All the places I have tried to tell

When I think about telling the story of my childhood sexual abuse, I think of all the places I have tried to tell as an adult, let alone trying to tell as a child.

I think of the different offices I have sat in telling parts of my story. Sometimes devastated in tears. Other times numb and dissociated: psychiatrists’ offices, doctor’s offices, counselling and therapy offices. Speaking to social workers. Speaking to lawyers and barristers and clinical psychologists. I told bits and pieces to helplines. Other bits of my stories I told in support groups and writing on online forums, some of them long disappeared now.

Where did my story go when I told it in all these different places? Was it met with compassion and care? Some of the hurtful things people said stick in my mind. I remember one police officer told me off for “drip feeding” information, but I was only able to tell a little bit at a time due to my fear.

When I told the police, I was so fearful of repercussions. At that point I was still coming to terms with the reality of what had happened to me, myself. I was very afraid of threats from the abusers. They did try every trick in the book to silence me, from trying to have me put away in a mental health institution, to a fake ‘Missing Person’ campaign, to contacting my friends and even my doctor to pass on veiled threats, and threatening legal action. I would still have a level of fear about telling my whole story because of the seriousness of the crimes involved and the people and organizations involved.

Some of the barriers to telling were psychological. Dissociation, meaning I have fragmentary memories of what happened to me, but it doesn’t make up a coherent narrative. I understand that I was given drugs, and blindfolded, at times during the abuse, so what I experienced or saw can be confused because of that as well. Also, I was only a child - easily confused. Other emotions stopped me telling parts of my story too – overwhelming guilt that was put on me as a child, shame, even anger sometimes.

Over the years, I think I have learnt that the main person who needs to hear my story is me. Despite telling in all those places, the only person who can really hear the full extent of what happened to me is me. I am the person who needs to carry my story and live with it. I am the person who has to accept what happened to me and mourn. And heal.

For years, I was unable to do this. I was too afraid of going back into those memories, petrified at times. I saw denial of what had happened in my family and sometimes outside, and it made me question the sanity of listening to what I knew inside. So, I needed others who listened too, who really allowed me to believe that my story mattered, who tried to help me make sense of my life after severe sexual abuse. A compassionate counsellor who thought I was the expert on my life, not her – and friends.

As someone with severe dissociation, something I was told by a psychologist helped me make peace with the frustration of not being able to put all my memories into a coherent narrative. She said I may never recover all my memories of the abuse. That took the pressure off me trying to remember details (dates, places, etc.) when years have passed and lots of factors mean it is very hard to remember such details. I can tell people now how I was sexually abused throughout my childhood, even though there is still some confusion and the details are incomplete.