“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
Saturday 29 August 2020 was the day I finally admitted that I was a child victim to sexual assault.
After twenty-five years in complete denial of this happening, suddenly I couldn’t think of anything other than the fact that I was five when my innocence was stolen. “Why now?” I wondered. “Why does it suddenly matter? Was I so resentful of my trauma that I denied its existence altogether?”
Between five and eight years old, I was frequently molested in my home by family members. Although I wasn’t sure what was happening, I knew two things: This felt pleasurable, and therefore, there was something inherently wrong with me.
This shameful image of me remained with me into adulthood. I was unaware how it affected my self-esteem, sexuality and overall view of myself as an individual woman.
All thoughts and memories of the sexual abuse ended eventually. Nobody knew it was ever happening, so I didn’t plan to let it happen again.
Since the moment I was sexually active I have struggled. I didn’t feel safe in my intimate relationship with my ex-husband. This feeling of shame was a constant for me. The more I enjoyed having intercourse the more I felt shame.
After I stopped denigrating that I had been a victim to sexual assault, it was clear there would be no turning back. After I was brave enough to tell the truth, and accepted the pain of it all, I recalled the times the assault occurred. It was scary and frightening.
I was ashamed of my actions and felt angry. It was a shock that such an event had suddenly become part of my life. My goals were to start an internet business, make money and have fun, as well as maintain my Florida tan.
Instead, I was forced to face my demons and address the truth I’d buried so well. All I could think of was “What’s wrong with me?”
For many victims of sexual assault, especially young children who can’t comprehend what’s happening, it’s easy to develop a belief that we are sick, dirty, undeserving, and not enough. In order to survive, we create a survival system where we protect, pretend, and in some cases, become promiscuous all the while trying to destroy any connection with other people.
Our trauma supports the belief that we can’t trust anyone, everyone is out to get us, and that feeling any pleasure for ourselves is bad and sinful.
What I couldn’t wrap my head around, and what also brought unbearable shame, was the pleasure I felt when the assault happened. Logically, it didn’t make sense to me.
These were my thoughts: “I didn’t do anything about it, and there wasn’t any force or rebuttal present. It happened over and over again, which was a good thing in some ways. It is impossible to say I was a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault. I would have done something if that were wrong. Instead I did not do anything. There must be something wrong with me.”
Many victims of sexual assault have the same thoughts as you. This is the reason we keep silent, why we allow our shame to grow every day, and why we practice self-hate fully. Many people believe they are inherently flawed. Here is the place to tell your truth, seek out help and speak up.
Shame was probably the most intense emotion I observed, but I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. As a master of denial, it was let go again. That was what I thought.
It was a year later and still nothing. I kept the truth hidden and didn’t talk about it too much while convincing myself that I’d already addressed it and all this messiness was behind me.
Then a few months ago one of my friends mentioned the nonprofit RAINN—the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization that helps survivors and victims of sexual assault heal and recover.
This information was there for a reason. My shame was still present, and my sense of unworthiness wasn’t subsiding. I needed to dial their hotline for help.
Before I could hang up, I called and hung up on four occasions. It was simple and quick. I received a counselor in a matter of days.
I was ready for my first session. Although I was anxious and cautious, I found that I connected with my counselor and it became much easier for me to share and open up.
We started by addressing the elephant in our room.
In my journey to recovery, I discovered that sexual assaults can be arousing. This is one of our most feared secrets. It prevents us from sharing our trauma and ending the shame.
Fear is a constant fear that nobody will be able to understand and judge us. We are already guilty of a lot of shame and judgment every day, so the thought of being judged and even more shame seems too extreme. So we remain silent and allow shame to get out of hand.
Although I am not a doctor and can’t impress you with some Ph.D. explanation, here is what I now understand:
Being aroused during any form of sexual assault doesn’t mean we want it, it doesn’t mean we consent, and it certainly doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with us. Even during sexual assault, physical pleasure can be a normal bodily response.
As my sessions went on, I started to feel comfortable speaking out about things I hadn’t said before. I was able to talk about things like my childhood excessive masturbation and how I used intercourse and self-pleasure in adulthood to feel ashamed and resentful. If I didn’t seek help from a counselor and get counseling, it might not be possible to change my self-destructive behaviors.
This is the best part about therapy: it provides a safe space to say the things you’ve kept inside. That alone can bring healing.
My therapy taught me some very useful coping skills. I learned how to recognize my triggers and soothe myself while feeling overwhelmed by self-hate. Also, how to pausing, take a step back, evaluate the situation, and then reevaluate it. This was especially helpful when I felt like I had to suffer from shame, felt guilty, and wanted to be punished.
This process taught me how to love myself and help others when they are feeling down, hurt, angry, ashamed, sad or upset. Mostly, I understood the universal truth every victim of sexual assault needs to understand and focus on: Recovery requires us to stop questioning what’s wrong with us and instead face what happened to us.
My therapy sessions have ended at the time this is written. If I were asked what’s been the most impactful part of my recovery, I would say it’s the ability to speak up and share my story while exercising empathy and compassion for myself.
As Brené Brown said, the best way to break the shame is to speak about it with those who deserve to hear our story—people we trust, people who have been through the same or similar situations, and people who are educated enough to understand our trauma. People who aren’t afraid to offer empathy and hold space while withstanding the discomfort of the conversation.
Even though my therapy is coming to an end and it is time for me to get on with my life, I realize that in order to heal I have to stay focused and committed to my journey. I understand now that healing is available to all of us, and all it takes sometimes is five minutes of courage to make a phone call and say, “I need help.”
Each day brings me closer to living a happy life. I am beginning to understand that no matter what I go through or how deep my trauma is, I can make different choices and live my life from the most empowering place that’s available to me—from within.
Silvia Turonova is an expert mindset coach. She helps women build more self-confidence, confidence and trust while letting them be confident in their abilities. She hosts a podcast Courage Within You and is passionate about teaching others how to coach themselves. Get her free self-coaching worksheet here.
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