[trigger warning: ableism, allism, child sexual abuse, pedophilia]
I was reading The Courage to Heal the other day and i got to this section where a woman talked about her childhood, and how she felt as though she were Damien, the antichrist child from The Omen. It perfectly encapsulated my problem with the subgenre of horror films featuring evil kids:
I felt I was really evil. It’s almost like those child-devil movies, like Damien. Inside this innocent little child is this evil seed. I used to think that just my presence made people feel bad and made bad things happen.
This woman, as a girl, internalized that model for self-hate, justifying and excusing the abuse she suffered.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, there was this massive deluge of media about parents having to raise their violent and threatening children, with very little voice given to the children (or now grown up adults) themselves. We heard tons about how these parents suffered, but almost nothing from the kids who, facing difficult communication skills, social isolation/stigma, and sometimes physical illness as well, surely must be suffering as much as, if not even more than, their parents. Adults can at least express their pain and find reasonable ways to solve it. Young children can’t even find the proper vocabulary.
Study after study has disproven the myth that people with mental illness are extremely violent and dangerous— in fact, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence at the hands of others. When you throw in the powerlessness of age, it’s no surprise that people with disabilities, particularly children, face rates of sexual abuse four to ten times higher than the national average.
It’s disturbing when there are so many extremely profitable films vilifying groups of people who have little power. Sinister, a film featuring evil kids, cost $3 million, but made almost $90 million. In the film industry, a returns ratio that high is almost unheard of. There’s even a few films, like The Orphan, which sexualize (“evil”) children as seductive predators for grown men, effectively endorsing pedophilia.
I understand why evil kids are scary. kids are thought of as innocent, peaceful, happy, and so on. The evil child trope plays at parental insecurities by turning the power dynamic on its head, giving the child lots of physical power while removing the parent’s. You could argue that in many of these films, the kid is under an evil, external influence, but the end result is still that we see 100% evil kid, and 0% victim to be understood.
This trope is every parent’s worst nightmare, but because these films inevitably speak from an adult perspective, they always create sympathy for the adults, not the children. Many survivors of child abuse and child sexual abuse, myself included, would argue that this simplistic view of children is exactly what lets adults hurt us— when children are not given a voice, or their voices are glossed over, the result is epidemic levels of violence against children. There’s even a problem now in which parents who murder or attempt to murder their autistic children are actually sympathized with as victims.
The truth is, I sympathize with “demon children”. I see so much of myself, of my scared, angry, sad child-self, in these movies. They don’t scare me. Sometimes, these films end with the parent saving their kid, which is so utterly boring and unappealing to me. I never had a parent who saved me— I had to do it myself! So when the kid saves the day, like in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, or when the kid becomes a monster and destroys her parents, like in Sinister…I love that. As an adult, now away from the abuse, I can look at these things and enjoy them vicariously. But most adults don’t approach these films from my perspective, and children in particular are vulnerable to internalizing these self-hating ideas.
This archetype worries me. It worries me because for every scary movie I’ve watched (and I’ve watched quite a few) with an evil kid killing her innocent parents, I’ve never once seen a movie where the child is innocent and defends herself from abusive adults. If such movies existed, and garnered as much public attention as their counterparts, then we might have a reasonable debate. But the fact is, it’s an adult’s world, and children have little power. The levels of violence and abuse we see today are not accidental— they are a culmination of many cultural and social attitudes, some of which are enabled by these kinds of films.
[trigger warning: child sexual abuse, rape]
i’ve gotten a couple of messages like this before. I chose it because of the blog that inspired this one— the bluntness and unwavering honesty of that site really helped me understand just how serious my abuse was. it wasn’t “inappropriate touching”. it wasn’t “molestation” or “sexual assault” or a bad day. my brother tried to fuck me.
i needed that honesty. i needed the real, actual name for it. that’s why this blog has that name. i understand if it’s triggering, though— it triggers me sometimes, too. but i don’t think i can change the name. there’s already so much content that tries to soften things. every person has different needs, but survivor lit that is harsh and direct is pretty rare.
[content warning: child sexual abuse, incest, religious shame]
Two relationships ago, I was dating this Catholic girl. like, super Roman Catholic kind of Catholic.
She was the first person I ever got really physical with. Not pre-marital sex stuff but some other things. I was eighteen and in college, away from my abusive family for the first time in my life. In this safe space, a ton of abuse things started to come up.
The physicality of our relationship exacerbated that. And so, one weekend when I spent the night in her room, I woke up on Sunday morning after having a terrible, flashback dream about my brother, who sexually abused me. Like one of those dreams where you wake up and you can still feel what happened in your bones.
