The Damage of Abuse
Childhood abuse is one of the worst forms of torture a person can endure. It feels like being in a war zone, imprisoned by cruel dictators and forced to live under their every will and command until the law “says” you are old enough to have your own life. I know this because I have lived in this particular “war zone” called child abuse. I was stuck and I had no one to lean on for help who had my corner. No adult saw my pain and need to feel safe and no matter how much I cried for help, I was ignored. My own mother had to be “bullied” to take me to the doctor when I had STDs. She insisted I was “fine”, and everything was fine. Well, within all that “fine-ness”, I was left to suffer in the hands of cruel sexual predators and neglectful adults. It was only when those STDs turned nasty with infection and I couldn’t go to the bathroom that adults took notice and told my mother. If they had not, I would be dead.
The same thing happened years later when I suffered several miscarriages from abuse. I had never been told by mother that girls of a certain age would start their periods. I didn’t know what they were, and I was convinced I was dying. The truth that I could be pregnant at age 13-15 was laughed at. I had no boyfriend, and I was a loner at school, so how could I possibly be pregnant? No one saw the obvious truth. I had “unusually heavy bleeding” and my mother was angry when I went through packet after packet of sanitary towels. I was really sick with cramping and infection that I was in a haze like a zombie and yet mother made me go to school. I got no medical treatment or was taken to the ER. I was left to suffer through them all with the shame and stigma that comes with being a menstruating young girl. For some of them, I managed to hide by locking myself in the bathroom and just letting the blood gush out of me in painful spasms. It was terrifying! I often bled through my clothes as I couldn’t stem the bleeding.
My final miscarriage was very public in a packed church full of most of my school friends and their parents. I started having painful spasms in church and I couldn’t leave since I was doing a reading. The blood was pouring in front of everyone as well as a giant red stain on my very white dress. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life! Instead of being taken care of, I was laughed at and pointed at. The shame and guilt of being “dirty” were on most people’s lips.
Taking Stock of the Damage
A childhood full of abuse and neglect will lead to Complex PTSD. It is one of the worst forms of Post-Traumatic Stress because you feel as if you are still living in the past. The memories keep getting triggered years after the abuse has ended. Complex PTSD causes the body to act and feel like it is constantly under attack, stuck in the “war zone” of hurt. A person will continue to feel this way years after the abuse happened into adulthood and beyond. It can take a lifetime to feel safe and trust people again. I know because I’ve lived with Complex PTSD my whole life. Everything feels like living through a magnifying glass. I feel different from others and no matter how much therapy I have received; I still cannot change that mindset. I still feel different because I see life in so much more detail. I notice everything around me even when I pretend I do not.
Hyper-Vigelence & Alertness
After suffering from years of abuse, the body goes into survival mode long after the trauma has ended. The body still believes it is under attack even though the brain has long made you forget anything ever happened. The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk is an excellent book that describes how a survivor feels long after abuse and how it affects a person in every aspect of life. You feel jittery, on edge, restless, jumpy, hyper-active, and excitable all rolled into one big mix of emotions. It is weird to feel hyper about everyone and everything around you without understanding why. As a survivor, I believed that I was different from other people. I didn’t seem to act in the same way people did to noise and emotions. It is tiring to live like this as you react to every little stimulus that hits you during the day. A misfiring exhaust on a car can trigger a survivor to instinctively want to curl up into a ball and shy away from the noise. The smell of perspiration in a gym can trigger a survivor right back to the abuse. A young child crying can break you out in hives and wanting to ball with pain in sympathy. Heading downtown to shop or even going to your local food market can be exhausting. You see everyone and everything through a magnifying glass. Any perceived threats along the way are neutralized by taking a different route or avoiding certain people. This is called dissociation as you disconnect from all the stimuli and become numb and switch off. Life becomes too much. Without addressing the reason why life becomes exhausting.
I can only speak about my own experiences as a CSA survivor when talking about hyper-arousal. It is not something many people admit or talk about as it is embarrassing and private. My body was constantly “turned on”. There was no off switch after years of having been “a sex toy”, my body just couldn’t turn itself off. The damage to my delicate flesh had been done and the muscles were weak from damage. This in itself brings a lot of problems in later life As a child, I always struggled to go to the bathroom. I had so many “wet accidents” and smelly discharge. In later life, I’ve always struggled with stress incontinence like a woman gets after childbirth for a while or a symptom of old age. My “little problem” has always been there and my body still has difficulties in “switching off”.
A survivor of abuse is always going to be a sensitive and emotional human being no matter how much you try and hide it through dissociation. It is always there. I am definitely more attuned to my surroundings and people than others appear to be. People in general have this seemingly “I don’t care” attitude, going through life with a neutral face. We often read on the subway or switch off listening to music or podcasts. We do anything not to be in the moment.
I care about the people around me and I bend over backward at the cost of my own health to help rectify a wrong or a hurt. I know I do this, but I feel compelled to help someone in need whether it is an old lady needing help to cross the street or a child falling over. Boundaries are difficult to understand, especially boundaries towards yourself. I am lucky to work with people who look out for me and don’t let me work too much. I have always been taken advantage of in the past but now I am finally learning the importance of having a break.
Relaxation is probably one of the most difficult things to do as a survivor. The body is consistently hyper all over. To relax or even thinking about relaxing means allowing yourself to feel. That in itself is dangerous because that is when you remember. Your memories come flooding back and your body reminds you of all the past hurts. Being constantly on the move and letting your body remain in hyperdrive throughout life is much easier than relaxing. Most people relish the thought of relaxing but survivors tend to do anything even if they appear to be relaxed I can guarantee that they are anything but relaxed.
I have always loved water even though it is also a source of great pain for me. It was one of the places where I was first sexually abused as a child. I also witnessed a woman being raped and killed in a river. I worked really hard to try and overcome my fear of water. It was after all not the water itself that caused my fear but the activities in it. I reset my thinking and my brain by learning to have fun and relax in the water. I find that swimming is a great way of relaxing without being still. In the water, I am alone with my thoughts and no one can talk to me and disrupt me. I can focus on my body and my breathing whilst my brain can switch off or mull over a problem. Whatever is on my mind, I usually surface from the water feeling better. If you are a survivor like me, try and see if it helps you.
Elizabeth Woods grew up unwanted, in a world of brutal sex offenders, murderers, and inconceivably neglectful adults. She got caught up in a secret sex ring where her so-called father was in charge and loaned her out to vicious sexual predators for their enjoyment. She suffered sexual abuse throughout her entire childhood and desperately tried to seek help from the adults around her. She was let down by doctors and psychiatrists who knew she was being abused but was sent back repeatedly to be harmed again. She was forced to witness several brutal murders. Memories that will forever be ingrained in her mind.
Elizabeth survived in an environment where most people would not and she is now able to help other survivors heal from trauma. Elizabeth lives in a happy home with her husband and children. She has friends all around her and is working a job she loves. Elizabeth has written a book, telling her childhood story: The Sex-Offender’s Daughter: A True Story of Survival Against All Odds, available on Amazon Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Sex-Offenders-Daughter-Story-Survival-Against-ebook/dp/B0BBSV97VF/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1W93IR8PLCYOH&keywords=the+sexoffenders+daughter&qid=1668277897&sprefix=the+sexoffenders+daughter%2Caps%2C151&sr=8-1