By: Marilyn L. Davis
Sexual Abuse: When You Can’t Talk about It; Quiet It
“Abuse manipulates and twists a child’s natural sense of trust and love. Her innocent feelings are belittled or mocked, and she learns to ignore her feelings. She can’t afford to feel the full range of feelings in her body while she’s being abused—pain, outrage, hate, vengeance, confusion, arousal. So she short-circuits them and goes numb. For many children, any expression of feelings, even a single tear, is a cause for more severe abuse. Again, the only recourse is to shut down. Feelings go underground.” ― Laura Davis
Victims of sexual abuse and are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. Drugs and alcohol continue to numb the feelings prompted by memories of the abuse. Someone that is too full of pain, guilt, shame, and anger and it overflows and emotions flood the individual’s system. Sometimes, these emotions are simply too much to handle.
It is a feeling of wanting to jump out of our skin, be somebody else for a day, or quiet the noise in our heads.
There is just too much going on inside. Alcohol and drugs quiet the noise and lessen the feelings. The problem is that just as with trying to fill a void with drugs and alcohol, using turns on us and fills us even more with regret, remorse, and recriminations.
In early recovery, many of those numbed feelings come back; usually without rhyme or reason. We are crying when others are laughing and have times that we are giddy when everyone else is serious. For most of us, it is an emotionally confusing time.
Many people talk about the roller coaster of emotions in early recovery. While that is an apt description for many, I found that mine did not have the predictable lead up that you have with the roller coaster ride.
Mine was more Jack-in-the-box; seemingly neatly in check, and suddenly, they erupted. Often, they did not come out in a proper way for the situation. It was difficult never knowing when these repressed feelings would pop up. I felt embarrassed when I would get angry, and even in early recovery knew that the intensity of the anger was not appropriate for the situation.
We Forgot How To Play
With about three months in recovery, my clubhouse provided round the clock meetings on Christmas Eve, and between the meetings we socialized.
Three friends were playing a child’s game of cards, and I asked if I could play. One friend laughed and said, “Do you even know how to play”?
I got tearful because I realized not only did I not know how to play this simple game, but I didn’t know how to play, period.
Quiet, Don’t Talk, Don’t Tell, Don’t Feel
Playing was not encouraged in my house. My mother suffered from untreated OCD and could not just sit and enjoy; there always was a productive activity going on. When other families played games after dinner or on Saturday night, we didn’t.
Serious, curious child that I was, I stayed in books. That was an acceptable alternative for my mother. But reading isolated me further from socialization.
As soon as I started crying my friends asked what was wrong. Again, how they asked me made sense, but it reinforced that I was doing something wrong. Instead of hearing that they were concerned about me, I filtered through personalization and negative associations.
Abuse: Can I Learn to Talk About It?
My abuse began at six and ended at nine when I told my parents that I was old enough to take care of myself and didn’t need a babysitter. My sitter was a neighborhood girl and she abused me. Like most kids of that era, my parents accepted my reasoning that I was old enough to take care of myself on the rare occasions when they went out. Since my situation changed, I didn’t think it was necessary to tell my parents about the abuse. I was simply relieved that I wouldn’t have to be around that teen-aged girl anymore.
I heard men and women talking about their abuse in my meetings, but I did not hear any other women talking about same-sex abuse. Because no one else mentioned this type of abuse, my perception of the problem was that I was the only one to experience this. I felt isolated and different. When I began researching this, though, I found that I wasn’t alone.
From this experience, I had created a distorted perception of all women based on one.
Recovery Meant Dealing with the Issue
In reviewing my life, I also realized that these incidents and my perceptions had far-reaching consequences. I had a dislike of women. I didn’t trust women, felt intimidated by them, and certainly wasn’t going to listen to their advice.Initially, this unresolved issue meant that I could not accept help and guidance from women in my recovery support meetings. Click To Tweet
I reacted towards them much like I did female friends in my past. As a single mother, I was a good friend to someone else. I was the one who had all the neighborhood kids in to make Christmas cookies or would babysit so another mom had some free time. However, these relationships were not reciprocal. Not because I didn’t need a break, but because I would not be indebted to another woman – it might come at too high a price. I didn’t understand my rationales for this thinking until I got into recovery, remembered the abuse, and did insightful recovery work on the issue with a therapist trained in sexual abuse. But just as importantly, I healed by learning to accept the friendships of women in recovery.
Learning to Trust Others with the Pain
Today, we have multiple examples and books that can guide us through the phases of healing from the nightmare of sexual abuse. However, reading is not all we can do to deal with the abuse issues. There are qualified therapists who specialize in this type of healing. Many agencies also give free or fee-scale counseling, so see what’s available in your area.
Healing from Sexual Abuse
If you find that you have symptoms of sexual abuse, even without memories attached, I will urge you to explore ways to heal and no longer be trapped by childhood traumas. Ask people at meetings where they got help for their trauma issues. You can do this without having to disclose your abuse. I think it is better to ask someone of the same gender about these issues, but I also recognize that there is still a shortage of women in some meetings.
By 1990, I felt different about women. I knew that one woman might have harmed me but that not all women would. In opening a house of healing for other women, I continued my healing as well. The women who came for help with a substance abuse problem helped me regain trust and to understand it was okay to have feelings and express them.
Just as importantly was the other gift these women gave me – they helped me learn to play.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart