Childhood Sexual Abuse
"It left me with so many lingering questions."
The diagnosis of PTSD requires that a person has "...experienced, witnessed or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others." The traumatic event must provoke intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
Childhood sexual abuse is a perpetual, ongoing horror which leads to many years, if not a lifetime, of sleepless nights, flashbacks, nightmares, body memories and triggers that can send a survivor into a well of despair, physical pain, and unrelenting panic and terror.
Looking back on my childhood through the eyes of wisdom and years, I think the most heart wrenching part of it all is how invisible I felt as a child and how easy it was for my mind to so subtly transform pain into shame. How does a child even begin to process such adult emotions?
For my entire life, I've been on the run -- at first it was as a child, "running away" from the violent and daily physical abuse that took place behind closed doors in my home. From that moment onward, I kept everything inside of me, and around me, off in the distance. And thus began many years of escape that came in the form of a destructive alcohol and drug addiction.
After what feels like a lifetime of battling drug and alcohol addiction, and my own tenuous mental health issues, three years ago -- at the age of 47 -- I finally found the strength to tell my wife and adult son that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Like too many other survivors of childhood sexual violence who decide to go public with their disclosure, I have lost contact with my mother and my siblings as a result. If you really want to know how to destroy an already fragile soul, take away the one thing that a survivor of sexual violence needs most -- connection, which equates as validation and worthiness.
I want you to see the 'real' me -- a man who has been running his entire life, a man who has travelled so far, only to come back to himself. My name is Jean-Paul, and I am a survivor of sexual violence, but I am so much more than that. I am a husband. I am a father. I am a writer. I am an elite athlete. I am an advocate for survivors all around the world.
My experiences of childhood sexual abuse -- of incest -- had stolen many aspects of my life but most importantly, my identity as a Tamil woman. After I moved out, I was shunned not only from my immediate family members, but my uncles, aunts, cousins, distant relatives, family friends -- my Tamil community. It didn't matter to my 19-year-old self why you weren't there for me. The fact of the matter was that you weren't. I felt hurt and abandoned.
The truth is, I've never watched the Duggar family on TV. Still, with all the current media coverage, it's impossible not to be aware of the fact that the eldest son Josh has confessed to inappropriate sexual behaviour, as a teenager, toward four of his sisters and a babysitter. I work with victims of sexual abuse every day in my psychotherapy practice, so I feel I have some insight into the subject at hand. Instead of adding to the judgements in favour of or against the family, I thought that it would be a good idea to look for the learning opportunities here.
Simple childhood moments between siblings and friends of "You show me yours, I'll show you mine" were turned into interrogation sessions were my finger pointed at each child demanding, "Where did you learn that?" To this day, 10 years later, my kids will still remind me of those episodes with arched eyebrows, querying, "What was that all about anyway?"
I had never shared it. With anyone. Ever. Until May, 2013. As we sat in her sunroom, the heat warming my skin while my heart sunk with dread, I finally told another person about the man who had sexually abused me before I even knew how to write my ABCs. Blame cannot be placed on any one person or profession since society as a whole makes childhood sexual abuse a dirty little secret.
I recognized that I was like a mouse spinning on a wheel -- I was speeding through my day, but not really getting anywhere. I needed to cultivate the awareness to bring my attention back to what was most important. I thought I would share with you my strategies for slowing down the the runaway train that often is my life.