I begged her to stay with me, I was so scared. She hesitated and I kept asking her to stay, to skip going to church and just stay with me. Eventually I started sobbing. She apologized, and then she left.
At the time, I rationalized this as God being far more important than any one person. How could my tiny problems compare to some divine entity? And that’s what I said, with full apology, when she came back.
But thinking on it now, I realize that Christianity shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t prioritize the rote performance and ritual over actually loving people. Faith can happen anywhere— it doesn’t have to be in a church. And caring for others is one of the most basic parts of being a Christian.
My girlfriend at the time was a wonderful person, but her version of Christianity was kind of fucked up. She had no idea what could have happened to me. I had no idea what I could have done. I had never experienced something like that, and I thought for sure I was going to die.
In the past few months, I’ve been going to church with my mom. It’s the kind of church that wants to lift you up, not shame you for being human. Before this, I had no idea religion could be anything else. Now I understand that my ex’s version of Christianity was like seeing someone get hit by a car on Sunday morning, but saying, “sorry, I have to get to church” instead of stopping to help them.
I don’t want to be a part of something like that. I want to be a part of something that is human and heartfelt and caring, not so dedicated to routine and a set of constricting rules that being a person is second to some judgmental god. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why participate in something that hurts other people so much?
[trigger warning: suicidal ideation, some description of panic attacks, dissociation]
I had a panic attack recently. Not because something bad happened, but because something good did.
For a few moments, I didn’t want to die. I didn’t know this was possible, because that feeling— not even a desire for self-destruction, but a constant, dull lingering need to disappear— has always lurked there.
I understand now that I have always wanted to die. Every second of every day, I want to die. There is too much pain in this world, in my world. When I laugh with my friends, I want to die. When I eat my favorite foods, I want to die. When I listen to music that has saved my life over and over again, I want to die. When I hear cats purr, I want to die. When I hug my best friend, I want to die.
Until last week, I couldn’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t want to disappear. It was background noise— a state of normalcy, neutrality.
I spent last week with a new friend from a writing retreat. On Wednesday, at an open mic, she read a prose poem which made me forget to breathe. Poems have gotten to me before— sometimes I pause, or I gasp a little. Sometimes the sensation of warmth fills my chest. But never have I forgotten my own existence. Never have I needed to catch my breath, to remember to breathe, at the end.
It was only after this moment that I realized what had happened. Something changed inside of me— some part that I didn’t even know existed.
I call this feeling the Always-Death— because that’s what it’s like for many of us. A lot of times, survival is not about being happy, but rather, about learning to ignore or lessen that state of always wanting to die. It’s about reaching a neutral, zero point where the pain becomes not bearable, but less unbearable.
To have this absence, even for a moment, was too much for me. I thought I would explode. I wanted to laugh and cry and scream at the same time. A sharp tingling filled my body, electric, across my face and arms like frostbite and sunburn at the same time. When you feel something for an extended amount of time, it eventually becomes safe and familiar. You get used to being hurt; to feel anything else is terrifying.
I was scared not because I was happy, but because I wasn’t unhappy. Because contrary to popular belief, much of survival is about cancelling forces, not something beautiful and positive and happy. For a few minutes, the need to die went away. For a few minutes, I caught a glimpse of a life I once thought impossible. I saw a potential person that I didn’t know still existed inside of me— a person without the Always-Death.
I’ve noticed that many survivors (myself included) are constantly stuck in crisis or survival mode. Consequently, we tend to make our decisions based on the immediate future, not a few weeks or months down the road.
This is one of the worst effects of sexual abuse— you lose your capacity for foresight. The pain that you feel in the moment, on day to day basis, is so great and overwhelming that it obscures the future. All of that pain sucks the energy out of you to a point where deciding beyond the present begins to feel like a luxury. In disability circles, this is described as a lack of “spoons”, an abstract unit which represents your daily emotional/physical capacity; PTSD can certainly fall into the category of such a disability.
But this doesn’t end at limited energy and foresight. When you live with constant pain, your options narrow even further— your decision-making process operates under the primary objective of reducing suffering to zero. That’s neutral ground. Not happiness, not fun, and not laughter— just nothingness.
I’ve been stuck for the last few months because of this desire to find nothingness. My ambitions don’t stretch into the future. My mind struggles to comprehend things like a career track, graduate school, or long-term projects. I can barely think of next week without panicking a little.
To a trauma survivor, the future is like viewing a painting done in pointillism, except up close. The feelings and aftereffects of trauma prioritize themselves on a visceral, magnified level. Trauma becomes the body. The body becomes trauma. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has physiological needs as the first level for a reason— when the self feels that it is in danger, concepts like finding happiness or having fun take a backseat to the immediate crisis of surviving.
