Sharing the secret : to the brave students of Saint Joseph Aintoura college
I was around seven or eight when I was sexually abused. I think it was either at the end of the civil war or right after. A “friend of the family” used to come to our house and, when no one was looking, used to kiss me. He had a thick mustache that made me nauseous and still does whenever I think about it. I remember coming up with all these intricate plans to run away from him and avoid him while he was in the house, but to no avail. It was not a major thing though; I was not like raped or anything… I always have the need to tell people that. Funny enough, I unintentionally typed “it was a major thing” twice. I remember feeling that this was wrong, that this was not something a man should do to me. I also remember feeling devastatingly vulnerable and weak, as if I was no one that mattered.
I did not know how to talk about it with my mother. I don’t think I knew that I was supposed to. That’s the problem with being a really good kid, like I was. And I LOVED to follow the rules. But there were no rules for this kind of behavior and I had no clue what to do. I did express to my mother that I did not like the man at all, but she never figured it out at the time.
As I grew older and the man stopped coming, I buried this secret deep inside of me and forgot all about it. In middle school and high school, I met a lot of girls who shared their stories of abuse. It was frightening how many had a story of sexual molestation, most of the time by a cousin or an uncle that sometimes led to rape. They would whisper their stories to me, our shared and common secret, in the bathrooms, in the courtyard and in letters, but never to our parents. We were the post-civil war generation by excellence, with all our hidden traumas and secrets that no one wanted to hear about. I have no recollection of sharing my secret with anyone, although I might be mistaken. I have the feeling that my secret was buried in my blood then, deep inside my soul that I myself forgot about it.
It was not that I was afraid of telling. It was just one of those awful secrets that ruined everything. And I was such a good girl, I couldn’t possibly ruin something. I was such a quiet girl, and I was not intending on making any noise.
Heavy Metal kind of saved my life. It taught me to be angry, that it is okay to scream, that some things in life are loud, that there is pain. I also remember my mom telling me that it is okay to yawn and sneeze out loud, that I should not hold in everything inside. I was surprised that I was “allowed” to do that. Ever since then I am the LOUDEST yawner you’ll ever encounter. Apparently I embarrassed my friend in front of his girlfriend the other day. Hihi.
In high school, I got my first boyfriend (yes, it was basically like getting a car or new shoes if you remember high school). He was, unfortunately to me, the most handsome and coolest guy in school and all he wanted to do was kiss me. I was 15, I had no self-esteem and the thought of kissing someone made me feel so scared that I basically had non-stop anxiety attacks manifested in stomach pains throughout the year.
I finally broke down under the pressure and told my mother about the sexual abuse. I don’t remember this encounter very well, go figure. I am not sure, but I think I told her twice, in two parts. I remember it was dark and I remember being on the floor in the living room in front of her crying. I remember The second time more clearly. I looked at her and told her. Her first reaction, I think, was the worst one you can answer someone who just told you that he/she was sexually abused. She asked me if I was sure that I was actually sexually abused. This question never left me I think. After this question, I was never really sure. To feel that I had to prove it ever happened, even to myself, hurt me a lot. I mean, how can I really be sure that I was sexually abused?
My mother asked that question because she was shocked. She never thought that she would fail so badly at protecting her own daughter from people she only hears about. But I never recovered from her reaction. I finally understood that I need to recover for myself and not carry my parents’ guilt on my shoulders as well.
It’s funny, I am someone who always brags about remembering everything. Writing this piece, I realized how some things cannot be properly remembered.
At the end of my 15th year, I had a nervous breakdown. I remember sitting in my bed in the evening reading or working on my homework. And I remember my brother (whom I shared a bedroom with) storming in and screaming something, then slamming the door again. I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry so badly but nothing happened. Suddenly, I had this overwhelming thought that nothing makes sense. It was not really “a thought”, more of a feeling. I sensed that nothing is making any sense. Everything started to look very ridiculous to me very fast, as if the bed, the chair, everything was losing meaning in my presence. I was overwhelmed by a sense of absurdity in everything, my brother, my books, my room, my bed, they all seemed so…ridiculous.
So I started laughing. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I laughed when my mother came in and asked me what’s wrong, when she tried to calm me down with a glass of water. I laughed when my brother came in and looked at me, I laughed when my mom said things to me like “you need to calm down” and “your aunt called”, I laughed at the television, I laughed so much my tears were falling. I must have laughed for one whole hour non-stop. And I had no ability to stop myself.
It was one of the most beautiful nervous breakdowns I have known and experienced in my life. It was then that I decided to major in psychology and work as a therapist. My secret was finally out and my world has collapsed on its face, scattering its meaningless parts everywhere, creating such an absurd mess. I am still secretly afraid of laughing and of not being able to stop, of having that overwhelming and seductive feeling again.
After that, I started telling everyone about “my secret”. Well, not everyone, maybe just friends. It was not until my friend and I, who was also sexually abused, decided to make a movie about it, that I actually felt healed and recovered. We were in college and she interviewed me for her documentary. I told my mother that I was doing it because it was “my story” and I wanted it to be public. My friend never showed that movie.
In college, I wanted to write my BA thesis in psychology on the correlation between the civil war and sexual abuse. I basically wanted to make the secret “statistically significant”. All these girls that I have met while growing up, all this sexual abuse, had to be related to the civil war, I thought then. I still remember the professor taking me aside, with a smile on his face, and telling me that my project cannot be done “ethically” and that people will not answer my questionnaire. I still regret not doing it anyway. Damn you AUB department of psychology! You have managed to reject every awesome research idea I had!
Stories are important. Narratives of suffering that are shared and whispered and sometimes filmed and written in blog posts are important. Placing meaning and coming up with words to describe your experiences makes you able to signal your pain to the world and protects you from falling into absurdity and nothingness.
I still have my bad days and I do sometimes link them to being sexually abused when I was a kid. I have an awful distrust of men, especially sexually. I can go insane if a man sits next to me and takes more of the space that he needs to, especially in taxis. And I have problems with intimacy in general. Feelings like that seem to always hunt you, but you deal with them in all different ways and you carry on, free from the chains of secrets that burdened you while growing up.
This story is dedicated to the students of Saint Joseph Aintoura College. You have made me proud and have helped heal me more. I always had ideas about how to trap my abuser and face him. This kind of compensates for the fact that I never did. It makes me stronger.