TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post contains the subjects of sexual assault and rape. These posts include excerpts from my non-fiction essays and memoirs written for past college courses that tell my story and experiences. My work is intended to help others understand, cultivate awareness, and heal from trauma.
“I walked into the light. The spring sun rays, gleaming through the window, warmed my freckled cheeks, as the sound of the creaking floorboards rose from underneath. The entire world was still, soothing my trembling frame. I quietly closed the door, leaving the corpse of my childlike body in the damp, concrete basement, downstairs with him.
I tiptoed barefoot across the kitchen floor and entered out onto the patio, with the rest of the world. Laughter and ease filled the air, but it seemed too foreign to be able to console me. My two brothers were playing in the garden with their trucks and baseball bats. I would have joined, but those games didn’t interest me anymore. For the world was altered, it was no longer a child’s place”
-excerpt from “Bloom” by Fiona McHugh
A lot of the time I’ve heard people discuss whether rape takes away one’s virginity. Personally, I believe that the argument is pointless because the true loss isn’t the socially constructed label of purity but rather the loss of one’s childhood. After sexual assault happens to a child, the world is no longer a safe place for them. Their perspective of the world is tainted, in fact, the opposite of rose-colored glasses.
Commonly, children who have been abused are always on high alert. If the abuse happened within their own home, there is no safe place to turn to. Young trauma survivors are often misdiagnosed with ADD or even OCD because of the constant need to escape or control their current environment. Instead, what these children are experiencing is PTSD. Outbursts of anger, excessive daydreaming, lack of attention, extreme emotional responses are all symptoms of a child not knowing how to understand and cope with discomfort and fear of the abuse. Oftentimes, if the root of these symptoms is not addressed, these “coping” tools are replaced with addictive patterns and behaviors when one moves towards adulthood.
Personally, I was six years old when it happened and didn’t know what rape was at the time. It was very difficult for me to put into words what happened. However, I did notice that I felt different from many of my friends and siblings. I knew I was more anxious, that I cried more, noises and sudden movements startled me than most of the other kids. There are many areas of one’s life that trauma impacts and the grief of the loss of one’s childhood are one of them.
As I said, I noticed that I was more on edge than most kids. Later on, when I understood what rape was and went to therapy, I felt a deep sense of grief. I was frustrated for not being as carefree as my friends, worrying about sleeping over at friend’s houses, and spending after school hours in therapy instead of playing outside. I felt frustrated and misunderstood when I’d cry in school and no one could understand why. I never sought out affection or hugs from anyone because of the PTSD.
One of the things childhood sexual abuse does is that it robs one’s experience. It wounds that inner child, and most people don’t give that part of the compassion and love until they are in adulthood. Many survivors carry the weight of the trauma as well as the concern of how it affects their loved ones around them. For example, if the abuser was a family member or someone in the community, it’s common that the survivor carries shame and fear about “ruining” the dynamics of the home or group. My mother didn’t let me tell my brothers or other relatives for years because she was worried about how it would make her extended family look (the abuser was a relative on her side of the family.) For years, I felt like I was the problem, and that I would ruin people’s relationships if I told anyone.
This situation is probably the most common, and sadly, is not often discussed. I had to learn to comfort myself because I couldn’t receive that from my mother. Many children survivors have to step into this adult role with themselves because they don’t have anyone to turn too. Luckily, although it was not allowed to be talked about in the home, my parents did send me to therapy, where I was allowed to talk about it. Many children don’t get that, and I am very grateful that I had some form of support.
If you can relate to the loss and grief of your childhood, I want you to know that you are not alone. You may not know anyone personally, but I can promise there are many other people out there who feel the same way. The first step to riding the waves of grief is acceptance. It’s difficult, but one must learn to accept that they did not have the carefree childhood that everyone deserves. Some children may not have been abused, but they may have had addicted parents who were unable to care for them, leaving the child to have to step up and parent themselves as well as their guardian. Knowing that you are not alone in this experience sometimes helps you to accept it.
It’s pretty common for adult survivors to want to rush through this grieving process because “it happened so long ago.” But that only delays healing. When one comes to the acceptance of reality and processes it, the path forward becomes more clear.
After accepting the loss of your childhood, it’s important to listen to your inner child and what it needs. Think for a moment- What did you need as a child that you didn’t receive? Oftentimes, our actions in the present subconsciously mirror that need that wasn’t met. It could’ve been protection, trust, or boundaries. Or maybe your inner child is still seeking for fun and play because you couldn’t live in the present at the time back then. In that case, it’s important to do something you look forward to every day. It could be paddle boarding, playing with your dog, taking pictures of the sunset, laughing, singing, or dancing. The main points to consider when healing through grief is to accept, protect, and listen to your inner self. Don’t listen to the voices of what you “should be doing” to heal. Everyone has their path when it comes to healing. There is never a finish line, but rather an accumulation of personal accomplishments and the opportunity to hold other’s hands while guiding each other as we continue to heal along the way.