SILENCE OF FLASHBACK
Nobody said it was easy but I had never imagined it would be so difficult.
For a long time, my abuse perched within silently. It’s been over three-decades. Back then, I didn’t understand it but it weighed heavy on my soul with reminders of a childhood I wished never happened. I couldn't bear to consciously remember any of it.
The abusers plan is usually simple - devise and play subtle games to twist your mind so that you take the blame and they can sleep at night, blameless. That may be called grooming. Grooming turns things topsy-turvy…I felt terrible about what happened - dirty, disgusted, unforgiving - not realizing that I was made to feel these things to keep me silent, for me to take the blame.
My survival instincts made me freeze. My feelings ceased to exist. And I slipped into selective amnesia or was I going mad? I didn’t know that far from it being a sign of insanity, it was my mind protecting me by narrowing its focus, shifting away from what is unbearable, in order to survive.
The brain is exceptionally clever at keeping us humans sane. Our brains infuse stress hormones to deal with stress even in children. Traumatic memories are not stored in the same way as normal memories, or sometimes aren’t stored at all. They exist as fragments, rather than as whole.
Traumatic events train the brain to focus its attention in certain ways, and that it picks up on an incident, ignores others, and we’re totally unconscious that it’s doing it. But that unconscious shift of attention affects what we think about, what we see, what we discern in our relational transactions, for the rest of our life. The mind hides information from itself, in order to try to cope and turn one completely amnestic.
There was a lot I had to learn about memory before I began to understand what was going on; why I couldn’t remember anything sick, why I couldn’t stand certain smells. Why I couldn’t bear to be touched … I didn’t understand about the impact of abuse, either. I was afraid that I was damaged forever, but I was also convinced that I wasn’t affected at all. I attributed the symptoms in my life - the lack of self confidence, the self-harm, the suicidal tendencies, the simmering self-hate, the difficulties in relationships, the physical illnesses, the quick defensiveness of self, the unbalanced emotions - to an intrinsic defect in me, not to the abuse. I didn’t understand that this is what trauma does to a person.
There were so many things that I didn’t understand, and I had to deal with all that in order to begin to heal. I had to come to terms with the fact that the abuse couldn't be pushed to the background, neither could its memories. It was a core experience in my life that had carved my psychological and physical development. It changed and affected everything about who I am. So there were going to be no quick fixes, because its impact was systemic and lasting.
Before I proceed, let me tell you I was not alone, I am not alone in what I faced. And many continue to face. The first ever National Study on Child Abuse in April 2007, covering 13 states in India and a sample size of 12,446 children was released by Minister for Women and Child Development showing these stark reality figures:
• More than 53% children reported facing one or more forms of sexual abuse.
• Almost 22% faced severe sexual abuse, 6% sexually assaulted.
• 50% of sexual offenders were known to the victim or were in positions of trust (family member, close relative, friend or neighbour).
• 5-12 year group faced higher levels of abuse, largely unreported.
• Boys were equally at risk as girls.
• Severest sexual abuse in age group of 11-16 years.
• 73% of sexual abuse victims were in age groups of 11-18 yrs.
Sexual offence and kidnapping account for 81% of the crimes against minors.
How did I cope then is the the question.
I trained myself to view the abuse as something separate to me - something that happened to me, which affected me, not something that defined who I was. A child who was powerless but who also was resilient and survived things so terrible. And, so sensitive, that even as a six-year-old child, I knew it would kill my parents to know; was I weak when I was being abused, or was I actually strong? I chose to believe that I was a strong child to have survived and this was the first healing step. And now as an adult, I feel having survived I can help others to survive.
Emotions change, situations change, people change, I changed. Today, I can hold that terrible stuff happened to me, but that it’s not happening now. I can understand that I was abused and it made me feel sick and it impacted me in a million ways, but I no longer need to hold any guilt, and I can live a fulfilling life. Life is not good or bad; it simply happens every second of the day somewhere in between those two poles. I learnt to accept the grey-scale too.
It's about not giving up but waking up to new challenges every day, however hard that day will be and doing the right things: Breathing, looking after yourself, interrupting the stream of negative thoughts that tell you you’re worthless, unlovable person, doing the most mundane chores. So much of recovery is actually about getting a grip on yourself. Flashbacks are hard to fight with but life needs to go on.
Recovery is about taking tiny steps, and taking them every day. I fought against the urge to give up. I battled myself, though it did take me a long time to reconcile. No one will ever realize just how tough it was.
But ultimately, recovery was my best revenge…