I couldn’t get away from him. I was just a little kid. He was a grown man, so much larger and stronger than me. He held me down, pinned me to the ground. Sometimes he tied me down. The things he would do to me could easily be considered as torture. I know that no sexual abuse can be considered “run of the mill” but this stuff wasn’t just touching my private places. It involved full force rape. A grown man raping a 5-year-old. He would penetrate me with other things too; sticks, toys, pencils, silverware, knives…basically whatever he could find to shove in there. I remember blood. Lots of blood coming out of my body. Lots of physical pain. After he was done, he’d leave me there, usually in the dark. I would curl up in a ball because the physical pain was so intense. I was scared, alone and in pain. I was little. My mind created a great escape plan to protect me. I would dissociate. I would leave my body. When I would leave my body, it felt like I had a special door on the top of my right shoulder that would open and I could float out of. I’d float to the ceiling, in the corner of the room and just watch, that way I didn’t have to feel it.
Our minds do amazing things to protect us in traumatic events. Some minds create alternate personalities to deal with situations. My mind just left. I was freed, leaving just an empty body for him to hurt. At the time of my abuse, this dissociation served me well. It was my safety. But now that I am trying to face my past, sometimes I don’t want to dissociate. I want to stay present with my body and my feelings. My dissociation became such a natural coping mechanism throughout my life that it happened automatically. I didn’t have to do anything or think anything to make myself leave my body. I just did. Now I try to fight to stay in my body. I’ve learned that my friends don’t want relationships with an empty person. I want to be an active participant in my life now. It’s not always pleasant to feel and remember, but it’s part of the process of my healing. It’s part of my journey and I now have the support I need in order to face my past and learn to live as a whole person again.
These are a few more collages that I made in 2007. Geez, that feels like forever ago. I hardly even remember what my life was like then because it honestly was pretty chaotic. I had so much going on with my eating disorder and my self harm, lack of good therapy, being severely over medicated by my psychiatrist…things were pretty crazy. I used making collages as a safer form of self expression. When I wanted to cut myself, instead I’d grab a stack of magazines and just cut out words and pictures that jumped out to me. When I felt like I didn’t have a voice, like I couldn’t speak out my feelings and thoughts, they would come out through my collages. I think that using collage as a therapeutic art form was truly the beginning of using art as a form of healing. Within the past few years, I’ve definitely branched out in my artwork. I’ve learned how to paint, draw, make ceramics, make jewelry, and many other art forms.
This drawing represents the inner struggle I sometimes have with sensuality and sexuality. Because I was taught so many conflicting things about sex, sexuality, my control of my own body and pleasing others, I really struggle with this area of my life. There have been times when intimate moments are wonderful and amazing, but there have also been moments where they are filled with guilt and shame. When I was being sexually abused, I knew that it was wrong. It felt wrong to me. I knew that sex was something that only grown ups should have. But I was forced into it. It wasn’t fun. It was extremely painful, often causing hours, sometimes even days of pain following the episodes of abuse. Because our bodies are made to respond to sexual stimulation, I didn’t understand why it felt good sometimes. I thought that meant I liked it and wanted it. These are still thoughts that get all tangled up in my mind sometimes and I’m still working on these issues in therapy.
“Danger lurks in the shadows”
I was never really safe when he was there. I tried to hide, but he knew where to find me, it was as if he was a blood hound, out to track my scent. My house was not a safe place. I couldn’t hide in my bedroom, the playroom, the bathroom… Not even my toys were safe. He used them to hurt me too. My parents had no idea he was hurting me. I was forced into silence. They just thought he was a good guy. I mean, he was a student at the local Christian college, so I guess they just assumed that he was a good person. But that was all a lie. He was evil. He was a liar and a pedophile.
Meet my friend, Dudley. Dudley is the brave security guard that protects my little girl from being hurt. Yes, that’s right…my little girl. Not my daughter, but the version of me that lives inside of me who was the little girl who was so terribly abused. She lives in almost constant fear, sadness, anger and is always alone. She is scared to let anyone in because people hurt her. But now she has Dudley to protect her. In my mind, I kind of envision Dudley as Aslan, from The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. He’s kind and gentle with the little girl, but he’s fierce when it comes to guarding and protecting her. She can snuggle with Dudley, lean her head on his chest and feel him breathe when she feels like she can’t breathe. He’s soft and fluffy, but has strong muscles beneath his fur and she knows his sharp teeth can rip any predator apart. His roar and growl will scare anyone away, yet his purr comforts her.
“Silence is golden….unless you need to be heard”
When I was younger and being sexually abused, I was forced into silence. I was threatened that if I told anyone about what he was doing to me, he would hurt me more or even hurt my family. I was terrified, so I stayed quiet. I needed to be heard, but wasn’t allowed to speak. I was forced to be voiceless. In my recovery, I’ve had to learn to use my voice. After decades of silence, it has been hard to learn to speak about what happened. I’ve also learned to speak up for myself, to speak up about how I feel and what I need from others. I’ve learned to confront life head on, rather than just run away from problems and cover my feelings up. Our voices are powerful tools in recovery. The more we speak up, the less power our past has over our lives!
Sometimes I feel like I just don’t have the right words to say about some things. I guess this is one of those kind of pieces of artwork. I just know I was feeling very angry and hurt the day I made this. The words on this collage speak for themselves.
“Just be a good girl and this won’t hurt” he said. He was a liar. It always hurt. It hurt so much that I would leave my body. I’d float above myself and watch from the corner of the ceiling. Sometimes I feel like I will never get better. When will the memories and flashbacks go away? When will I feel “normal” again? Does this ever get easier? I have so many doubts and fears. So much anger that I feel guilty about having. Good girls don’t get angry. At least that’s what I was taught early on. But I’m learning that anger is good. It teaches us when something is wrong. It is ok for me to be angry about what happened and about what I lost. It’s such a slow and torturous process, but I do have a small glimmer of hope.