Even though the abuse itself lasted nearly my entire childhood, the full realization of what happened to me did not arrive until much later in life. Perhaps it was because the abuse had become everyday; a “normal” experience for me, I thought. Perhaps that is the reason it took so long for the truth to arise. It took 23 years, in fact. And last March, with the realization of what happened, came the crushing blow of that reality.
I always knew something was wrong with me, I just didn’t know what exactly. It felt like I had a constant ache in my stomach, and constant uncertainty haunted me. For the longest time I repressed those feelings and dismissed myself as being ridiculous/crazy. I thought it was something normal that happened among adolescents. I tried to reason it away. I decided that whatever was wrong with me had to be my fault. Somehow.
I spent most of my life causing some sort of trouble. I acted out, hated authority figures and rules, I was hyper-active, terrified to be touched, anxious, depressed, scared of relationships, and suffered severe separation anxiety when away from my parents. My fault, I thought. Others thought so to. Some inherent flaw in my character, right?
The moment of realization came during a random phone call. During what turned out to be one of the worst weekends of my life. I called my mom when I was walking home from work one day. There had been financial problems in my family and times were a little tough (as they were for everybody). My college expenses weren’t helping much either.
I was particularly worried about my dad. He had been pretty down recently and for my usually upbeat dad, that was a worrisome sign. When I mentioned this, however, my mom brought up a new worry. She told me we didn’t need to worry so much about my dad. But rather it was my sister who was in the most danger.
I asked why, and my mom wouldn’t respond. My usually talkative mom zipped her mouth. Now, to understand my response, you have to understand my relationship with my baby sister. I was never jealous when she was born. Rather, I was so excited to have a little friend, and she would be my best friend ever. I love my sister deeply.
I panicked, convinced she had been raped or something.
Not quite, my mom said. Not raped. But still bad. My mom finally buckled down and told me. My sister was sexually abused for several years, by someone very close to my family. My mom then asked; did this happen to you?
I couldn’t say yes. I didn’t know myself. My world turned upside down. I was walking home from work and I just collapsed onto the nearest bench, cradling my head in my hands. I felt the blood drain from my face as the realization came crashing down. Realization of what my sister experienced. Realization of what happened to me.
Waves of guilt that perhaps, if I had spoken when I was younger, I could’ve prevented the abuse from happening to my sister. Followed by the realization that I didn’t even fully realize it had happened to me until that moment.
The week crawled by and I realized I had to come clean. I had to admit to my parents what happened to me.
Luckily, my parents were really supportive of me. All contact was severed with the perpetrator to allow healing. But healing comes slowly, and takes time. And effort. It takes crumbling and rebuilding yourself; brick by brick.
The crumbling of my illusions fell away, piece by rotten piece. All the things I thought were my fault; the inability to be close to people, the fear of being touched, the anxiety and restlessness, the acting out; they all made sense now. But chipping away at the layers of illusion takes time, and finding positive things to fill in the scars can be difficult. But it can be done. Realization is only one of the first steps to healing.