The poison you injected me with age eight
When you abused me and sealed my fate
It courses through my veins to this very day
I don’t think it will ever fully go away
It is like a dirty stain that I can never clean
A dirty, cheap, squalid feeling mostly unseen
Sometimes it hits me like a punch in the face
& I feel like the lowest object in the place
Why did you ever lay your hand on me
Why couldn’t my little girl be free
I would give anything to be clean again
To feel normal-free-sane.
Of course being sexually abused as a child left me with many deeply unpleasant memories, triggers and feelings… but one of the most damaging and vile for me was the shame. It wasn’t just a ‘thought’ thing … it was a ‘feeling’ thing … it was like poison coursing through my veins … it was like feeling unclean and feeling like I could never shake it off. Shame I think is one of the most damaging aspects of sexual abuse and it is also one of the biggest lies that survivors believe. We can literally live and breath a shame that actually does not belong to us, never did belong to us, never was anything to do with us… shame is all about the abuse & the abuser… it is not to do with the abused. But because the abuse is so personal, so invasive, so secretive, so manipulative we end up feeling the shame… we end up with the poison coursing through our veins & yet it does not belong to us. I am sure there are much more professional/psychological explanations than the one I have just given. However as a survivor and as someone who lived with shame for so long, I’m just saying it how I see it from my perspective.
This blog follows on from a brief (but valuable) conversation I had on Twitter about this Brene Brown quote ‘Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough’. To which I replied that many survivors of sexual abuse are left with shame that doesn’t belong to them. It got me thinking… and I decided to write some more about it here because it is something which resonates with me so much. I also want to make the point that I hope you will not get the impression that I am saying it is in any way easy to rid yourself of this feeling… that isn’t what I want to convey (because its not easy!). Rather I want to say that I struggled with it so very much but through good professional help (therapy) and doing lots of reading/ processing/talking etc that it is something I no longer carry. The key thing is that I now know not just in my head… but in my heart (that really matters) that this shame that is so invasive and damaging is NOT mine and never was. It belongs to and with the person or people who abused you… it was their crime, their wrong, their choices, their guilt … & therefore as a consequence of all that their shame! It is a bit like picking up the wrong suitcase at the airport… it looks like its yours, everything about the outside of it looks familiar to you… but its not yours… and even though this suitcase is real heavy you continue to carry it because your convinced it belongs to you… I want to say to you THROW IT AWAY … PUT IT DOWN … shame does not belong to you and the emotional freedom you will get when you can do that is immense, in some ways can be life changing. If you rid yourself of the shame and dare to believe in who you -really- are and all you can be then suddenly so many new doors are open to you. That is what you deserve, you deserve to be free to live the life you want to live. To live a life you ‘choose’ … none of us ‘chose’ shame, through hideous abuse we were left with it … you did not commit a crime … your abuser did. It is like putting yourself in prison for your abusers crimes… and you have suffered much too much already to allow that to continue.
Bad enough that the abuse leaves us feeling shame, but other people can add to that feeling either intentionally or not. Sometimes (often times) family can heap the blame onto the abuse survivor because it is easier to blame them than to accept the truth … and all that would mean for them as individuals and as a unit. The ways in which my own family reacted to the abuse did nothing but increase my sense of feeling bad, of feeling shame. Making me feel responsible for the upset, the fracture and the chaos following the abuse disclosure. Again it was not mine to own, but I owned it because I didn’t know any different at the time… I do now thankfully. Let me share with you this paragraph from Rebecca Mitchell’s excellent book ‘New Shoes’ … It is worth noting that families whose relationships are characterized by shame often deny or minimize the needs of the individuals in the family in order to protect the image the family projects both to its members and to the outside world. Anyone who touches on an issue that could bring shame on the family is not tolerated. So, if a family member is aware that there are problems in the home and wants to seek help, they are not allowed. Or if an individual is feeling hurt by another family member, they are not allowed to express this. Rules are then formed around not having feelings or needs. For example of you make a demand on another person that causes stress, you may be told you’ve upset your mother – this is your fault! Its almost as tho the shame is passed around the family so that the person who is least able to protect themselves carries the family shame.
So far in this blog I have used the word ‘shame’ 13 times, it is such a small word but the out-workings of it in reality are immense. I used the word ‘vile’ to describe it when I started this blog because that is exactly how it resonates with me… I felt vile (dirty, tarnished, broken, used) and yet the truth of it was I am me, I am not vile… I was violated … and those two things are not the same. I wish by just reading this blog that if you have been left with those feelings from childhood abuse that you wouldn’t feel them anymore, but I know its not as simple as that (if only!) … I know you have to not only understand it in your head, you have to understand it in your heart. I am very thankful that I over a long period of time have been able to absorb the truth. Shame was such a destructive power in my every day life… shame kept me from walking down the street with my head held up… I stared at the ground all the time and I was missing out on so much … shame kept me so busy and it was totally exhausting … being busy because I was always trying to be ‘good enough’ … shame made me feel like everyone else made the grade but I did not and could not … shame made me feel like I was forever broken … shame made me feel like my life wasn’t worth living anymore when I was a teenager … shame burnt into my soul and hurt like hell … I can’t begin to describe it, but if you know it – you’ll know what I’m saying. Shame had me despising my inner child, I couldn’t even look at her … I hated her for being so weak and so bad … Knowledge, understanding, talking, processing, daring to believe something different was what liberated me from all of the above. A gradual long term drip feed of truths, of challenging my beliefs, challenging my understanding of what happened (a child’s understanding of what happened to me as a child) … looking at it with adult eyes … looking at it through my therapists eyes … looking at it through compassionate eyes.
