A survivor explains how seeking help is just the beginning I’ve been feeling things, experiencing things, lately that have made me feel compelled to write. I’ve questioned what is going on inside my body and inside my head. My thoughts roam to places to I would rather they not. My body feels things I wish it would forget. I feel powerless to stop it. And […]

A survivor explains how seeking help is just the beginning

I’ve been feeling things, experiencing things, lately that have made me feel compelled to write. I’ve questioned what is going on inside my body and inside my head. My thoughts roam to places to I would rather they not. My body feels things I wish it would forget. I feel powerless to stop it. And I want to know why. Why now, after all of these years, am I in so much pain? Why am I having a harder time now than I was when the abuse was happening? Does anyone else feel this way?

The urge to self-injure is a battle I fight every day. Most days I win. I am grateful for that. But I go online and read stories of the women who don’t. I read about women who are in so much pain that they have no choice but to express it in the only way they know how. Some speak of the cutting, some bruise themselves or break their own bones. All of them are screaming out for help and nobody seems to hear them. Some women just give up altogether and end their fight once and for all. Almost all have expressed a desire to do so. And the most unbelievable thing is that all of these women are in therapy. All of these women reached out for help. All of these women were trying so hard to understand what had happened to them and how to go on living with the aftermath.

We all speak of the same things. We talk about how we survived the abuse itself. We numbed our bodies and closed our minds to what was happening. We turned ourselves off and did our best to make it through each day. Sometimes each moment, sometimes each second. We refused to understand what the touches meant or why we felt pain in places that should never hurt. We kept quiet and never told in order to protect the people we loved who did not always love us in return. We blamed ourselves and worried that if others ever found out, they would blame us too. We learned to live in shadows and mask our pain. It is the only we were able to survive.

We searched for help. We longed for help. We just never knew how to ask for it. We were scared all of the time. We kept secrets and prayed nobody would ever find out. At the same time, we prayed somebody would find out and come and rescue us. Our worlds were cold and scary. We built walls and barricaded ourselves deep inside them. We never let anyone in and we never came out.

We lived with our secrets for years. We thought we might never tell. But, eventually, the secrets became too much for us. We could not keep them inside anymore. It became too much to bare. We agonized for months, and finally asked for help.

You would think that is where the story would end with “and they lived happily ever after”. Therapy was started. Help was found. Pain would end. It would all be over. I think we are all disappointed when that is not what happens at all.

Years and years of pain cannot be talked away in just a few short sessions. Layers and layers of scar tissue must be removed in order to reveal the original wound. Stories must be told and retold before they can be understood. Details that are fuzzy to begin with, emerge and clear up more and more with each telling, often raising more questions in the process.  Pain that was buried rises to the surface and demands to be felt.

At first there is support. People gather around us and listen to our stories and offer words of comfort. People promise to be there, to stand with us through this process. They say they will listen anytime to anything we have to say. They tell us that they care. And, in most cases, they really do. They spend hours with us, listening to our stories, hearing our pain. They answer each time we call. Until we call too many times. Until they cannot listen anymore. Until they deem that enough time has passed. Until they decide that it is time for us to “just get over it”.

All of the sudden their responses change. All of the sudden they screen our calls. All of the sudden they just don’t have time. All of the sudden they pull their support. In the name of helping they stop whispering words of encouragement and instead speak out loud with phrases like “you could choose to see that differently” or “it’s all in how you look at it” or “you don’t have to feel that way if you don’t want to”. Don’t they know that if it was just that simple we would happily do it? If all we had to do was tell ourselves to change, than we could? Don’t they know that while to them it sounds like we keep harping on the same things over and over, to us it feels more like we are hearing it for the first time? We wish they realized that while the events happened so many years ago, we are only now allowing ourselves to acknowledge them. We have to say them over and over just so that we can come to terms with the fact that they really did happen and that they happened to us. When multiple traumas occurred this process could take years. There is no time table. Nobody can tell us when it’s time to move on. We can’t even tell ourselves. Being told it’s time by another person is not helpful. It can actually be very damaging.

When we hear those phrases all of our worst fears come true. We feel that everything we were scared of is actually happening. We get worried that the people we worked so hard to trust, the ones we took our walls down for, are starting to pull away. We fear that we have become too much. That we have overstayed our welcome. We go back to our original thoughts that tell us that nobody wanted to hear what we had to say in the first place.

The pain comes back with an extra intensity. We berate ourselves for thinking that it would be safe to let others in. We go back to that place in our minds that tells us this is dangerous. We wonder how it could possibly happen that we finally agreed to let people inside of our worlds, only to hurt by the thoughts that they might really abandon us.

We are confused and have no way of knowing who we can trust. We don’t know who really cares. We don’t feel safe. We have come too far to go back to that place where we feel nothing. Now our emotions are too big for us and we feel we have nowhere to go with them. We try stuffing them back inside but they no longer fit. The people we looked to for help seem to be slipping away. We worry that we have said too much, too many times. We fear we will be left alone again and that it is too much to handle.

When this happens we have no choice but to go back to what we know. We turn our confusion inwards. We get angry at ourselves and resort back to the only coping strategies we know. We tell ourselves how stupid we were to ever think that anyone could care or that anything could change. We worry we have become a burden but we don’t know how to pull back. We feel all of the walls crumbling down around us we are powerless to build them back up. We stand naked and exposed and feel more vulnerable than we ever have.

Others call us brave. They call us survivors, warriors, strong. They don’t know how much those words scare us. We feel we can’t possibly live up to them. They think that we have come so far. They don’t realize that we have only begun to crawl. They don’t know that this is when we need them the most. They don’t see that it is when we first start to spread our wings to explore the world, that we are in the most danger of falling.

Posted in media, news-articles, op-eds, survivors-letters.


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