“And so my life shifted from sun to shadow–the fairies no longer danced around the fairy rings all night and threw sparkles at the buttercups in the morning dew, and, as my mother said, I grew heavy on my feet and no longer danced . . .”

 

If you have read “The Day I Stopped Dancing,” the essay I posted yesterday, you may have wondered why I wrote it.  More than that, you may have wondered why I posted it!  After all, the experience of being violently sexually abused at age four was so secret and so shame-ridden that I kept it to myself until I was in my early forties.  And the only reason I became aware of the abuse then was that the memory was forced upon me by a flashback.  As I stated months ago in my post titled “What Good Are Flashbacks?,” flashbacks can serve to make a person aware of the need to get help, but they can also be as horrible to experience as the original traumatic incident from which they stem.  That is certainly true of this particular flashback.  So, frankly, until this morning, I was not sure myself why I wrote and posted “The Day I Stopped Dancing.”  This morning, though, I understood. 

It’s been thirty years since I had the flashback that brought this abuse memory to my mind, and it’s been almost seventy years since the abuse incident, and now I find myself getting angry—very angry!—at the thought of sexual predators who abuse kids and who are not subsequently prevented from re-offending.  I’m angry, too, at the people who refuse to believe that abuse can derail a child’s normal course through childhood and leave that child isolated, anxious, and unable to trust if he or she does not get competent help at the time of the abuse.   

Before a child can get help, however, that child must tell somebody about the abuse.  How many children will do that?  I don’t know for certain, but I would guess that many, many children are like I was—too scared to tell anyone.  So they carry the shame and the guilt and the secrecy—the whole burden that really belongs on the back of the perpetrator—into adulthood.  And then one day the system breaks down, the child-grown-to-adulthood goes into crisis, and finally, if the person is lucky, he or she gets the help needed to come to terms with the abuse.   

In the meantime, a lot of life has gone by, and a lot of promising relationships may have been destroyed by toxic behaviors driven by the unresolved abuse issues festering deep in the victim’s psyche.  This is what happened to me, and I can name dozens of other people who have experienced what I have experienced as a result of being abused as children.   

Given, then, that children often are too scared to report sexual abuse and other kinds of abuse, how do we know what actually happens in a child’s mind when he or she is traumatized by abuse?  I suspect that often an adult being treated for the effects of child abuse has difficulty describing in detail the effects upon him or her of abuse that happened decades previously.  Describing, for example, the dissociation I experienced immediately after the abuse incident has been as difficult for me as for anyone else, most likely, but ever since I experienced the flashback that led me to the memory, I have persisted in trying to put the experience into words.  I have thrashed about in my head for years, trying to find the right words, the exact words needed to describe the moment the fog came between me and the light.  I’ve remembered the feeling, that millisecond between brightness and dimness and the sense that the world outside my hiding place was not as it was before the fog came.   

But how to tell another person about the fog?  According to Robert Frost, the “the fog comes on little cat feet,” but that wasn’t how the fog came to me at age four!  The fog that came to me then was more like a knife, suddenly severing my former connection to the world on the other side of the fog.  As I peered through the fog, my life looked different.  Suddenly, people with whom I had felt comfortable and happy became aliens, people covered in shadow.  Would they, too, exact a payment from me as Mrs. Greenleaf had done?  And so my life shifted from sun to shadow–the fairies no longer danced around the fairy rings all night and threw sparkles at the buttercups in the morning dew, and, as my mother said, I grew heavy on my feet and no longer danced.   

I understand now that the whole purpose in writing my post yesterday was to show through the eyes of my own self at age four how sexual abuse affected me so many years ago.  Something in me died as a result of the abuse—at least I thought it had died.  Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Maybe it didn’t die; maybe that little girl is coming out of the fog.  Maybe once again she—and I—will watch the fairies dance, see the buttercups sparkle in the morning sun, and maybe we will even dance.  Now, that’s a thought!   

It can happen—with patience, perseverance, and hard work, your adult self can bring that little child from darkness back into the sunshine.  If this is something you need to do, please do it.  You deserve to do it!  As a wise person once told me, “If you do it for you, you do it for the universe—for everyone.”  Namaste.  Blessings. 

 

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