Two of the most troublesome occurrences in the life of a child sexual abuse victim are amnesia and flashbacks. These episodes range from annoying to terrifying. If you have total recall of your abuse, the constant flashbacks not only interrupt your day and maybe your nights, they force you to remember what happened to you on a regular basis, something you want no reminder of. This often brings a high level of hyper-vigilance. In my case, my father raped me when I was thirteen while I lay on the bottom bunk bed. My screaming and sobbing eventually caused my mother, who was a heavy sleeper, to awaken and come to my bedroom. By that time, my father had pulled away and was watching from the sidelines. Despite my hysterical sobs and broken attempts to try to tell her what had happened she told me I had had a nightmare. I continued to entreat her. ”No, Mama, something was on top of me and they did something that was so bad and it hurt, please help me, Mama. She refused to believe me, but kept repeating that I’d had a nightmare. I never called for her again.
I suffered with nightmares for the next twenty-five years. No matter whom I was with, no matter where I lived, I woke up several times a year screaming hysterically for help, clawing at whomever I was with as I tried to fight them off. For hours, I babbled incessantly. I was being crushed to death, someone or something was on top of me and it hurt. The nightmares stopped when my father died. At the time, I didn’t connect it with my nightmares. It was only later, when I was in recovery that I tied the two together.
Because of the suppression of my memories, I developed amnesia. Large parts of my teen years were lost. When asked about my growing up years I had a standard answer, one I truly believed on a conscious level. “I had a happy Catholic childhood; we grew up in the Midwest and played in the snow and ice skated, went Christmas caroling in the snow, grew our own vegetables in the garden, went prairie dog hunting with our 22s, climbed trees, and swam in rivers. I had a litany of “happy Catholic childhood” that I spewed out repeatedly to anyone who asked me about my growing up years.
I literally had amnesia. But the truth shadowed my days. I felt as if I had a locked room inside of me. If I ever opened it, something terrible would happen to me. I heard a child screaming inside of me and did everything I could to avoid her. I thought everyone had a screaming child inside of him or her. I smoked incessantly, slept with any man who was interested in me, mostly unhealthy choices, tried several times to commit suicide, was in a Psychiatric Ward twice, was co-dependent, was on an emotional roller coaster and had low self- esteem.
One day I was in a department store and saw a woman on the other side of the floor where I was looking at clothes. I felt immediate envy. Why couldn’t I look like her? Why did I have to be ugly with an ugly body? Now despondent, I continued shopping. Time passed and after making my purchases, I headed for the door when I again saw the woman I envied. I stopped for a moment, yearning covering me like a blanket. I raised my hand to scratch my face. So did the other woman. I raised my arm to transfer my packages to my other arm. So did the other woman. Confused, I walked towards her. I was looking in a mirror. Even then, I reached out to touch this woman, to raise my arms, turn my head, and then touch her again. Instead of having a moment of truth, I walked out in confusion. Why did I look like that woman in the mirror?
When I was 45 and married to my third abuser, who was both sadistic and a sex addict, he began raping me about two years into the marriage. When I fought back or protested, he said he was my husband and he had a right to rape me. I remember cowering in a locked bathroom one time and he broke the door down to get to me. Something was happening to me that was terrifying. I was beginning to have flashbacks to another time, to someone else raping me. The flashbacks became more and more frequent, more intense and more realistic. By now, I was in recovery, and had come to realize that when my Dad told me in my mid-thirties that we had had an incestuous relationship when I was a young girl, he was telling the truth. That locked room in my mind began to open; all the ghosts spilled out. With absolute clarity, I saw the truth.
Eventually, five years after I started recovery, I ended my relationship with my husband, finished my years of Twelve Step work, and came to the end of my sorrow. My flashbacks ceased. I have been the happiest person I know ever since. I have never once felt the need for a therapist.
This is my story. What is yours? If it stays in that locked room in your mind you will continue to have flashbacks. If you don’t remember what happened to you but have the profile of a child sexual abuse victim, then it’s time to look at that reality. It is not necessary that you remember exactly what happened. Some of these characteristics are: people pleasing and rescuing at an early age, insomnia, excessive need to control, obsessive compulsive behavior patterns, are needy, have low self- esteem, are suicidal, have weak boundaries (especially with members of the opposite sex), make unhealthy choices, have neurotic tendencies, have addictions ─drugs, alcohol, sex, food, relationships─have an eating disorder, chronic illness, emotional extremes of highs and lows and suffer severe depression.
It is time for you to begin a recovery program. If you even have half of these characteristics, they are your inner voices trying to tell you that you suffered severely at a young age and you must start to Repair the damage. Step one, sit down and write your story, Step two, join a Co-Dependency 12 step group. The numbers are in the phone directory; give it at least six meetings. Something magical happens by then. Step three – get a copy of REPAIR Your Life and begin working that program. Information regarding it is on our website at www.thelamplighters.org and also on amazon.com. Step four – check our website under Chapter Locations to see if there is a chapter near you. If not, you may one day want to start a chapter yourself.
It is never too late. Get started.