Sitting in a giant auditorium on the University of Washington campus as a college freshman, I first realized I had been sexually abused.
The abuse was several years in the rear-view mirror.
But it wasn’t until that hundred-question survey for psychological research, and some extra credit, that I had words to describe what happened to me. Or the realization of what it really was finally dawned on me from the perspective of a newly minted adult.
It wasn’t difficult to “get over” the abuse. My faith in God helped me internalize the belief that we will all be judged perfectly for our actions. In a moment I had turned it over to God. And somehow I came to peace with it.
A few years later I would learn that my abuser did the same thing to both of my sisters.
The trauma of the realization that I could have protected them, but somehow didn’t even think to warn them about the abuse, would take me much longer to overcome.
In protecting myself I felt like I had some, albeit limited, power. I could stay away from him. I could ignore him. At least to some extent. He was a member of the extended family, so there was still contact, but I was old enough to avoid him.
When I found out about the abuse of my sisters, I felt completely helpless. There was nothing I could do to go back and know more sooner and change things for them. I turned against myself and felt the guilt and shame rushing in. If I had been more emotionally mature at the time, I would have begged for their forgiveness.
That’s the funny thing about trauma. Things that you would assume would be traumatic aren’t always, especially if you have a sense of power or control over any part of the situation. But when you feel helpless, powerless, or alone, more “minor” experiences can haunt you forever. Yep, trauma is a funny thing.
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