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The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

 

In order to have a successful life, it’s not enough to be smart and talented, you have to be able to function, every day, without having three panic attacks before lunch. I was certain that, twenty-five years into therapy, I would be married, with children, and published multiple times. I wouldn’t have made it through the first ten years of therapy if I’d known that I’d still be struggling with forward motion in year twenty five. But this is where I’m at, and this is the best I’ve been able to do, despite all of that promise, because of childhood sexual abuse.

I was the kid that teachers loved and never worried about. Rachel will do fine at whatever she chooses to do. Rachel is smart and responsible and hardworking and never needs help. They didn’t consider my social anxiety, or crippling depression, or the endless fragmentation of my mind as a problem, because even with all of that I still did well at school. But I didn’t want to, and that was the killer. I did not want to wake up each morning. I did not want to meet new people, or go to parties, or get a job, or choose a major, or whatever each next step was supposed to be.

grumpy cricket

“This is a difficult topic, Mommy.”

 

I am tired of hearing about how resilient everyone else is, and how well they’re doing, despite this and that and the other thing. It implies that we all had the same obstacles and everyone else is just better than me at overcoming them. But the fact is, if I had the same life experiences as I’ve had, without the great good fortune of intelligence and talent, and a Mom who loves me, and a therapist who has been there for me since I was nineteen, I would not be here. I would have walked in front of a bus, or swallowed a bottle of pills, a hundred times by now. It’s important to know that, and not to be smug about my successes, and not to be so quick to judge others for their lack of success.

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“I’m here for you, Cricket.”

The percentage of substance abusers with child abuse histories is very high, same with prison inmates, and patients in mental hospitals, but I feel like we choose, as a society, not to know these things. We choose to ignore our good fortune when we have it, and we choose to take credit for all of our successes, despite the help we’ve received along the way. We imagine that people are successful because of their intelligence and hard work alone, and therefore those who are unsuccessful must be lazy and stupid.

Lately we’ve been talking more about privilege – white privilege, male privilege – but we forget the less obvious forms of privilege; being safe in your own home, and being loved and nurtured by your family, and having the support you need when you have to face big and small challenges along the way, are huge privileges that many children never experience.

I remember watching episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show, years ago, when she would celebrate kids who had survived war and starvation and abuse and got into Harvard anyway, or started a successful business, or saved the world in some way. And it made me angry, one, because I could never do any of that, and two, because most of the kids who went through those same circumstances wouldn’t be able to impress anyone and win the attention and rewards they would need in order to survive. They would have the same residue of pain and trauma, without any help to get them through, or anyone to celebrate their small achievements along the way.

IMG_0913

“I love to celebrate!”

Everyone wants to know the secrets of the resilient child, but resilience has more to do with how we take care of and support these children than with their own inherent qualities. Their strength, or weakness, comes mostly from us. If they fail, it’s because we didn’t hold them up. We keep forgetting this. We want to celebrate, and vilify, the individual, if only so that we don’t have to take responsibility for each other. But it’s an illusion. We are intertwined whether we acknowledge it or not, and we pay the price for the suffering of others, whether we caused it ourselves or simply chose to ignore it.

Cricket and her special friend 001

Platypus knows that we all need help.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

147 responses »

  1. Thank you for this. Beautifully said. And we cannot be reminded enough how we need to acknowledge and take care of each other, and not take our good fortune for granted.

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  2. I think people often only consider what’s on the surface, so teachers see the good grades or application to your studies. They didn’t see how you felt underneath all of that. It hurts my heart reading how you felt back then. I admire your honesty in saying that you’re where you are now in part because of intelligent, your mother, your therapist – as you say, a lot of the time these aspects are overlooked. You’re absolutely right about how everyone has different experiences on so many levels, and we shouldn’t judge ‘success’ or lack thereof. We all handle things differently too; it’s not possible to compare and we should never overlook the help we and others receive along the way. Such important points and a very poignant post, Rachel  ♥
    Caz xx

    Reply
  3. A powerful post — thank you.

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  4. I envied classmates who walked around with air of grace. They seemed to know that they were loved and worthwhile, while I had plenty of doubts. I’ve learned that everyone has a back story masked by whatever image they publicly project. And I’ve learned that folks who accept me and stand by my side are gold. Glad you have your Mom and your pups, and wish you well in your writing and recovery. Thanks for sharing an honest and powerful post.

    Reply
  5. I pray your willingness to share your pain is as freeing for you as I know it is for others, Rachel.

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  6. Dear Rachel,

    So sorry you had to endure all of this. And thank you for liking my latest post.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah D.
    TheBrownBagBlogger.com

    Reply
  7. Rachel, thank you for this.

