On abuse and recovery

I was abused.

That’s really difficult for me to admit. It’s so aggressive, so blunt, so smack-you-in-the-face. I want to soften it, to minimize the impact. I want to rewrite it, maybe “I was an abuse victim”, oh, but the word ‘victim’ is so loaded today, maybe “I was in an abusive situation”. By the time I open my mouth or hit “post”,  it reads “I had a rough childhood”. In person, I then add a self-deprecatory little laugh, like, “oh, let us reminisce on our youthful folly.”

Why is it so hard to admit? I left the situation (and my home, and everything I’d known in person) at 18 and never really came back. For the next few years, my recovery was really rough. I couldn’t shake the idea that deep down, I really was defective, and it felt wrong to blame my abuser for pointing out how utterly pathetic and worthless I was. Even when I plastered a smile over it, I was sure I was lying to everyone, and if someone looked close enough, my putrid, rotten soul would be visible, and everyone would know I was a liar who pretended to be decent but was secretly awful.

But that’s the kind of thing abuse does to you. That’s not real. I’m not defective or broken, I was abused, and I internalized that abuse.

As I started to really recover, I remained hesitant to flat out say that abuse was involved. I’m not a professional, maybe my reading of the situation was wrong. Maybe it was just a bad situation. When is it abuse? What’s the threshold? Better to hedge my bets so I don’t come off as accusatory. Better to soften it, to deny the severity of the situation.

The other day, my abuser apologized for how she treated me. She admitted it was a bad situation, that she was in a terrible place in her life, and that she’s well aware of the devastating amount of damage she inflicted on me and wishes she could take it all back. In essence, she admitted to being my abuser, to abusing me. How can it be that she admits she abused me but I can’t admit I was abused?

Part of the problem is that I and my support network are handling this alone. I can’t bring myself to visit a therapist; the last time I tried, I had a huge panic attack, and then was told I needed to “grow up”. When I enter a therapist’s office, my subconscious remembers well the lessons I learned when I was in that horrible situation (see, the softening?). To visit a therapist is, to my mind, some horror-movie gamble, in which I risk my freedom, my life, and everything dear to me against my ability to lie. I found myself fighting to give correct answers to the most basic of questions, like “How old are you?” — the urge to lie and lie and never stop lying was overwhelming. Everything triggered my anxiety, from the bookshelves to the desk to the small potted plant every therapist seems to have. I was sure they were judging me, probing my story for weaknesses, for holes, for proof that I’m not actually an adult capable of handling my own life and instead a crazy person who needs to be locked up.

This might be because I was, at one point, told that I was incapable of handling my own affairs and needed to be locked up until I could be properly medicated. But you know. It might not be. Hard to tell.

I guess the point is that I’m not sure what to do now. I feel like a lot has changed since I last attempted to visit a therapist, and maybe I should try again. But maybe it’d set me back, like it did last time. Maybe I need to read more books; the last one I grabbed a sample of started talking about how you can learn to love yourself because God loves you and God will give you the strength you need and I just can’t get behind that. I need to build my recovery on the axiom that I’m strong enough to recover, not on the axiom that some external being is going to be the source of my strength, so that disillusionment won’t break me down entirely.

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2 Responses to On abuse and recovery

  1. Firedrake says:

    Utterly non-expert firedrake here, but: might it work better if you could get to know a potential therapist socially first, then use their professional services once you trusted them a bit?

    (Let’s also remember that most of the people telling you that therapy is the only answer are therapists. Fixing yourself is obviously harder for some people than others, but it’s not utterly impossible for everyone.)

    A lot of what a good therapist, or parish priest, or other figure of that sort will do is simply to listen, without judging, and encourage you to work through the consequences of what you’ve said. If this, then that.

    I knew someone who was spending a huge amount on therapists because she couldn’t bring herself to love her mother, until she mentioned this to a non-therapist friend who replied “well, of course not, nobody could love your mother”.

    You’re here. You’ve made it this far. That suggests you are not entirely terrible.

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