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

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I, a powerful & glorious mess

People are fragile. We all sit in display in dusty, long-forgotten rooms, like pieces of china ready to shatter at the bang of a door. We are put on pedestals and expected to stay up there — these are unsafe expectations for denizens made of glass.

We are so fragile that even occurrences from years and years past still leave marks. Sometimes, we are so unaware of our own fragility, that it takes years and years to realize that we have been experiencing the fallout of our own personal disasters for a long time.

* * *

I was sexually molested as a little girl. What he did, what he made me do — they are as misty as morning fog. I can still remember, but sometimes it seems so far away, like a dream.

The molestation itself is not what haunts me. It is the ripple effects that still leave me unsteady, and prevent me from gathering myself up again — like the fact that my sexual life did not start appropriately, or that I had a very unhealthy view of sex for a long time. My self-destructiveness rendered my body into trash, to be disposed of to anyone who paid attention to me, anyone who would bother to notice me, pick me up, use me, then throw me away.

I equated my self-worth with how effectively I could seduce someone.

“Love” was lust and being used. Jealousy was my go-to reaction when that attention I desperately craved was taken away.

My self-destructiveness eventually evolved into people-pleasing. I would bend over backwards, turn myself inside out, etc. for individuals whose approval I wanted — i.e. everybody. I would always allow the other party to wield more power, because I felt like I did not have the right to put my own needs first. I had the perception that I was helpless to change my circumstances. I always had an excuse for keeping quiet or for giving in:

“I’m not an expert on this,”

 “I don’t want to be an inconvenience,”

“I should just be content with what I have.”

After several heartbreaks and a couple regrets, I finally grew the instinct for self-preservation.

had  to protect myself — I was the only one who could.

I finally realized that my mind and soul, though deeply damaged, are worth saving. Through a few well-chosen friends, I finally realized that my mind and soul, though rather twisted, are worth celebrating. I am worth it.

* * *

As fragile folk, we need to recognize that the damage done to us does not lessen our worth. We are all imperfect and flawed, and we all absolutely need to be celebrated. There is no one like us—there is no one else like you—and we are all worthy of healthy, healing love. Sometimes, the hardest part is loving yourself, you with all your chips and cracks and stains and fractures.

People are fragile, and when the bang of a door knocks us off our precarious pedestals, we shatter and leave a glorious mess on the floor. But I am slowly learning to smile to myself, as it takes courage to leave my broken shards out on the floor, to better inspect them, and know that I can recover, all the wiser for it.

I am still working on being more gentle with myself, and to become accustomed to the idea that I was not—am not—the one to blame for the traumatic periods of my life.

You have power, I am learning to whisper to myself with love.

 It is my mantra every time I see the sunrise.


Daily Post daily prompt: Fragile