Sunday, June 07, 2009


In November, 2005, I bought The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. It is THE self-help book for survivors of sexual abuse. For a year, I picked it up, flipped through it, read some part and got freaked out and put it down. Then the end of 2006, I started reading it. I got to page 92.

Last week, I realized that it was unlikely that I would ever feel comfortable with my own sexuality, not regard it with disgust and respond to my sexuality with self-loathing, unless I really committed to dealing with what happened to me as a child. (To be clear- I don't have a problem with other people's sexuality, just my own. So other people don't disgust me, I disgust myself.) I've thought about the book a lot in the past couple of years, and told myself about a thousand times that reading it, all of it, and do the writing exercises, working the book and using it to really deal with all my feelings around the abuse, was something I had to do in order to move on. But I find the whole topic abhorrent. I hate thinking about it at all. I feel angry that I was given this burden, but not that angry. Mostly I feel really, really sad.

The pain is somewhat similar to the pain I feel over my brother's death, overwhelming, limitless, like looking at the ocean disappear into a thin, watery blue sky, but it feels very different. I think of the loss of my brother, and it feels like someone is beating me over the head. I think of the sexual abuse, and I feel like a jagged, serrated sword is twisting through my internal organs. When the despair of Jeff's suicide washes over me, it makes my head feel like it's going to explode. When the despair of the sexual abuse overtakes me, I catch my breath and my chest tightens.

Yesterday, I started over with the book and made it to page 37. Laura Davis, who was sexually abused herself, says in the preface that:
"It's been my experience that every time the subject of incest comes up in any kind of personal way, I reexperience the terror I felt as a child being abused." (page 22, third edition)
Of course reading a book about it brings it up a lot, which is why I avoided it. While reading those 37 pages, I wept, especially when reading the experience of someone I could relate to. I stopped reading after a half hour, and went to the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal, weeping the whole time. I sat on the couch and cried. I packed my hockey bag and drove to practice, crying the whole time. After practice, I cried while I drove home. I feel like I could keep crying like this forever, and never stop feeling sad and hurt and damaged. I feel like I could grieve for the rest of life over what was taken from me, over the way I was introduced to sexuality at such a young age, over how I was forced to separate myself from my feelings and my body to survive, the numbness, the twisting up of my insides, the betrayal. In that way, it is like the grief I feel over my brother being taken from me, that it goes on forever, but the sexual abuse cuts deep into my sense of self. It is shame over who I am down to the core of my being.

Even though deep down, it is not about anger or revenge, if I could have one thing it would be to be able to give this pain back to my abuser, to give all the pain to all the abusers out there. Abusers minimize what they do, rationalize and make excuses, but if they knew what this felt like for their victims, they couldn't do that. If they knew and felt this despair, they wouldn't be able to live with it. Live a life of sickening terror.

I made a 4 month plan to finish the book this time. I have other books, about being sexual when you are a sexual abuse survivor, about rape and recovery and PTSD workbooks. If I can make it through this book, the book that's scared me for so long, I think I can take a step forward in getting better. I'll never be "normal" but maybe I can be happy with who I am. I don't think the people I know realize how far I am from that now. I have an idea of what I'd like it to be, though.


Unknown said...

I wish you the best of luck with your plan. I am angry and sad that you were given this burden, too. I'm far away but I am here for you! I want you to be happy and comfortable in your own skin.


Opal said...

The other night on CNN Deepak Chopra (a medical doctor and an expert in the mind-body-spirit approach to medicine) was talking about the impact of child abuse and said the following:

"And now, the data that was published in a journal called "Psychosomatic Medicine," where there seems to be some relationship between childhood trauma and auto immune system. The immune system doesn't know who is friend and who is foe and starts to attack its own body."

Hearing him say this really helped me to connect the dots between the child abuse I suffered and my current mental & emotional difficulties and my current physical illnesses. It's all one and the same.

I've noticed over the last year or so that as I worked on healing my mental and emotional pain and anxiety that my IBS has become less severe.

And I wasn't doing any meds or treatments for the IBS itself that would account for the improvement.

My insurance doesn't pay for therapy and I can't afford to pay for it myself so my healing progress comes from self-help books and from reading this blog - THANK YOU, Kristina! - I can't find the words to adequately express how many times this blog has saved my sanity and given me hope when I felt only despair.

Also, the workbook that you talk about on this blog "Growing Beyond Survival" is a huge help.

Like Juliana I too am angry and sad that you have to deal with more than any person should have to deal with.

And I too wish you the best of luck with your plan and send up this prayer:

"Thank you, God, for going before Kristina and preparing her and her way to every good thing."