Yesterday, I watched “Leaving Neverland.” As the men began describing their abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson, my anxiety shot through the roof. When they described explicit sexual experience, I responded viscerally, and found it confusing. Not intellectually confusing; I understood what they were describing all too well. Rather, it was a physical confusion, as my body responded to their stories with arousal, fear, and revulsion all at once. If you can imagine a pleasant tingling in your groin along with a painful knot in your gut and a wave of nausea, that’s it. I fidgeted. I picked up my phone and started playing Solitaire. I was having trouble looking and trouble looking away. The urge to turn the show off, to run, was strong. That response denotes progress, because running away was not an option for me as a child.
Even after therapy for childhood sexual abuse trauma and PTSD, and after much healing, the scars remain sensitive. You don’t move past something like this so much as you learn to recognize its manifestations in your life and to use your mind to calm your emotions and soothe your fears, to remind you that you aren’t still there, you are here, and you are safe. Even when it is the furthest thing from your mind, your body remembers and responds to circumstances it deems similar.
These body memories used to cause me a lot of shame. I didn’t know how to be loving and patient with people, least of all myself. I would become aroused or panicked at seemingly inappropriate times and it would lead to odd behavior and bad decisions. I didn’t know how to be without a significant other in my life, thinking I needed someone to love and approve of me to be complete. The concepts of sex and love were deeply intertwined and caused me much confusion. These are simply a few of the scars that the injuries of child sexual abuse left behind. I have learned to use these physical manifestations of the harm done to me as a hint, a warning sign, to pay close attention to what is happening and determine if I should remove myself from the present circumstances. I have learned to love these scars because they keep me safe.
The sexual abuse I suffered as a child will never be gone. It is part of me. I have had to adapt to its presence, to work with and around the scars it left on my body, mind, and soul. But I do not want or need pity or special treatment. With the help of wonderful therapists over the years, I have integrated these experiences into my being and learned to live with their manifestations in my life. I have embraced it all, giving myself unconditional love which is the antithesis of abuse.
There is a popular colloquialism, “the best revenge is living well.” The desire for revenge is certainly a stop along the healing highway that I have visited more than once, but that ultimately would hurt me more than my abuser. Still, I like the sentiment behind that saying, the taking back of the control that was stripped from me, so I’ve modified it to suit my circumstances: the best solution to the hurt is to learn to love yourself.
As for the survivors who have shared their stories of abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson, I believe them all. I knew it was true because my body said so. I shared a common experience with those men, even though we’ve never met. For those who may remain skeptical, I offer this: Why would they want to make up such a story and go public with it, knowing that it would cause them and their families great pain? There is only one reason: because it is true. Silence is the sickness implanted in a survivor by their abuser. Only in speaking our truth can we fully be free of the control of our abusers.