This entire blog post is going to focus on childhood sexual abuse. Please read with caution, especially if you are a fellow survivor
When Bea wrote One thing to remember–sex gets very complicated because there can be arousal and good sexual feelings associated with horrible things. Bodies react and that can be very shaming and confusing for people. My world flipped upside down. Time stopped. I felt like I had been transported back in time. Bea was relating sexual arousal with horrible things. In my mind, I was interpreting the horrible things as forced sexual acts. If that was truly what she meant, then that meant she might know my “worst secret”. She might know that my parents’ best friends’ son, had touched me when I was little. She might know that sometimes I had liked it.
I felt sick. I felt dizzy. Everything was hazy, and I could not think straight. My chest had that weird tight, sharp,cold feeling. I felt like going for a run, except I don’t run anymore. I wrote Bea an email, I asked her the question that changed everything:
Hypothetically, let’s say there are two families. Neighbors, good friends, they spend a lot of time together. Vacations, weekends, day trips. The neighbors have a son who is almost in college. And he babysits for the other family. He plays secret games with the girl, and it’s confusing and weird but doesn’t hurt and sometimes feels good and the girl likes that he does special things with her and it’s not scary to be around him or to play his games. What would you consider this scenario? Or call it?
And her response sent me falling down the rabbit hole.
“I would call it sexual abuse. Any time there is a child involved–or two children with a power difference (a few years in age, for example)–it is a sexual abuse situation. The younger child is in no position to have chosen to engage in this, even if it doesn’t feel scary or coerced. It’s confusing and can lead to lots of negative aftereffects–shame, guilt, self-hatred, etc. For that young girl, this situation would definitely be one of sexual abuse.”
My immediate response was to freak out. I emailed Bea, demanding she take back what she said. I told her she HAD to be wrong. I NEEDED her to be wrong. I had held this secret in for 24 years. I had always thought because I sometimes liked it, because I thought he was my friend, because he was supposed to take care of me, because I didn’t remember being afraid, because I used to look for him, because I used to be happy when he was going to babysit, because I never questioned him, because I never said no, because I always went along with whatever he said, nothing bad had really happened. Now my shrink wanted to call it sexual abuse, and my world was falling apart. Now, somewhere deep in my mind, I knew something wasn’t right with the situation that happened when I was a child, but I was really confused about it. I held a lot of blame and shame from it; but mostly, I tried to block out any memories or thoughts from that time.
Bea stood her ground, kindly but firmly. She refused to take back what she had said, and she refused to say she was wrong. She assured me that each adjustment of my old reality to my new reality would get easier, and that the newness of this would wear off.
In the meantime, I was down the rabbit hole.