Some colleagues asked the other day, “How was your High School experience?” to which I sighed heavily in pure anguish and proceeded to tell pieces of my story…
The old saying: ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ comes to mind when I think of how I used to feel. In high school, I suppressed my voice, staying quiet and staying out of the way. Feeling shy and anxious, it felt hard to fit in. To be popular, I’d tell jokes – I guess I was overcompensating. When I suffered breakouts, bullies commented on how disgusting my skin looked, with one boy suggesting he blowtorch the spots and scars away. Other boys took advantage of my quiet nature to grope or humiliate me behind the teacher’s backs. I wanted to hide. Unfortunately, hiding was not an option.
Keeping things ‘happy’ in school friendships prevented me from expressing negative emotions like pain, sadness, and anger. People assumed I had a great time due to a constant smile. Not suggesting I didn’t enjoy some great experiences but beneath that, for the most part, I felt invisible, anxious, and stressed. My troublesome teens continued…
At age 16, I was offered a lift home in the car of three older boys, one of which I recognised from school. I trusted them due to knowing a familiar face, and I remember feeling relieved I would be home soon as I had many more miles to walk. Unfortunately, their offer was a trap to get me in the car.
Once inside, the driver locked the doors and proceeded to drive at high speed along deserted country roads so that his friend could sexually assault me. Shock, confusion and terror consumed my body and every moment felt like slow motion. I remember the extreme stress and torture of not being able to work out how to get away and catastrophic fear of not knowing if I would make it home to my family.
More than the physical assault, what haunts me the most is the other two boys laughing at my cries for help, no empathy, no guilt, no remorse just cold, calculating facilitation of their friends sexual violence.
I want to send love and healing to anyone who can relate or has been violated in any way. Most importantly – IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You are not alone and, it is OK to say something.
Why would I share such ugly truths? I want to share the decades long impact of sexual violence. I want to end the silence and provide hope and reassurance for other survivors.
This deranged assault made me feel immediate shame, it undermined my self-worth, I no longer felt confident or safe. I felt tarnished, my self-esteem was so low I could barely look people in the eye. I felt angry, betrayed and cheated out of my childhood innocence. I felt unprotected and betrayed by those around me at the time of the event even though they had no way of preventing it or knowing about it. I placed fault and blame on myself for getting in the car. My trust in people plummeted to zero right after the incident. As I got older I gradually developed a ‘use them’ before they ‘use you’ strategy. I started to drink alcohol to escape the painful memories. Occasionally I’d meet someone and open my heart and trust them, only to have it broken again. The idea of being trapped in a committed relationship seemed insane, instead of being able to start a family and enjoy my birthright of parenthood I fearfully defended myself from any sort of commitment.
One of the biggest issues, due to only being a child, at 16 – I did not know what happened was a crime. I had no comprehension of what abuse or violence looked like. I was afraid of ‘causing trouble’ and hurting my parents feelings. That is why I tried to bury things and forget about it.
When Did Things Change?
Talking with a professional psychotherapist allowed me to understand my past. We excavated the skeleton from the closet and allowed the pain and hurt emotions their day in the sun. With my now ‘adult’ perspective this horrible event became rightly grounded-in-reality, instead of a distorted childhood memory. I could now report it to the police with the new knowledge that what happened was a very grave and serious crime (and not my fault). Sadly, the names and dates are too hazy. What’s important to me now is feeling so validated and purified through facing this. It was horrendous, but the tears, anger, and various other emotions have been freeing. After the psychotherapist session I completed the workbook: My Silence is Broken – by Gary Sellors. This allowed me to work through all the different emotions one by one and uncover aspects that I hadn’t even contemplated.
What helped me
It has been a long, delicate process, partly because nobody talks about this topic especially in the very distant past of my formative years. What helped me the most is the knowledge that sexual violence:
- Is not your fault – (when my therapist said this to me it felt like I could breathe again)
- Is about humiliating the victim and overpowering them (nothing to do with sex)
- Is an act of violence
- I was carrying the shame that these three men should feel for their vile, heinous sociopathic behaviour towards a minor
- Using this workbook set me free from the prison of holding onto this repressed memory
- Burying it, repressing the memory, hiding it didn’t serve me
- Keeping things secret out of misplaced shame only served to disconnect me from my feelings (and other people)
- Unresolved trauma continues its damaging effects until you face it
- Talking to someone* about these incidents no matter how horrible, ashamed or embarrassed you feel is key to healing (*ideally a professional psychotherapist).
- The Me Too website has an amazing library of healing resources: https://metoomvmt.org/explore-healing/
Part of my road to recovery, required getting reacquainted with my feelings through a relationship skills training program. Another part involved nourishing the relationship I have with myself by focusing on deep self-love and daily practice of self-care.
I remember feeling like healing from the past was an impossible goal, something I couldn’t face. I’m surprised at the dramatic shift I’ve made from feeling invisible to feeling comfortable, seen, and heard. From helpless victim to courageous survivor. From feeling terrified and defensive to grateful and humbled. From silent to being able to talk about it right here.
I hope this story and the resources above help others who have gone through trauma.
© Morvana Zaahira Goodman 2021