If I want to make my life better, I have to start planning. I have to figure out what I’m going to do tomorrow, and then the next few days, and then the next week, and month, and year. In my entire life, I’ve never felt as though I had the mental and emotional space in my heart to plan. But now it’s the next step, and it’s really fucking scary.
i got several messages similar to this about that post, but i never replied (i am so terrible about timely replies). so thank you and everyone else who sent me a message…that post was definitely up there in the top five most difficult that I’ve written for this blog, but I am so glad I did it, because of responses like this. ♥
[trigger warning: sexual abuse, incest, doctors]
A few months back, I had a checkup at my doctor’s. It was the first time since I’d started college over four years ago.
As happens at a lot of large hospitals/HMOs, most of the work was done by med students and trainees, not the actual attending physician. I got a young doctor who looked and acted exactly like Dr. Coop (Peter Facinelli) on “Nurse Jackie”, except less abrasive.
Doctors make me anxious; for obvious reasons, I hate being stared at and poked and prodded and being naked in front of a stranger. But sometimes survivors have that little string of defiance in the back of their head, and they ride it through a tough situation. I did okay.
When the doctor asked me if I was still in school, I was honest. “No, I’m taking time off of school. I’m working on some personal stuff right now…I was sexually abused by my brother when I was a kid.”
The doctor skipped a beat for a second, and then he regained his composure. I could tell that he wasn’t a survivor, and my revelation had made him uncomfortable. He tried to avoid meeting my eyes.
I think he realized then how difficult it was for me to strip naked in front of a stranger. (For several days before that appointment, I had run through the situation over and over again in my head.) Eventually, he replied with something like, “that’s really brave of you, to be so open and willing to deal with what happened to you. I admire that”. He was a good doctor. Most people, in that sort of situation, would have no idea what to say, but he quickly recovered.
Survivors make people uncomfortable. The very existence, the mere presence of our problems makes non-survivors incredibly nervous. I’ve seen it over and over again when, after revealing what happened to me, people look away, or look down, or shift in their seats.
Most people tend to see sexual abuse as this bogeyman that exists only in mythical form, like a fairytale you tell your kids to get them to behave. They dont like to believe that something so fucked up and awful could really exist. But the monster in the dark does exist, and those left behind— us survivors— are real, too.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I were extra gutsy and made a shirt that said, “I was raped and abused”, then wore it as I went about my daily life. In the past, I have told myself that it’s a bad idea, that I would feel unsafe and exposed doing so. But now, I wonder if I only feel unsafe with that idea because of how much more uncomfortable it would be for everyone around me.
At this point, I’m used to it. I’m used to being a survivor— at least, as comfortable as I could be considering all the years of fucked up memories. I’ve dealt with this for most of my life, whereas other people haven’t. For a lot of non-survivors, the truth of my childhood would be one of only a handful of moments when they were actually aware of such problems, if ever.
It’s like when you’re in the middle of a meeting or a class, and that one huge wasp flies into the room and starts circling heads, refusing to go away— people can’t help but stare at impending doom. Some will subconsciously hold their breaths and stay as still as possible to reduce unwanted attention. Others will laugh, or cough, or fidget as they fail to focus on the lecture. And some just sit there, not knowing what to do, as they stare into a void and pretend they don’t exist.
That’s what we do to other people— I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s there. With just a few words, I could mentally and emotionally vacate a room. I want to laugh at the concept of having this reluctant power, but it’s more sobering and melancholy than anything.
Survivors are symbols of impending doom, of collapse in society and the bursting of safe little bubbles. We are the harbinger of discomfort. We make people aware of how fragile their tiny lives really are.
[content warning: suicide, abusive relationships, rape]
I’ve put off writing this post for awhile because I’m ashamed of myself.
If you follow my other tumblr blog, you probably know that I am single now. I have been since last December.
You see, for the last two years, I have been in an abusive relationship.
There are far too many things to talk about in one post, but quickly summarized: she hit me on one occasion, raped me multiple times, distanced me from my friends and family, monitored my phone and email, and said over and over again that i would not be able to survive without her. She’s also accused me of being a rapist when the moment in question was 100% consensual, and she is telling people i forced her into having an abortion even though we had both discussed/agreed on it beforehand, and it was a life-saving necessity for her.
I don’t know who this person is anymore. I thought I did. Now I have no idea if even one thing she told me was true, or if it was all a bunch of lies meant to manipulate me into staying.
