Sunday, 8 May 2016

The key to my past

Child sexual abuse (CSA) has lifelong effects that are often not recognised or understood. Sexual abuse usually takes place in secret and is therefore kept secret. Due to the silence surrounding CSA, children are forced to endure the abuse and its effects alone. As a result, adult survivors often continue to feel alone and isolated. It is quite common for survivors to not remember the details but only have a vague recollection that something wrong has happened.

As a child I learnt many coping mechanisms, one of which was to pretend nothing was wrong. My story had been written but I decided to rip it to shreds, lock it up in a cupboard and throw away the key. That locked cupboard remained untouched for many years until one tragic day; the day I found the key to my inner pain and depression. During the ensuing period I can only describe what I experienced as shock and inner turmoil. My whole life had been turned upside down in a split second and I felt alone and helpless. It would be nice to think that I pieced together my story, had a few sessions of therapy and moved on with my life but, unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward. 

When I felt ready and able to face therapy it not only helped me to start feeling better about myself but it enabled me to remember some of those repressed memories. The frustrating element was that I could only remember certain parts of the story. Speaking with other survivors reassured me that childhood blackouts, in which large chunks of time are forgotten, can be common. After that period of therapy I felt able to move on with my life but the memories did not stop there, in fact they kept popping up, sometimes at inopportune moments.

Three years after my initial therapy, whilst living in China, I had a rather disturbing memory that I couldn’t just brush away. I vividly remember an evening filled with music when I danced under the stars wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with my name. It might sound like a happy memory but there was also a dark side and a feeling of discontent that emerged. The only uncertainty I felt as a result was the age of the little girl in the memory. A photo that captured my vivacity that night confirmed that I was in fact 4 years old. Having previously believed that the abuse started much later in my childhood, I had to once again grieve for that little girl and the childhood I lost.

Repressed memories are like jigsaw pieces that depict the story of our lives, they don’t necessarily emerge in a logical order but will resurface at their own pace. Therapy and healing will therefore take time, there is no quick fix solution. While it is difficult to confront these unknown memories and work towards recovery from childhood abuse, healing is possible. I feel I can safely say that I’ve recovered most of my shreds of paper and locked them away again. However, I’m glad that I am able to open that cupboard and share my experience with others, not only to raise awareness of the long-term effects of CSA but also to show other survivors that they are not alone. 

                                                          The aforementioned photo of me aged 4