“Outside, the sun shines. Inside, there’s only darkness. The blackness is hard to describe, as it’s more than symptoms. It’s a nothing that becomes everything there is. And what one sees is only a fraction of the trauma inflicted.”
-Justin Ordonez, Sykosa
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
My Dear Readers,
In the last few blog entries, we have defined complex trauma as repeated psychological injury over a period of years within specific settings and scenarios. People in general who have experienced complex trauma continue to remain vulnerable to the uncontrollable lashings of these emotional struggles, but children who have experienced complex trauma such as sexual and physical abuse are even more prone to carry these memories into adulthood, further traumatizing themselves and impacting the lives of those around them.
As a clinical traumatologist, I am committed to bringing light to those forced into darkness, and offering acknowledgment and acceptance to those feeling disavowed and rejected. One of the ways that I am doing this is to share Bobbi’s Saga, the journey of a woman who suffered sexual abuse at age 4, and between the ages of 9 and 12 by family members and associates. Now in her early 60s, and having carried the shame and humiliation of these memories all that time, Bobbi reached out to me in desperation.
Bobbi is not her real name—we have changed it in order to preserve her confidentiality. In her quest for her own strength and her desire for empowerment, she wants the readership to know her story…to know that she is no longer a “survivor” of sexual abuse. Instead, she is a striver and as a result, she, not the memories of her horrendous assaults, will determine how she lives and the direction of her life.
We begin by reposting her first blog written in March 2015. The following episodes can be found at the Loving Me More website at www.lovingmemore.com on the page The Journey: Bobbi’s Saga.
PLEASE NOTE: FOR AUTHENTICITY’S SAKE, THESE WRITINGS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY CREATE DISTRESS FOR SOME READERS DURING AND FOLLOWING READING. PLEASE USE DISCRETION WHEN SHARING WITH THOSE OF YOUNG AGE OR LACKING EMOTIONAL MATURITY.
At the beginning of therapy, Bobbi was adamant that she could never share the depths of her feelings with her mother. That was six years ago. However, those feelings changed in 2013 when she received a holiday greeting card from her mother, along with the gift of a blanket. Inside the card read:
This is a special snuggle for you from your mom. I am sorry for what you had to go through as a child. Had I known this, I would have done a lot of snuggling with you. You are grown, but this snuggle blanket is sent to you with much love and when you don’t feel good or you feel sad, please know that my heart is snuggling in the blanket with you!
I love you,
These words represent the first words in 48 years uttered by Bobbi’s mother regarding Bobbi’s horrendous experiences. Following several years and hundreds of hours invested in therapy sessions, sometimes 2-3 hours per week, Bobbi became empowered enough to be able to respond to her mother’s message. The response from Bobbi is provided below in its entirety. The response is indicative of a little girl who has suffered in silence to being an adult, focused on self-discovery. She will no longer be silent.
Thank you for the letter. I was surprised to receive it. Your letter is the closest thing to an apology I have ever received. I would like to let you know how I felt as a child.
The landlord locked Billy in the bathroom. Billy screamed and cried until he was sobbing. I could hear Billy screaming while the landlord took off my clothing.
He then pushed his penis at me. He tried again and again to push it in over and over again.
He also used his hand and fingers forcefully. I was terrified and in pain. I remember screaming. I thought he was going to kill me. I kicked and wiggled as much as I could, but it didn’t stop him. There was nothing I could do.
He laid on me and forcefully kissed me. When I continued to scream, he put his hand over my mouth and told me to shut up. He told me that no one could hear me or help me. I remember the glaring look in his eyes when he was on top of me.
I remember my private parts being sore and burning when I went to the bathroom afterwards. When he got through, he told me he would come back and kill you and Billy if I told.
I love you so much. There is nothing I would not have done or endured for you. I know you asked multiple times what happened.
By not telling you, I thought I was protecting Billy and you. I believed he would return and kill you. Later, when you asked me in front of him to tell what happened, I could only think about what he had done and what he said he would do. I was terrified. Terrified not only for myself, but also for you. I would have done and endured anything for you.
I kept the secret because of my love for you and wanting to protect you. The secret made me feel ashamed as a child. I felt others could look at me and tell I was a bad person. I felt I was dirty and a bad person. I never had friends.
I felt different from other children and alone. I cried easily. I have now learned through therapy it wasn’t my fault. The responsibility of being left alone and what happened was not my fault. The shame and guilt I felt for so many years was not mine to bear.
You left for work and left your four-year old daughter, me, with the responsibility of watching my two-year old brother, when we were too young to be left alone.
I know you were a single mother but there must have been another way besides leaving us alone with the landlord in the yard. The burden of carrying the secret of my abuse changed who I am. It stole my self-esteem, joy, and sense of who I was.
