Trigger Warning: Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse
I still remember my first sexual encounter. I was 4 years old. I remember every detail, as if I was a spectator, rather than the child. I don’t remember the physical sensations, but I do remember every word spoken, every scene enacted. Since it’s with me more than 35 years later, with more clarity than any other moment in my life, this must be the definition of trauma.
In reading fellow Booktrope author Rachel Thompson‘s memoirs about surviving her own childhood sexual abuse (CSA) trauma – Broken Pieces and its sequel Broken Places – for the first time a couple of months ago, many of her essays and poems struck a cord within me as a fellow survivor of CSA. My experience was different than Rachel’s, but some of the demographics are the same; my abuser was also someone I knew, though he was a child himself (8 years older than I) and the abuse occurred only once. Probably because my parents, and his, put the fear of God into him. But it didn’t stop him, only kept him away from ME. I know of at least one other girl, a good friend of mine, who he sexually abused, perhaps more than once; we didn’t discuss it much, even when we grew up. My abuse was also in the late 70s, at a time when such occurrences weren’t talked about.
Unlike Rachel, I never strove for perfection (I was always awkward. Still am, a bit, come to think of it.) or became a straight-A student (Geometry was my high school nemesis). I did, however – as I can see from the distance of 25 years – suffer from depression as a teenager, which probably contributed to me becoming an introvert (I still have to give myself pep talks sometimes in order to interact with people in a crowd), who writes sometimes dark and depressing poetry. This was recently confirmed by my therapist, who also confirmed that my sexual “acting out” as a child was a direct result of that one incident, experimenting with both boys and girls, well into my teenage years. I’m not sure why it stopped then. Perhaps because at that point I realized I could get pregnant and knew I wasn’t ready for that.
I never forgot my experience. To this day, I can remember every minutiae, as if holding a magnifying glass on the scene, every word that was spoken down to the image that goes with it. It’s almost as if it was another little girl, another blonde, green-eyed, 4-year-old pixie of a girl experiencing that and me watching and cringing, helpless to do anything to stop it. Then again, watching that same little girl seeking out that same experience with other children.
Later, when I was about 10 years old, I had a crush on this same boy who abused me, with whom I went to church and school (K-12) for years. Until he married and moved away. I saw myself as sick, that I would crush on someone who would victimize a child – only I didn’t think of it in those terms until I reached adulthood. All I knew was that I was ashamed to have tender feelings toward him, and didn’t understand the why of any of it. I’ve always wondered, but never asked: did she, the woman he married, know what he’d done? They’re divorced now, have been for many years. And when out of the blue, my parents received a Christmas card from him and his new wife “Wendy,” that’s the first time I remember having a “trigger” – it really scared me…as nothing had prior to that in a long time… Was he trying to say something? Send a message? Why did he marry a woman with MY name?
Was this why I became introverted? (How to make friends when you’re carrying around this huge secret.) Why books became my best friends? (Books cannot hurt or betray you.) Why as a teenager I would stare for hours at the ceiling above me? Why for years I couldn’t sleep in the dark or without my stuffed animals? Why I would shut myself inside my bedroom and throw my Birthday Girl figurines – I had all of them at one time; none of them survived – against my bedroom walls until they shattered into tiny pieces? Why the calm descended after each of those girls shattered? (Throwing things and hearing them break against a wall is very soothing. Cleaning up after yourself, not so much.) Were they ceramic substitutes for my own body? I had too much survival instinct, or else too much fear of hell to attempt suicide (though one summer spent with my cousins on our grandparents’ farm in Texas, I carried a thick rope, and when I was alone, would twist it tightly round my neck) – raised in a conservative Christian household, I learned from a very young age that suicide is a sin…and there’s no repenting THAT sin.
Though I’ve never really been secretive about this, I’ve not made it a regular part of my conversations, either. Since becoming friends with so many other writers – collectively known as Stigma Fighters – who, like me, live daily with some form of mental health issue, and who have become such inspirations to me through their bravery and selflessness in sharing their stories and their encouragement, I knew I needed to be brave enough to share some of the darkness within my own soul, in hopes of lending my support – and the occasional hug – to others like us.
(Stigma Fighters logo used by permission. The lines of poetry in the graphics are my own.)