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  8. Powerful and masterfully written! It takes a BRAVE soul to be willing to talk about the pain they have endured. Many war veterans return from battle and bury the pain of what they’ve gone through deep inside and try to carry on as if nothing happened. Some can ‘t bear the pain and end their lives. A very few other survivors open up and get help, and find healing.

    You have survived the horrors of what NO child should ever go through, and you have chosen TO LIVE. I commend you on that!!! These things were NOT your fault. The adults in your life were older than you and knew better, and yet they chose to harm. No child deserves that.

    You are a survivor who has chosen to open up and be honest and not hide as if nothing happened. That makes you doubly brave. You deserve a medal of honor in this world of pretenders. Thank you, brave one.

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  9. Thanks again for your cotinued support of, Elm Drive Images, Rachel.

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  10. Rachel, thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. It’s all too easy to forget, ignore or gloss over some of the puzzle parts that make up who we ourselves are and who the people around us are. I have been in training the last few weeks to become a CASA volunteer. I will do what I can for children in my community who are victims of abuse and neglect, using the concept of “walking alongside” those who are struggling (a concept learned in hospice work years ago). It means just being there, trying to support and listen as best as I can. For the children I serve within the confines of my position at the organization (pcasa.org), I will also advocate in court in their best interest. The training sessions have resurfaced in me some long-ago traumas that account for so much of who I am and the decisions I made through the years. I see more clearly every day, but will never be rid of what happened.Thank you for your book, which I just ordered and will share it with my fellow trainees. I will also share your excellent post. Thank you for helping to bring better understanding to those who would like to better understand.

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  11. Thank you, Rachel. You spoke for a lot of us when you wrote this. I get frustrated with myself because of my limitations; I needed to read this today.

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  12. This is very courageous of you to write so candidly about your experience and feelings. ❤

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  13. Wow. You write so well and i am very moved by your writing. You like almost like every
    piece of art I post and it means a lot to me. I am just tired and overwhelmed at the end of the day and cannot do one more thing. But a big thank you for all your likes.

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  14. There are so many thoughts bouncing around in my head after reading this, I simply don’t know where to start. There are so many of us walking around who carry the scars of the wounded inside and invisible to those around. To have the support of those who understand is a precious gift. It is often easier to not make others aware, because the reactions usually show a complete lack of understanding, sometimes efforts to help can do the opposite, trivialize the pain that they can’t see. Offering advise like “we just need to think happy thoughts and stop all the negativity or you’re alright dear my aunt suffered from a similar issue and she took this herbal remedy which has completely helped her to recover or my personal favorite “we all get depressed at times”. Lack of knowledge, fear of those who make them a uncomfortable because the inability to empathize with others pain can isolate them even further.i am being so negative And I apologize for it. I

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    • Lack of understanding and compassion can make the pain even worse, because we feel isolated on top of everything. I’m so sorry.

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      • I can understand that, who could understand? They may offer all kinds of advise, which trivializes your pain, “oh just take this herbal recipe and you will feel much better”, as if it was so easy, like a common cold. Clearly they have no idea, which only makes a person feel more isolated. I’m so sorry, I admire your honesty and openness, it helps others hear, perhaps shed light on a subject most don’t want to know about, it is too horrendous to consider.

      • I seemed to have repeated my previous comment, didn’t reread it. I may be doing the very same thing, imagining I know what you are feeling. People want to help, just don’t realize things we say to “help” could do more harm than good.

  15. Wow Rachel! That was so well written! I was tiptoeing around the subject of my demons the other day and you came right out and said it. I wish I had an answer. In my 20’s I decided it was my life now and I would leave the past behind…but it’s always there. I felt like I was 10 years behind everyone else because, in my head, I was coping with experiences I couldn’t share. Fake it until you make it? I feel like I am living someone else’s life for the last 30 years. It’s not the life I would choose. You are right about compassion. It used to be my job to help people on their worst day and I can say that my compassion was from the heart. Your writing is too. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Thank you so much! That out-of-body or not-me feeling is awful. And a lot of people really don’t want to know our stories or who we really are; they prefer the fake version. But I really don’t.

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  16. The very fact that you have shared your story so openly says a lot about the progress you have made! Congratulations. And this post has to be the best pitch for buying your book I could imagine! I’m going to Amazon right now! Thank you and keep writing!

    Reply
  17. Wow this is so eye opening! As a high school student I have been assigned to create a blog on a problem that means a lot to me, posts like this have really educated me and my peers about domestic violence from a first hand experience and you are so wonderful and brave for talking about your experiences and I wish you all the best in life.

    Reply

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