Please note: This entry may trigger due to talk of sexual abuse. When reading this, also consider that our point in the healing journey is still firmly in the intellectual, and it is one of our more unemotional ones writing this.
Reflecting upon my abuse, I can see how such an ‘‘unpopular topic’’ as child sex abuse can be influenced by the discourse of scholars and ‘‘experts’’ who attempt to categorize sexual abuse in terms of severity, based on levels of intrusion, duration, trauma, and the relationship between the victim and the offender (Kemp, 1984). From this ‘‘abuse degree perspective,’’ one can rationalize that my abuse wasn’t all that bad. After all, look at how horrible other people had it compared to you. In fact, you should be thankful, for the trauma could have been a great deal worse. In the words of Rambo-Ronai (1995), I begrudge this clinical analysis and, as many of my friends and acquaintances would attest, ‘‘resent the idea that my situation was in any way fortunate.’’ Indeed, the problem with this quantification of abuse is that it sounds strangely like my mother’s denial of these events. I wonder if any abuse-crisis counselor would rationalize physical abuse by stating ‘‘It’s really not all that bad, you can’t see the bruise, and you can still walk, and you didn’t get a broken neck. I wouldn’t worry about it. It will be gone in a week.’’
(Harvey Lemelin, 2006, pp. 342-343)
This quote speaks volumes to me. I’m so caught up in trying to learn the mental health system and how it operates that it’s easy to get lost in the labels, diagnoses, degrees of severity etc. I know I do this to try and gain a sense of control over something that has a huge influence on my life. Because of this desire for control (and therefore a layer of safety), I learn the language they use and what questions they ask in the assessments. But what does this do apart from perpetuate the intellectualisation of my experiences?
I do find that some of the language has helped to describe my experiences and demystified many things that feel incredibly crazy. But I also buy into that intellectualisation because of the barrier it provides to the horror it describes. As an example, we regularly experience derealisation. That sentence is easy for many mental health professionals to understand. But it only touches the surface of that experience. It is much harder to describe the feeling where your perception of the world shifts so that you are now looking at three movie screens; where the world suddenly appears brighter or more blurred; that feeling as if nothing is real or here and you are not part of anything. We’ve spent over 5 minutes explaining our derealisation experiences to assessing psychiatrists, it’s much easier to just say that one line. It makes it feel plausible, acceptable and real.
I constantly struggle with understanding our abuse. We constantly play mind games with ourselves in an attempt to deny, minimise or prove that it didn’t occur. Then we’re caught in a flashback or a memory “leaks” into our common awareness and we’re thrown into chaos. We learned very early that emotions didn’t do you any favours – they were met with hostility, scorn or ignored. Because of this, we’ve relied on the intellectual. This is not to say that we’re incredibly intelligent, but rather there are very few of us who feel emotions. We realise that we need to move beyond that façade of intellectualisation in order to be able to heal, but that also means moving into the abyss of emotions.
I’m not sure when we’ll be ready to take this step. It will mean altering the way we look at the world and how we cope within it. It will mean breaking down or modifying all of our coping mechanisms. What is become obvious over the last few months is that we’re slowly starting to move back to the place we were about 6 years ago – incredibly high-functioning, high achieving and in the depths of denial. We’re torn between wanting to find a therapist who can help us heal, and continuing down the road of denial and suppression. While the mother was here she mentioned that we’re very withdrawn from everything, it’s a very easy and comfortable place to be in. Realistically, I’m not sure we can stay there for long.
Harvey Lemelin, R. (2006). Running to stand still: The story of a victim, a survivor, a wounded healer, a narrative of male sexual abuse from the inside. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 11(4), 337-350. Retrieved June 9, 2009, doi:10.1080/15325020600663128
Unfortunately, the article is only available through subscription or purchase.