The work of surviving sexual abuse

I am surviving sexual abuse. And when I say “survive”, I don’t mean this triumphant fists-in-the-air, kiss-the-ground thing with Chariots of Fire playing in the background.

Surviving sexual abuse is doing the work.

It is slogging through the mud of your everyday anxieties and fighting through the deluge of thoughts that threaten to drag you down to the bottom of the river.

This work includes seeking out people you know will support you, and love you just as you are. Ironically, you end up resisting these people, because you feel you don’t deserve them. It’s a negative mantra that is often repeated:

I don’t ever deserve anything good.

It is a mantra that takes work to eradicate from your lexicon.

* * *

Surviving sexual abuse means constantly curating the people you allow to walk into the darkest, most vulnerable side of you. Individuals you let in will be dichotomously placed in two categories: those who have also experienced sexual abuse, and those who haven’t.

Those who have, you immediately feel a kinship with; a sisterhood formed in the crucible of heartbreak, self-doubt, and isolation. It is with these individuals that you share the traumas, the flashbacks, and other tiny pinpricks that become almost routine, when you are a survivor of sexual abuse. With them, you share little wisdoms derived from self-help books, song lyrics, articles, and all other sources of aid. With them, you learn more about what it is to be human. With them, you experience their beauty, like  a road trip… and feel their pain as your own.

Those who haven’t, you are moving constantly between caution, hesitancy, and even suspicion. With every misstep and communication breakdown, you lose trust in them little by little. You become saddened with the distance you have to traverse in order to reach them. And yet, sometimes you see a hopeful little light at the end of the tunnel, and try to give them second, third, umpteenth chances. With these individuals, you always stand the risk of getting hurt, taken advantage of, and/or manipulated. All you can hope for is that you have curated them carefully enough, and that you have judged well.

* * *

Healing is done at your own pace, no matter how much or how quickly these well-intentioned people in category two want you to recover.

I will take the liberty of giving out advice voluntarily, which I rarely do, because I hate telling people what think they should do. But I feel strongly about this when I say:

Telling a sexual abuse survivor to get better is like pushing a glacier faster down a hill — I know you want it to happen faster, but what you’re doing ain’t. gonna. do. nothin’. You will only drive them away the more you tell them to get better. The best things you can do are listen and reflect.

* * *

Healing is a patient force, but asks — quite unapologetically sometimes — that others around you be patient as well. It asks you to forever be mindful of your heart and mind, and to self-care liberally. If it asks you to take a walk, you better put on some comfy shoes. If it asks you to wake up at 3am and write, whip out that pen. If it asks you to cut off a person from your life, cry those tears and pull out those scissors.

Healing is demanding, with good reason. It cannot be hurried or arm-twisted out of you or counterfeited. When held up to the light, it has to show that you have done the work, in and around yourself.

If you’re wondering why I say I am surviving sexual abuse, like it’s present tense, that is the truth. It is ongoing and it is here to stay.


Daily Post prompt: Heal

Refuge

She unlocked the door, peeled off her layers, and removed her bra. It’s 6:30, and the might of the day has placed itself on the other side of those hinges. She wasn’t a champion of anything anymore, no — in that space of stucco and stains, she was just herself, reclaiming herself. On her naked floor, she walked around unclothed. The only face she saw was her own in the mirror, pensive and undemanding of her time and energy. In fact, nothing in this world was demanding anything of her right now. Even her newly treated apartment windows dappled the hazy evening light, as if the very building itself understood — she needed things diluted at this very moment.

Bare-bodied, skin left raw to the air, just free to close her eyes, close her thighs, close her mind, she slips on her gratitude. Thank you, she thinks. Thank you for surviving this day.


Daily Post prompt: Champion

Growing up, and the (dis)appearance of loose ends

You know, my mother used to tell me to put things back where I got them. I used to struggle with this as a child. I would take something, do something, and then—nothing. I couldn’t follow my bread crumbs back. There would always be some loose end around the house — scissors left on the coffee table, shoes blocking the doorway threatening to trip someone, a jacket on my bedroom floor… My mother would be a rich woman if she got paid every time she had to tell me to return things where I got them.

Now, in my mid-20s, I am so good at it. I take something, do something, and as if my feet were following some script, I walk back and put this “something” where I found it, exactly how I found it. You would be proud of me, Ma. Maybe this is how you are getting compensated — your daughter’s finally learned her lesson, and is admitting it publicly.

When did I metamorphose into this very tangible adult? I walk like an adult. I talk like an adult. I pay my bills. I work about eight hours a day, but really, only six, because I read an article recently that Sweden only makes its people work six hours a day to maintain that work-life balance, and I fancy myself a Scandinavian. And! I put things back. There are no loose ends — at least, none that can be immediately seen. (And I am slightly despondent to come to the realization that that is an adult — a human with no visible loose ends. Is that what we all are, when we finally “grow up”?)

And yet, there are so many invisible loose ends. In fact, I feel like one giant loose end. I feel like trendy jeans — you know, the type that taper down to your ankle and are frayed oh-so-tidily at the hem? That’s what I feel like. Like trendy, frayed jeans — like, I got popular, but for no good reason.

It feels like the more life I experience, the more I encounter this frayed feeling. And I have this theory for that.

We’re all told to put things back, and not just to put things back, but to put them back the way we found them. So, you spend half your life trying to follow this laissez-faire mentality, of leaving things alone, of keeping things to that baseline, of not rocking the boat—when you finally figure out, mid-way through a stressful, life-changing experience—you’re supposed to rock. that. boat. You don’t just put things back the way you found them. No, none of that passive bullshit.

You’re supposed to leave things better than you found them — be an interfere-er, be an idealist, be self-motivated. 

So, in light of this newly-realized philosophy, you become this walking, talking, “8”-hour-working, bill-paying adult who not only puts things back, but improves them. Or at least, tries to. Because, well, it’s so much more demanding of your time and energy. And the risk for loose ends and frays and all that, increases, as you develop these things for yourself, what do you call them… oh, what’s the word… goals! You develop goals for yourself. And your world gets messier as you try to enrich yourself contrary to your generation’s famous habit for instant self-gratification.

But it’s also so much more rewarding. 

I’m still getting accustomed to the idea. I’m not quite at the “doing” phase yet. But I have to laugh a bit, because wouldn’t it be so much more efficient to tell children, at the advent of their youth, that they are champions, and that they’re supposed to make the world a better place, one little action at a time, rather than waiting for them to figure it out 20, 30 years later?

Rock that boat, kids. 


Daily Post prompt: Champion

My true colours

I’ll tell you what I am;

I am the orange of parched desert sand
the cracks running through like veins.

I am the green of salty ocean depths,
the likes of which you have never explored.

I am the yellow in sunflowers,
the amicable jaundice all over your body.

I’ll tell you what I’m not;

I am not the dichotomous black and white,
the swipes left or right of hasty judgment.

I am not the unforgiving black and white,
the stripes of a prison uniform.

I am not the simple black and white,
the enemy of nuance and true understanding.

I choose to live in burnt orange, enigmatic green, and infectious yellow;

Oh, but most of all, I choose to live in shades of grey.


Daily Post prompt: Nuance