Good and bad / evil.
Two confusing words when it comes to understanding sexual abuse, assault, and trauma.
Two words that belong in realm of comics, WWII, and the Bible. The world in which we live is messy, filled with dynamic characters capable of being sin, sinner, and everything in-between in the fraction of a moment.
Is what my sister did to me right?
Do I still love her?
Do I blame her for what she did?
Will I hold her accountable for her actions?
When on the road to recovery, one of the first things Susan taught me is that language matters. The smallest word can change an automatic thought, creating cognitive distortions that make it difficult (if not impossible) to forgive yourself and begin to recover from the sexual abuse. For example, using the word “feel” rather than “I believe” or “I know” transform the thought into a feeling. Thoughts are not feelings. Thoughts have an impact on feelings, but the two are not synonymous. Knowing this helps to understand the tangled web of emotions that are a result of being sexually abused, rather than never being able to separate the body, from the mind.
This means blame cannot be a word that I can use when understanding my sexual abuse. For me, it generates a source of hatred for a person I associate with both pleasant and horrific memories. For me, hatred is toxic. Anger is healthy (if expressed properly). So, to remain silent and not speak about my sexual abuse would mean to not hold her accountable. This may anger and frustrate her because of the shame she feels, but to continuously (genuinely) apologize is part of her responsibility as an abuser. The emotions she feels because of her actions is her responsibility to manage and move toward recovering from.
Did my sister apologize for her actions?
Although she says she did.
In my mid-twenties I did confront my sister, and tell her that she raped me. I yelled the line once in anger, nearly crying, while on a break in college. At the time I was beginning to come to some realizations about my past while attempting to deny they occurred. I expected to feel a surge of relief, but there was nothing.
Confronting your abuser does not equal healing and recovery, it is a step in the process.
Afterward, she stood in front of me, face blank, and said, “I’m sorry for what I did, but it happened to me too.” And this is where it gets tricky. It may seem as though this is an apology, but it is not. Rather than apologize she minimized her actions as an abuser by justifying them with the fact that she was sexually abused as a child. Many abuser attempt to minimize their sexual abuse and assault by saying things like, “It was just locker room talk,” or “I couldn’t help it because it happened to me,” or “they put themselves in that situation and did nothing to stop it.” No matter how much an abuser attempts to minimize their behavior, there is no justification for their actions. Only accountability and making amends.
The following day, my sister told me she had told my mother what she had done to me. I was shocked. Amazed. For years I believed my mother knew what had happened, but it had never come from my mouth. So, when I make the decision to tell my mother about being raped when I was eight-years-old she said nothing. Not because she did not believe me, but because she was under the impression that it had happened once. She had no idea I had been raped for two years. This is what makes continuing to have a relationship with my sister difficult. The inability to differentiate between truths, half-truths, and lies in a desperate attempt at self-preservation.
Continuing to write helps me make sense of what this all means, and maybe, possibly, one day, believing it.