the monster in the closet

(Warning: This post may not be appropriate for little kids! This is a no-apologies, spill-my-guts post.)

I have lived almost all of my life with twin monsters in my closet: shame and grief.

Welcome to the wonderful world of my post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. The monsters showed up when I was six, and have lingered, stubbornly, often undercover, in the depths of my brain, my heart, my very being.

I was molested, technically gang-raped, by a couple (?) of older girls when I was about six, in the school bathroom during lunch recess. At the nice Catholic school my parents scraped and saved to send me to. I don’t remember much. What I do remember is in a form like snapshots in time: me crying, them laughing, it hurting, the tiles of the bathroom floor, the smell of disinfectant. And the harder I cried, and called for my mommy, the more they laughed.

Me as a little girl
Me as a little girl

I don’t blame them anymore, not really, although my anger at what they stole from me…And what this did to my parents, there is not just anger, there is fury beyond words..

Yet I know that second and third grade girls do not make this stuff up on their own. And I know that a small percentage of abused children go on to become victimizers themselves. Why this happens, though, I don’t know.

I never told anybody, of course; this was the mid-1970s, and no one talked about things like that much then. Ironically, my mom had warned me about men–including uncles, neighbors, etc. But what mom in 1974 would have thought she needed to warn her innocent little first grader about older kids at school? I think it happened more than once, but I’m not sure. As I said, I don’t remember much. But I do remember, vividly, the sense of shame that covered me like an invisible shroud for the rest of my childhood. My young adulthood. And now, my middle age. (45 is middle-aged, right?)

I love the picture above because I’m happy, you can tell because my smile reaches my eyes. I’ve destroyed a number of pictures from the rest of my life because even in the pictures where I’m smiling, it’s an empty smile. My smile doesn’t reach my eyes, doesn’t come anywhere close.

The shame. I’d say that it follows me everywhere, but it’s a part of me. I wonder, if the shame disappeared, would I still exist? Peel away my skin, muscle, bone, it’s everywhere, festering. Especially in my mind and my heart.

I realized this today when someone I care about and respect became angry at me. Of course, I immediately began to cry, I always do. the harder I try to stop, the harder I cry. And I had one of those Aha moments: I understood, in the flash of a moment, that it was my shame taking over. Taking over me, my thoughts, my body, even, so that I felt ashamed and guilty for taking up space on this earth. And I went right into flashback mode.

My flashbacks are located purely in my body; I thought I was going crazy when I had my first one at age 19 until a therapist explained to me that our bodies do actually store memories, and that is exactly what I was having. Body memories. They last anywhere from a few minutes to hours to days, and during them, I feel as though I am being raped. I have the physical sensation that someone is violating me.  I have never been afraid of going to hell. Not only because I believe in God’s overwhelming love and mercy, I also know I have paid my dues, and more.

And the grief. It is, as psychologist and PTSD expert Bellruth Naparsteck writes in her book (which I highly recommend) Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal:

The emotional pain of post-traumatic stress is the archetypal, beyond-reason. It’s the anguish of Oedipus tearing out his own eyes, the howling fury of Medea murdering her children, the outraged betrayal of Antigone digging up her brother with her bare hands. It is outsize, abnormal, crazy suffering.

My twin pals, shame and grief. And then there is the impotent rage and terror that are so “outside the range of ordinary emotional experience, and they overwhelm the ordinary capacity to bear feelings,” according to Judith Herman in her groundbreaking book, Trauma and Recovery. I’m quoting experts now because I’m afraid no one will believe how agonizing PTSD is.

I am going to try a treatment called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization something-or-other) that is intense but has had excellent results. I am afraid, though, to face my monsters head on. What if they win?

25 thoughts on “the monster in the closet

  1. You are not alone. Although my “story” is less horrific than yours, the results have been largely the same. Don’t allow the monsters to win. I’m not planning to. It’s simply not an option.

  2. It was almost like you were writing for me. The memories. I was 5. When I got to the end about EMDR I broke out into a sweat. Please read my experience before you go. http://reclaimingmynarnia.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/emdr-can-good-come-of-this-madness/. Somethings the therapists/clinicians do not tell you is how high the instance of Dissociative Identity Disorder happens because of EMDR. That 5 year old girl is now an alter, and we think there is another. If you have any questions about it, the process I do not mind answering. I just want you to be fully aware of what could happen. My life is not the same…I wish I would never have had it done. ~Hope

    1. Wow, the EMDR really re-traumatized you! I’m so sorry–it must be just hideous. I had EMDR with a very unskilled therapist about 14 years ago and wound up in flashback hell. She never told me I could say stop!
      I am looking into it now with a therapist who comes highly recommended by several mental health professionals I trust. But I am still just looking into it. I have been warned that new memories could surface, etc.

