June 2020 – everything was shut down, my husband started working from home & luckily I already homeschooled my kids so it wasn’t a difficult or stressful transition for us at all but one day I just randomly had a major panic attack – literally nothing notable about the day, no particular trigger…just, suddenly felt out of control fear and could not manage to calm myself down. I continued to feel “off” and anxious and panicky, I had insomnia and insane night sweats (literally soaked in sweat), I would start puking every morning around 3am & felt so nauseous and on edge that I couldn’t eat…for weeks on end, I literally lost 30lbs in less than a month. I felt absolutely crazy! And finally decided it must be something hormonal going on, because in my head, I felt fine – it felt like my body was just out of control – so I went to the doctor and tried to convince them to run some tests, but the guy I saw was SO patient and SO kind, he told me that he’d be happy to run any tests but that I seemed perfectly healthy and he had no reason to think anything was physically wrong – it sounded like I just had really bad anxiety; I tried to argue with him and explain that I FELT fine, that I didn’t feel worried or stressed, that it was my f*cking BODY…and he just looked me in the eye and very calmly asked if I would consider going to therapy, because sometimes things just come up from our past and if there was anything I maybe hadn’t dealt with in my past, it just, it might help to go to therapy. And I was so desperate at that point that I was willing to try anything. So I tried some online therapists first because, covid, and within a few sessions we realized that my body was overreacting to the uncertainty of everything going on in the world and the perceived dangers etc, because in a way, it mirrored the feelings of uncertainty and feeling unsafe within an abusive situation in my past (long story – accepted a ride home from a stranger, he pulled a knife on me and raped me & then continued to show up at my house/stalk me at work etc) even if I wasn’t “consciously” feeling overwhelmed, my body was noting the similarities and reacting; and just like that, just by recognizing/understanding what was happening, the severe symptoms dissipated… but, once we got that settled, it felt like the therapist I was with couldn’t really help me any further and since I’d taken the step to be in therapy I figured, what the hell, may as well just go all in and deal with all my shit once and for all; but this guy just wanted to focus on the “here and now” – and I had explained, many times over, that my “here and now” life is fine…I have a good husband, who has a stable job, we live in a good neighborhood, I am a good mom, I am a good friend/a good person overall, & aside from that month of uncontrollable panic, I am a high functioning, perfectionistic, overachiever. Like I KNOW anyone can look at my life and see, I am “fine” – no one would guess the bullshit that goes on in my head…but that’s exactly the point, I am SO over the constant tug of war in my mind/body/emotions. At the point he literally told me the past basically just doesn’t matter, I quit.
So that’s when I started looking into an EMDR therapist at the suggestion of my best friend. And I will say I absolutely love my current therapist, he “gets” me and has been so patient with me. But I have definitely struggled to make progress, because I just find it all so hard!
When I was around 10 I started developing anorexia for no apparent reason; I was already skinny, I was honestly a good kid – a teacher’s pet, very smart, and maybe not in the “MOST popular” click but I was decently high in the pecking order of elementary school, had a good home, a relatively normal childhood in a stereotypical middle class family…my parents never acknowledged my eating disorder though, despite being approached by my teachers literally every year, they denied I had a problem and made excuses for my weight/lack of food intake. I was obviously “fine”.
By 12 I started cutting myself (again, my parents were told multiple times over the years, but they never took it seriously or did anything about it, any time it came up they denied it was a real problem) and again, I couldn’t really tell you WHY I felt the need to hurt myself, I just, did; it was progressively worse and worse as the years went on and while I never attempted suicide I did struggle with suicidal ideation & my high school did require me to go see a counselor a few times and even required a psych evaluation at the hospital twice during high school – and I was put on several different anti-psychotics (that I never actually took) – but aside from those incidents, no one actually followed through or invested in trying to help me. So it was never clear to me, did I need help? Or was I fine? Or, did I just not deserve help? Was it my fault, was I just impossible to help?
