They talk about coming out of the closet when you’re gay as being hard. Well, folks, there’s another confession that might be even harder. And the stigma that goes along with it has repercussions you can’t imagine. I’ve seen it happen in the lives of people I’ve known over the years. And I read about it in the press regularly. I don’t understand why people react the way they do but…it’s a fact of life. So, it’s not without a considerable amount of self reflection of the impact this might create in my life that I write my next sentence.
I was sexually abused as a child.
It was during my divorce with the help of my therapist that I finally came to grips with what happened to me. The details don’t matter–although it’s VERY important to me that the world knows it WAS NOT my father who abused me. But like in so many cases of sexual assault with a child it was a family member who I should have been able to trust who abused me.
It’s also important to understand it wasn’t one of these situations where it was a repressed memory in which I might have been manipulated by my therapist into “remembering” something that really didn’t happen and he planted the seed of this memory. No, sadly, I carried these memories for years. It was something I remembered and coped with throughout my childhood, teen years and finally adult world. The whole experience marked me for life. Abuse is something that’s almost impossible to overcome.
I was reading an article my son posted on Facebook yesterday about the whiplash that has impacted the lives of the lawyers who defended the largest group of boys molested by priests in a class action suit against the Catholic church. One of the lawyers told the press “What happens to kids when they’re abused and what happens to their brains when they are abused is something that we don’t know how to fix.” (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gxDxEIP-onf-8jsSzHwzft6j0W2wD9IE7KM80) The article was about the impact defending their clients had on the lives of their lawyers. Hearing their stories and learning what the abuse did to their clients was traumatizing to many of the lawyers. They had breakdowns, divorced, left their profession–they just couldn’t cope. Somewhat akin to the impact of second-hand smoke–I call it the second-hand abuse syndrome.
Reading this article brought it all back to me again.
And I believe it–I do think it impacts the way your brain functions. It affected so many of the relationships I had in my life–even with women. I learned during therapy that it can be a root cause to the life-long struggle I’ve had with my weight. Women who’ve been sexually abused often try to hide themselves behind extra weight in an attempt to make themselves as unattractive as possible to avoid the attention of men–even those men they WANT to have a relationship with. I’ve had sleeping problems all my life that ebb and flow based on the stress I’m under–another tell-tale sign of abuse. Children of abuse–particularly women–have horrible trust issues and can overcompensate in social situations by behaviors that some consider inappropriate. I know that when I begin to feel overwhelmed I talk more and more. And even though I know it’s happening and want to SHUT-UP I can’t–it’s like a snow ball rolling down a hill that just can’t be stopped. Even though today I KNOW and understand what’s happening I’m not in the driver’s seat it’s a force that seems to be stronger than me.
I remember as a child how I would disassociate when I’d begin to get overwhelmed–I think a therapist would tell me that what I did was really depersonalization–in which I’d watch what was happening to me as if I was standing outside my own body–but the point is it was a common coping mechanism children of abuse use. I’d also go into a “slow motion” kind of flow–it’s hard to explain what this is like but when I began to share all these memories with my therapist he steered me to a book that described my coping mechanisms to a “T”.
Used to be whenever anything got too much for me–feeling overwhelmed by the demands of school, or the tasks at work, or the stress in my marriage–I’d slip into these states of self-protection that I used as a small child when I needed something to help me deal with the unwelcome advances of my molester. As I got older I found I turned to these mechanisms less–until my divorce that is. During my separation and divorce I found I was getting reacquainted with those old “friends”–and whether I wanted to invite them back or not they helped me cope through a particularly traumatic period in my life.
I think recovery from abuse–all kinds of abuse–is much like recovery from alcoholism. You don’t recover. You never get over it. But you make a daily commitment to move forward and beat those forces that haunt you. And you try to forget.
Before my mother died I confronted her about what happened. When we talked she knew the truth of what I was saying and never doubted what I shared with her. And even though she said she was sorry we both knew there was nothing that could be done about it. I’m sure she lived with her own constellation of regrets. She thought she was leaving us in a safe place but it wasn’t. I wasn’t angry at her–indeed I felt considerable compassion for her and wondered how much of my own life history was a shared one with my mother. And to be honest, I don’t know if there were overt signs about the abuse and if my parents had looked more carefully if they could have figured out what was happening. There was so much less awareness then compared with today about abuse–maybe they just didn’t know what to look for.
But we do today.
And so I’m sharing this very difficult confession with you today in hopes that anyone who reads this and has a small child in their life who they love beyond infinity will take all due diligence to build a protective cocoon around those precious jewels.
- Don’t assume that all your family members are trustworthy.
- Don’t assume it’s only men who molest children.
- Don’t assume your children will tell you when they are being threatened.
- Don’t assume it won’t happen in your family.
Take steps TODAY to protect them from something that could be a horrible horrible force in their life. It’s YOUR JOB to protect your children. DON’T WAIT–tomorrow may be too late.
Kathy Smedley (http://www.protectkids.com/abuse/abusesigns.htm) shares a list of possible physical and behavioral indicators of child sexual abuse, some of which are:
- Waking up during the night sweating, screaming or shaking with nightmares.
- Masturbating excessively.
- Showing unusually aggressive behavior toward family members, friends, toys, and pets.
- Complaining of pain while urinating or having a bowel movement, or exhibiting symptoms of genital infections such as offensive odors, or symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease.
- Having symptoms indicating evidence of physical traumas to the genital or anal area.
- Beginning wetting the bed.
- Experiencing a loss of appetite or other eating problems, including unexplained gagging.
- Showing unusual fear of a certain place or location.
- Developing frequent unexplained health problems.
- Engaging in persistent sexual play with friends, toys or pets.
- Having unexplained periods of panic, which may be flashbacks from the abuse.
- Regressing to behaviors too young for the stage of development they already achieved.
- Initiating sophisticated sexual behaviors.
- Indicating a sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person.
- Engaging in self-mutilations, such as sticking themselves with pins or cutting themselves.
- Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities, like school or school performance change.
- Asking an unusual amount of questions about human sexuality.
The following links are good sources to go to to learn more about the signs of abuse and how to protect your children.
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