TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE
I add this warning you see above to all of my posts (aside from one I think) because I never know when I’ll be bringing something up that may upset someone. This blog isn’t meant to upset anyone but to inform.
So how does growing up being sexually and psychologically abused and tortured affect your social life later on as an adult? It really does. Not even just your social life but just being out and among society in general. You know that term “feeling alone in a crowded room”? That is a very common feeling. You don’t know who these people are, what their intentions are, where they come from and all kinds of things run through your mind when you are around people.
For me, it has made every day difficult. For years spending time in the city (Mostly New York City or Philadelphia) was a high anxiety experience. Every little thing made me anxious. Noises, sounds, smells, even people who looked like my stepfather. Talking to strangers was next to impossible, I nearly froze in my tracks and couldn’t figure out how to answer them.
I recall an instance while I was living in Pittsburgh and I was working at the National Aviary, which was pretty far from where I lived at the time. I had to take two, sometimes three buses to get to and from work. It was a serious trek. One morning I took the bus downtown to catch a connecting bus and just as I stepped off of the bus I was hit with this incredibly forceful wall of anxiety and panic. Out of nowhere. I am not even sure what may have brought it on. Sometimes you can be triggered subconsciously and have no idea why. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was pounding and beating so fast and every single person (this was morning rush hour so it was a very crowded downtown) was terrifying to me. It was like walking through a crowd of monsters. I felt like every person I looked at or walked by was about to hurt me or yell at me or worse. I walked quickly to a nearby park and crouched down behind a statue crying and called my friend to come pick me up. She asked what was wrong and all I could answer was, “The people…the people are scaring me.” That sounds crazy right? But I’m not crazy, I’m a survivor and sometimes survivors have to experience unpleasantness in order to survive. It does not ever go away. Not ever. You learn to live with it. You learn coping techniques and gain skills that get you through times like this.
Now obviously my coping techniques at that time were not so great. And sometimes that still might happen. Especially when you’re caught off guard. Not fun. Years and years of being told “You’re ugly.” or “No one could possibly like you.” or “You make everyone sick. Who would look at someone as disgusting as you?” really makes being around people difficult. As you can imagine or if you can’t, maybe you should try now because it is a very real thing. Words like that do not ever go away and out of nowhere sometimes you hear them in the back of your mind over and over again and for me it is especially when I am around people.
One of the things he also always told me that was most men would just rape me and throw me in a dumpster. He said men would kill something as ugly as me. All I am worth is my vagina. That is what he told me. So when you are around people there are these people there that are men. And when there are men I would barely make eye contact for fear one of them is thinking about hurting me. Elevators! Agh! Forgettaboutit! If there is a man in an elevator with me, I am as far away as possible. Still, to this day. Confidence around males is a very very difficult thing. So in a crowd there are all of these men and in my mind I’m wondering which one if not how many want to hurt me, kill me even.
Now these examples are not something I go through every day, all day. I’ve since learned coping techniques that do help me get through being around people but I am still very cautious. One thing that I still have not learned to cope with is loud voices or yelling, hostile voices. Frequently I will hear people arguing on cell phones or even just with each other at the bus stop or wherever. I tense up, my stomach turns and panic sets in, I can’t breathe right, I just want to get away from them and go home.
Last night I went to get my hair done, which is something that always makes me feel beautiful. I was walking to the bus stop, happy to have new hair and feeling pretty and also pretty calm. While waiting for the bus a guy comes to the stop and he’s on his cell phone arguing with someone. He isn’t just arguing he is screaming into the phone, yelling horrible words and threats at whoever is on the other end. My stomach got so upset I was worried I might throw up. So this is a very real trigger reaction I still have. My stepfather used to scream and holler all of the time. Always an angry voice around the house, negative, horrible words. Words that my mother and my family never used. Now, these things just set me off. Of course I didn’t freak out but I sure was tense until the bus finally came. I also didn’t want to make eye contact with him because in my mind he would hurt me because he was angry.
This is what it is like to live years after abuse. Didn’t go away. Can’t just get over it. Not possible. No one does and if they say they do they are stifling a lot of fears, upsets and feelings. Of course the world isn’t going to cater to people’s triggers, life goes on, but coping techniques are a survivor’s best friend. I even go off and do things on my own…in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, London, I’ve been all over on my own and I still get nervous or a little anxious but my favourite way to defeat a fear is to face it. Show it who’s boss.