In the middle of a person’s palm near their life line, a spot exists that when poked causes a burst of discomfort. It’s the funny bone of the hand, if you will. The body automatically reacts to the contact. Your fingers gnarl down into a claw as the sensation travels along the nerves, up your wrist until it finally dissipates around your forearm.
When I can’t keep my emotions in check during group, this is the place I prod for comfort.
From the get go, the ladies at Survivors of Abuse Restored [otherwise known appropriately as SOAR] warned this night was the most difficult of the 12 sessions. Each week, the support groups they sponsor conquer a different chapter in selected workbooks. This evening, as part of the lesson, the facilitators asked each woman to share aloud a memory of her sexual abuse.
Under the table, away from the stares of the six women around me, I forced a car key into my palm to get through the moment. Even though each of them has experienced abuse firsthand, the story is tough to get through. Writing about my abuse is one thing. Speaking about it is entirely another. During my turn, my voice cracked while my talking quickened. Bile crept up my throat. Smells came to mind, somehow filling the room. Horrible, terrible scents of things children shouldn’t know. To snap out of it, I stabbed the metal into my hand even harder.
The sting brought me back to reality and away from the memories. Self-inflicted pain isn’t the best way to control emotions. I know that, and would never advocate it as a solution for anyone. Still, it’s not uncommon. Women cut for the same reasons. At times you feel these methods are the only way to escape the encroaching darkness intact.
Not every survivor has a memory. That doesn’t mean the molestation didn’t happen. Some block the tragic events from their past. Try and try as they will, these folks cannot share the trauma because their minds still won’t let them feel the pain, which can cause a lot of frustration.
As much as some want to remember, others like me need to forget their instances of abuse. We trick ourselves into thinking that’s what’s required to lead normal lives. So we bury the secrets deep inside behind walls that few can tear down. Somehow, though, the most unlikely of triggers can knock holes through the mortar.
Triggers. Welcome to one of the many buzzwords you learn in group. A trigger is anything that reminds you of the abuse. It’s like Superman’s kryptonite. Both emotional and physical responses may become involved, and some survivors actually have flashbacks or zone out entirely when confronted with such reminders.
Survivors don’t always realize the connection between the trigger and the past act. For me, the feel of polyester and the scent of cheap musk always made me uneasy. So do men with moustaches. Through time, you learn to identify these irrational fears and confront them. Am I still leery of pools, one of the places my abuse took place? Yes. But understanding where the anxiety comes from at least takes the edge off and makes you feel less crazy.
When survivors enter a support group to further the healing process, we dig up these demons. The theory goes you must confront the past fully before you can put back the pieces of your childhood. Sharing a particular instance in our own personal struggle can help with this. Vocalizing removes some of the shame and stigma associated with the molestation, as well as shining a light on the secrecy that normally surrounds the abuse.
Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years and years to deal with all the memories and the feelings associated with them. Boy, do those emotions cover the gamut. Hate. Pity. Sadness. Rage. Fright. Shame. If you name it, you’ll most likely feel it. And it absolutely stinks. Yet, at the end of the 12 weeks, most survivors say confronting the past is worth it.
You can’t poke your own palm when you’re holding on to someone else’s. That’s what support groups do. We all need a hand once in a while. When offered, it’s up to each of us to grab it.
With one out of every three women being subjected to sexual abuse by the time they reach 18, the need for organizations like SOAR Ministries is great. A new session begins next month. Donations are always accepted to help pay for materials, but are not mandatory. Those who can’t contribute financially are always welcome. For more information, contact SOAR at 812-590-2426, or through their website soarministry.org.
— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org