Disclaimer: The following post contains explicit information regarding sexual assault, which may be upsetting. Resources for support are available at the end of this post.
A note from our author: I understand that penning an article talking about living my full truth and not declaring my name is one hell of a juxtaposition. However, it would be naïve for me to assume that sharing my name would not affect those closest to me, and whilst I have chosen to share my family has not, and I cannot take that choice away from them. I have chosen to share my story simply because it has been an incredibly cathartic process for me, and to reassure anyone who has experienced sexual assault within a familial setting that you are not alone. It is not a topic that is much discussed or palatable, but you are not alone.
2018 has been an incredible year of self-reflection. 2018 was the year I decided I would focus on myself and deal with unresolved issues that had been lingering just beneath the surface. I came across a video of the rapper J Cole talking about how we are taught from a young age not to cry - to bottle things up instead of dealing with them, until eventually we pass on having never dealt properly with the trauma in our life. It really struck a chord with me: I have always found it easier to focus on other people and their problems rather than looking inward. We are wired not to be “selfish”, to focus on others: this can be incredibly damaging to our own mental health and well-being.
I believe we all have our own burdens to bear, and that in a way each of us has experienced trauma. Mine came early on in life, but I have only just started to deal with it. You see, I was sexually assaulted by my brother as a child. I feel the need to clarify that it was not rape, although I have come to realize I do not need to water down the experience to make it seem less traumatic. I say this in a very matter-of-fact manner, because that is how I have learned to deal with it. It was something that happened many years ago. I have blurred out many exact details – how many times it happened, how old I was - but I know it happened. I can distinctly recall random details, such as what shirt I was wearing or where it happened. Others remain a complete blank. I can understand that hearing this must sound horrible, but having lived it makes it seem less so. It is as if it happened to a different person, it was me and simultaneously it was not. After speaking to a therapist I realised this is quite common, especially for children. Our brain cannot process what happened to us so it represses it - until one day it comes out.
Mental health is never as easy topic to broach, especially given my cultural and familial background - we are very much a grin and bear it group. I had always toyed with the idea of seeing a therapist but thought I was handling things well on my own (note: if you can only talk about what happened with your closest friends when you’re very drunk and the waterworks start, you’re probably not okay). I am lucky that I can access care in the first place: the country I live in does not have many therapists available, and therapy is incredibly expensive. Having said that, you honestly cannot put a price on your mental health and well-being. As scary and pricey as it may have been to see someone I am so glad I had the opportunity and took it.
What made me decide it was time to seek help was getting incredibly drunk and having an absolute breakdown during at, of all places, my mother’s colleague’s wedding (who also happens to be my old high school headmaster). Yup, trauma is a b and if you don’t deal with it, it will rear its ugly head at the worst possible moment. The following week I was shaken: I had never told this story to anyone apart from close friends, and here I was with partial recollections of telling everything to an old schoolmate, in between lots of sobbing. The best way I can describe that week is as a haze: I simply wanted to curl up and disappear out of embarrassment and shame. I realized it was time to see a therapist, because I never wanted to be in that headspace ever again.
After years of carrying this burden it was such a relief to speak to a professional, to be told I had dealt with things in a completely normal fashion, and to understand that during all of this I had to mourn a relationship I would never have. I was always envious of friends who got along with their siblings: I never knew what that was like, and would get very uncomfortable when people ask me about my brother. It was only after speaking to a therapist that I realized I had not let myself come to terms with the fact that that banterous, love/hate, always-got-your-back sibling thing you see in movies would never apply to me me. It would remain an alien concept to me, but that is okay.
The next step was forgiving myself. I know that sounds odd, but I had always blamed myself for being naïve, for simply allowing what had happened. I did not question what was happening to me, or scream, or protest, simply because I was trusting, and did not realize how disturbed it all was. I was told to imagine any 6 year old, which led me to thinking of the children in my family, and how sweet and innocent they are. It made me feel ill thinking of something similar happening to them. As much as I never wanted to identify with the title “victim,” that is what I was. I did not choose for this to happen to me.
The last thing I would have to mourn was my innocence being taken away. Other people will have fondly awkward memories of fumbling through their first sexual encounters but not me. Having that choice taken away infuriates me, mostly because for years I felt like I tacitly chose to go with it, by not protesting. It is easy to see now that no child would truly choose that, and that the tactics used to coerce me were insidious.
The best part of seeing a therapist was being told I am okay, and I will be okay. The worst: realizing there is no quick fix.
I now understand that as much as I would like to think what happened to me did not affect me or change me as a person in any way - it did. I am much more empathetic and attuned to people struggling with mental health issues, having finally started to deal with my own issues, and in a world filled with misunderstanding and stigma around mental health I would not trade that quality. I have found the process of dealing with my shit uncomfortable - the best way I can describe it is like when a scab becomes itchy, but that is growth. I have found healthy ways to cope - I run, eat right, do not drink as much as I used to and even write occasionally. This year I have learnt more about myself as a person and finally truly love myself, flaws and all. I am incredibly lucky to have all the support in the world - from family, friends and colleagues. I would not have been able to reach this place without them. It may seem frivolous to mention, but 2018 was also the year I got a boyfriend and fell in love. While it may not have lasted I am so grateful because it came at a point when I did not love myself, and through that I learned how
to. It is so important to surround yourself with people who make you push yourself but are also there to cuddle you when things get tough. My network constantly inspires me and makes me want to be the best version of myself, and I know I am blessed because not everyone has that privilege.
My only wish for anyone out there who has gone through something similar is to know that you are not alone. One study indicated that roughly 4-8% of women experience sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a relative . While we may not come forward with these stories in the same manner as the #metoo movement, the stories are out there. You are not weird or broken and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. We all deal with grief and trauma in different ways; you do not have to share your story unless you wish to do so, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to start the process of healing. You do not have to forgive anyone else but you do have to forgive yourself.
This is a journey that will last a lifetime and though I started it alone, I know I do not need to finish it that way. By sharing my experience and putting it into words I feel like I can finally breathe for the first time; I hope that is a feeling everybody gets to enjoy during their lifetime. If you are affected by the issues discussed in the article, the following organisations will be able to provide help and advice:
Australia: Lifeline (131 144) or 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) Kenya: Befrienders Kenya (+254 722 178 177) UK: Samaritans (132 176) or Rape Crisis (0808 802 9999) USA: RAINN (800 856 4673)
If you would like to reach out to share your thoughts or story (it can be published or kept private) please email: firstname.lastname@example.org