Do you know what it takes to recover from childhood sexual trauma? I don’t, because I’m not there yet.
Last month, just shy of two years into my weekly therapy sessions, I asked my counselor how much longer it would take until I got better. When she informed me that healing is a lifelong process, my heart split open. I felt like I’d been handed a life sentence.
Of all the causes I’m willing to take a stand for, and there are a lot, I don’t want this to be one of them. I want to be out there saving dolphins from discarded fishing nets or teaching overweight kids how to eat healthfully.
Child sexual abuse is too ugly, or as media folk say, the polar opposite of a sexy issue. It’s horrid, and I didn’t ask for it. But it’s one of the heavier cards I’ve been dealt.
How children are treated and what they learn early on forms their thinking and sets their standards for life. For example, take learning a second language. It’s more than a skill or additional avenue for communicating. Studies show that “bilingualism exerts systematic effects on cognitive performance” in children and even protects “bilingual older adults against the decline of those processes in older age.” The brain develops differently in the heads of bilingual children.
I've seen this for myself. By the time I was 10, I had spent at least half my life in Germany. I wasn’t taught a lot of German in my American schools, but the German vocabulary I have now remains from those elementary days, not the four subsequent years of high school German class, of which I retained nada (or nichts, but now I’m just showing off).
I can count as quickly in Deutsch as I can in English. Meanwhile, I’ve been studying French for the past few years and still can’t count past 30. German, or at least German numbers and colors, are tattooed inside my brain forever.
And so are feelings of insecurity, guilt and abandonment. If I can’t remove from my being the bit of German I learned over 25 years ago, how will I ever recover from not being protected as a child? It stares at me in the mirror like my ears, nose and teeth. I see it in every child and adult I meet, wondering if he or she endured this too.
I lost something before I was old enough to know I ever had it – a whole self. On days when terrible things headline the news, I’m not sure I’ll ever have it back.
I write about this because I hadn’t told anyone about what had happened to me when I was little. It took me decades to find my voice. Some kids are braver than I was then, and they speak up. Or the crimes are discovered as they’re occurring.
Either way it’s the responsibility of adults to prevent it, or if not, take charge and hold the offenders accountable. The Penn State mess is inexcusable, unforgivable. It turns the character & community building of sports into a farce.
Some days I forget there's anything to be thankful for. But little things, like this column by Eric Wilbur of the Boston Globe, remind me there's a lot of people on my team. I'm thankful for that.