(This is an anonymous submission received in response to our contest #YouGotMyBack)
My partner and I have been in a relationship for the past seven years and are still going strong. This incident pertains to the time when we were in college. We were just taking baby steps toward cementing our relationship. I had never been in a relationship before, a conscious decision on my part, taken due to the traumatic experience of sexual abuse at a very tender age. Child abuse recovery had been a rocky road for me.
Since it had happened at a tender age and I knew the perpetrator, I was easily led to believe it was my fault. I was molested as a child, and how could a grown-up do something wrong? It had to be me. A combination of innocence, gullibility (now I would also say foolishness), and a conservative familial background led me to internalize this. It instilled in me a fear of anyone finding out “my” secret; this also led to a constant companion – shame.
I was little when it started so I could not fully comprehend what was happening. Consequently, I could not gather the courage to put an end to it. It was after many years, after understanding what was happening (and why) that I could stop it. Although it ended, the constant shame and guilt also led to a lot of anger and hurt, as no matter how hard it tried, I could not undo or forget it. Overcoming childhood abuse is a lot like taking one step forward, and three steps back.
As a result, I grew up with distorted notions of self, care, respect and intimacy (emotional and physical both), due to which I did not feel comfortable being in a relationship with anyone.
Healing From Childhood Abuse
However, with my partner, the resolve to not be in a relationship faltered; I decided to explore how it would be if I let my guard down. I probably did it because we had been friends for a long time, and I felt safe around him – a new feeling for me.
There was one dilemma that I faced at the beginning of the relationship. My past was something that I had never shared with anyone and had tried to repress and forget. The heavy bag of feelings (guilt, shame, hurt, anger, to name a few) associated with the past was something that prevented me from sharing this aspect of my life with him.
There was also the fear of the relationship coming to an end before it could even start properly. We were very young, and I was skeptical about whether he’d be able to handle the enormity of the news well. What would he even say when I told him I was molested as a child?
Related Reading: The Trauma Of Sexual Abuse Brings A Lifetime of Intimacy Issues
Honesty in relationships when you are coping with sexual abuse
I knew that honesty was non-negotiable for my partner, and he had expressed many times that he would appreciate it if we could be truthful with each other. Also, I thought it was unfair if I did not let him know this part of me. He had told me everything about his past and had shown me his vulnerable side.
I had never spoken about the abuse out loud and I was also afraid of how saying it out loud would impact me. So, after a lot of going back and forth and mulling over stuff, I realized that if it was me who was in his place, I would have liked to know. I finally decided to tell him, because I respected him far too much to hide it anymore.
Overcoming childhood abuse is a long journey, but I wanted to undertake it for our potential relationship. I knew I had to come clean for his sake, and the sake of my child abuse recovery.
It was a few days after the official beginning of our relationship. I knew that if I had to tell the truth, it had to be done at the earliest. The other person should have the liberty of deciding whether he wants to go ahead in the relationship or not. I did not want to tie him down with my emotional baggage.
Libraries had always been my place since childhood and they were where I felt most comfortable. So I took him to our college library. Surviving childhood abuse was hard enough without involving others in the emotionally draining experience.
So, it was in the library that I mustered up the courage and told him the truth. It was just a one-line about me coping with sexual abuse. I expected him to back off as this was a lot to take and deal with. His face was blank for a while, and without saying anything he asked me to come with him.
Recalibrating the experience: Child abuse recovery
We went to this terrace-like place in our college, which overlooked the lawns and the skyline in the distance. Both of us stood there for some time, without saying anything, looking at the sun setting in the distance.
When he turned toward me, I was taken aback to see his eyes brimming with tears. His first words were “How have you managed to be so….good? How can anyone do something so horrible to such a wonderful person?” I was stunned, to say the least, as all my life I had wanted to be “good” but believed I could never be. The most important part of child abuse recovery is getting over the belief that you are ‘tainted’ in some way. I realized this through him.
Related Reading: Child Abuse By Parents? Here Is What You Need To Do
I had believed that he would be disappointed that he was with someone with such a past. On the contrary, he was sad and enraged at my suffering. I had never imagined that someone could care (or that I was worthy enough to be cared for) this much for me.
After telling him the truth, I felt light for the first time. Saying those words aloud made me feel like it was out in the open, outside of me. We talked about it some more (him more than me) and his understanding of the experience and my feelings overwhelmed me. He gave me a new perspective on recovering from child abuse.
The first step toward healing from child abuse
My past had left my confidence shaken and had made me see myself as unworthy. Somehow I felt responsible too (as we women are conditioned to believe). I had internalized all these misconceptions and gotten insecure till my partner helped me to understand the truth about child abuse recovery.
Not once did he say or express anything which meant that I was someone who had done something wrong, but explained that something wrong had been “done” to me. I was molested as a child, but I had done nothing to deserve it. No one could ever do anything to deserve it.
He kept explaining this to me in various ways (without overwhelming me) and kept at it till it finally got ingrained in me. He showed me the good parts of myself – which I had not noticed before, and how it made me a beautiful person. Slowly and gradually, he helped me understand myself and my past in a better manner. This also helped me to regain my forgotten confidence.
All the while, it seemed like it involved no effort on his part. I still cannot figure out where he got his and resolve from. We, and especially I, had not imagined we would come this far; but it has been 7 warm and happy years and till this day, I cannot thank him enough. He has been integral in my path of recovering from child abuse.
Our childhood experiences play a major role in shaping us; an abusive childhood can create several mental health issues in the long run. Our attachment styles, approach towards relationships, and behavior with our partner get affected. This is why child abuse recovery is paramount.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used for survivors of childhood trauma. It is focused on recovering from abuse. There is no one-size-fits-all and the therapist is the best judge of which course will work for you.