When I was 15, I remembered being molested (around age 8-10, still unclear exactly) – it was weird, to have a memory like that just pop up out of nowhere…and especially weird to me, at the time (being obviously uneducated on trauma at that age) that I could have possibly “forgotten” something like that. It was really hard for me to accept, because when I remembered, it didn’t even feel “shocking” at all – it didn’t really feel, like anything; I had no real reaction to it…so my first instinct was to think that it wasn’t true, I was making it up, or, misremembering /overreacting (because, this is the “natural” response I’d been taught, right, nothing that I go through is an actual problem/big deal) – especially since I only had fragments of memories, not a “whole story”… I couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, or how many times, or like I said, even how old I was in the memories & I had no way to “prove” any of it because I had never told any one. In trying to remember more, I also realized that age 8 is just, creepily missing from my memory – even though based on what I remember wearing in some of the memories, the molestation I do “remember” was closer to 10…& I also had “sexual” memories prior to age 8 – not memories of actual abuse but memories of having intrusive sexual thoughts/images etc that don’t make sense if I hadn’t been exposed to anything sexual yet; so the whole timeline just seemed sketchy and unclear and I had no one to help me try to make sense of it, so, I just never did; I did start doing some research at that point though, reading books on eating disorders and self harm & found that both tend to be linked with sexual abuse, so that did at least give a possible explanation to those behaviors and some insight into why I felt the way I did about myself…but, without support I was just never able to work through any of it on my own and just continued to struggle with body image and self destruction. (I’ve had other thoughts/feelings more recently about what else might have happened during that whole year of blank memory, that would fill in the timeline and make sense, but again, I don’t have ACTUAL memories of further abuse and when I try to access memories regarding those people, I get blocked…though I’m now wondering if it’s partially my fault, because I’m so doubtful of even believing the memories I do have, maybe it keeps me from being able to find the rest?)
I graduated at 17, moved 3 states away from my parents and thought that it would be a perfect “new beginning” and I would magically snap out of all that mess …but no part of figuring out how to be an adult, alone, is easy – much less with all that baggage…& I so wish this had been the point that I could have known that I deserved help and needed therapy. Because shortly after I turned 18 I received a phone call & to this day I still can’t explain why I answered, it was from a number that I didn’t recognize, and I have never been one to like talking on the phone, even to people I do know – so it’s just mind blowing that I even happened to answer – and it was the guy that I had remembered molesting me, calling me to “apologize” and ask my forgiveness. Had I been in therapy already, perhaps I would have been stronger and better equipped to handle it, but as it were, all I could do was forgive him and hang up. And then I spiraled, because, somehow his apology just made me feel worse – he didn’t even really admit to anything, his exact words were “I’m sorry for what happened” & there was so much I could have said and asked, that I just, wasn’t strong enough to do – I mean, it’s highly unlikely he would have answered me/repeated the details to me when he hadn’t even really admitted to WHAT “happened” to begin with, but, I still hate knowing I was too weak to even ask/say anything.
I went from having no interest in boys to being promiscuous, involved in unhealthy relationships ,and just engaging in risky behavior in general – repeatedly finding myself in bad situations (in which no, no one deserves to be treated abused, I’m not trying to vicim blame myself, but I do have to take some responsibility in that I could have avoided many of the situations by making better choices – I was willingly putting myself in vulnerable positions because of my trauma/feelings of unworth) while simultaneously acting like nothing was wrong – I held down a full time job and put myself through college and paid my bills…I literally just continued to live like that, fine on the outside, dying on the inside…thinking it was normal.
Then I met my husband and got pregnant and I again thought that it was my chance at a new beginning, to leave the mess behind & admittedly, having a baby was enough to find some semblance of health – I was forced to have a better relationship with my body and food and I quit drinking and engaging in self harm, and that was enough for awhile…I found my worth/identity in being a mom and a wife, but, this shit just creeps back up on you, as my kids have grown and it’s gotten harder to confidently navigate parenting them (babies are easy in comparison; they cry, you hold them/feed them/or change them…an 8 year old though, sometimes I just don’t know wtf to do with her?! and it seems as if nothing I do is ever right/enough anyway)…I’ve just been getting more and more defeated and reverting to those old voices in my head arguing over my worth.
And I really just want answers, I want to be able to look back and feel justified in saying no, actually none of this was fine! THIS is what happened to me, THIS is what I had to deal with and overcome…I want to be strong enough to feel safe talking about it. because as is, it’s still that constant battle of wondering where the “truth” is – even as a grown f*cking adult, I STILL cannot look someone in the eye and admit, out loud, something like “I had an eating disorder” — because, no one ever took it seriously, so, I must be exaggerating, I didn’t have a REAL problem…Even knowing it’s true, experiencing the depths of anorexia, it FEELS like I’m making it up because that’s what was projected onto me all my life. That I was fine.
So if I can’t even confidently discuss that topic, you can imagine how impossible it is for me to discuss anything to do with the childhood sexual abuse, without firm memories. Because I’m so so afraid of being a “liar”.