I was sexually abused as a child

Since about March, I've been seeing a counsellor to process my childhood sexual abuse. You probably noticed I haven't posted as often as I usually do, and it's because I've been trudging through these muddy waters for months. I started seeing one counsellor through my work's employee assistance plan, and I was referred to Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA), an agency that provides 30 free counseling sessions for victims. I've talked with my family and some friends, and everyone has been incredibly supportive. I understand it's a huge topic to drop on people, and I appreciate everyone who's given me their attention and understanding.

I always knew that this happened to me, but I thought it wouldn't really affect me much. I'm a functioning, contributing member of society, but I've also learned just how much people can function while carrying on with much trouble in their personal lives. It wasn't until I saw professional counsellor for stress that the pieces of my life that needed work all pointed toward this one event.

My attacker was an older man who I think had some marital problems. I was able to fight back once, and I told him to stop touching me. He did, and separately, I saw him taken away by the police because he violated his wife's restraining order. I obviously can't share too much because of all the implications. I have not talked to him about it since, but I have seen him here and there over the years.

I'm not sure exactly when it happened. I think it was when I was in grade three because that year, I fought a lot at school and got suspended over 10 times. My counsellor attributes that to my young self trying to symbolically fight back against my abuser and to restore a feeling of security and safety. I always thought I was a bad kid, but now I see my experience in grade three under a totally different light.

To deconstruct the big ugly problem, I faced three major challenges from this experience: trauma, sexual abuse, and being a child when it happened.

Trauma is something that can live in the body for years, and in my case, almost 20. One cause of trauma, I read in Waking the Tiger, is when the body freezes up in a threatening situation and never unfreezes. Many of us have heard of fight or flight, but there is actually a third response, which is freeze. It's when animals play dead, and that energy normally gets discharged by visible shaking. See this video for an example with a deer freezing up and unfreezing to escape attacks from a cheetah and a hyena. Think of when you get spooked walking down to a basement, then when you flip on the light, your body shivers and shudders a bit. Release.

Trauma happens in humans when their mind doesn't allow them to discharge that freezing energy. Part of my work in therapy has been to process that energy. Trauma can happen from seemingly simple things like surgery. The body feels immense pain, but the mind is either sedated or dismissive of the after-effects. There's a feeling that the soul is somehow separated from the body, and the individual has lost their wholeness. Trauma is the disruption of a natural cycle, and completing that cycle can be difficult yet powerful. 

Being a child, I felt like I couldn't feel safe, so my attachment to my parents was damaged early on. I had to protect myself and to provide for myself, to feel strong enough to prevent another attack, so I grew up a little too quickly. Another result was that my body contained this black hole of pain, and my way of coping with it all these years has been to feel good about my school and my work -- a true workaholic. That's partly why you've read so much on this blog about why I had such a hard time in school and after graduation. I probably also eat and watch TV comedies to fill this void. I learned that my abuse also made me incredibly emotionally sensitive. I had to become emotionally strong to compensate, but it's still very easy to hurt me.

Compounding the problem is the feeling that I should write about this on my blog. I hope it helps someone seek help if they even suspect they might find some use from a professional listener. I don't know what the future will hold for me as I share this painful and personal problem in an online forum, whether it has implications with future employment or simply in how people treat me. I'm taking a leap of faith, but if it helps at least one person, I will consider it worthwhile. There's an Alberta initiative to help victims of sexual assault called #IBelieveYou. If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, say "I believe you."

Fun tip: you can choose your counsellor. If the two of you don't vibe for whatever reason, they completely understand if you want to switch it up. I changed counsellors once at CCASA, and it made a huge difference. Another tip: work hard to figure out what pace you can handle. I've been on a schedule of seeing my counsellor every 2-4 weeks, but I'm thinking about stretching it out because I feel like I'm running out of energy to deal with it. I can see why people spend so much time polishing their outside appearance because ripping up the roots of my identity has been very jarring and less instantly rewarding.

I have another reason to think that Carrie and I were meant to be because she has been endlessly helpful with all her counseling experience. Listening to me process all the work from my sessions is something only she can do. She's really carried me through this stage.

It's always fun discovering who's reading my blog, but with respect to this particular post, I'll give you the option that I received from my counsellors. They said that if I ever ran into them in public, I would have the final decision whether or not to acknowledge them. In the same way, I leave the option to you whether or not you want to talk with me about this topic. Feel free to pretend you never read this either. I'm totally cool either way.

Thanks for reading. It means a lot.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le