The physical aspect of child molestation eventually ends but the emotional destruction does not leave the tiny shoulders carrying the burden. Instead, it grows with you and casts a shadow of overwhelming darkness for years, decades and sometimes for life. I was molested for 8 years of my childhood and its residual effects ripple through all aspects of my life, flowing like a river from guilt and shame to self-hatred and unworthiness. It takes only a few minutes of trauma that severe to change everything you had known to be true; to shatter your ability to trust words or actions; to instill a fear that chills your tiny soul and fill you with the confusion of what is right, what is wrong and what is normal.
The first time I was molested I was five. I remember it as clear as the movie I watched last night. I remember something related to every sense. I remember the color of the couch and the blinds that draped the sliding glass doors. I recall the taste of the banana Popsicle I was given when he took me back outside to play like nothing had happened. The details are not necessary, but as you can well imagine after that day I became a different little girl, all in just 10 minutes. My ability to trust teenagers and adults was shattered, as was a piece of my soul.
In many cases of molestation the perpetrator is a direct family member, relative or someone you know and trust well. My abuse took place outside the home and involved multiple offenders, both teenagers and adults. When I was younger, there was a piece of me that believed that this was all normal; that this is what happened to everyone, not just me. There were not a lot of kids my age on my street so for me the norm became if I wanted to play with the older kids I had to spend time in the garage first. I was about 8 or 9 years old before I realized there was something wrong, but starving for attention, lonely and running from domestic abuse, I went back, over and over. I would rather go through that 5 or 10 minutes of hell than be alone and without friends. This routine continued with a few different people until I was 12, and convinced myself that promiscuity was the only way to get attention. This way, I felt I had some control over both the perpetrator and myself.
I am often asked how I survived through the actual physical incidents and the accompanying pain. The answer is not difficult to explain, however unless you have been through childhood sexual abuse, it is something you will never understand. The brain has its own built in defense mechanisms, flight or fight being the most common example, but when the trauma is too much to cope with, a part of the brain shuts down as its method of self-protection. I believe the correct term in today’s world is dissociation, but there were much fewer labels in my days, so simply put I went to my safe place. Everyone’s version of a safe place will differ, but the reasons for its creation are generally the same. For me, I closed my eyes and went to the one place I felt safe and confident…the soccer field. I had played since I was five years old, and immediately took to it. My confidence, my safety, the game, all things I had some control of on the field. I was needed and wanted without the dreaded precursor that was my life off the field. I was a part of a team and felt like I belonged somewhere for the first time in my life. So, when my mind needed to shut down to the extent of full protection, my body followed suit, which somehow lessened any physical pain involved. For whatever period of time it was, I learned to quickly get to my safe spot and not leave until it was long over, and that became habitual. You do what you know.
I would like to say that I have dealt with every incident and am completely healed from the abuse. I would also like to say I have a million dollars, but neither statement holds truth. I have done my best to skim through the pages and end each chapter, but the ripple effect is continual in my life. It still casts a shadow over my ability to trust, form healthy relationships and develop a full bond of intimacy. There will always be triggers and for me, certain scents, textures or sounds will send me back to those times of horror, but this time as an outsider looking in, feeling helpless to save the child below. The visits are short and emotionless now, and although I no longer have to retreat to my safe place, I do believe it will always be with me.