(Trigger Warning for child sexual abuse and rape. This is a plea to those who are not survivors of trauma; please try to understand how we feel, and what we face.)
“Time heals all wounds.”
This is a concept some swear by, while others disdain and reject it. I’m in the latter group. If I may argue semantics for a moment, take a look at the word “wound”. If you break your arm, a doctor puts it in a cast and it gets better; soon you can use it again and it is healed – just as good as new. For some people, it isn’t that simple. There are emotional, mental, and psychological wounds, and even some physical wounds, that don’t ever heal “as good as new”.
Sometimes damage from a car wreck or a wound received in military combat simply can’t be fixed as neatly as a broken arm in a cast. What of the person who can never walk again? What of the soldier who suffered a brain injury from a head wound and a good portion of his or her mental and physical capacity, and ability, are gone forever? Can we say time healed those wounds? Would those afflicted with them agree?
Emotional wounds are often lumped under the quaint “time heals all” verbal bandage, as well. The stages of grief are bandied about with the same blind fervor of a child rubbing a severed rabbit’s foot for luck. (Speaking of wounds that don’t heal, the rabbit never got his foot back.) People, both the afflicted and their loved ones, often mention this or that stage of grief as if they are an announcer watching a horserace: “He’s in denial, denial, now he’s in anger! Here’s bargaining hedging in from the inside rail, with depression surging up behind. Now coming around the bend, depression and acceptance are neck and neck. Yes! It’s acceptance, folks! Acceptance wins the cup! What a race!”
This chaotic rush to “get over” grief and trauma can cause serious problems down the road, whether the afflicted person rushes their own healing or others pressure them, often due to being tired of hearing about it all. Steps are rushed or skipped by the drive to “be better”, and the external and internal pressure for this can be equal in causing damage. The stages of survivorship (victim, survivor, and thriver) can be rushed in the same manner as the stages of grief. So too, can healing in general be rushed, and some things or stages taken out of the safer order.
Nobody should be under external pressure to “hurry up and get better” and we should all be wary of internal pressure in this area, also. Whether the issue is grief, trauma, injury, mental illness, stress, etc., a solid foundation needs to be built at each stage so that we have firm footing while we reach up to the next stage.
This is the same for things like reporting a rape; it is far healthier to be sure it is one’s own decision for the right reasons. Health, safety, mental health, etc. need to be considered. There is a lot of external pressure in the world to report; but if the victim isn’t ready and despair and social fallout lead them to suicide (or gets them murdered), what is gained? Yes, it is generally preferred to report; help catch the rapist so they don’t rape again, etc. Yet the laws need to change to help victims and survivors, too. The stats I read said that only 3% of rapists ever even spend one day in jail, and that is in the case of reported rapes. That means victims reported, but 97% of rapists go free anyhow. So why re-traumatize a victim who doesn’t feel safe to report? Help them to be safe, instead of pressuring them to act before they are ready. This goes double for a child who has been raped.
With traumas like child abuse, child sexual abuse, and rape, especially when victims are so young that their formative years are still ahead of them, studies have begun to show that things are happening physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally that can physically change the way the brain is wired. Pleasure is introduced via sexual abuse hand-in-hand with pain, in many cases leaving the person with their pain/pleasure wiring so mixed up that they get fused and no amount of therapy or medication can fix that. Trauma-caused problems such as phobias, PTSD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and mental disorders can manifest like a grab-bag of horrors. Only some of these things have medication that helps, or a way to work them out in therapy. Even so, survivors who have felt healed for years can be blindsided by a trigger and have to regroup and cope again to get back on their healing path.
Children like I was, abused and raped many times before the age of six, do not develop normally and have many other problems. Things like trust, love, empathy, and compassion can be terrifying and felt to be “not worth the risk”. The lucky ones get help right away, before the extremes of lies, guilt, and shame can set in and warp self-image and development; but many do not get help until years or even decades later – and some never get help at all.
These problems can overshadow a person’s whole life, and every aspect of their life. How can that person grow to trust and love, seek an intimate relationship, or function even half as well as those who were never traumatized? Guilt, shame, fear, and self-hatred bring other problems, such as: self-harm, unsafe sexual behavior, drug and alcohol addictions, and suicidal thoughts. It becomes a race to see if the damage will destroy a person before they can get help; yet even with help (therapy, medications, a loving support system), many of these problems and much of the damage still remains. Of course, the world doesn’t stop or even slow down for traumatized people, and things like nightmares, flashbacks, and triggers seem to lurk behind every corner.