      1. It is awful. I was not told I could stop either. I think the most important thing as you are considering is to take it to Heavenly Father and ask Him. You are a person of faith, He will let you know if it is what you need to do. Your first experience sounds similar. Almost wondering if it is the same person. This clinician/therapist came highly recommended also, but like I said, Heavenly Father knows what YOU need and if this will help or make matters worse. I know that it has worked for some people. If I was not so terrified of it I have thought of finding someone else to see if they could reverse the damage she did, but pandora’s box is open, and I will not forget. My quest now is to heal, with therapy, medication, and so so so much prayer.
        Just a heads up, I do not know if the clinician does it or not, but Jo took me all the way back to conception. Or tried to…whether it worked or not, I am not sure. I thought that was very strange. 🙂
        You will be in my prayers! ~Hope

  3. My heart is aching for you. I am a survivor of incest and the hold it has on me, at times, is overwhelming. I don’t have words…. I wish I did. But know that I will be praying for you. Many soft hugs sent your way.

  4. I am so sorry for what you went through, but I am glad you had the courage to share it. You should know that you are a strong person for living through that, surviving, and being able to share.

    1. It did take a lot of courage to write that post and share it publicly.. But you know how sometimes you just feel compelled to write? Thanks for your encouragement! I’ve been rereading my responses all weekend, and it helps so much.

  5. Your monsters will not win! You are a lot stronger than you think you are or you would not have survived this long. I know that it is difficult to fight, but please know that you are never, never, never alone!

    1. Thanks cuz! I do feel so alone sometimes…but I know I am tough because I am a Resch, and all Resch women are tough, right?! I think sometimes we only find out how strong we are until we are tested and the we find an inner reservoir of strength we never knew we had. I love you Sandi!

  6. Thank you for sharing this story. So many awful things happen to children (and adults). It makes me sad to think of what all of us were going through back then, and wonder what horrors those girls were experiencing to do something like that. I’m sure they didn’t think of it on their own. I’m sorry that happened to you, but happy you are healing. ♡♥♡♥

    1. Just the fact that I was able to write about the incident shows that I’m healing. I’ve never been able to write about it before! Thanks for your support and encouraging words. 💜💚

  7. Oh Barbara, I can’t even imagine and my heart breaks for that beautiful little girl you once were. When I was in grade school, my cousin asked me to promise not to tell any one about what he was going to ask. I adored him and said I wouldn’t. He suggested we get naked to see what we look like. I still thank God I said no and he didn’t force me to. I ran crying all the way to my other aunt’s house and didn’t say a word. For a couple of years, I felt so dirty. I worried about my other cousins. Finally I told my parents. Nothing was done. It was in the 1970s and these things just weren’t talked about. Granted, nothing happened, I am perfectly fine. The situation was probably just a “curiosity” thing. However, he was a teenager. I don’t think he was at all innocent. I can’t help feeling guilty that I didn’t force the issue louder in the family. Has he hurt some other family member? Could I have stopped it? Last summer I saw him working at a store I stopped in to buy some gardening supplies. I avoided him and felt so uncomfortable. I still feel guilty for not being brave enough to confront him or his parents. And again, this whole situation is so minor compared to yours and so many other people’s. Barbara, know that I pray for you and think of you as one of the bravest, strongest people. Blessings my friend!!!

    1. Thanks love–you are a wonderful friend! And don’t feel guilty. You told your parents and at that age, what more could you have done, really? I didn’t even tell my parents. (Who would have raised holy hell…)
      Keep me in your prayers and I’ll keep you in mine! xoxo

      1. It’s always amazed me, once I began opening up with my story, how it isn’t just my story, but shared by so many women who either experienced violence themselves or were closely linked to it. Stay strong, I’m definitely listening too.

  8. Wow. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal and putting yourself out there like you did. I love the quotes you placed in here… there is really no comparison to what PTSD is like, but those quotes *may* skim the surface, yeah? I also love that picture of you!

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