This is our truth, tell us yours
One of the features of being me, of knowing me, is living with the impact of my earliest lesson being, dont trust anyone. Particularly dont trust anyone who claims to care about you. CSA, the gift that keeps on giving, means that strangers will always feel safer than those who know you. That with the black sense of humour of a kafka short story the kinder someone is to you, the more you expect them to hurt you eventually.
Those early lessons are very hard to unlearn, if someone praises you it means they want sex (its why cards supposedly saying “nice things” are as problematic as fat shaming cards to a survivor of abuse). The world of the CSA survivor makes Alice through the looking glass look conventional. A good girl or boy is said in return for performing well sexually, a dont you look nice means being taken to the bedroom and hurt, aren’t you clever means you didn’t choke too much, and praise for your intelligence means you must understand exactly what the implications of telling are.
I know how hard this makes me to live with, to know. Recently Carter commented that he always tries to remember what my experience of cis straight men has been, which in itself must be difficult, having to keep that always in mind. A particular feature of my own experience of abuse, which I mention here, is my abandonment when I hit puberty. If you ever wonder why I seem pedantic about the use of the word pedophile, its because I was abused by one. Someone who has a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. The world does not want to think about what that means, so conflates people who abuse power in their relationships with teenagers with pedophillia, as if there is no substantive difference between sex with a six year old and sex with a sixteen year old.
Oddly a word I very rarely use about what happened to me is incest,despite it being the correct term. Its a word which leaves no hiding place, a stark word, and one which perhaps needs to be said more often. It goes back to those things which make me so hard to live with, if as a young child (and I was a very young child) you learn that the people the world tells you are safe are anything but, then trusting anyone is a huge risk. Which is not to dismiss the experience of those abused by those outside of the family, its not about better or worse, just different.
Despite my early experiences, and those later in life I have two people in my life that value me. Thats an incredibly hard sentence for me to write, another of the impacts of CSA is believing you must be worthless, after all if you had value people would stop doing the thing that hurt when you asked. If your tears mattered you would not be left alone with your abuser. If your body had importance you would not be treated by doctors for persistent UTIs without a question raised. (For a 7 year old to suffer from one UTI may be regarded as a misfortune….more than two looks like medical neglect). As a sidenote I am assuming they were urinary tract infections and not STDs, since I prefer blindness to deliberate ignoring of signs of abuse.
I wrote recently of a moment when things went awry between carter and I, part of my distress was that in saying no I would make things worse, that unless I ignored my needs and wants completely I would be hurt, or worse abandoned. Not being abandoned is perhaps as much of a shock to someone with my life experiences as being hurt. No, its more of a shock, it threatens every belief that you are worthless. Trying to integrate that new knowledge can be difficult, I know it makes me needy, logic doesnt always work when you are dealing with emotional reactions from a time your mind was not yet logical.
Is there a point to this post, other than the point of writing, of speaking, of saying this is my truth tell me yours? I suppose its usual at this time of year to look back, to consider where you are, and how you have got there. For me this year has had some very dark moments, (as well as some wonderful ones) what happened to me in May harmed my mental health more than any but those closest to me know. I made it through though, I graduated, I looked at where I wanted to be and said, I can do this. Part of that is because the people around me believe I can do this. Its a slow unlearning, full of moments when I fall back into old patterns of thinking, but its also been a year where I have heard the words “I believe in you” and allowed them to sink in, just a little bit. When I was nominated for an award I think Carter was going to explode with pride, and in many ways it was as if the world was saying, we agree, you do have value.
Unlearning the lessons of pain, of hurt, of abandonment is hard, it probably takes a lifetime, but its easier when the people in your life want you to learn new lessons, of smiling, of being valued, of having worth.