Trigger Warning due to description of childhood sexual abuse
It’s an indelible memory seared into our minds and branded onto our souls. At least for those of us who were sexually abused as children. It’s a memory we can’t shake. At some point, many of us experienced having our abuser(s) hand(s) over our mouths to keep us quiet during the acts of abuse. They didn’t want anyone to hear our cries of agony. The tragedy is that years, even decades later we feel like it’s still there, like there’s some invisible hand still covering our mouths and cries for help.
Ironically we are often asked, “why didn’t you say something then? Why didn’t you tell someone what was happening?” For anyone who has experienced true fear, and I’m not talking about horror movie scared, I’m talking about terror beyond description. Those who’ve experienced this level of intimidation and panic know exactly what I mean when I say we were going through fear that completely freezes you dead in your tracks. It prevents you from completing even the simplest of tasks. The ones that others take for granted.
Sure our friends could go to mom and dad about a bully down the street, or the weird guy at the end of the block, or the teacher who was mean to them in school. But those seem benign to us in comparison.
For us, we couldn’t do the most mundane of acts – Like driving down a road we grew up on. Or walking in the doors of a church/synagogue/mosque where our abuser held all the cards and wielded total autonomy.
Much has been written in other places, and here, about the plethora of reasons children don’t talk about sexual abuse, so I won’t beat that dead horse. What I will tell you is that it’s real, and all the reasons explained in the various media and online outlets are valid. And it’s the reason why, to us, we felt trapped and incapable of speaking out.
The reason I bring it up now is for my fellow survivors who might not have spoken yet. And to help their loved ones understand a little better.
It’s that damned “hand”. And it’s both literal and metaphorical.
We felt the actual hand covering our mouths, sometimes even our noses, to the point we couldn’t breathe. Grasping for air, grasping for help, wanting to cry out but knowing any such action would be met with harsher penalties by the abuser.
When you are a child, those in authority have all the power. We felt powerless to stop them, or so we thought. When we were children, there were no talk shows discussing childhood sexual abuse. There were no support groups to turn to for guidance or shelter. There was nothing.
We thought to ourselves, even if we speak up, who would believe us? A child making accusations about a so-called “pillar of the community”. Or worse yet, about our parents! No one in their right minds would believe us. Or so we we’re told, and possibly in many cases it might have even been true…no one would’ve believed us.
So we did the only thing we could, just hang on long enough to survive. And most of us did. Sadly a few didn’t. We witnessed some of our closest friends take their own lives, or tumble down the road of alcoholism and addiction to the point it cost them their lives. Everyone else said, “I just don’t understand why Jimmy or Susie did that. They had their whole lives in front of them.”
What they didn’t know, was their lives had been destroyed by the hand of sexual abuse. They had no coping mechanisms or tools to effectively cope with the abuse. And due to the lack of guidance, they self-medicated, and when the pain went beyond what they thought they could bare, they ended what they felt was a meaningless life.
I know these feelings of utter despair. I know them because I also, like a couple of people I lost, felt as though life was no longer worth living. And while my feeble attempts to “accidentally” overdose were unsuccessful, my life went spiraling out of control.
Oddly enough it was what most people would consider a horrible event, my arrests and time incarcerated, that most likely saved my life. Had it not been for being locked-up, I would probably have continued to abuse narcotics until I eventually overdosed with no return.
Thankfully I did get clean, I did learn through counseling how to utilize proper coping skills to work though the pain of the abuse. And now I have a life I never dreamed possible. I have the most amazing and loving wife. And together we work with survivors and their loved ones in ways that make me feel both honored to help and humbled with rewards beyond this life or words. And I’ve been able to actually enjoy my life free of narcotics and can finally “feel” the experiences of my life.
And I tell you all of this to let my fellow survivors and their loved ones know this is all possible for them too. If I can survive what I did, and now have a life not of just surviving, but thriving, they can too! All that is required is to reach out and receive the help that’s available.
As I so often say…together, we can truly heal…
Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.
