I used to volunteer at the Cambridge Women’s Center and wrote anonymously, for a newsletter of, for and by sexual abuse survivors called For Crying Out Loud. I was in my twenties, in crisis, and wasn’t ready to sign my whole name to my writing. This was when newsletters got mailed, one by one, and weren’t available except to people who wrote to get copies.
It was coming out safely with other survivors before I could risk coming out to a wider circle.
I’m not sure who but a survivor would be writing in for a copy of the newsletter but it didn’t matter. My first name was all I was willing to share and event hat felt pretty daring and big.
I wasn’t a mother yet. I had a job to protect. I hadn’t “come out” to everyone in my personal life and still felt that having been abused as a child was something to be ashamed of rather than angry or sad about. I was silent. What if my pain made others feel bad or mad – not at the abusers – but me? That was not an irrational fear. Sadly. That’s a fairly likely outcome for abuse survivors and part of the reason we are so often silent.
Let’s face it – there’s a lot of stigma still and we face it as adults.
Which is why I have THIS blog. It is a choice for me to write heavy so often.
It’s not that I’m not every funny. Really, I can be witty and light and I go to the movies, walk the beach and eat out without talking about trauma. I assume those of you who read this blog do the same.
There’s work and car pool. There are the neighbors and friends, even good friends, who may have little or no idea of the storms I weather. Since there is NO SHORTAGE of people to talk with about hair, food, politics and the weather, this space doesn’t include a lot of those.
I admit to wanting to post pictures of puppies or flowers or sunsets every once in a while as well as comics, jokes and music. And I may. But for most of us, there are too few places to be real, with the mask off or down and that’s why I don’t share more of that stuff here. I’m trying to offer balance in a culture more outraged by talk of abuse by adults no longer children than outraged that children are still abused.
Also, there are really funny and wonderful and creative and witty bloggers who do that all far better than I.
Here, the focus is on the trauma and the stuff it’s not easy to find people writing and speaking and admitting to thinking about because if that’s what’s in your heart and mind you most likely feel silenced, shamed and stigmatized far more than you feel community, acceptance and relief.
So, just had to share that.
Anyhow, when I was in my 20’s and didn’t have a house or a savings or a lot of confidence I thought any talk of symptoms sounded like me complaining on why I hadn’t amounted to more yet. I wasn’t married, with a child or a white picket fence. I wasn’t sure what I was capable of never mind what I actually wanted. Though a feminist, even way back, I was defensive and felt damaged as though my anger were suspect.
I was fighting for my life. It was usually an invisible struggle.
Now that I could “pass” for normal or successful or messed up only in the ways everyone else is, I choose to be out and outspoken.
I couldn’t when I was younger. I can now. Way back I wondered where the “others” were and what their secrets, struggles and stories were. Over the years I’ve thought and said, “How come so many survivors and so much silence?”
So, here is a piece written by a silenced young woman decades ago who doesn’t have all the peace and all the answers at middle age but who is still here and finding and forging a way.
Some things have changed, in the world, for women, for survivors and some things have not.
Some parts of my life have changed too and some – not so much.
But I’m still very much that young woman I once was and ached and worked and am grateful to have become. Plus – puppies.
Safety is the blanket that fell off the bed while I was sleeping. I’m cold but too disoriented to find it. Safety is the primer I don’t know how to apply. I paint myself over and look just like others, but under the surface, I feel so weathered. One more rough winter could rot my bones.
It’s like I’m waiting for someone to invite me to my own life. I can’t make myself feel at home in myself. I want to be able to accept all of my emotions but I’m still threatened by them. I want to feel self-possessed, self-confident and at ease. I have a good life but how can I make myself feel good about it? I’m a good person but how can I make myself feel good?
What if a relentless series of feelings, symptoms, nightmares makes it difficult (if not impossible) for me to work, be happy, have good people in my life? Will bad times, like bombs, blow up my life as I know it? If I face another loss, am the victim of horrible circumstances, get overwhelmed by my past will I lose everything? Are good times just time between bad times? I don’t believe it and yet I fear it.
Can PTSD be cured? Or do I just learn to live with it? Will my past always make me feel uncertain inside and distrusting of the outside?
Anyone can be broken by tragic circumstances, great loss, deep pain. I’m no different. But what separates me from others is how acutely aware of human fragility I am. I don’t bound out of my house in the morning, ready to take on the world. I look over my shoulder too long. I watch my back too often. I’m suspicious far more than I should be.
I spent too much time bracing myself for another blow. And I lose valuable time. Little by little I lose a little bit of the richness and wonder that is my life.
I know life can be brutal. And this deep knowing breeds doubt. Self-doubt. I wonder if I should have children. Is it right for me to be a mother, to have someone who will be totally dependent on me when I can’t say that no matter what I can be totally dependable? If I have a child I want to be able to convince them that they belong to the world, are loved by the world, are safe in the world. I want them to feel free to be who they are in this world. But how can I convey these things when I don’t feel them?
I want to feel that the world loves me, has been waiting for someone exactly like me and that it’s fine for me to be who I am, as I am, not who I might or should have been had my first two decades been different.
Can the world be that loving, inviting, accepting? Can I be that loving, inviting, self-accepting?
I want my soul to rest under a blanket of serenity. I want my foundation to house an all-season sense of safety.
Note: I am so grateful life is not constant crisis though am also humbled by knowing times of crisis return. Becoming a mother is a choice I have never regretted and am so grateful fear did not prevent. Life is brutal but it can also be blissful, creative and loving. People can and do injure and disappoint but also nourish and astound. Despite fear and anxiety, near constant in my twenties, passions and abilities developed, habits and hobbies too and it can be easy to forget the ground covered, gained, dug into where so much was planted.
The sky is a blanket, the earth a mattress and sometimes I still twist in the sheets and can’t sleep. But oh how often I drift into a safe and easy sleep in a small and loving home as the moonlight streams in.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.