If anger is a surface emotion then shame is the bottomless pit far beneath. Jungian analysts say that shame is the "swampland of the soul." Research shows that shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders. I have experienced d) all of the above.
Rage shattered the wall of my silent shame. I began having more abuse memories, so many that I had to name the events so that Dee and I could use a common framework for discussion. At first they came in the form of dreams or in lucid states upon waking, some of them nightmarish. Soon these morphed into body memories which could then be reprocessed and associated via EMDR. Sometimes these puzzle pieces would connect amidst activities like driving or running. Other times they came in the middle of my supposed functional workday. I found the latter particularly disturbing. It was one thing to have memories while alone in a safe environment where I could feel and process what was happening; it was an altogether different experience when I was around people with no place to hide. I had to pretend and keep going, not feel, to be on stage and en pointe. This was a harrowing time for me. I felt like I was falling apart. Fragmentation, guilt, shame and fear plagued me from all sides, but none more pressing than the in-side.
The Hand: I have a distinct memory of being touched while in bed. This was the first one to surface after The Theatre and was difficult for me to acknowledge. Previously I had convinced myself that The Theatre was the only scene of abuse but in this new memory I am in a lying down position, one not possible in a theatre setting. A bed, perhaps not mine. I have no external context for this memory - no understanding of the room, furniture, or house - but an immense amount of detail. Exactly opposite of The Theatre, where I have tons of context but little to no detail. The Hand is touching me - as in my lovely little lady parts - from behind and I am pretending to be asleep. I am hoping that if I lie still and quiet it will all be over soon, much like the stone statue in The Theatre. And likely in a similar fully dissociated state.
Please Don't: Another memory, another position, another time and place. The detail and body memory is different for this event, enough that I am able to distinguish it from The Hand. The most salient piece of this memory is that I feel my body about to sexually climax, but I am praying and begging God to not let it happen. I don't want to. I feel terribly ashamed that this is happening and that my body is responding in this way.
Notable connections and feelings bubbled up during acquisition of these memories. As we processed the events, I was obsessed with my attire. In EMDR sets I would spend an inordinate amount of time "looking" down trying to figure out what I was wearing at the time of the abuse. In my mind, wearing a skirt or nightgown meant that I had given him easy access and was partially to blame. If only I had been smart enough or more careful, I could have prevented it. This is a dangerous rabbit hole for survivors of sexual abuse. It is our #1 fear... that the abuse was somehow our fault. That I showed interest, that I prompted or invited it in some way, that I didn't stop him and therefore that means I must have wanted it. This shame has plagued me for 25 years and is likely the cause of my memory repression and dissociation, aka The Black Oil.
Here is where I tell you how very much I love my therapist Dee for moments like this one. After weeks of obsessing over my attire and the thought of possibly inviting the abuse, she called me out. Inching closer to the front edge of her chair, she looked right into my tear-filled eyes and said, "I don't care if you stood up in that theatre, stripped all of your clothes off and danced around in front of him naked. You were a child. He was an adult. It was his responsibility to hold the boundary and he didn't. There is nothing you could've done to make this your fault and so I want you to stop this clothing bullshit here and now." Her exasperation and brutal honesty shocked the obsession right out of me. I haven't thought about my attire in these or any other abuse memories since.
I have learned through therapy and my healing process that shame and self-blame is often the only way a child can make sense of the terrible trauma of sexual abuse. Uneducated and inexperienced with how the body works, the resulting physical pleasure from unwanted touch is confusing. This response gets misinterpreted by a child as fault when it is anything but. Furthermore, it is easier to blame the self than to acknowledge and understand that adults are not trustable and that the world is indeed a scary place. If only we were told the truth: that monsters are real and they don't live under your bed. They live down the street, in your neighborhood, in your backyard. And sometimes they live at your uncle's house.
Brene Brown says that shame requires 3 things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgement. My story had equal, hefty doses of all three for 25 years. Once I understood this I did the most difficult thing imaginable: I started telling my story. First my 2 therapists, next I told my 3 closest friends. It was awful and wonderful at the same time. Content with my close circle of five, I continued with therapy and regular conversation with my small support army for months. I have since shared my story with 5 more trusted people in my life, including 2 family members. My army is growing.
LearningToLiveInsideMyBody is a critical part of my healing journey. To aggregate and articulate my process, to share for the hope of healing for others, to rid myself of the shame that indeed this is my story. Some days I have an enormous vulnerability hangover from what I've posted. Other days I feel superbly healed, that the process of documenting these experiences gets them out, as in out of me. They no longer live inside, swirling around and adding to the Black Oil. My story lives on these pages, my computer, the blog server, and now your screen.
A few days ago I made a list in my journal of what complete healing will look like for me. It includes several items related to this topic such as:
- not hiding
- no shame
- no fear that people will find out
- no self injury
- no dissociation
- sleeping all night
- no panic attacks
- no stabbing pain of remembrance
- talking about it with no tears
- no vulnerability hangovers
- no need for an army
- feeling whole