I loved this person. I still do. I think I love them more than I have ever loved anyone before; but then that begs the question— what kind of person does it make it me if the most love I’ve ever given was for someone so monstrously horrible? I don’t know what that means.
Part of me is relieved; I am capable of love, even if it was for the wrong person. Because being able to love isn’t something that all people have built into them— so many of us are afraid that we can’t. Now I know that I can, and that is such a gift. It’s one of the few good things that came out of this.
Another part of me hates myself. I’m pissed off at myself for getting hurt again, in this terrible way that no one deserves (though I feel I did). I promised I’d never let someone do that to me again. I made this promise because I thought I could keep it— I thought I knew all the signs of evil, all the shapes and methods of carrying it out. I was very wrong. There are different types of evil, and this kind, like the kind that hurt me the first time, through my brother, entrapped me in a way that I failed to predict.
And maybe I’m also angry at myself because part of me wanted to love and be loved so badly that I started to desire hurt. I wanted someone to hurt me and abuse me, and I stayed even when so many signs pointed to it being a toxic and dangerous situation, because I am a person who is desperate for love. I’m a fucked up, messed up person.
Things were rough for a few months. I had a few weeks when I really wanted to just give up and die. I’m a bit better now, but it’s going to be awhile before I can be okay. I’m not sure if I even know what “okay” is, of if I’ve ever been there.
[serious trigger warning: sexual abuse, rape, incest, very graphic description]
the morning after i was raped
i slept in, like every morning
until i became an afternoon. the sun shone
my tiny corpse-body, casting
no shadow, bleaching my hands
and toes and the dead corners
between my legs
into a single white. i still smelled
like him— like family
and incense and ginger, formed
shapes with my mouth for words
i did not know yet. i had to
pee, so i walked through the doorway
where he had me in his mouth, like swallowing
a dead rat. i felt it claw
up through my gut, severing all the smooth curves
between the bladder and my dot of time
his saliva had invaded— an ink splotch
branching its way into each moment
before and after today. then i was empty,
and i stumbled back to bed, still aching
like my cum that wouldn’t come out
because his teeth scraped the edges,
still aching, and i slept
until i became tomorrow.
[tw: child sexual abuse, incest, pedophilia, internet predators— some graphic detail]
You know how on “To Catch a Predator”, there’s always those people from those advocacy groups who go online and pose as teenagers or kids to lure unsuspecting pedophiles?
I used to be one of those people. Except I wasn’t a part of any group.
I did it because I liked it. As recently as two years ago, I would go onto chatrooms and pretend to be a teenage girl. I would talk to older men and send them fake pictures and get them to masturbate for me. I loved it. I got off on it.
This is what my brother did for much of the time he abused me— he installed RealVNC on my computer and kept watch over my activities. A few weeks ago, I saw that familiar logo and I freaked out over it. I couldn’t breathe or speak, only hide under the covers and cry. Sometimes my brother would send me messages over IM, or images of child porn or other porn. Other times, he would just message me and ask what i was doing, or if I was “up to no good”. He did this for years. I lived like this for years.
Long after the abuse stopped, I continued abusing myself by going onto chatrooms to find strangers. I even made up an entire persona— her name was Rebecca Stands, she was fifteen, from a medium-sized town in Texas, and she liked soccer. She was tall for her age and other kids always made fun of her for it. She had recently been dumped by her first boyfriend and was scared about her first year at high school.
Sometimes she wrote stories, little stories about ideas she had in her head, but she didn’t like to share them, because they were often about painful things and she didn’t want to worry other people. Her Myspace name was “becca.stands.tall”, with some hearts and other flourishes. I even added people from her high school, and made blog posts about how lonely she was. Her email was bbgurl98 or 99, I can’t remember. She laughed too loudly and was hurt too easily.
She liked to act strong, but on the inside, she was just a scared little girl, like any girl that age.
In these lonely spaces, I became that person. Men, sometimes decades older than fifteen year old Rebecca, would send me pictures of themselves, of their disgusting hands around their disgusting cocks, and ask me what i was wearing. Most of the time I’d say, “not much, its rly hot here, u?” I made up stories about masturbation and how Becca felt it was weird or she’d never really tried it, giving these strangers all the paths in to more and more sexual situations.
I liked these creepy men giving me attention. I liked being victimized and re-victimized, over and over again, just like my brother had done to me. I fucked myself to it. If I didn’t have a rational brain telling me not to, I would be doing it right now, because even talking about it still excites me.
That’s how fucked up and damaged I am. This is one of the reasons why I hate myself so much.
Becca Stands never died or went away completely. She’s still in me, and I am still her. I’m still that disgusting, messed up person on the inside.
I am still Rebecca Stands.