigned from their feud and future generations of Capulets and Montegues were saved. Imagine what horrors would have perpetuated if they denied and minimized their fate.
Sometimes, it’s a heavy weight to fully acknowledge how bad it really was. It’s humiliating work. It can be exhausting and all-consuming, and sometimes I feel down on myself for not accomplishing more with my time. But then I think about how many generations of my ancestors never broke the chains we were born into. It’s exhausting because I am finally righting wrongs from generations back. I am changing their fate and mine. And by doing so, I am creating a new pathway for my children and grandchildren. When I think on it in those terms, there is nothing better or more noble that I could possibly do with my days on earth.