“Trauma is like peeling an onion“
Recovering from child sexual abuse doesn’t happen in a methodic gradual process. They say, the healing process is really more like peeling an onion.
Trauma forces a victim to disconnect. Disconnect from mind, body, heart and soul. The brain may take a traumatic memory and hide them, until the victim is properly equipped with the tools to survive while remembering them. This is the brain’s survival mechanism. The brain does this to protect. To survive.
Abuse adds a new layer of negative beliefs, fear, shame, etc. With every touch of the abuse the victim will disconnect from reality and move farther away from their truest self. Every action of abuse adds a new layer of self loathing, stress, and toxic beliefs.
In my daughter’s case, we were almost year out of her trauma. We believed she told us what happened to her, in it’s entirety, but there was more. Just like the onion, my daughter had more layers to peel through. With every layer she peeled through, it was healing. She grew with each detail she shared with me. At the same time, with every new layer, her parents would be traumatized again with details of her abuse.
A few months after my daughter’s abuse, she developed a phobia of mushrooms and rattlesnakes. She had no issues with mushrooms in the past- unless they were in her food. She had never seen a snake in real life, outside of Petco. So, these were obvious illustrated interpretations of her trauma.
A few months after that, she would cry daily of being wet in her vagina. She changed her underwear constantly. Finally, she started wearing toilet paper and eventually women’s menstrual pads. She was embarrassed of this and it made her insecure in the bathroom and the pool. This was a daily reminder of what he did and said to her during her abuse.
Next, she would confide in me that her vagina feels like a fruit is stuck inside of it. “Like a banana” she would say. This was her physical interpretation of the sensation she felt during her abuse.
Almost a year and a half after her abuse, she would work through more layers.
Getting her into bed one night, she began to cry out that she was wet and she hated that Michael did this to her. This wasn’t unusual and would happen every other night. As I always did, I went on and explained how the female body works and that every woman’s body does this. “Not like this,” she said “I am just weird.” I had told her in the past that what Michael had done to her, was done to me. So, I told her that growing up I felt the same way. This time, she interrupted me and asked where I was hurt. I said, “my vagina, just like you.” She would go on to explain to me that Michael held her down with his hands and put something in the middle of her vagina and butt. She said it hurt her, but she was brave and didn’t cry. Just like that, my Daughter had just voiced to me that she was raped. Almost immediately after that talk, she stopped wearing pads and toilet paper entirely. When I asked her why, she proudly explained to me, “I just don’t need them anymore.” A few weeks after that, she would perform her first ever solo at a friends birthday party. The girl, who just weeks ago, couldn’t do a class presentation in more than a whisper was singing proudly in front of an audience. The song was “A Million Dreams” from the Greatest Showman movie. I felt every word of that song in my soul. Her Dad and I cried watching this beautiful moment. Our girl was literally healing in front of our eyes. When she finished singing, she ran right into her Dad’s arms and consoled him. Like she knew, he needed her.
A month or so later, during a meltdown one day, we were in the car and she told me she hated me. Once she calmed down, she confessed that she was lying and doesn’t hate me. By now, she was able to articulate that she had anger inside of her that couldn’t control. We made a promise to each other, that she would never lie and I would always believe her. Then, she said she lied about Michael. My mind raced at what she could have lied about. Just like with every other layer, I braced for the pain I knew was coming. She would go on to say that Michael was also “mean to her” at a party that her Grandma took her to. This was before the event I knew about, so I asked her how he was mean to her. She responded that he hurt her there too. I probed a bit more and she confirmed, the abuse started before I knew.
A year and a half after her abuse was brought to light she was just starting to open up to me about the details. I felt like a total failure. I let her down. I felt like I didn’t actually know my daughter as well as I thought. My mind went over all of the possible feelings she had to struggle with alone. My sweet girl with her secret. I worried about the future and what else would undoubtedly be shared, as she healed. What secrets was she internalizing right now? How could I help without probing before she was ready? It gives me a better understanding of the fight and internal strength of my girl. It gives me patience as her mother and as a human for anyone dealing with their own trauma. It really does take time to process and heal. YOUR TIME TO PROCESS AND HEAL. Every single person is different. It took me 30 years and my girl has taken almost 2 years to really start peeling the intricate details of her story.
To any survivors, victims, and loved ones of survivors or victims; know that no timeline is wrong. Its not too fast or too slow. Please remember that your best, is always enough. Try to find beauty and strength in the breaking. Try to remember that everything can be healed with love and patience and never underestimate what you can overcome.
Don’t judge yourself by what others did to you.C. Kennedy, Ómorphi