The coping mechanisms we adopt are rarely positive and can range from specialist therapy to self-destructive behaviours. Our struggle to survive the mistrust, guilt, self-blame and self-loathing can bring many of us onto common ground.
The memories of our experiences and the individual responses are unique – no two people will perceive the same. Nevertheless, no matter the manner of sexual abuse, we are destined to face a wide spectrum of psychological difficulties.
My experiences of sexual abuse, along with a childhood friend, Stewart, are a perfect example. His memories are filled with trauma and guilt, while my own were manifesting as something very different.
We both remember playing with marbles in the backcourt. Our abuser is a neighbour. He is late 20’s early 30’s. It’s a Saturday. He finishes work early and usually invites us indoors. I am patiently waiting, hoping he turns up soon. There is no way of knowing – or understanding – that Stewart’s anticipation is full of dread.
At last, the abuser knocks on his window. He smiles and waves us inside. I’m bored of marbles. It is cold. Playing our “secret games” indoors, feels more appealing.
There is no clue to Stewart feeling under duress. His memory is of the abuser tapping on the window and beckoning us in with a creepy hooked index finger. Stewarts thinks, “Oh no, we have got to go in there”.
One day Dad arrives home with his van from work. It is 1970. I am seven years old. Where we come from, cars are a novelty. After dinner, I would usually love Dad to take me on a drive around the country single-track roads.
This time, I am very anxious. Something doesn’t feel right. I am not keen on driving to a local dump to clear out the van. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Dad will ever want to touch me, but I do not trust being alone with him. Mum is persuasive. Dad is perplexed. I am confused.
When we arrive at the local dump, Dad must feel uneasy with my silent pensiveness. He is trying hard to talk. The more he tries, my suspicion increases.
My heart is pounding. The plan is to wait until he closes the doors again, a sign he is ready to return home.