Sometimes after a monumental event like the Sandusky trial thankfully ending in a guilty verdict, many people say, “Well now the victims can get on with their lives.” I know most say this out of ignorance, but the truth is that for survivors of abuse of all kinds, the horror, terror, and hardship doesn’t disappear like a puff of smoke the moment a guilty verdict is read. There remains so much work to do to recover and heal, and for many of us there is physical damage and handicaps to contend with also. For survivors of child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking rings, where abusers are often parents, teachers, coaches, pediatricians, dentists, etc., it can be very hard to face some of these people who can help you, but who remind you of the people who hurt you.
So much is going on in this area for me right now, it feels a little overwhelming at times. I’m used to playing the hermit at home, getting my social life through Twitter, and hiding from the world at large as I work on therapy and recovery. Quite often, unless I’m in the manic cycle of my bipolar, therapy once a week is the only time I leave my home. Agoraphobia, anxiety problems, and PTSD conspire with bipolar to keep me where I feel safe – even though nightmares, memories, and flashbacks can still plague me there, too.
Lately, the physical damage from my abusive childhood has been racking up issues (some merely worse than usual, others a recurring theme) and they are starting to demand attention. I’d rather ignore it all, but I’m reminded that if I don’t tend to medical/dental needs, they can impact my health in ways that can hinder my life far more than the hassle, annoyance, and downright terror of dealing with medical types can.
Dentists, medical doctors, and a pair of psychiatrists and nurses were among my abusers, so it’s not a simple thing to just make appointments and waltz on in. I trust my therapist now as much as I ever trust anybody with a collection of degrees on their wall, and I have found a dentist I can tolerate when I have to. Medical doctors are another matter. No offense to anybody who is one of these types of people, but the bad apples can put an abuse survivor off the whole barrel, to mangle a phrase.
I can’t go to my good dentist this time until I see a new person, a specialist. When I was a young teen, my father struck me on the side of my face with a metal bar. It left a scar and shattered molars. The bridge I needed to fix the damage was first acquired from another of my father’s “clients”; they traded the dental work for sessions of child rape in the man’s office after the appointments. Dental bridges don’t last forever, and it was replaced when needed as a gift from my adopted dad years ago. Now it needs replacing for the second time, and rather than keep doing that, I decided to get implants instead. Enter the specialist. I’m happier knowing I can still see my dentist afterward for follow-ups. She is an amazing person. She lets my adopted dad stay in the room with us, tells me, “If I hurt you, you can hurt me back” with a wink and smile, and she knows the dial on the gas goes up to eleven.
While I try not to stress over dental issues, I have reluctantly agreed to have an MRI brain scan, to attempt to learn what might be causing my progressively worse cerebellar ataxia. Quite a saga went into that agreement, and I have a list of conditions almost longer than my arm detailing what I will and won’t tolerate in order to do this test. The dental implants may be a bigger deal, but the idea of an MRI scan terrifies me. I tried to research it (warning: don’t read about triggering medical stuff on medical websites; they give way too much information and will likely scare you to death in the effort to be all-inclusive). The top problems for me are lying on a table, the possibility of needles for contrast dye or sedation drugs, and the idea that medical people I don’t know may have to touch me, possibly with me in a hospital gown. As an added bonus, there has to be another new unknown doctor involved too, a neurologist. In a nutshell, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be simpler and kinder to cure the ataxic gait problem by just shooting me. My therapist and adopted dad and I discussed and wrangled over this. They agreed to the conditions I listed. After all that, I’m still terrified to take the test. The irrational part of my mind that forgets I’m safe now and away from my abusers, knows that I will likely end up a sobbing mess in the machine, which may ruin the test, and then I will be punished. All I can really do is hold a loved one’s hand, listen to something soothing, and repeat “I’m safe now, they can’t hurt me” over and over like a mantra. None of this will make me relax, but it will hopefully allow me to keep still and tolerate the test.
My current mantra is “baby steps”. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve handed over most of my alcohol from my house to my adopted parents for safekeeping. Many survivors turn to drugs and alcohol to cope and I’m no exception. I gave up hard drugs and cigarettes years ago when I became a dad. I’m probably easily classified as an alcoholic, but I haven’t honestly wanted to quit. It dulls the horror that rampages through my mind every day and every night. Unfortunately, even though I’m mellow and subdued when drunk, alcohol hinders my medications for bipolar and other issues. It’s possible that alcohol is even at the root of the cerebellar ataxia. Therefore, one of my new baby steps is to cut down as much as I can on alcohol without going into detox shock. I have not agreed to quit drinking. We’re saving that fight for another day. For now, I’m going to see if less is better and makes a real change for the better, or not. I have to do this on my own; rehab is another idea that you’d better shoot me before you suggest it. Some things a survivor just can’t cope with, and those things are different for each of us, even when some of them are similar for many.
Here’s hoping this ramble has shown just some of what a survivor has to deal with, many of us for the rest of our lives when physical handicaps are created by abuse. As I go along my personal path of healing, I have to face the fact that some things, like a blinded eye and missing fingers, slashed face and damaged speech can’t be fixed. Even if medical science could fix some things, that doesn’t mean I could cope with what it would take to allow them to try. If you ask why, I may only say two words: Scissor Man. I’m not ready to talk about him here yet, but it’s his abuses in that clean white coat that plunge me into despair at the mere thought of any sort of corrective surgery; even if it means going through my life being called “Frankenstein” by strangers on the street.
It was both stunning and amazing to hear “guilty” pronounced at the end of Sandusky’s trial. The brave young men he abused and terrorized who stood up and testified against him to get that guilty verdict are heroes. Yet when the cameras are turned off and the crowds are gone, we survivors are not wholly “free now”, nor is our work done. Many succumb to the horror and choose suicide. Many choose to fight even when it feels like a struggle for every next breath.
Why am I writing this? To help people understand what we face, in the hope that every person who reads this, or any other survivor’s account of abuse, might rise up and act for changes to help us. Many of us can never have our day in court, even if we could muster the courage to testify. The Statute of Limitations laws for sexual assault of any kind, of any sort of victim, need to be removed. You can prosecute for murder decades afterward; rape of adults and certainly of children need to be able to be prosecuted too. Mandatory sentences are needed for monsters like Sandusky; no more “slap on the wrist” sentencing, like the two year sentence the monster Graham James received in Canada. We need to educate the masses and the children in prevention of abuse of all kinds. We need the penalties for covering up horrifying crimes to be so steep that people in power will choose to protect our children over their sports programs, or whatever else they think may be more important than saving adults and children from rape. We also need to end the stigma and smash the myths about abuse and abusers, so that more victims and survivors will feel safe enough to come forward and get the help they need; and so they might be able to help us all to stop the next Sandusky, the next James.
If you haven’t helped because you don’t know where to start, Google “child abuse prevention” and you’ll see many organizations that can help you to help others, to help your own family. Just a few of the organizations that help me are:
Please don’t wait until it’s your loved one who is raped. If you think it can’t happen where you live, look at the statistics; I promise you, it already does happen where you live. It happens everywhere, to anybody; male, female, boy, girl, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, religious, atheist, the disabled, the healthy, the old, the young. Educate, smash myths, change laws… lock up monsters and keep them locked up. Each of us can save an adult or child from rape and abuse. If we all helped, we could end sexual assault and abuse.
~ ~ ~
© W.R.R. 7/20/2012
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.