This is a guest submission by Sara, who writes at Flying While Falling Down.
Trigger Warnings: Rape, CSA, multiple assaults, not being believed, gaslighting, Dissociative Identity Disorder, substance abuse mentions, drugs as a means to assault, prostitution, pregnancy and adoption, suicide attempt mention, invalidation, victim- blaming and shaming. This is a powerful, vivid personal narrative with detailed descriptions, so please take care with your triggers.
It Gets Better: Chasing the ‘Before’
The waiting room smells like paper and pomp. Wood and metal and glass. It reminds me of that courthouse so long ago. My grandparents sit on the opposite end of the room, their eyes flicking toward me and then back to the pages of the magazines they aren’t reading. I want them to hug me, I want us to leave, but the words get lost somewhere between the tightness in my spine and throat.
They brought me here to see if I’m crazy.
I wish I could say I’m not.
A balding man comes into the room and we all stand. He makes a beeline for my grandparents and I stare at his brown back. The suit matches the room, I think. I wonder what it would feel like to touch it. My hand twitches, but I don’t allow myself to reach out. That’s not something you can do, I remind myself. No touching people. If you touch people, it means they can touch you back.
The man and my grandparents are speaking in low voices. I hear the words, ‘claim’, ‘delusional’, and ‘abuse’. My eyes slide over to the wooden door frame a few inches away and my hand twitches again as the roaring of my heartbeat fills my head. Maybe I can touch that…
“Sara?” the man asks. I look at him and smile. He doesn’t smile back. His eyes are gray and guarded.
I follow him into another room, my grandparents flanking me like guards. There’s no escape, I think and I want to giggle, but it sounds hysterical even in my head.
“Let’s start with some pictures…” the man begins.
That day I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I was also told that I was a pathological liar and a sociopath after retelling the stories of my childhood abuse and saying that I didn’t feel romantically or sexually stimulated by anyone and didn’t ever want to be.
The man, I never could remember his name, informed me that it was very unlikely that I’d be able to adapt to outside life and recommended an institution to my grandparents, who smiled and nodded and mentally counted the amount of money they’d be able to get if their temporary guardianship didn’t end after high school.
It was a terrible time and everything about me hurt so badly that I wanted to drown the world in my rage and fear and pain. The next few years were spent trying to escape that feeling in whatever way possible. I did drugs, I drank, I either quit or got fired from any job I had. I got into fights, I couldn’t talk to people and my heart raced so badly when I had any bit of conflict that I would shake for hours.
For my grandparents, this behavior had an easy diagnosis. They claimed that it was because of being molested and raped by someone close to me as a child. If I just got over that, they reasoned, I would be alright. Not, they would add, that I wasn’t to blame for that happening to me—if it had even happened.
Probably the worst part of it was how my grandparents urged me to go back to who I was ‘before’. For me, there was no before. I didn’t realize it then, but for many of the victims of repeated childhood sexual abuse, there is no ‘before’. You know the one.
Before the abuse. Before the pain. Before the brokenness.
I’ve always been broken, I think as I take a hit from the weed pipe, These people are broken too, so they’re just like me. I’m safe here. I pass the pipe to the person to my left. I don’t know their name. I don’t know any of the people I’m with.
Outside, my boyfriend is talking to another man. I don’t realize that they’re talking about me. I don’t know that the man is offering my boyfriend $500 dollars and a full meth pipe for some ‘Grade-A 18-year-old ass’.
Inside, I take another hit and laugh, trying to make the pain stop and wondering why the room is spinning after just one beer.
That boyfriend abandoned me in a city after getting arrested and I was homeless. I stayed with an ex-escort- now-golf-ball-retriever, and we scraped up enough money to eat a McDouble a day and rent a hotel room. We were lucky, compared to other homeless people. But, when I got a call from an old friend, offering to pick me up, I didn’t think twice.
K stares at me. “I have a bad feeling about this,” she says.
“Well, I already said I would and he seems pretty chill,” I argue, “We’re just going to watch some movies and smoke some weed.”
K sniffs and looks away, “Don’t blame me if something happens!” she declares.
I walk out the door with a smile. I’m not homeless anymore, I think, that kind of thing doesn’t happen here.
But it did. Worse, when I tried to talk about it, no one believed me. They accused me of making it up, of trying to blame the man for my own actions, of being a horrible person and a slut who couldn’t admit she was a slut. I told them about how I couldn’t move and couldn’t speak and couldn’t fight, but they always went back to the fact that I’d gone there of my own free will. Movies and marijuana, they sneered, sure! You went there because he was gorgeous and you were easy. The shame and anger and fear kept piling up. It got worse when I found out I was pregnant.
That was when that terrible turned into a nightmare.
I had my son and put him up for adoption. I tried to kill myself because I couldn’t understand how these things could happen and I didn’t know of another way to stop the pain. All my friends left me to my grief and many said that I had either lost my mind or was just trying to be another attention whore. I thought I was so broken that I couldn’t be fixed.
By then, I’d been raped by three different people and molested by 4 more, with several others having made attempts to rape me, but failing.
Now, when I think about who I was ‘before’, I realize that it wasn’t as clear-cut as my grandparents and the psychologist made it out to be. ‘Before’ indicates that an event is past and it very clearly wasn’t for me back then. In trying to forget and ignore what happened, I put myself into more danger and the cycle of abuse kept happening. I blamed myself and thought I was a terrible human being because I couldn’t ‘move on’ and capture the ‘before’ that my grandparents so dearly wanted me to go back to.
Now, I realize that the ‘before’ they referred to was their own—namely, before they knew about the abuse.
Today, I have a different ‘before’. It’s the times I’ve described above.
Before I decided to live for me. Before I forgave myself. Before I realized that my life is valid, no matter what.
I know that we all hear about how ‘it gets better’, and I’m not going to pretend that that’s always true. Without a conscious effort, it certainly wouldn’t have been true for me. But, I will say that seeking who you are now instead of who you were before the abuse is the only thing I found that helps ease the pain.
Finding out who you are is a slow business and loving yourself might take a lot of time and it might be hard, especially for an ace survivor, but it’s nothing compared to what happens when you live like you’re broken.
And, believe me when I say that you will eventually love yourself. It’ll take time but after a while you’ll look around and be able to smile a real smile. You’ll be able to imagine a future that isn’t full of pain. And then, one day, you’ll even be able to look into a mirror and like what you see.
The first time that happened to me, I cried. And I haven’t considered myself broken ever since.