I was suffocating. Tears were streaming down my face and snot was beginning to block my nose but my mouth remained closed. I was not going to ‘disappoint’ or be a bad girl. Regardless of the pain and fear. Regardless of the pillow jammed against my face I was not going to give him a reason to prolong the agony. I knew that by staying as quiet as I could that it would soon be over. Either by my dying or his leaving, it would soon be over.
The beep from the machine was a welcome sound. It meant I’d soon be freed from this horror. My body was shaking and still partly in past but my mind was mercifully in present once again. I was safe. It was okay. I was in a room in a doctors office having a test done. The monster from 47 years ago was nowhere near me. The door opened and the nurse came in to remove the mask that had triggered the flashback.
The scenario above happened to me yesterday. I started my morning going for a metabolism test that requires the wearing of a mask for about 15 minutes. The mask covers your nose and mouth with a tube connected to a machine that measures ‘stuff’. (Not sure what exactly ‘what stuff’ because I really just wanted to get the hell out of there. I’ll find out later this week) The people at this place are great and the nurse was surprised to find me crying and still wearing the mask despite my obvious distress. Naturally she asked what was wrong. When I told her it was a flashback, a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), she asked why I had not just taken the mask off. TAKE THE MASK OFF??!!!! That’s what most people would have done if they were uncomfortable. Anyone who had a cold, or was feeling uncomfortable in any way, would have simply removed the mask, opened the door to the room and told someone they were having difficulty. I’m not ‘most people.’
The effects of childhood sexual abuse on adult survivors are numerous. Physical, psychological, spiritual damage is done. And while we can go on to live healthy and amazing lives, there are still some challenges and a long list of symptoms. Yesterday’s event brought to the surface a few of mine that I share below. These don’t apply to everyone, but they are my truth. I am sharing them to help other survivors know they are not alone, to help others understand the impact of sexual abuse and to remind myself how important the work of Voice Found is.
These are a few of the ways that being sexually abused by a trusted neighbour from the time I was 5 till age 7 has affected me:
1) Wanting to please, to not disappoint in any way, regardless of personal discomfort.
2) Slipping back into the role of ‘little girl’ and not questioning someone of perceived authority.
3) Feelings of extreme panic that spring out from nowhere. Flight or fight responses so intense that it takes a day to recover.
4) Addiction. My drug of choice right now is food. Considering other addictions that I’ve beat – at least this one is legal.
5) Fear of dentists, darkness and being alone in the woods. I face each one of them regularily and refuse to let the fear keep me from living.
6) Struggles with depression. I’ve been on medication for about 25 years to manage depression that once had me suicidal.
7) Flashbacks or triggers that surprise me. Seriously sucks to have some random thing trigger a response that is inappropriate to the situation or time. I hate most when I start crying. It’s freaking embarrassing to have tears fall at a routine dental exam or some seemingly little thing that someone says. It starts a cycle of self-chastising that causes more tears.
The good news? You BET there’s good news. GREAT news in fact. I am strong, resilient, compassionate, genuine and (mostly) positive. I’m courageous and loving. I’ve discovered that it is possible to live a full and wonderful life and that there are good people in the world. It is a choice. A choice to be whole. At times it is not an easy choice but my life and the life of the people I love make the journey to wholeness worthwhile.