July 27, 2014 at 7:43 am
Thank you David for sharing your story and pain. It gives me new hope for my son, an incest survivor. He’s 38 and homeless, drug user,been in and out of mental health ward many times. The therapist there tell me it may take some jail time to turn him around and I must stop enabling him ( it’s hard for a mother to not feed her homeless son!). I have so much guilt that I did not see this happening to him as a child, his dad and I were divorced. You have given me something to hold onto, I’ve always feared him going to jail but perhaps it might be a blessing in disguise. God bless you, David.
July 27, 2014 at 7:48 am
If there’s anything I can do or if you just want to talk about it, please don’t hesitate to contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-234-7975 – my mom felt the same guilt, but as I’ve told her repeatedly, it’s not her fault…or yours. The only one to blame is the person(s) responsible for the abuse. We’re here for you and your son.
July 27, 2014 at 5:23 pm
Deborah, there was one other thing I wanted to mention to you. While it may take jail time to “turn him around” as the therapist said, and as it did for me. But I don’t think it’s enabling if you feed your child. Now I wouldn’t give him money for food, because we both know where the money would go. But I don’t see giving him food as enabling. My mother gave me a place to live and food on the table while I was going to meetings to get clean. It was because of her doing this that gave me the ability to avoid the streets. But every person is different so do what you as a mom feel is right for your son. David
July 27, 2014 at 10:51 pm
TY, David. I sometimes order food for him to pick up or give him a meal, I’ve learned not to give him money. He’s currently staying in a rescue mission so for now I know he has a roof over his head and getting fed.
July 27, 2014 at 8:55 am
Reblogged this on Dawn Thought and commented:
It is not easy living with painful memories from a yesterday undesired but can be done with the right support. You are not alone, and this secret does not need to be one any longer. Take a step, by asking for help, to receive your overdo healing. There are many willing that want to assist you, who have been there too.
July 27, 2014 at 12:41 pm
I felt more traumatized by the system. By my family even to this day. I told at 15 and was put in foster care. I was scared and still am. My fear changed and encompasses every aspect of life now almost 30 years later.
July 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm
Unfortunately, because we’ve all been neglected, dismissed and tried to be forgotten…your story sounds like so many of our fellow survivors. What I can tell you now that’s different than when we were all being abused, is that you are not alone in this. Together we can help one another. Together we are here for you and with you. If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My direct email is email@example.com and our number at TWH is 754-234-7975.
July 27, 2014 at 8:20 pm
It is stunning to me to experience the “invisible hand.” In my case, the “hand” came in the form of a .38 revolver. It is still there even though I know how to get past it most of the time now.
That inexpressible terror…the freezing up of all your body, including your voice…
Yeah, I know. On one hand, I’m glad my wife has no idea what that’s like. On the other, There are parts of my life she just has to take my word for.
August 5, 2014 at 10:14 pm
PS: There was a hand, as well. sometimes I can still feel the hand on the back of my neck…
August 5, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Hey Tedd, I believe many of us feel that same way…that’s why I think it’s so important to rely on one another for support. Hope you know we’re here for you. If I haven’t given you my email address already, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org
July 28, 2014 at 4:42 pm
Another great article. That traumatizing fear is so real and when you think that small children experience this it makes it all the more horrifying. How can a three year old go to someone for help? How do they even know that what happened to them is not a “normal” part of life. I was 18 when I ran away from home after five years of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. I often wonder where I got the courage. As they say in AA I had reached my bottom. My father’s last beating almost killed me. I ran, filled with such terror that I thought my heart would burst out of my chest.
July 28, 2014 at 6:20 pm
I’m glad you’re still with us Margie. Courage, to be sure.
July 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm
Thank you Margie for sharing with your fellow survivors what you experienced. Hopefully they will see from your shining example they can get away too. Bless you my dear friend
August 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm
That was very triggering for me ..hard to read…not only did he put his hand on my mouth but also around my throat…I often feel like Im sufficating…
August 5, 2014 at 9:48 pm
Hi Nessa, I’m sorry it was hard for you to read. I know because it was difficult for me to write. But I felt it necessary to share with fellow survivors. I hope you know you’re not alone and that we’re here for you and with you…always…