Trigger warning: This post contains description of sexual violence.
My therapist probably doesn't want me to write this. When you're trying to heal, it's not particularly healthy to reopen the wound. I'm not writing this because it's healthy; I'm writing because I need to stop hiding. Sexual abuse makes you into a good liar; you're constantly assuring yourself that everything is fine. I can manage. It's okay. But it's not okay, and I need to accept that before I can move on.
The first time I heard about appropriate touching, I was in second grade. The class had gathered on the rug, and our teacher was holding large, glossy black and white photographs. I don't recall most of the pictures, but they all were along the same lines; a man asking a little girl a question was used to illustrate that we should never agree to help an adult find a lost pet, a woman offering a ride to a boy showed that we must never get into a car with someone unless we are certain our parents know about it. There was also a photo of a boy and girl at the beach, playing in the sand. The other pictures and conversations have become blurry or faded entirely, but this one stands out clear as day. The teacher explained that our bathing suits covered private areas, and only our parents and doctors were allowed to touch there. Huh, I thought. Huh. Then it was fine. I'm sure that Ms. Bamman went on to explain what to do if anyone was touching you in a way that felt uncomfortable, but I didn't hear it. Sitting criss-cross applesauce on that rug, I internalized that my father's touching was okay.
After my parents separated, I spent weekends at my father's house. I always hated sleeping alone (I still do), and he always let me sleep in his bed. He was almost always drunk by bedtime, occasionally blackout. The first time I woke up with his hand between my legs I was sure I was dreaming. I didn't even fully wake up. The next morning, everything seemed totally normal and I felt sure it was just a very strange dream. It happened again a few weeks later, and again I assumed it was a dream. The third time, though, I was wide awake -- I couldn't fall asleep that night. I'd been staring at the tacky glow-in-the-dark picture frames on the dresser, and then there were hands on me and in me and hot breath that reeked of beer and I wished more than anything to evaporate into nothingness. The morning after, he finished the beer on his nightstand before getting out of bed, and the day continued like nothing ever happened.
I didn't trust myself when I was young, and had no idea how to process what had happened. At eight years old, I didn't have the vocabulary to express what happened, nor the courage to ask if it was wrong. I assumed that my father would always want the best for me, so it was crazy to think he'd do something to hurt me. So I tucked the memory away after hearing (and misunderstanding) Ms. Bamman's safety lesson, and didn't look at it again for 10 years.
Midway through my freshman year of college, I was lying, drunk, on my boyfriend's bed. Suddenly, I blurt it out. My father molested me. I cried -- probably loudly -- but I began to realize it was true. I couldn't tell you what made me think of it, or why I chose that moment to start acknowledging the truth. I tried to tuck it away again, but there was no going back.
Slowly, I began to seek out help. I found a therapist. I stopped guarding my words. I surfed the internet, looking for someone to provide the magic words that would fix me. I clung desperately to the idea of quick fixes. I told some friends, then some more. I told my mother as much as I could bear, and began to see my molestation as just another life experience. I was open and honest, and couldn't understand why I was constantly panicked and miserable.
I realize now that there are no quick fixes. I switched therapists, seeking a specialist in sexual abuse and assault. I stumbled upon the asca.org.au website, and accepted that healing would not be easy, or fast, or fun. I began clinging to the idea of untangling my blue knot, the ASCA's metaphor for the emotional difficulties of child abuse.
I wish this had a nice ending. I wish I could end this with "and then I got over it." But I haven't. And perhaps I won't. But I'm going to stop lying about it.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.