This summer was a transition, it’s true. But the real transition came when I moved across the country–2200 miles across the country–in August. I don’t know why I thought it would be easier than it was, but I did. I didn’t expect it to unearth old issues and wounds, reopen scars, and generally throw me into a state of turmoil and disaster like it did.
I still don’t know all of what did it. The pain and confusion started building in the summer. Probably, the combination of change and a safe place unlike I’d known before cracked the wall I kept around my emotions and feelings. I started to grieve, most likely, and it came out all sideways. I got incredibly anxious and stressed. I would rock for hours, a kinetic coping strategy I hadn’t used in public in years. I was angry and teary and sensitive–and there was no rhyme or reason. I couldn’t figure out why.
I’ve never really felt anything about the sexual assault I experienced as a child. I mean, I talked about it. It happened when I was four, random strangers (a statistical anomaly), but the atmosphere of my home and my utter lack of understanding about sex and anatomy kept me silent for years. While in nouthetic counseling with a highly unethical counselor, I finally talked about what had happened. However, since I was seeing her for general anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, self-harm, and a compulsion for reading erotica and masturbating, the revelation (and her resultant violation of confidentiality and professional boundaries in forcing me to tell my parents) was shrouded in the guilt and shame she heaped on me for the consequent behaviors I was in therapy to try to cure. In some ways, I felt like my parents and the counselor were more concerned about getting me to be “good” and stop those things than they were about the abuse. I mean, they cared, but they were more angry with me for doing “bad” things than they were that I’d been violently assaulted as a child. Or maybe their ways of caring just didn’t compute for me. Either way, instead of being angry about what happened, I just felt more shame and guilt about who I was and what I’d done.
Victim-blaming is shockingly blatant in fundamentalist Christian circles, which I was part of at the time. I heard everything from the fairly common “you need to forgive because you’ve been forgiven” to “as a child, you were still at fault because you harbored a grudge against God in your heart by not telling your parents and seeking help. You chose to hang on to being angry with God and cope in ways that were sinful and wrong, even as you realized they were sinful and wrong.” I was attending the same church as the counselor—I’d started going because I wanted to spend more time with her—and I was not allowed to attend the church without a “babysitter” (I was 17-18 during this time) because of my “sin.” Instead of acknowledging my hurt and pain, I was given more and more shame to carry.
And back to the issue of me wanting to spend more time with the counselor, I had a weird relationship with her. She invited me to join her family for dinner, family time, etc. She would physically hold me, which I found very comforting as an adolescent who’d never really had safe touch in their life. She’d let me cross all sorts of time boundaries, overstaying my sessions and calling her all the time. She was, in a way, the first person I’d trusted, the first person who had shown me so much attention and affection, and I craved that with a vengeance. I wanted to trust her so badly that I kept trusting even after the warning signs of trust violation glared at me over and over.
And I think in the end, I never got a chance to be angry. I never felt anything. I was so busy feeling shame for my coping mechanisms that I didn’t have time to feel anger or sadness about the assault. People who should have been angry in my life were too busy judging and trying to manage my coping mechanisms (by telling me they were wrong) to be angry at what had happened with and for me. And so I passed it over. In the ensuing years, I went to treatment, I went to therapy (with good therapists) and I didn’t ever deal with it because it just wasn’t yet safe to access those feelings and emotions. You have to have a safe container, I think, or else your brain continues to shut that out, to blind you to the memory, to act like it didn’t happen.
This summer, I started to feel safe again. I started to feel like I could trust, even though it terrified me. I had someone who loved me, held me, was angry at my abusers and not me, told me over and over and over that I was good and my coping mechanisms were not bad and that I was lovable and worthy of love. I hadn’t had that before. It gave me a safe container, and I started to feel the anger and pain I had suppressed for years. I knew that each night, I could go home and be held, even if I was angry or sad or being difficult. I got to be a kid who was cared about.
Then I moved 2200 miles away. It’s not unusual for a 23 year old to move across the country, but since it came just as I started to feel safe, it threw everything off. I couldn’t hold it together. I was oscillating wildly between all sorts of emotions and I couldn’t self-regulate. On top of that, I had a hostile housing environment and a lot of unsettled issues with that. And I didn’t realize how much it would mess with my head.
It sucks, honestly, I know that trauma, PTSD, is unpredictable. It can hit when you least expect it. Is this what I have to deal with the rest of my life? How many other layers are hidden underneath there, to be unearthed at random times in my life? I don’t know. I wish I did.