I was sexually abused from birth until I started high school, not long before my 14th birthday. I obviously can't remember it starting, and I have no specific memory of when or why it stopped. I know that I was abused by my mum, dad, grandfather, aunt, a cousin and someone from my class from school, but I also know that I was abused by other men and I still have no idea who they were. I grew up thinking the abuse was "normal" but hated it. It happened most days.
I remember being worried on the days I wasn't abused, and the feeling of not knowing if it would happen was almost as bad as the abuse itself. I was raped vaginally, anally and orally and had items such as scissors and knives put inside my body. I had to touch people and be touched. I had to touch dogs and allow them to lick my body. Sometimes I was abused by more than one person at a time. I was forced to touch myself in front of people. A lot of the time, it was incredibly painful, but sometimes I was touched in a way that resulted in "nice" feelings that I know now were sexual arousal and that was the hardest thing ever. It felt as if my body was betraying me when I had those feelings, as I hated it and wanted it to stop -- but was simultaneously told that I wanted it and was enjoying it. For me, it was incredibly confusing. It's still the hardest thing for me to own, and I haven't got to the place where I can forgive my body for what I know now to be a "normal" physiological response.
During the period of my abuse, I was told that I was bad and dirty, that it was my fault and that if I told anybody they would think I was horrible and wouldn't believe me. That bad things would happen to me and they would kill me. I grew up thinking that this was normal until the one day it stopped, and I completely forgot that any of it had ever happened.
I was nearly 18 and in my last year of high school, studying for my final exams and going through the process of applying to University. School had always been a safe space for me, despite the fact that I sometimes struggled with friendships. Still, I felt safer there than at home.
At the time, I was in terrible shape physically. I had lots of bladder and bowel problems, heavy painful periods, chronic nausea, and struggles with eating. There were periods of time where I would suddenly feel lightheaded and dizzy, my heart would feel like it was beating too fast, and I would get a tingling sensation in my fingers. Every time I felt this, I was terrified that I would get sick or pass out. I didn't know until I was at University that these episodes were called panic attacks. I realized that I had been having them every day since I was 10.
Despite it all, I was doing really well academically - I had always pushed myself to get high marks and anything less than 95% wasn't good enough. I was in an "A" level English class when I first began to remember my abuse. Our teacher had set up an exercise of writing our earliest memory, and suddenly I was "transported" from being nearly 18 in English class to an 11 year old being orally raped by my cousin. That was 24 years ago.
Not keeping quiet
When I had my first flashback I had no idea what to do - I just knew that even though I'd forgotten it for so long it had happened. After several days of eating practically nothing, waking up crying after nightmares, more flashbacks when I was awake, and trying and failing to forget it again --I realized that it was too big for me to deal with on my own. I felt that I could either tell somebody, or kill myself. However, I knew that if suicide didn't work, people would want to know why I'd tried.
I didn't actually have the words to say what had happened to me. I had never heard of child sexual abuse and didn't know it was something that happened to other people. The first person I told was a teacher, and the only words I had were "not rape but like it". She had to tell a senior member of staff. When I talked with that person the following day, she said that the teacher I had spoken to had told her that I had been sexually abused. I remember realizing "that's what it's called."
The teacher I initially told distanced herself from me, as that "sort of thing wasn't her job." The second person was great and made herself available. She also encouraged me to tell my parents, which I did that evening.
At that point, I thought the incident I remembered was the only time I had ever been abused. It wasn't until much later that I started remembering more and more.
Even now, I still get new memories.
When I told my mum that night, she was supportive. But the next day, she had the attitude of "it happened a long time ago, just forget it" and then got really angry at me because I couldn't. I made the decision to never talk to her about it again. I shoved it all of my feelings inside of me as far as it would go. It wasn't until I was at university where nobody knew me or my family that I started talking about it again.
At University, I was so desperate for support that I told way too many people and made really bad decisions about who I told. It was hard when they weren't supportive, but towards the end of my first year I met the University nurse. She gave me counseling sessions until the end of my second year, and during those sessions I started having new memories. Each new memory was devastating, as it felt like the abuse had just happened again. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the memories, which keep coming.
I've had good support for most of my adult life. At the moment, I'm having acupuncture and craniosacral therapy (most of the new memories come during the cranio sessions) and I practice qi gong. I also love ice skating.
Physically and psychologically I'm still a mess. I'm still having nightmares, flashbacks, new memories, physical memories and panic attacks. I've been diagnosed with ME, PTSD, emetophobia and IBS. I have very bad abdominal, vaginal and rectal pain most days, and nausea that never goes away. I often feel desperately tired. I still have periods of dissociation (kind of like leaving my body.) Though this was a subconscious coping mechanism during the abuse, it can sometimes make functioning like an adult somewhat challenging. It also feels as if I have lots of inner children rather than just the one - all of them are me but at different ages.
When I first heard the song Quiet I fell in love with it right away -- it became like a therapy song. I've used it to send me off to sleep, and I use it as an alarm clock. If I wake in the night from pain or nightmares it comforts me, if I've had a flashback it grounds me and when the body memories are bad it distracts me. The absolute best bit for me is that if I'm having a panic attack it makes it stop. I've been having panic attacks nearly every day for the last 32 years, and nothing has worked so well before.
I can't keep quiet because I spent my entire childhood keeping quiet...and because sexual violence towards women and children is much bigger than what happened to me. By keeping quiet we send the message that it's not ok to talk about. That makes it even harder for women and children to tell somebody what happened and get help and support - especially as many of them are told that it's their fault and nobody will believe them.
The end of the song Quiet is especially meaningful for me.
"No I won't keep quiet"
I can't and I won't. Not any more.