Sexual Abuse: How Bad Does it Have to Be to Deserve Help?

Suffering is universal; could it unite us?

Photo by Michelle Thall

I just realized something. I have been sexually abused or assaulted or whatever the PC term is today. My ex-husband assaulted me. He lied to me for better than nine years about who he was, why he married me, and the hurtful behavior he engaged in throughout our time together. He also exposed me to HIV through his extra-marital partners, and he actually did physically assault me. I just can’t remember it. Either I was too drunk, or he drugged me, but the physical signs of rape were there.

Here’s the point. Until 10 minutes ago I never contextualized or perceived what happened that night with my ex-husband as rape or even assault. But tonight, it was as clear as day and I know why… because I went to my first domestic violence group therapy session — the 1st in my entire life. I felt like an impostor… “My ‘story’ isn’t as serious as their stories. It isn’t as traumatic. It isn’t as debilitatingly horrible as everyone else’s, it’s not as important.” (As I type this on August 26, 2020, I know what I was really feeling… I’M not as important.)

The “story” I was thinking about was the stalking I experienced this year, the thing that threw me so out of balance I had to seek help. But I had on my blinders, only seeing one-dimension. I wasn’t considering all the other abuses I have experienced throughout my life…

I’m getting ready for bed, washing my face, and as I grab the towel with closed eyes, images begin to appear. Half-dry, I throw the towel over the bar and hurry into the bedroom scanning for my journal and pen because it’s coming fast…

See things as they are, not as you wish them to be. Tell them the truth about what happened to you. Tell yourself the truth about what happened to you.

I was abused sexually and in other ways several times in my life, maybe too many to count. Just now trying to recall the instances of sexual abuse — I kept remembering them completely out of order, all these different evils released from cages screamed out. It’s like I knew they individually existed but had no idea what they looked like as a whole… the man who exposed himself to me and my girlfriend in the alley when I was nine, my uncle fondling me in high school, my ex-husband, the dog-friend who called me over to look at ‘something,’ the boss who preyed upon me in my early 30s… more instances are harboring at the corners of my mind but still crouching, I feel them there lurking, haunting me…. the thing I can’t remember — whatever happened to me with the bus driver when I was just seven or eight…

We have all been abused in some way. We are all in pain. We all experience suffering, we just don’t look at it, whether intentionally, subconsciously, or unconsciously. But it’s there. So many reasons why we don’t look, don’t see, different for each of us, but somehow it’s the same. If we’re all suffering and could make the leap to convey or communicate it to each other, we would recognize each other’s pain, like looking in a mirror. But this is only possible if we are willing to see our own suffering, to look inside it, and until we do that and learn to be self-compassionate, we won’t recognize the suffering of others and treat them with the best of compassion. True and real compassion is so sorely needed in our world.

Going into our pain — acknowledging it, owning it, embracing it, nurturing the dimension of ourselves that is crying out, and bathing it in self-compassion — is the first step toward recognizing the suffering of all people as a universal trait. When we’ve dared to open up and look at our own suffering we are in a space where we wear that suffering in our eyes, others can see in our eyes what they feel in their heart and soul. This is the moment we can see each other as part of a universal body that shares deep wounds, but also the collective courage to come together, help each other heal, and in doing so help heal a world that is fractured and divided.

I put these thoughts and feelings away for a while, but today I was compelled to put them in black and white, to watch as they appeared across the computer screen, another level of acknowledgment, peeling another layer of the onion. Do we ever get to the center? I’m not sure why today was the day I had to write this, get it out, publish it for… what? why? Again, I can’t answer that. Something about it is important now, right now. So, I am going with my gut — I always say I don’t need to know the “why” to know I need to act. Sometimes that comes later, sometimes it never comes.

It’s not OK that I felt like an imposter, like my “story” wasn’t big enough to need, ask for, or deserve help. The stalking I experienced this year caused suffering. Suffering is suffering. It doesn’t have to meet some arbitrary measure of horrific-ness before we can reach out, get assistance, tell our truth, seek comfort. My first group therapy session unleashed a floodgate of emotion and memories of all the times I’ve been exposed to harmful and inappropriate behavior on the part of men in my life. It drove me to write, twice, and now a third time. There will probably be more. But for now, I’m sated. I hope I’ve said enough to help at least one person. I wish I could say enough to tip the scales from suffering toward healing, but I think the world is a ways off from that. Maybe it’s a matter of tipping the scale for one person at a time. I could live with that.

Creator, Teacher & Learner on a journey to become myself — whole, well & happy — and help others do the same. Join the tribe @

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