After my last post, A Stranger, I had a few interesting conversations with a friend and my husband.
A friend said to me that after reading my poem, “I had the thought of ….Who is a stranger …And can I ever be a stranger to myself?” I responded by saying the following.
You can’t understand it because you have not been abused as a child. I realized the other day that I don’t know myself, who I am apart from this pain and anxiety and struggle. It is all I know. And I am and have felt like a stranger my whole life. Abuse does that to you because you only live for, and your life is only about, the abuser. And so I don’t think you can understand this. My husband gets it. He sees this struggle in me. It is very perplexing and painful.
It is why I have been abused my whole life. I don’t defend myself because I have no self to defend. And that must be very hard for someone else to grasp. I think it is what makes it hard for you to understand me. This is what makes life terrifying for me. And no amount of words alone can fix this. It makes me isolate myself. I don’t know any other way to feel safe.
My poetry is not just words… it reflects a very deep, dark, lonely, real struggle.
Think of it this way, when a two year old starts to say no they are not trying to be defiant. They are coming to realize that they exist separate from you. And that they have their own likes and dislikes and they are expressing that. When you are sexually abused, especially for years throughout your childhood, that gets taken away. You are taught that nothing that you want ever matters. And you exist only for the abuser. Your will, your sense of self, of being separate is gone.
Whatever it is that lets you defend yourself and express yourself, I don’t any longer have. It is excruciating. Even a two year old can say no, but I cannot. It is very puzzling and confusing for my husband to witness this in me. It is a horrible consequence of abuse.
I am like walking prey for abusers… the bottom of the food chain… the weakest among us. And yet you see me as strong. Do you see how confusing this is to me? And I know this. I never know when I will step into a trap to be abused without any defenses. All the while I have to wear my armor of perfection thinking this will save me somehow.
My friend responded, “What have they all done to you? It is so sad.”
I responded by saying, that is what I am trying to figure out. Most of my adult life, the only thing I have had to express any of it has been my poetry. If we could find the answer to solving this we could be millionaires. It is an inconvenient truth that no one wants to know or talk about. All of this is why sexual abuse is not about sex. In many ways it is similar to being held captive, being tortured, and brain washed, which results in an utter loss of self. Rape is also not about sex. It is about power and control.
It has been sad how much it has taken just to get to where I am with my husband and my friend in this journey. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I don’t have a chance in the world.
Then I talked to my husband about this conversation. And he started to ask me some interesting questions. I won’t get into the questions, but I will say that I was able to help him realize that whatever it is that lets him and others even deal with difficult people, I do not have. And for the first time, he realized that he and others have often asked things of me that I am not capable of doing.
I was able to tell him that whatever it is that lets him defend himself, I do not have. I don’t think he or anyone can imagine what it is like to go through life not knowing at any time when someone or a situation is going to come up that will cause you to become paralyzed and possibly taken advantage of or abused. It is an incredibly painful existence. It makes me afraid of other people, strangers, people I know, and professionals, even those who are supposed to protect us and take care of us. I am afraid of them all because I don’t know that I am safe in any situation.
These conversations were a revelation to all three of us. Having the chance to even try to explain this helped me to understand these fears more. And these conversations also made it clear why I am and need to be in therapy.