I am a survivor of childhood and adult sexual abuse. I don’t think I’ve ever put it in quite such simple words before, but here it is.
The abuse began when I was very small; though I don’t know exactly, I believe it was before the age of four. For a long time, I had no actual memories of the abuse, but I did have “feelings” about it. I always “knew” it had happened. The memories only came to me as nightmares, which I attempted to block out.
The abuse lasted until my mid twenties. It was not just one perpetrator; it was several, the final one being my first husband. The marriage was a trap I found myself pulled into, at the age of eighteen. My husband had been “lucky” enough to find precisely the right victim; one who believed she had no right to say no; that she was a horrible person and could only redeem herself by doing whatever she had to, to make the man who “loved her” happy.
I will spare you the details, but suffice to say that I am not the person I used to be. I am a strong, confident woman, fifty-two years old and quite happy with my place in life. The subject of sexual abuse, however, is never far from my heart. On an afternoon earlier this year, I tuned in to watch Oprah Winfrey interviewing child molesters. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I watched one of them (of the four on the show, he seemed most remorseful) confess to what he had done and then say that he felt he was guilty of more; that he had, in his words “murdered” the woman his victim could have been, I was deeply moved. I spent days, even weeks bursting into tears at the thought of those words, for I knew / know the truth of them.
My aunts and sister have told me what a delightful little girl I used to be. I used to wonder about that… I don’t think anyone would call me “delightful” now, despite the fact that I believe I am an intelligent and good-hearted person. I’m not light-hearted, which seems to me it would be a requirement in order to be called delightful. It seems clear to me; in fact, it has seemed for many years that the person I was and might have been died a slow, painful death over two decades of life. My sister recently agreed that it is difficult to believe that I am the same person I was at twenty-four. It is difficult for me to believe, but I do because I “know” it.
On her show, earlier this season, Oprah interviewed a woman who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, once known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The thinking is that the majority of people suffering from this disorder were very young victims of sexual abuse. I watched the show and mentioned a couple of comments to my husband, with whom I have always spoken openly about my past. He indicated that he was skeptical about the authenticity, and I told him I believe the disorder is rare but very real. He then asked me if I thought I have multiple personalities.
The answer to that question is no, and that was what I told him. But in my heart, I believe that the person who existed in my younger years, died. She did not grow spiritually and become someone strong. She died, and someone else took over. This woman took over. Perhaps this is why the words of that child molester resonated so strongly in me. Perhaps that previous incarnation of Julie does not exist, as a direct result of the actions of one or many sexual perpetrators. When I heard that man on Oprah speak those words, it triggered in me a grieving process for the little girl I used to be, and the woman she may have become, had she not suffered unspeakable abuse.
I’m not sure why this was so heavy on my mind yesterday, but it was, and it kept me up for half the night as well. Somewhere around 2:00 a.m., while trying to write something else, I realized something profound.
I am no longer going to grieve that woman who doesn’t exist. Perhaps I wouldn’t have liked her, anyway. Just because she was a delightful child does not mean she would have become a good person. She may have been spoiled and insolent with a sense of entitlement, for all I know. In any case, it’s pointless to mourn her; she never existed and was never real. I used to think she would have been the woman I was “supposed to be.” Now, suddenly, I have realized a new truth.
I was born because of that abuse, and I am real. From now on, instead of grieving someone who never was, I will celebrate the birth of the Julie who exists today; who would never have existed, had that prior incarnation not been murdered. Perhaps, all along, this is the woman I was “meant to be.”
Whatever it took to bring me into the world, it seems wrong not to celebrate the fact that I’m here now.