When I started being sexually abused by Fred, at the age of 9 years old, I questioned if I deserved it. He started by saying things to me. Then he used his hands and then his penis. He had the same dark glaring look in his eyes as the landlord when he was doing it.
In therapy I have learned that it was the look of power and control. Power that the abuser yields over a child. Control, because I felt I was a bad person. How could two men sexually abuse me if I was not a bad person or there wasn’t something wrong with me?
He convinced me at first that you knew and wanted me to do what he wanted me to do but not talk about it. He then told me you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. He convinced me that you would be unhappy if I did not do what he wanted. I was a child and I believed what he said. I loved you so much. Again, there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for you.
On the day when I told you Fred had repeatedly raped me, you began beating me. I don’t why or what I was being beat for when I swung at you and missed. I also told the people at the Youth Center. I always felt you should have known what was going on and protected me. I was angry with him, but I was also angry with you.
In foster care, I felt abandoned and unloved. I knew our relationship would never be the same again. I received no therapy. Again, I different from the other kids my age. I was severely depressed, cried all the time and wanted to die. I felt I had on one who cared if I lived or died.
I had no money to do the things other kids were doing. My experiences were different. I had no joy. I made my own set of rules to survive by. The foster care parents were doing it just for the money. I had $25.00 per month to buy clothing, personal items and meds that were not covered by welfare. The feelings of abandonment, lack of love and caring were always with me.
I am now going to therapy. I realize now that what happened to me was not my fault. There was nothing wrong with me. Young girls are often abused by more than one man. Being abused by one man makes it more likely that it will happen again.
I have let go of the shame and guilt. I have nothing to be ashamed of or guilty about. I know that the abuse has changed who I am. It stole the joy of my life for forty plus years before I went to therapy.
I now look forward to living the rest of my life without guilt and shame. There will always be pain, but it does not have to influence or control my life decisions and enjoyment of my family.
I don’t remember much of my childhood. I do remember some good things. The bad things I remember far outweigh the good things. I still have flashbacks of what happened to me in childhood. I have learned to live with them.
I responded to your note because I wanted you to know the depths of my pain and how it changed me. I have tried to say what happened to me as gently as possible. I wondered what I could what I could have accomplished without such a traumatic childhood.
This letter is not intended to hurt you. I have always loved you.
Concluding Remarks- Dr. Kane
Following Bobbi’s horrendous experiences in childhood and adolescence, she went on to engineering school, has been married for 35 years and has co-parented three children who are successful in their careers as a lawyer, a physician and a career military officer.
So what is the problem? The problem is unwillingness of the African-American community, in this case, symbolized by Bobbi’s mother, to move from looking good (imagery) to examining the substance that lies under the imagery of success. We are taught by our elders to hold on to “family secrets” regardless of the psychological and emotional costs.
Yes, Bobbi looks good, but she has spent the last forty years of her life in psychological and emotional hell holding on to her shame, blame, and guilt. She has lived in fear all of her life that her “secret” could be discovered, simply by looking at her. The fear she has associated with sex as a result of the abuse has also had an impact on her marriage as she felt that any man could be a possible abuser.
It was only after her children reached adulthood that she could psychologically let go. However the age of maturity for her childhood proved to be her downfall. In using her resources to protect her children from external abuse, she had been able hold back the flood of emotions regarding her sexual assaults, abandonment and self-loathing. Now with the children gone, she no longer had the psychological resources to hold back the torrents of suffering.
Bobbi is one of the few fortunate ones to be able to hold on emotionally, and in doing so, move forward psychologically. She is reclaiming her life. She understands that the flashbacks and traumatic memories from the complex trauma she suffered will never go away. However, she can empower herself and learn to balance these memories so she can set the direction in her life.
In closing, we are often taught that we must forgive our transgressors. I strongly disagree. Forgiveness is a gift and not an obligation. It is time for us to reclaim our children. There are many of us who may look normal and yet suffer in silence. Those who are traumatically psychologically wounded and do not seek treatment and support will often create havoc in their intimate relationships and relationships with their children.
We here at Loving Me More encourage anyone who has been impacted by psychological trauma, sexual assault, domestic violence or emotional abuse to find and respond to the voice that lies within the psychological self and seek assistance. Stop the bleeding, heal the wound and empower the self to live a more enhanced and emotionally satisfying life.
“The psychological self is of substance. It can and will advocate, seeking balance and calmness in a hostile world. The physical body will hold onto the traumas, abuses and the violence, while the intellectual mind struggles through imagery i.e. looking good in order to forget”
–Dr. Micheal Kane
Until next time….the journey continues.