The Survivors Project: Anonymous
In its Nov. 14, 2012, print edition, Philadelphia Weekly ran an excerpt of its first book, The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse. The issue featured just eight of the 57 first-person stories we published. Here is another.
Editor’s note: Please take great care in reading this story, as it may contain graphic descriptions and other passages that may trigger strong emotional responses.
Age abuse occurred: 3-18
Sexual orientation: Heterosexual
Location: Bucks County, Pa.
Occupation: Physical therapist
I was sexually abused as a child by three generations of men: my grandfather, my father and my brother. The abuse started at a very young age, and I coped with the pain and the terror by dissociating from it. I was able to protect myself by leaving my body. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It would be more accurate to say that I had been chased out of my own body. Each incident of rape caused me to vacate myself a little bit more, numbing me to the pain and memory of the trauma and leaving a little less of me behind. This split between my mind and body allowed me to lead an outwardly appearing “normal” life, but the price I paid for this was high and it eventually took its toll on me.
A diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 36 triggered deeply held emotions of terror and rage to become unearthed, and my walls of denial began to crumble. The veil of secrecy was ripped away and the illusion of my happy and normal family, one I had clung to so desperately, was shattered as violent and terrifying flashbacks consumed me. I was left reeling. I was immersed in darkness and despair as I tried to confront the reality of what my own father had done to me, what my grandfather had started, and what my damaged brother had re-enacted with me.
I knew on a very deep level that my healing from cancer required me to heal from my past. I felt that everything that I had buried and repressed was finally coming up through my body to be healed. The beginning of my healing process was excruciating, disorienting and overwhelming. So often, I would be swept away by a raging sea of memory fragments, body sensations, images and intense emotions. For the first few months, I was practically nonfunctional. My husband took over most of the every day tasks and care of our two young children. I was barely keeping it together between my visits to my therapist. But over time, I was able to contain myself and pace myself as I worked though the difficult material that was coming up.
Healing from sexual abuse is a slow and arduous process. It takes incredible courage to face the pain and the truth about what happened, especially when the perpetrators are beloved family members. My father and grandfather had been dead for years before I remembered the abuse. My brother, as well as the rest of my family, has steadfastly denied that any abuse ever took place. They are still deeply entrenched in the denial that once held me. I miss the family that I once believed I had. I have had to redefine what family means to me and have created a family for myself of people who love and support me. I am sad that I don’t have my family the way I would like, yet I am grateful that I am free and that I have been able to find and integrate the child in me who was so hurt and lost. I have reclaimed the lost parts of myself. I have painstakingly picked up the shattered pieces of my heart and mind, one by one, and have reclaimed them. I will not let sexual abuse define me and I do not call myself a sexual abuse survivor or a victim of sexual abuse because I am so much more than that.
It has been 14 years since this journey began, and as I write this now, it’s hard for me to remember those desperate times. As I look back, I am in awe of how much I have healed and am grateful for the many ways in which healing has come to me.
I have found healing in my tears and have experienced how each tear washes away a little more of the pain.
I have found healing in my husband’s love and support. He has been my rock of strength and stability, which has allowed me to go to the dark and scary places necessary for my healing. He has been the glue that held our family together with his constant and steady support.
I have found healing with my therapist, who is that one person on this earth who knows most intimately my pain, my grief, my terror, my rage and my shame. Together, we have created a healing space that I will carry within me forever.
I have found healing in the light and laughter of my children, whose innocence and sweetness have helped me recognize and embrace my own.
I have found healing in music, which has helped to release many deep emotions in me. The lyrics of many singer-songwriters have been my companions along the way and have made me feel less alone. Thank you, Sinead O’Connor, Patty Griffin, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos.
I have found healing in my journal, a place where, through writing, my heart, mind and soul feel free and safe enough to transform the darkness into light.
I have found healing in the hands of body workers and therapists, whose compassionate and safe touch helped my body to let go of the pain of the past and return to the present.
I have found healing in the sunlight, its warmth radiating deeply into my core and illuminating the light within me.
I have found healing in nature, where perfection and beauty becomes a mirror for me.
I have found healing in the hearts and the hands of so many people who have been brought into my life: my family, teachers, doctors, therapists, nurses, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients and strangers.
Most importantly, I have found healing by looking within myself and re-connecting with my spirit, that part of me that could never be damaged by anyone’s actions, intentions or words. My spirit may have been trampled on and buried, but it has always been there, beckoning me and waiting for me to find her.
The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse is available for purchase on Amazon.