Pushing Through the Pain of Sexual Abuse
Today we’re going to delve a little deeper into my personal healing journey, and into the pain of sexual abuse.
The Pain of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is a trauma, and PTSD is common among victims. This mental condition can manifest in many different ways, sometimes very subtly. If anything here is a trigger for you, remember to take care of yourself and address it as needed.
After the Abuse
When it was all over, I wasn’t really sure how to cope with the pain of sexual abuse.
There was still this life I was supposed to be living, even though my whole world was turned upside down.
I questioned trust and I questioned my own worth. I think I mostly just suppressed any feelings, because all the people around me were shaken by what had happened and I didn’t like seeing other people hurt or upset.
The anxiety leaked from my body in different tics and compulsions.
For a few months I pulled my hair, a strand at a time. I’d pull out my eyelashes too. The physical shock would numb the emotions.
Then my mom noticed the big bald spot on my head and worried I was sick until she realized I was causing it myself. She bought me beads to string, so I had something to do with my hands. She also put my hair in a half pony everyday to hide the spot until my hair grew back in. Thankfully, the eyelashes grew back too.
I started exploring all sorts of arts and crafts, finding new things to do with my hands.
I also figured out that I had to keep any pain invisible.
As I got older I found my way into sports. Here was an arena where toughness and intensity were deemed admirable traits. I could push my physical limits. I could break myself down in the name of building myself up, and people would see it as good.
Long practices and summer leagues were my chance to escape. I could dive onto the floor and wrestle for loose basketballs, I could use my muscles to push bars of metal up and down, and I could run.
Oh, how I loved to run. I would wake up early in the morning before school to run laps around my neighborhood.
I ran until it hurt.
Until my breath burned the inside of my throat, my stomach clenched, my limbs tingled as the blood tried to keep up with the movement, my heart pounded and music blasted in my ears.
I embraced every bit of the pain. I just wanted to feel it, to disappear into it, and let my mind rest.
I’ve had friends who harmed themselves, but it took me a long time to realize that’s what I was doing.
I always thought very little of myself. I never believed that I was beautiful, and I think part of me didn’t want to be, because I didn’t want that kind of attention. I didn’t want to be caught in a bad situation again.
So my relationship with my body wasn’t good. It’s not that I was striving for any sort of body-image, I just pushed my body really hard, so I’d have somewhere to put the pain. I worked to exhaustion, because it made sleep come easier.
It took me a long time to understand food as well. I was never terribly unhealthy in my eating habits, but I tended to eat emotionally, and it’s something that sticks with me even now. Ice cream was (and sometimes still is) my medication. It’s only recently that I realized sugar sets off my anxiety.
I was in a cycle of work, work, work harder, eat a ton, sleep. I never realized that it was going on, or the toll it was taking.
Facing the Pain of Sexual Abuse
The years caught up with me. All of the physical exertion and all of the emotional distress I’d shoved down finally sent me into collapse. I refused to listen to all the signs my body was giving me, but it refused to be ignored any longer.
In high school I started having panic attacks. I had these as a kid sometimes, but it became more regular. I was depressed and confused. I pushed through it, I graduated, I moved to Europe for a few months. I did my best to keep finding reasons to push through the pain, and to ignore the pain.
I left to serve a mission for my church in Russia. I hit an all time low. I started having panic attacks everyday. It became difficult to function at all. I stuck it out for fourteen months, at which time my Mission President told me I needed to go home and get help.
Through all of this, I refused to believe that my depression and anxiety were still tied to the sexual abuse. I told myself I’d left it in the past.
Frustration in the Process
On the documentation you fill out to serve a mission, there’s a question about whether you’ve experienced any sort of abuse. I had to check the box, “yes”. That meant every time I had a meeting with a church leader, I got asked about the abuse.
While on my mission, I was instructed to have calls with a therapist to try to help me with my panic attacks, and I got really frustrated when, again, it came back to the abuse.
Of course the sexual abuse was damaging.
But I think what really caused the long-term harm was the way I handled the recovery. It was the lies I started to believe about myself, and the way those lies affected my actions and my decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a great life, but there are so many aspects of it that have been tainted by self-doubt, and self-hate, and self-harm in all of it’s subtle forms.
Leaning on God
I’ve been blessed with a really great support system. My parents are amazing, and have always done everything they could to help me. I have a wonderful family, and now a beautiful little family of my own with my husband and our daughter. I know not everyone is so lucky.
But I haven’t always had an easy time recognizing and connecting with all of the love in my life. I felt very alone for a long time.
The one place I could always turn for love and understanding, was to God.
Prayer is my safe place. Scriptures are where I draw strength.
I’ve never questioned whether I have a Heavenly Father and a Savior, because I know I do.
I’ve felt them with me ever since that early point in my life when I was hurt and needed help. That connection, that relationship is the thing that got me through all of it. It’s the one unwavering thing in my life that I know I can absolutely rely on, no matter what’s going on around me.
It’s a relationship and an understanding that has been vital, crucial, integral to my healing.
Takeaway On the Pain of Sexual Abuse
In the next post I’m going to talk more about letting go of shame. I hope that you can take things we’ve discussed here and maybe recognize something you need to address.
Pushing through the pain of sexual abuse will inevitably lead to a crash. It can be hard to know where the true issue lies, but figuring it out brings healing one step closer.