It might sound strange, but the bulk of my life used to be missing from my memory. It was as if someone had smeared black paint over a decade’s worth of growing. I wished for nothing more than to be able to recall my childhood like everyone else.
After all, those memories set the foundation for the person you become. They’re usually warm and nice to look back on when you’re gathered around the living room with your family. I longed to know what younger me was like; looking at old photos of myself felt like looking at a stranger’s meek child. It felt invasive, too personal and too raw. But without my own history, I was just a vessel of a person.
Over time, the gaps started to fill in. I would come across something that would spark some recollection, a scent or a texture, and a quick snapshot of a memory would flood my mind. The memories wouldn’t play like a coherent, chronological film. They were only a few seconds in length and jumbled; I often couldn’t recall large details like facial expressions or the time, but I could conjure a clear recollection of things like the pattern on the ceiling or the tile on the floor.
To my surprise, these memories also engulfed me in an isolating, total-body fear- The same fear that froze me in place at five years old. I can still remember how devastated I was when the pieces finally connected: why I had night terrors, why I dreaded being left alone, why I was in-and-out of the doctor’s office at such an early age.
Years and years of sexual abuse by two different individuals that went undetected by family and friends were certainly not what I had anticipated or hoped to dig up when I set out to remember my early life. Realizing that I had been so violated at such a young age, that my boundaries had been crossed without any regard to how it would affect me, left me in ruins. As a child, there is no greater betrayal than to not be protected, and I felt as if I had been left to fend for myself. I was enraged that no one had stepped in to save me and that no one looked further into their suspicions.
While I’m grateful to have a better understanding of what’s made me the person I am today, remembering this trauma has undoubtedly made nearly every aspect of life more difficult. I frequently reminisce on the times when I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night sweating and gasping for breath, when I didn’t question my self worth or feel like “damaged goods.”
I remember when intimacy didn’t feel like walking on eggshells and bathrooms, where some instances of the abuse happened, didn’t fill me with such unease. My parents’ tumultuous divorce and my mother’s alcoholism had already left me struggling with anxiety and depression, but PTSD was another beast entirely. I no longer felt confident or worthy of setting boundaries; I felt as if the right to my own body had been completely stripped away from me. I felt like I was out of control, destined to drown in another flashback at any moment.
Since this all unfolded, I’ve been going to therapy twice a week. There I practice breathing techniques, do Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and talk about how being a survivor of sexual abuse affects me on a day-to-day basis. I am also on an anti-anxiety medication and, per my therapist’s advice, looking into the possibility of getting a psychiatric service dog to help me through my panic attacks and night terrors.
I recently managed to get to a place in my healing where I was able to open up and share this dark, painful secret with some of the most important people in my life. Two years ago, I never would have imagined I would be able to confide that part of my story to another soul, but telling them relieved some of the anger and loneliness I felt at having suffered in silence for so long.
I still habitually find myself wishing I could go back in time to before I could remember any instance of the trauma I endured or the names of the men who took advantage of me, yet I know that I wouldn’t be able to fully understand myself today if I never connected with the scared little girl I had been subconsciously trying to push away.
I finally have the reason behind some of my behaviors and fears and know where I come from. I may not be able to turn back the clock and be blissfully ignorant to my own suffering again, but I can finally begin on the path to healing. And while PTSD seems to dictate my life some days, I always remind myself: I have already survived the worst of it.