So what can the traumatized person do? We can learn how to process and heal the things that we can heal, and we can learn coping skills for the wounds that refuse to heal. This is what therapy, medication, and the support of my loving new family helps me to achieve.
Still, it is an ongoing process that I may never be finished with. I was abused and raped for my first twenty-two years on this planet. The first nineteen years were spent as a trafficked sex slave in my parent’s pedophile ring; then the next years I spent homeless in a brutal world of prostitution, starvation, addictions, and still more abuse and more rapes. At this time, I’ve been abused for more of my time alive than I’ve had time away from abuse to begin to heal. In addition to abuse’s inflicted physical, mental, emotional and psychological damage, I am bipolar; a fact I tend to see as a cosmic joke being played on me.
In this state, which others can take breaks from but I cannot, I have found it to be horribly harmful, offensive, and condescending to hear others tell me: “Time heals all wounds.” Will the passage of time make my left eye heal and regain sight after my father ground it out with a lit cigar? Will time restore the mutilation of my face and body? Can time undo the fused pathways in my brain as abuse forged and derailed whatever it could of a child’s developing mind? Can time give me back my physical, spiritual, sexual, and emotional innocence?
This concept of passing minutes must be powerful indeed if it can restore lost experience, too. My first kiss was with my mother. My first time of “sex” was anal rape by my father. Learning to ride a bike? Never did. Prom? It didn’t exist, not for me. First love and making out, giggling with your lover? That was all twisted by my mother, who taught me how to service her from as young as three years of age. Learning how to “be a man” from my father? He taught me how to obey his every command, how to literally worship him as a god, and how to be terrified of him as he raped, beat, and rented my body. Yet time, that vague invention of mankind so that if we count the hours, we’d all know it was “Friday, July 5, 2013”? This concept of passing minutes alone is going to make my body, mind, and past whole and healed? No, it’s not. It can’t, and it never will.
Instead I learn to cope, to process, and through those things, I learn how to heal the things that can be healed. For the rest, there is more to learn about coping and processing, and maybe the healing path in front of me won’t have an end. Maybe healing, like learning in general, will just go on, indefinitely. Despair is a threat, as are triggers. Self-care is a vital lesson. I do not want to die. I want desperately to live. I want to watch my children, abuse-free and loved to bits, grow up and become… whatever they want to become. Through them, I can at least experience a pale echo of things most people take for granted. My oldest is eleven, but someday she may want to go to a prom. She already wants to go to college. My son can learn how to ride bikes, drive cars, and how to be a good man. My twins are only toddlers, but their joy in a simple set of blocks or a sandcastle is teaching me how to feel joy, even if my past mutes the colors and variations of it that they experience.
“Times heals all wounds” is a lie, and for many child sexual abuse and rape survivors it is also a trigger. I’d wager many wounded veterans, people with mental illnesses, and survivors of crippling car accidents may likely feel the same. It isn’t necessary to sooth the hairs on your own arm by handing survivors a hollow platitude like that.
Perhaps examine your thoughts, feelings, fears, and reasons for saying it. Do you sincerely hope the survivor or grieving person will someday heal? Then why not say that, instead? If you reach for the hollow platitudes due to being weary of hearing about that person’s grief or trauma… please don’t. It is far kinder to tell them you are sorry they are suffering and you hope they find their path to healing (and coping). Other hollow platitudes (for me) are: “I’ll pray for you”, “just move on”, “that was years ago”, “you have to forgive to heal”, and other similar empty or triggering words. If you care about being a good person, practice by being kinder to those in pain; especially when the wounds (like grief, mental illness, trauma damage) don’t show up as a visible wound. Perhaps get to know them a little so that you know what may help them and what may trigger or anger them. For instance, religious talk triggers me, no matter how much it may comfort somebody else.
A person suffering from PTSD, grief, trauma, or bipolar deserves the same kind consideration as the person with their arm in a cast; maybe more. After all, the arm will heal and be as good as it ever was. Not all wounds can, or will; for them, we learn to cope. Please help us to cope and heal as much as we are able to. If you can’t do that, then please stand aside in silence and let us get on with it ourselves. Thank you.
~ ~ ~
© W.R.R. 7/5/2013
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.