That unwanted sense of helplessness, shame and the old familiar gnawing in my stomach and heaviness in my chest have crept into my daily sense of being. This feeling is familiar to me, as it has come and gone, often morphing into mild depression, for as long as I can remember.
I do know where this feeling comes from. It is rooted in a traumatic event that happened to me in middle school. I have worked hard as an adult to understand this event in a non-judgemental way that leaves me more empowered then helpless and more often then not this is true. But it is also true that I slip into the belief that this event exists only in my past and does not impact who I am today. Inevitably I am caught off guard when I realize how often it shows up, how it shows up and what a profound impact it has had on my life. These past weeks have shown that I am not alone in this experience.
Over the past week my nervous system was at times totally shutting down and at other times lighting up. I was alternately feeling like I wanted to jump out of my own skin and then was as foggy and distracted. These types of sensations/feelings are not uncommon for someone who has experienced a traumatic event such as sexual violence. I say this from personal experience and as a sex and trauma therapist who has worked with many survivors.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, experience re-occurring gynecological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and sexual health problems. (CDC Report, 2017)
- Depression, anxiety and phobias
- Self harming behaviors
- Relational difficulties
- Low self esteem
Events surrounding the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the sexual assault allegations that have been brought forward against him have filled the news lately. The impact of of which has been heard loud and clear. For example after Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s courageous testimony last week the National Sexual Assault Hotline had the busiest day in its history, a 738% increase from its normal call volume (RAINN).
It is hard to avoid hearing or seeing what is happening and it was while watching coverage of this event that I had the realization that I was experiencing a reaction based on my own history with sexual violence. Like I said, I still get caught off guard. Much like others who have come out and told their stories, my own sense of distress was telling me that this was important for me to look at not only as a woman and a mother of a daughter but as a survivor of sexual violence who has never reported and who has rarely shared my experience.
- One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
- According to Justice Department statistics, nearly 20 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 have been victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault
- Only 13% of the sexual assault cases disclosed in the National Survey of Adolescents were reported to police, 6% to child protective services, 5% to school authorities, and 1.3% to other authorities. 86% of the sexual assaults went unreported. – Hoff, T., Greene, L. & Davis, J. (2003). National survey of adolescents: Sexual health knowledge, attitudes, and experiences.
- By the time students are done with (secondary) school, 81% have experienced some sort of sexual harassment. – (Gruber & Fineran, 2007)
Though it may have taken place a long time ago this type of trauma has a way of showing itself no matter how hard you try to ignore it, deny it, push it aside or distract from it. If your past keeps pushing its way into your present leaving you helpless and hopeless, telling your story to friends family, or in therapy could be an empowering way to lean into it and find your voice.