How to put into words the rage that bubbles up inside when I think…of all that I suffered but did not know how to resist…of what I know now that the preschooler, the child, the teenager did not yet know?…Of all the times I smiled and stayed calm — for the sake of everyone else’s comfort — when inside I felt torn to shreds and like I wanted to scream bloody murder…of how the body holds trauma, sadness, depression, sorrow and pain and wears it like an invisible armor, like an albatross around one’s neck.
People say, “Why does this matter so many years later?”
Because a life, or more accurately, a soul was lost. Because part of my essence, part of my spirit, died when I was used as a piece of irrelevant meat simply to serve someone else’s twisted satisfaction.
People say, “Just move on and get on with your life!”
That’s exactly what I did. But the broken version of me that moved on was not properly equipped or prepared for the playing field of life.
People say, “That person is a good person and they would never do such a thing that you are accusing them of!”
But they did. And they, and others like them, keep getting away with it because people keep believing their lies.
People say, “you’re just weak willed…we’ve all had challenges in life. Grow a spine and just be strong!”
Ha!!! Sex abuse and brutality survivors are some of the strongest people I know. Somehow, we find the courage and the will to get up and live every day when we feel so worthless, ashamed, used, unloved and beaten down. Not to mention trying to keep a lid on our repressed rage, resentment and hatred for our unpunished and unrepentant attackers.
Here’s what made me angry this morning, (one of the 17 million times in my life that I have to deal with anger suddenly bubbling up, well, BECAUSE):
As I watched my 14-year old daughter happily ride her bike to school with an innocent smile on her lovely, optimistic, trusting face…I thought about the fact that at her age, I had already been seriously sexually assaulted THREE times. Twice by members of my own family.
Yet, I’m still here.
DON’T YOU EVER TELL ME I’M NOT STRONG.
BUT, guess what? 40 years later, there’s a big part of me that still feels broken, incomplete and somewhat alone. THE BODY HOLDS TRAUMA. Full Stop.
There was a time when I looked to my mother, or my friends or my husband to “heal” me. Moreover, even though I was looking for healing, I didn’t know I was looking for healing. For the longest time I didn’t see myself as a victim, I saw myself as tough, realistic and capable of creating any reality I wanted. After all, I had survived the massacre of my innocence. I was “FINE.” Everything was always “FINE.”
I traveled, went to college, held a bunch of different jobs, collected friendships, loved and lost in relationships…but there was always something missing. Somewhere deep inside I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. Of course, that little voice in my head kept trying to tell me that it was ME that was wrong. Just me. And I heard that voice in my head, constantly, from the very moment that my 5-year old body was invaded by a grown man’s penis. In order to drown that damaging voice out, the scared, overwhelmed, confused little girl put on the tough, capable, realistic women’s armor and tried to hide, or at least, step around, the truth. But in that armor, clumsily and hastily donned far too soon, I kept bumping into walls of fury, secrets, shame, confusion, blame and self-hatred. Walls that blocked me from seeing who I truly was and what I could truly be…if I were whole. But I wasn’t whole…something was missing. And that little, assaulted voice inside never failed to remind me of that.
In spite of ALL of that, though, I’m still here. Broken and battered but still gasping for air and trying to claw my way out of the pain. DON’T EVER TELL ME I’M NOT A SURVIVOR.
I’m fighting every day to find my sense of wholeness. And guess what? I’m WINNING. Because of ongoing therapy, survivor support groups, psychoeducation and a loving circle of people that I know I can count on when I’m feeling low, I learned how to turn what I’ve been through around to create purpose and meaning, not only to restore me to myself but also as a tool for helping others to find their own journey toward healing and wholeness. To those who may be hearing “whispers” or who find themselves being a keeper of family secrets: PLEASE listen to the children around you. Talk to them about boundaries and respect them if they don’t want to have a hug today. Most importantly, let them know that you are there for them and, Believe Them if they tell you or in any way indicate that they feel uncomfortable around certain people.
Lastly, I want to say to those who are still in the midst of pain and struggle:
I’VE HELD ON TO MY HURT, SHAME AND ANGER FOR A REASON. IT PROTECTED ME WHEN I FELT LOST AND ALONE …. BUT IT WAS OKAY TO BEGIN THE PROCESS OF LETTING THOSE FEELINGS GO AND TRANSFORMING THEM INTO POWER. I WON’T EVER LET ANYONE TELL ME THAT I AM BROKEN or NOT STRONG. I AM A SURVIVOR AND MY PAIN IS MY SUPERPOWER. I CHOOSE TO USE IT FOR GOOD.
Leticia Berg is a doctoral student at Fielding Graduate University. She will graduate in January 2023 with a PhD in Media Psychology. She has a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology and is currently working in private practice as a psychotherapist at Arbor Wellness in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Leticia’s work experiences include providing therapy for the LGBTQ population in a community mental health center and assisting with research studies on Autism Spectrum Disorders and ER Head Trauma patients. Her areas of clinical interest are mainly focused on trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence and social justice.