Andrew remembers her musty smell, the chill in the air and the glow from the moon in the hall. He remembers desperately hoping that someone would hear them through the opening in the door and rescue them, but a rescuer never showed.
Trauma can work in strange ways. There are some parts of the traumatic event that can imprint in your brain as clear as if you are watching them on TV right in front of you. Other memories get buried and can be hard to access.
Keeping the secret of abuse
After Andrew and his twin brother were molested by Florence, they never mentioned a word to anyone. Andrew was scared and ashamed. He felt as if he had done something wrong to make this happen. Him and his brother never spoke of it to each other, either. It became a secret he held onto closely and shaped how he felt about himself. To this day, he has never told his mom what happened that night, and he can't bear for her to know because it will be painful for her to hear.
Sex was always a dirty thing
As a teenager, Andrew became hyper sexual. He was a fit, handsome boy and a star athlete, and it was never hard to find sexual partners. Later in adulthood, he lost all interest in sex. He never felt he was good enough in bed. And it was difficult for him to become aroused if his partner was not dominating him. Sex was always a dirty thing to Andrew after his own abuse.
"I am a failure"
There are things from that night that Andrew can never forget. The image of Florence making him go down on her and then fuck her saying repeatedly, "again and again" is burned into his brain. His young mind read those words as a kind of condemnation of him. As if she was saying, you're not good enough, so you better do it again and again until you get it right. He felt like a failure. And he has felt like a failure ever since.
"I feel like I died that night"
When we worked on the abuse in therapy, Andrew talked about the sense of hopelessness, anger and confusion he still feels now as a middle aged man when he thinks of his abuse. He says, "I feel like I died that day, 31 years ago."
As a human being, and as a parent, it breaks my heart to hear these stories. As a therapist, I am grateful there are tools that can help people like Andrew start to heal from his trauma. Healing from sexual abuse takes work. Andrew was not freed from the burden of his abuse overnight, but he committed himself to healing. It has been wonderful to see him start to be able to recover his life.
I am a survivor
One of the tools I used with Andrew is a type of psychotherapy often used with trauma victims called EMDR. EMDR can help people heal by removing blocks that prevent emotional healing. Through therapy, Andrew went from saying "I feel like I died that night" to "I am living," "My words are the words of a survivalist," ""I am not to blame," and "I'm free."
We are in the era of the #MeToo movement. It is a time when people are sometimes more open about the abuse they have experienced. There is an expression in the addiction world, "You are only as sick as your secrets." With secrets comes the idea that you or your actions are shameful and should be hidden from everyone. But it can be freeing to open up about our secrets.
We believe you
I worry that the downside of all of the revelations of abuse is that it is also triggering for survivors. I worry too about the backlash against victims who speak up. It can be a secondary trauma to be abused and then when you have the courage to speak up after years of living with the trauma, to be questioned, ridiculed, shamed, or harassed.
To all the victims of abuse who are reading this, please know that we hear you, we believe you, and that there is hope for healing. If you are a victim, please consider contacting a therapist and maybe telling a trusted friend.
If you are struggling and would like help, we have Houston, Texas Counselors who can meet with you. You can contact us 713 -591- 3612 or by email at Nancy @ wilsoncounseling. org. This blog is not intended to substitute for professional counseling.