Last week, one of my therapists gave me Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. I read through it rather quickly, as it’s a small book. Parts of it were difficult for me. The hardest part was on page 38:
“When children are abused, their ability to say no is severely damaged. So even if the abuse continued into adulthood, you are still not to blame. There is no magic age when you suddenly become responsible for your own abuse.”
I struggled with this most of my adult life. I still struggle with it to this day. My mother remained physically and emotionally abusive until the day I left home. But that didn’t bother me as much as living with the fact that she sexually abused me until I was 28 years old. And I let it happen. Every single time, I let it happen.
The sexual abuse wasn’t consistent. It stopped being consistent when I turned 14/15. But every time I got sick, which unfortunately for me was quite frequently, it was like she preyed on that, and I became like a child too weak to say no.
“You can’t bathe yourself, I’ll do it.”
I didn’t fight back. She’d undress me and make me stand in the shower as she washed me down. Then she’d lead me into the bedroom and dry every last part of me. Then she’d dress me. I couldn’t go to the bathroom myself.
“I have to watch you. Keep the door open.”
And she would sit right beside me. I didn’t fight back. Why didn’t I fight back? My arms weren’t broken. My legs weren’t broken. I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But I couldn’t say no. Here I was, a mentally competent adult in my 20s, letting someone take advantage of me. How can I expect anyone to feel sorry for me when I chose not to stop this woman from continuing to abuse me? I made the choice to let her. I had a choice. I could have said no. I could have stopped her. I could have left. But I didn’t. All of those times it happened, and I didn’t.
My own bad feelings about the situation were magnified when someone who I thought was a friend blew up on me, and said I was a grown ass woman who could just leave, but that I was “scared of my mommy”. She then continued to call me derogatory names for not leaving, and that I just kept letting it happen and so it was my fault. It was one of the worst verbal attacks I have ever experienced in my life, made even worse by the fact that it occurred on a public forum. I was ashamed. I was already feeling like so much of this was my fault, and she only confirmed by beliefs. I was acting strong on the outside, but on the inside, I was breaking apart. What kind of person lets their mother abuse them? She’s right. I must have issues. Something must be wrong with me.
Except not. Why are we victim-blaming? The person responsible in this situation is my mother. Not me. When she abused me all of those times in adulthood, I was not an adult. I was a scared child, afraid to go against her mother for fear of being hurt or killed. Same situation, just a different age. How should I have expected my response to be any different? For so long, I’ve blamed myself for letting the abuse happen. I blamed myself for what happened in childhood, but I especially blamed myself for what happened when I was an adult. As if a magical cloud of knowledge and responsibility appeared before me on my 18th birthday and gave me everything I needed to know any better.
I should have known better. But I couldn’t have. I never had the opportunity to learn what was normal.