I think the most effective way I can show you how I felt and how that changed is through some of my poetry that I wrote in my teens & twenties when I was then in therapy. I hope this blog will reach survivors who need it, I hope it will resonate with them and at least even for a moment cause you to dare to believe the truth… it was never your shame to carry… PUT IT DOWN … you deserve so much better. I am posting several poems to finish this blog, if you only read 1 or 2 please make sure you read at least 1 positive one.
Mother embrace your child in pain
Won’t you soothe her shame
Hush your angry heart
Abuse has torn her apart
I know you are hurting but she needs you
To hold her whilst she is sad and blue
Seeing your pain increases her own
She feels so alone
She is still your little girl if you will let her be
Won’t you help her to be free?
What have I done to be in disgrace?
What have I done to leave this place?
He abused me time after time
Yet I am being punished for his crime
I am guilty of making them feel uncomfortable
I am guilty of breaking the no talk rule
Worst of all guilty of being too young to take control
Will they ever give me parole?
Did you see her face when she knew what you had done?
Did you feel any emotion, mine were numb
What could you say, what did you say?
Did she cry after she sent me away?
She kept you close in her care
I went to hell and back, have you been there?
I went and banged on suicides door
& I have done several times more
You lied and played the injured one
You remained her precious son
I was a child and you treated me like a rag doll
Will I ever be able to feel whole?
But did you…did you see her face when she knew?
My heart was breaking in two
I could not look anyone in the eye
Yet it was your damage, your wrong, your lie.
My name is tarnished, is guilty, is shame
Because he placed his hands on me, I will never be the same
His hands that grabbed and touched and held me tight
Did things no one can ever make right
& Mummy said I was a bad girl…bad
Told me she could not hug me, I knew I had made her sad
Couldn’t hug me because I am no good
Though I tried to stop it, I never could.
You make me feel sick inside
You make me want to curl up and hide
You make me feel afraid and alone
You make me feel unknown
You make me feel like the worst thing on earth
You make me feel like I have no worth
You make me feel like I was a mistake
You make me feel like I was yours to take
You make me feel angry…calm but angry
You make me feel like I am not free
You make me want to draw blood from my skin
You make me feel the need to cleanse from within
You make me feel sick inside
You make me feel like a part of me died.
You cannot hurt her anymore
You are staying behind a locked and bolted door
I am taking back the child you stole
I am working hard to make her whole
She was innocent, you are to blame
You have the guilt and you carry the shame
My little girl was violated
No longer is she to be hated
I am taking the power away from you
I am the strong one now and little me too.
PRISONER NO MORE
I rescue the little girl from his hand
I hold her and hug her, try to make her understand
That it is him I am angry with, angry as hell
I know she is too scared and too ashamed to tell
I know that she needs me now more than anything
Into her world some peace I can bring
I am holding her close to me and she is weeping
I am watching over her as she is sleeping
Any questions she has I will try to answer them all
I will be right beside her before and after school
She worries that she is bad and I do not love her anymore
But she has nothing to be guilty for
I just look at her little arms, legs, face
& I know my love can reach her in any place
As for him he has no part of her or me
I will never forgive and he should never be free
Because if I forgave I betray her pain
I would be letting her down again
It takes many words to make her understand why
Why nobody came to rescue her in the night
But I am rescuing her now, I am trying to make it right
I will do anything to restore to her those years she lost
Because she must be free to live her life
& HE must pay the cost.
Get down on your knees and tell her what you did was bad
Look her in the eye, that little girl you made feel guilty and sad
Get down on your knees before the world and tell out what you did to that little one
The snatching of innocence and joy that had not long begun
Get down on your knees, look inside yourself and weep
For the little girl you raped when she was trying to sleep
Get down on your knees so she can stand tall and unashamed
For you are accountable, you are rightfully to blame.
Little girl come out from hiding yourself away
Come and meet this new and healing day
Show me where it hurts so I can heal the pain
Raise you up to life again
I have taken the liberty of copying this blog from here http://www.thistangledweb.co.uk/2014/shame-after-sexual-abuse-putting-it-back-where-it-belongs/ Its so powerful, and I hope and pray it will help so many people out there to understand the Life Long Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse