1. What happens if I have no memory of the abuse but fit most of the characteristics of child sexual abuse?
It is common for those sexually abused as children to have no or limited memory of their abuse. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Sometimes memory loss is your body’s way of protecting itself. Often the memory may appear as a dream/nightmare or as flashbacks. If you fit most of the characteristics of CSA there is little doubt as to what happened. For every action there is a reaction. People who were never abused as children do not have behavior patterns that are unhealthy. There is a reason why these characteristics are there. As you move through a program of recovery you may regain some or all of the memories.
2. Is playing doctor at a young age with my siblings and neighbor friends child sexual abuse?
Playing doctor with friends or family at a young age is part of the exploratory growing up choices we make. We are curious about others’ bodies. That is natural. It is when we are forced by someone to do something with our body or to their body that we don’t want to do that it becomes abuse. The key word here is “forced”. It means against our will. Anyone in a position of power who coerces a person of lesser power into any sort of boundary violation dealing with their sexuality, either emotionally, mentally or physically is an incest perpetrator. The signs that indicate incest or other sexual abuse as the origin of our problems are like the warning signs of cancer. They illustrate deeper problems.
3. What if I am still living with my perpetrator and afraid to leave?
If you are still living with your perpetrator and are afraid to leave you have options. If you are addicted to your perpetrator you need to join Codependents Anonymous, a 12 step program that will eventually give you the courage you need to leave. You may or may not be ready yet. Check to see if there is a Women’s Shelter or a Sexual Assault Center near you. They may have group meetings that will arm you with courage. Begin working the REPAIR program to train yourself ways to begin making healthy choices. You ALWAYS retain the right to choose for yourself what to do with your body. If your husband is raping you that is against the law. You can get a restraining order against him. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-4673. Do not be afraid to call them if you need help.
4. My perpetrator told me it was my fault. How do I deal with that?
Perpetrators always attempt in any way they can to make the victim feel as if they are the perpetrator. It gives them a strong weapon. Read #3 of these instructions and begin taking care of yourself by fighting back.
5. How do I handle flashbacks and how do I know if they are real?
Flashbacks can be terrifying especially when you don’t know the source. If you are already in a program for recovery start keeping track of them and see if there’s a pattern. Flashbacks are often your inner self trying to get a message to you. It’s like your inner child saying “Look at me! Look at me!”Don’t disregard them. Despite being painful they need to be dealt with. The primary flashbacks I had before getting into recovery was of me lying in a bed and a steamroller crushing me to death. This is a common flashback. In working my way through recovery I was able to realize that my father was the steamroller. Flashbacks can be simple or complex. Sometimes an odor, a light in the hallway, closed-in spaces or another human that flashes back to your Uncle Harry can be the source.
6. Friends and family tell me to get over it and put it behind me. I don’t want to but how do I answer them?
Friends and family that tell you to get over it when you are trying to work through recovery or even trying to make a decision to face your demons are not in your best interest. If you had a wound in your arm and it was not dealt with medically it would soon become infected. Would a friend tell you to go to the doctor or to lance your wound and put medication on it? Or would they tell you to get over it? If not taken care of gangrene might set in. Is that what your friends want for you? That is what will happen to you if you don’t enter a program of recovery. The “gangrene” of child sexual abuse is all of the characteristics listed under the Abuse Victim Profile on the Lamplighter Movement website.
7. I am too ashamed of my incest to join a 12 step group. The thought of telling my story to strangers makes me ill. How do I overcome that?
When you join a 12 step group you will find many who are telling the story of your life. At the beginning of my recovery, having been told by my abuser that I was the perpetrator I joined a domestic violence group in hopes of finding a way to not be abusive. I sat quietly, too ashamed to share any part of my story. As the women all shared their story I was dumbstruck. They were all married to my husband. It was the beginning of fighting back. No matter how shameful your story is, no matter what you have done, others in your support group have heard it before and may be living it now. No one will judge you. They are all in the same place and you telling your story may have a positive impact on them.
8. I still live at home and my family members tell me not to share my story with anyone but some of them are my perpetrators. How can I handle this?
It is vital, once you begin recovery, that you surround yourself with healthy people both family members and friends. Perpetrators always tell you that you must not share any part of your private life with anyone else. Your nuclear family may not want to dredge up old family stuff. Anyone who does not take your recovery seriously has no place in your inner circle. Eliminate those who might hinder your progress. It will be difficult but in time you will make new and healthy relationships. You will be surprised how many who touch your life will soon be touched by yours. Many of us enter recovery while living with an abuser. Find a support group in your area for battered women. Battered does not only apply to physical and sexual abuse. Battered women’s support groups and women’s shelter are familiar with the cycle of violence that begins with emotional threats, then swiftly leads to economic abuse, isolation, emotional abuse, patriarchal power plays and using the children as weapons. It is all about power and control.
9. My husband keeps telling me I am a perpetrator when I fight back against his rapes. He said he is my husband and as such is allowed to rape his wife.
It is against the law to rape your wife. If you are with a perpetrator who does this call the police and report him. Again, this is your body and you are the only one who has the right to decide what to do with it.
10. My children don’t believe that I experienced incest. They think I made it up and are embarrassed whenever I mention it. I don’t want to upset my children. What should I do?
You know the truth of what happened better than anyone. If your children think you made it up it might be better if you don’t share what you are going through with them. You might tell them that no one more than you wish that it weren’t true. You don’t need self-doubts now that you are finally on the road to recovery. Your children may in time come to realize that you were telling the truth all along.
11. I am trying to work a 12 step program but cannot get past the 4th step, “Make a fearless and moral inventory.” I am too ashamed to talk about what I have done sexually.
Making a fearless and moral inventory can be incredibly intimidating. When I was in recovery my moral inventory was so long that it covered several pages. I was too filled with shame to share it with anyone. Then my therapist suggested I start with making a list of things I liked about myself. That helped. But making a list of all the bad things that I had done revealed that all of my wrongs stemmed from those nightly rapes at the hands of my father. After that I had no problem with the fourth step. It was now easy to admit to God, to myself and to my therapist the exact nature of my wrongs. Following these three steps might help you to face the dreaded inventory.
12. How do I stop making so many unhealthy choices and why do I do it?
Unhealthy choices are normal for those who were sexually abused as a child. Your perpetrator acted out of a desire for power and control. You had no one to teach you how to make healthy choices so how were you supposed to know? Find a shirt that says, “What part of NO don’t you understand” and wear it frequently, especially around your abuser. Little by little it will empower you. Make sure that you are surrounded by family and friends who make healthy choices. Avoid those who don’t. Especially avoid those who do no applaud the journey you are on. Losing your freedom of choice is a bitter pill to swallow. You have been programmed by your perpetrator to not make healthy choices for yourself. As you move through a recovery program, especially REPAIR you will find yourself making healthier choices. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.