Recently, Arc of Hope, an (excellent) child abuse recovery and support network on Twitter added me to a list titled "Abused Kids/ Child Abuse Victim Army." Seeing myself associated with being a victim of child abuse sent a shock through my body. It might sound weird, but it felt like a new revelation. Now, one might think that someone with the Twitter handle @AbuseSurvior, having over 10 years of no contact with her abusers, who has been been blogging about the nature of abuse for several months now, with scores of posts and a steadily growing audience might be used to the idea by now that she was abused. But seeing this struck me in a new and different way. Here's why. It was external validation, by people who "get it," that it really happened.
Growing up, not only was there no one else to validate that the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and sexual abuse happened, but the very nature of the abuse meant that I was brainwashed into doubting my own first-hand experience. I was used to others, manipulated by my abusers, suggesting that I was probably wrong about them. After all, they were my parents. It's assumed that all parents are looking for for the best interests of their children. To suggest anything different is disrespectful. Ungrateful. Bratty.
My brain has lived in conflict ever since. It has been a long, slow, process of unraveling the unconscious messages of my abusers which contradicted the hard facts. Much of this work has been solitary. As a child, and for much of my adult life, I had resigned myself to live with a truth that was only known by me. Through the years of living with my abusers, I had grown accustomed to being doubted, misunderstood, and scapegoated. I didn't expect anyone to believe me. I just knew, out of integrity, I had to live according to my own sense of reality even if no one else validated it. I have survived without any external validation for many years.
Sure, I've had some kind listeners. People who love me and want to support me have stood by me while I process. Plenty of friends and therapists have affirmed the obvious by helping me with strategies to cope with the fallout. But no one ever has taken me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes, and said, "You were abused." I am just now realizing the gravitas of that statement. Even though I had lived with the knowledge of the incidents for a long time, To state, even to myself, in plain terms that I was abused was a revelation for me. For many years, I was too traumatized to voice it directly. So it's really only a recent development that I am able to state it like it is. The last few months have been about giving myself a voice to say, "I was abused." To have someone else say this back to me, "You were abused," is a whole new level of revelation.
Having someone validate my experience means that I am not destined to live a life with this secret, unseen knowledge, as I was once resigned to do. But being validated externally is still new to me. When I post something on this blog that resonates with someone else, and when they respond back, I am shocked. You understand me?
I do think it was an important step of the journey for me to let go of the need for external validation. It allowed me to disengage from seeking it from my abusers. I learned to honor my own experience in spite of all the gaslighting around me. But discovering those who understand and allowing them to validate my experience is almost more than I can bring myself to hope. It feels like I am able to shed the thousand pounds of armor I donned as an army of one and finally be seen. I was an abused child, and now you see me. I am one of many, and now we see each other.