Yesterday in honor of National Coming Out day, I came out as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In response, I received a lot of love and support. Breaking silence is an interesting thing. Many people read that blog post, and since statistics show that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will endure sexual abuse before the age of 18, it seems like a good idea to follow up what I wrote yesterday with some more information. I want to be able to have conversations without shame or stigma, and bring something silenced into the clean, sweet sunlight. I want survivors to be able to pursue the healing they need, without dehabilitating shame that impacts their relationships, self-esteem and sexuality. I’m feeling more and more called to this work, especially for queer, fat, trans- and gender fabulous folx.
The statistics being what they are, and the number of readers being what it is, I feel certain that there were many survivors who read my blog yesterday. This post is for them, the brave warriors who are walking into the labyrinth to reclaim what is theirs, and dealing with all the fear, terror, humiliation, shame, embarrassment, and other emotions that come once this work is begun. It’s true, you could choose to live your entire life without naming this for yourself, without facing the demons that haunt you.
Okay, here’s some information I dug up in my research. (Sources are at the end)
Many people have sensory/body memories of abuse. If the abuse happened when they were very young, they may not have words around the body sensations. Many survivors experience functional amnesia, especially if abuse occurred before age 5. Physiological responses to particular triggers are common, and inexplicable when a survivor has no conscious memories. The season, time of day, quality of light, certain sounds or smells and a plethora of other sensory stimuli can trigger body reactions that seem totally disconnected to the actual environment or situation.
Trauma often manifests in the body as extreme cold, numbness, lack of sensation or sensory amnesia, such as not really being aware of certain body parts, even though cognitively someone knows they have that part. People often are so accustomed to lack of sensation, that they are unaware of it. Think about it, if you were color blind, and no one ever caught it, would you know you were? It’s like that. If I have an area of my body (pelvis and hips are super common) that is not feeling a full range of sensation, how would I know? (Just sayin, there are ways to figure this stuff out, but that’s another post.)
Relationally, CSA can have a huge impact. Many survivors find connecting sex and intimacy problematic. They can have both, just not together. Diassociation during sex is common. This means that the person checks out… it can mean their awareness leaves their body, or it can pull really tightly inside. Either way, it’s not present and engaged with the partner. Partners tend to get pretty testy about this stuff after awhile. And boundaries, as I wrote yesterday, become really murky; physical, emotional and energetic. Yeah, forget about boundaries!
Maybe I’m not saying anything this morning that you don’t already know. I think my intention is to give permission to survivors to begin to acknowledge their experiences, without taking on a whole shitload of blame, shame and self-recrimination. The good news is that there is a way back from the trauma. Healing is totally possible. Hell, if I’m doing it, I bet you can too. Bottom line is I’m not willing to give it that much power anymore. I’m driving now, thank you very much. Not it.
Here’ s a list of symptoms that is pretty good: I didn’t write this, I copied it from Carol Boulware.
What Are The Affects Of Sexual Abuse?
Being in your body
- Do you feel at home in your body?
- Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself sexually with another?
- Do you feel that you are a part of your body or does your body feel like a separate entity?
- Have you ever intentionally and physically hurt yourself?
- Do you find it difficult to listen to your body?
- Do you feel out of control of your feelings?
- Do you feel you sometimes don’t understand all the feelings you are experiencing?
- Are you overwhelmed by the wide range of feelings you have?
- What are your expectations of your partner in a relationship?
- Do you find it easy to trust others?
- Do you find difficulty in making commitments?
- Even though you’re in a relationship, are you still lonely?
- Is it hard for you to allow others to get close to you?
- Do you find yourself in relationships with people who remind you of your abuser, or you know is no good for you?
- Do you find it difficult to love yourself?
- Do you have a hard time accepting yourself?
- Are you ashamed of yourself?
- Do you have expectations of yourself that aren’t realistic?
- Do you enjoy sex?
- Do you find it difficult to express yourself sexually?
- Do you find yourself using sex to get close to someone?
- Does sex make you feel dirty?
- Are you “present” during sex?
What Problems are Caused by Sexual Abuse?
Major Sexual Symptoms of Sexual Abuse
- Difficulty with becoming aroused and feeling sensations
- Sex feels like an obligation
- Sexual thoughts and images that are disturbing
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors or sexual compulsivity
- Vaginal pain
- Inability to achieve orgasm or other orgasmic difficulties
- Erections problems or ejaculatory difficulty
- Feeling dissociated while having sex
- Detachment or emotional distance while having sex
- Being afraid of sex or avoiding sex
- Guilt, fear, anger, disgust or other negative feelings when being touched
Major Long-Term Medical Symptoms of Sexual Abuse
- Vaginal or Pelvic Pain
- Eating Disorders
- TMJ syndrome
- Low back pain, chest pressure
- Erection problems or ejaculatory difficulty
- Self harming/self-mutilation
- Chronic physical complaints
Major Long-Term Psychological Symptoms of Sexual Abuse
- Panic Attacks
- Low self-esteem
- Stress disorders – PTSD
- Personality disorders
- Substance abuse
- Self-abuse behaviors
If you are dealing with recovery, and want some support, try calling here: National Sexual Assault Hotline 800 -656-HOPE